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.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Death of an Herb Garden

This has been a difficult year in our gardens, and it’s only July.

The deer have eaten the beans and the squash. The rabbit has mowed down the parsley. The oregano
Last year's healthy, beautiful herb garden.
was looking burned out and there were suspicious white spots on the sage leaves. Either the rabbit or the groundhog has enjoyed our growing honeydew melons. The deer came back and ate all the apples off the tree. And then several tomato plants seem to be dying for no reason.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Your favorite uncle and I have a small lawn crew that helps with the bigger jobs that are difficult for us. This year, it has been poison ivy. Your uncle brushed against some vines and developed second-degree burns from it. It had to go.

We told our lawn crew that we needed to pull the vines. We’ve told them in the past to avoid toxic sprays, including all variations of Roundup.

They have been working diligently and I am generally pleased with their work. I would recommend them to other local families. But…

There is a sumac growing at the edge of the main herb bed that we needed help to pull. Our new crew leader saw the sumac and that we had been struggling with it and thought he could help us out. And so, he did exactly what we told them not to do.

A good guy, a terrible mistake

The Monday before the 4th of July, we were home for the long holiday weekend. Our lawn guys came over to pull the poison ivy and meet with your favorite uncle. I looked up from my reading on the couch to see one of the young men walk past the parlor window with a container in one hand and a hose and sprayer in the other.

I was leaning out the window and calling him over so fast the cat was dizzy.

“Were you spraying?” I asked. “Did you spray in my herb garden?”

“There’s a sumac tree,” he says, pointing towards the herb garden. “I’m trying to kill it before I pull it out of there.”

“That’s my herb garden,” I say again. “Don’t do anything, I’m coming out to talk with you.”

I come out and at this point, you favorite uncle has noticed something going on and comes to join us.  The young man with the sprayer and his boss, who is working on a wasp problem, and I stand in front of the dripping sumac and the wet garden. I asked again what was just sprayed. The young man holds up the container.

The herb garden an hour after having been sprayed.
Note the wet marks on the shed wall from the sprayer.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “it’s supposed to be safe for gardens.”

Dear readers: It’s not safe for gardens.

“There’s supposed to be nothing sprayed here,” your uncle tells them. “We’re trying to keep this as an organic garden.”

“The label says it’s safe for gardens,” the boss tells us again.

“This is food,” I stress to them both. “This is an herb garden I’ve been growing for the past four years.”

They look at each other rather blankly.

“This,” I say, touching the tall, broad leaf clump of flowering plants, “is mint. You make tea out of it. You put it in mojitos. This is lavender”—I point to the spindly plant with its second round of shoots preparing to bloom—“and this rosemary.”

“How about this plant?” the boss asks, pointing to a pale green leaf.

“That’s lemon balm,” I tell him. “It’s for making tea with the mint.”

“And over here?” he asks.

“Oregano and thyme,” I say.

He looks puzzled by the straggly little bush. “What do you use thyme for?”

I cast for a thought to explain thyme. “You use it in Italian seasoning, with the oregano.”

Your uncle is shaking his head. He’s looking at the spray pattern on side of the shed, he’s looking at the glistening leaves. “How much did you spray?”

They both swear it was just on the sumac. Which leans over the chives, the lavender, the strawberries, and the rosemary. Maybe it won’t be so bad, they say.

I looked at my herb garden. This has been a difficult season; I had to cut back my sage in an effort to save it and the leaves had just grown back in. I had several beautiful, healthy clumps of oregano that I was going to transplant in place of the older sections that had become choked out. The chives were looking really good, after having been sparse last year. The herb garden was on the edge of recovery from an early spring snowstorm.

Chives, strawberries and oregano
growing in the herb garden.
Our first spring on Edgewood in St. Denis, I had spent a month clearing the old ornamental flower bed and getting to know the space. The “landscapers” for the estate when it was for sale had just planted a few things to look pretty. They did nothing to improve the soil -- in fact, they did very little to make it look pretty. The renovating crew, we were later told, didn’t bring a dumpster to the house, but they did just chuck pieces of our 134-year-old house out the window. Including a few windows! I cleared useless mulch from the garden bed only to find a shattered window pane underneath it. Before I could plant, I had to clear glass fragments away, along with rusty nails, pieces of roofing and bits of the lathe from the walls of the house.

Once cleared, I dug out old, tired topsoil from the stone and cement basin of the garden bed and replaced it with garden soil. I mixed in peat and compost. I added organic fertilizers. I watched as three days of 12 inches of rain overwhelmed my work and washed it over the sides of the basin and in a small stream down the walkway to the woods. I started over.

Your favorite uncle and I went to the farming co-op and bought herbs. We went to the farmers market and bought herbs. We went to the local farm and bought herbs. We found the lavender and mint I couldn’t find anywhere else at the old neighborhood garden store that his family shopped at for the past 50 years. I planted. I pruned. I replanted.

For Christmas, your favorite uncle gave me beautiful garden signs that read “herb garden,” “thyme,” “parsley,” “chives.” I couldn’t wait for the snow to melt to put them beside the plants in my garden.

This spring I took a group of friends to see the herb garden and to discuss the new herb garden bed. I told them, with a mixture of affection and pride, that this was the herb garden of my dreams.

And all I could do that after was stare at my lovely herbs as they glistened from a poison.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am,” the young man tells me.

The boss tells your uncle that they will pay to replace any of the herbs is they’re damaged. He explains that they’ll pull out the sumac tree. They continue talking and I shake my head.

“It’s supposed to be safe for gardens,” the young man says once more.

I just look at him and quietly say, “How can it be safe for gardens if it kills trees? Why would you think spraying it there would be a good idea?’

He shakes his head. He doesn’t know. All he knows is what he was told. If he had read up on what he sprayed, if he and his boss knew what types of plants were listed and how they were related to the one growing in the garden, if they had followed the directions to prevent the spray from landing on plants that were wanted, he would never have done this.

Honestly, if they read up on what they were spraying in the first place they would be wearing masks and gloves to handle it. They would stop using it altogether.

Burned up lemon balm.
I let the men go to discuss the wasp problem. Unable to do anything but hope for the best, I went back to work in the parlor. But over the course of the next several days, the damage unfolded. Steadily, the poison did its work. Leaves wilted, then browned and crumbled. Rusty spots appeared and ate away the healthy oregano plants. The thyme lost all its tiny leaves. The lemon balm took on the appearance of charred sticks. The sage first looked like it was spared and then one afternoon wilted and didn’t stand back up. The lavender curled upon itself. The strawberries under the sumac died. And each day, it became worse.
The chives, center, are the only plant still alive.
The oregano, left, and rosemary, bottom center, are dead.
The sage, far right, wilted the day this was taken
and has not recovered.

One week later, the herb garden is dead.
Oregano, killed by glyphosate.

Is it all gone? Today it looks like the mint was spared and the chives will survive. Some of the lavender, close to the mint, might make it. But yes, the main section, and all the plants there, is gone.

Dear readers, I’ll tell you later how I will replant, what work I will do. But today, after a difficult week, all I can do is leave my grief here.