Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January is for Cozy Teddy Bears

It’s a cold mid-January on our little village homestead in Maryland this year. Christmastide has come and gone and the skies either refuse to snow or tease us with bright but cold days.   

While we might be daydreaming about this year’s coming garden (I have an herb garden to reestablish!), your favorite uncle and I have been cozy with other projects. He’s busy designing board games while I have been working on my sewing. And this winter, two new stuffed bears joined my sewn collection, Beach Bear and Patches Bear.

Last winter I experimented with a teddy bear pattern from 50 Fabric Animals: Fun sewing projects for you and your home. It’s a sweet little book from Marie Claire Ideas and features a nice variety of stuffed toys, decorations and applique projects to try. Some of the patterns are already full-sized but most are meant to be enlarged on a photocopier before use. (As a side note, I got to know a very nice gentleman who works at the local office supply store who helped me with some enlarging.) While it can be frustrating to have to enlarge a pattern before use, it definitely gives a nice option for making patterns at different sizes for some of the projects.

Winter is a nice time to be cozy and very little sewing is cozier than making teddy bears. I adore the Linen Teddy pattern and found that it’s a good project for a variety of fabrics. If you have the patience, you could size this teddy up or down, either making a nice big bear or a little teddy bear prop for photography. Just keep in mind, since he is thread and button jointed, he might not make a good bear for a child, especially one who might try to swallow the buttons.

Since we’re interested in recycling and upcycling here at St. Denis Sundries, this teddy bear pattern fit nicely with the materials I have on hand. My first teddy, Blue Bear, is made from some gingham a friend gave me and the soft denim from an old pair of my nephew’s jeans. Beach Bear is a true Parrothead, made from one of your favorite uncle’s worn-out Hawaiian shirts. Patches Bear seems to have a little bit of special treatment, since I picked up his fabric a year ago with the idea in mind that it would be fun for a stuffed toy.

The directions in 50 Fabric Animals are a little bit vague, so if you are interested in trying a new teddy bear pattern, I’ll walk you through his construction. He will take about a day to sew up or several evenings during the week, but he’s good company while working!

For your pattern

50 Fabric Animals: Fun sewing projects for you and your home. Here’s where to get a copy on Amazon (this is an affiliate link!) I encourage you to purchase a copy of the book for this pattern. The directions below are based on my experience with the pattern in this book.

Another source for a very similar pattern is The Butterfly Balcony. Wendy has a teddy bear pattern you can also try out; I encourage you to read her blog while you’re there!

What you need for your teddy:

  • ¼ yard of fabric for the body of the bear
  • Fat quarter or scraps of fabric in a contrasting color for the bear’s hands, feet and ears. Or get fancy and use more than one color or pattern for his accents
  • 2 smooth black buttons for his eyes
  • 4 buttons to help attach his arms and legs. These could be matching buttons or contrasting ones, depending on how you want him to look when your finished
  • Matching thread for sewing
  • Embroidery thread for his nose and mouth
  • Heavy quilting or upholstery thread for joining his arms and legs to his body
  • Stuffing for toys
  • Ribbon or a strip of fabric for his bow. My three bears all have ribbon bows


  • Sewing machine
  • Hand-sewing needles: a between for stitching, an embroidery needle and a darning needle (make sure it fits through the button holes)
  • A chopstick or something similar to help you turn the points and to stuff your little guy
  • Template plastic for your pattern
  • Pencil, pen or chalk for marking your fabric
  • Copier
  • Scissors for cutting plastic and scissors for cutting fabric. These are not the same pair of scissors!

After enlarging the pattern in the book to full-size (there are directions on how to do this at the front of the book), trace the pattern on your template plastic and cut out your templates. Then trace the pattern from the templates on to your fabric. Don’t cut on your traced lines! Using your fabric scissors cut ¼ inch away from the lines to give yourself a seam allowance. This also allows you to pin and sew directly on the traced lines.

Spread out your fabric for your bear’s body, paws and ears. Iron first if you need to knock out some wrinkles (I usually have to do this). On the fabric for his body, trace and cut 1 forward and 1
Beach Bear's cut out pieces

  • Front piece
  • Back piece
  • Arm
  • Inside arm
  • Leg
  • Sides of his head

Additionally, trace and cut:
  • 1 center of head piece. Cut the narrow end of this pattern longer than what you have traced, adding about ½ inch. The pattern piece from the book seems to be too short when you’re sewing up the head.
  • 2 ear pieces
From your accent fabric, trace and cut 1 forward and 1 reversed:
  • Palm
  • Sole of his foot
Additionally, trace and cut:
  • 2 ear pieces
Remember, we’re tracing and cutting 2 pieces, forward and reverse because our bear has mirroring sides and limbs. (Kind of like you, my friend.)

