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Teddy bears: Handmade with love

December 22, 2010|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD | tiffanya@herald-mail.com
  • Artisan Treva Blackford of Kearneysville, W.Va., makes collectible plush animals in her home workshop.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. — Teddy bears don't come to life until Treva Blackford gives them a face.

"And I don't know how it's going to look until it's finished," said Blackford from the quiet of her home-based workroom, what she called her sanctuary. "That's the artistry of it."

Often remembered as a child's first toy, teddy bears have a universal appeal. But their existence is determined by the hands of a skilled artisan. Blackford, founder of Brown Shop Bears, offered a rare glimpse into the secret life of the teddy bear.

"Bears make you smile," said Blackford, 67, of Kearneysville. "They make you happy."

Blackford, who has been making teddy bears for 17 years, sells her bears at the Over the Mountain Studio Tour and at the Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival, both major craft shows in the Eastern Panhandle. Blackford's bears cost between $59 and $199 and are intended for collectors.

She begins each bear with a pattern and mohair.

Mohair comes from the long, silky hair of the angora goat. Mohair yarn or fabric is typically mixed with wool. On a teddy bear, brown mohair gives an old-fashioned, scraggly fur effect.

Limbs, body, ears and head are cut from the fabric. The joints are added to the appendages so that they are moveable. She assembles most of the components with a basic sewing machine.

She stuffs the bears with Poly-fil.

The face of the bear, however, is created by hand. Blackford said she creates the face before joining it with the rest of the body.

Strands of mohair fibers are clipped away to make the snout, where Blackford will hand sew a nose and mouth. She hand-stitches two close, deep-set eyes made from black, antique buttons purchased on eBay.

"EBay is my best friend," Blackford said.

Once the face is complete and all of the components have been attached, you've got a basic bear. Sometimes she adds simple clothes.

The history of the teddy bear dates to a German toy in the early 20th century and to a political mascot for Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

Though teddy bears as we know them today are named for a former president, Blackford said she never names her bears.

What fun would that be?

"The person who gets the bear will see what name comes to them," Blackford said.

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