The directions in the book to assemble this cute guy are pretty simple, which had me puzzling over them for a while. A few more directions would have been helpful! A diagram, even. Here is my take on them, to be used after reading the ones in the book you bought.

Sew your bear

Start with his tummy. Join the center front from the point on his tush to the edge of the curve at his
neck. Then sew his center back, from the point of the tush about 1/3 of the way up. Back stitch (you’ll be glad you!) and clip your thread. Skip about 1/3 of the length and start your stitch again, using a back stitch at the beginning and then sew to the curve of his neck again.

Take the two pieces of your body and pin together. You’ll have a little bag, so be careful when sewing, you will need to move his body out of the way of your needle when you move from one side to the next. You’ll close up the neck at the circles and end of with a little body that has three points, looking like two shoulders and a color. Turn right-side out and set aside.

Beach Bear's right leg
On to arms and legs! First piece the palms to the inside arms. Then match the palms for the inside arm to the outside arm. Again, the pattern pieces don’t exactly line up, so I match them at the tips of the palms and sew on the outside arm’s tracing line. Leave a gap on the underside of the arm, back-stitching again on the stop and start points. Trim away excess fabric and turn right-side out.

Oh my, his big feet! I am not sure if I enlarged things properly or it is an error in the pattern, but that cute sole is just a little too big for his foot! Start with the legs, pinning the tracing lines with the right sides and sewing from his toe towards the back of the leg. Stop just over the curve of the leg, leave a gap, and start sewing just above the heel, again using a back stitch at the stop and start points.

His sole has a slight curve for the instep of the foot. That curve will tell you if the completed foot is for the right or left side; the two insteps should face each other when you bear is seated. Starting at his toe, pin the sole to the foot but only half way. Gently fold a small bit of the heel and then continuing pinning the entire sole to the foot. Your teddy with have a little crease of fabric his heel.

Do you need to do this? Not necessarily. You can careful adjust your cut fabric to fit the foot. I haven’t and my guys don’t seem too badly off for it.

Once his sole is pinned in place, go ahead and sewing together. When done, turn the right sides out.

For a nice break, let’s do up his little ears. Pin the right sides of the body fabric and the accent fabric and stitch around the curve of the ear, leaving the straight edge open. Turn right sides out and either finger press or iron his ears flat at the seams.

The side of Beach Bear's head
We need to talk about his head, Fred. Start pinning the center of his head at the middle of his nose
and the top of one of his side head pieces. Stitch together. Pin the other side of his head to the center and pin the side head pieces on his chin together. Stitch together and turn the right sides out.

If you are using safety eyes and nose, now is the time to attach them. If you are making this for a child, you will likely want to use the safety eyes and nose, along with joints to join the arms and legs to the body. How to do this is a tutorial for another day.

Getting stuffed

Okay, time to stuff all the parts. Use a polyfill designed for toys. I have used stiff quilt batting for one of the bear’s head and find it help with the shape, but it’s not necessary. Stuff the body and limbs so they have a nice shape but are a little bit squishy. Using a hidden stitch or an overstitch, close up the gaps. Stuff the head and gently shape, but don’t close up the bottom of his head.

Patches Bear before assembly
Once your bear’s head is stuffed and shaped, sew on his button eyes. Then, using two strands of embroidery floss that coordinates with your fabric, stitch a nose on your teddy. I like to use a straight stitch starting from the center seam under his nose and stitching out in a ‘V’ shape until I have a nose. Then use a straight stitch down from the center of his nose, about a half an inch or a little more – your preference. Then add two little stitches from the end to on either side to finish his mouth.

Putting him together

Let’s start at the top. Baste the raw edges of his ears inwards and pin to the sides of his head. Using
an applique stitch, sew the ears on and then remove the basting stitches.

Baste the raw edges of the bears head to the inside. Pin the edges to the top of the body, tucking his little shoulders in. Pin as flat as you can and use an applique stitch to attach his head. Once secure, remove the basting stitches.

Patches Bear's button shoulder
I start with his legs when attaching the limbs. Thread a darning needle with quilting or upholstery thread and knot the end. Sink the knot through the side seam of the body and bring the thread out the other side where you want to attach his leg. Sew through the top-center of his leg and through the button. Go back through the button and through his body to the opposite side. Repeat the steps with his other leg. Gently tighten the thread, squishing his legs and body just a little. Sew through the body, legs and buttons at least twice more, making sure you have the tightness you want. Tie off the thread under one of the buttons.

Repeat the process with his arms, just down from the shoulders. Finish up by wrapping a ribbon or a bright strip of fabric as bow around his neck, covering where the head joins the body.

Look, a teddy!

Isn’t your teddy sweet? Maybe he needs a friend…or two? I have to admit I’m on a teddy bear kick. The weathercaster is calling for a storm tomorrow. Perfect time to get cozy while sewing up teddy bears.

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