Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Which Bear Will Choose You?
Teddy Bears of all ages and cultures are putting on their wellington boots, duffle coats, and warm woolly hats as they set out for a very important picnic. Due to the unpredictable British weather, they have decided not to hold this gathering outside in Kensington Gardens, but to play it safe under the shelter of Kensington Town Hall.
But these teddies don't want to be exclusive and accused of speciesism, so they have opened up the invite to all creatures great and small, including rabbits, hares, mice, dragons, cats, dogs, and thankfully for us, human beings. Isn't that kind of them? So popular is this even that it is less a picnic and more a festival. That's right, it is Teddies Festival 2017, and will be taking place on the 10th September between 10:30am – 4pm. If you arrive early, everyone in the queue will get free chocolates, but if you don't like queues, then you can feel safe to enter queue-free by about 10.45am. Entry is £4 for adults and £2 for children. There is a sneaky way to get in free though. We all feel happy when someone 'likes' one of our Facebook posts or 'follows' us on Twitter. Bears can be just as vain sometimes. They like to be liked and enjoy being followed, so just register on Hugglets, let the bears know they're loved, and they will send you a catalogue with free tickets inside. Just don't forget to take them with you on the day. That's almost what I did at the February festival earlier this year. Fortunately, I had my trusty mother by my side doing a checklist to make sure we had everything before we left. It almost worked. Three-quarters of the way to the tram stop, she realised she had forgotten her chequebook, so we had to go back. Hugglets festivals are one of the few places where people still accept cheques. In fact, I recommend you take a chequebook with you because only a select few sellers actually accept cards.
After arriving about fifteen minutes later than usual, we noticed that Dot Bird was missing from the foyer. Dot Bird is a very talented lady who restores vintage bears back to full health, no matter how many wars they have been through. There was a notice on her table saying that she had been unable to make it this time round, but that other teddy bear hospitals were situated inside. Dot's table did not go to waste though, as it was used as a customer feedback area. I am sure Dot will be back for the festival in September, so if you have a teddy whose down on his fluff or missing an eye or two, take it along and have a chat with her. You can also get in contact by calling 01765 607131 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before the event, we had been emailed by Whittle Le Woods, a bear artist couple we are very fond of. Founders, Irene and Mike, sent us a preview of the bears they would have on sale, and there were a few there we liked, so our first destination was to their stall to get a close look. We were a bit disconcerted when walking into the hall as many of the regular stallholders had moved places from their usual spots. It didn't take long to find them though. Unfortunately, the bear we were most interested in had already sold, but other beauties included a bear evacuee, a detective, and an artist. They also had a replica 1907 Steiff teddy. Although we did not buy anything, Mum asked about the possibility of a commission, which Irene was very happy to do as long as we sent a few pictures as a guide.
We then visited Bear Bits, who make realistic looking bears that have flexible spines and paws so that you can pose them in naturalistic positions. I don't know if they will be back for September, however, as they have been considering retiring from the festival world.
A huge brown bear opposite the entrance doors, draw you directly to Brendan's Bears. Brendan is a trained tailor who has been handcrafting collectable bears since 2006. Made from mohair with suede paws, they have a beautiful feel to them, and because Brendan uses a combination of heavy polyester, glass beads, and shot pellets, it gives the bears an authentic weightiness.
Gail Thornton also makes heavy-weighted bears with a very distinctive design. You would immediately know by looking that it was a Bisson Bear.
I know I said Teddies Festival was open to all creatures great and small, but this the first time I have ever seen a hen attend the party. That is because she was given a lift by newcomer, Jo Green, a stockist of miscellaneous creations and accessories. While nothing else on the table stood out for me, that hen did make me smile for its sheer quirky personality.
While I enjoyed looking at Vintage Bears, I couldn't help feel that their display table was slightly pointless given that everything on it had already been reserved before the festival opened. They were ultimately there just so the buyers could come and collect their pre-orders.
Another display I was a bit disappointed with was Frank Webster Originals. I usually love looking at their bears and have come away with one once. On this occasion, however, they barely had anything out, and a majority of the pieces that were there were not their creations. Hopefully, they'll be back to full form this time round.
The stallholders might all be professional artists, but they had to start out somewhere. So if their grand designs have inspired you, then Mohair Bear Making Supplies is the place to get you started. They have patterns, fabric, stuffing, eyes, etc. All the things you need to make your own teddy. You can explore even more fabrics and patterns at Bear Basics in the next hall.
Unlike other Stallholders, the Teddy Bear Museum is neither a bear artist or stockist. Hilary Pauley is just your not-so average collector, whose hobby inspired her to create an online archive of bears from the 1900s – 1950s. This database is designed to help other collectors identify the make, type, and date of their own bears, through a pictorial history. Hilary brought along some of her own personal collection for people to admire, and also to help provide information.
Next door were bears just as old, but this time for sale. Daniel Agnew doesn't just sell old bears, but vintage toys of all kinds. Many include popular characters from Disney or literature, such as Beatrix Potter's Jemima Puddle Duck. She was in excellent condition and came with her original collector's box.
Perhaps looking a bit more grubby, some very familiar faces were present at The Old Bear Company. Hanna-Barbera's Pixie, Dixie, and Jerry sat in a suitcase, showing off a vintage style featuring toys with very large heads.
From old to new, The Bear Shop have one of the largest selections of teddy bears in Britain. Although they stock many different brands, when at Hugglets, they concentrate purely on Charlie Bears. This is great news for any Charlie Bears collector, not just because of the wide range to look at, but also because they offer a 10% show discount. The Bear Shop had the 'Three Little Pigs' collection available (complete with big bad wolf), which was super to see in the flesh. I had previously seen the collection in the Charlie Bears catalogue, but in the photograph, the pigs looked only about eight inches tall. They were in fact significantly bigger and made a fantastic set.
Of course, bigger does not always mean better. Some people are more attracted to little bears, and you can't get any littler than Shoebutton Bears. As the name suggests, these bears are button-sized. Who would have thought you could make something so cute out of pipe cleaners?
Andrea Maria Mozzitelli-Kohler is an Austrian artist who has something different on her stall every festival. One year it might be bears, another dragons, and this year it was rats. There is something about their long noses and long tails that make them irresistibly cute.
In the next hall, Russian artist, Vera Vlasova, displayed some very unusual, but visually appealing bears. The material Vera uses (antique plush, mohair, and viscose) is very traditional, but her structural designs are modern, giving an odd mix of old and new.
A new artist on the block is Francesca Boretti, who names her business
Another company that is superb at animal realism is JCW Bears & Furry Friends. Award winning artist, Jacqui Wickenden takes commissions for pet memorial tributes. Dogs are by far the most requested, and she recreates every breed imaginable to astonishing accuracy.
We all like to accessorise, and bears are no different. Many stallholders sell knitted outfits so you can dress your bears. Other artists already put clothes on the teddies they make. Ann Reed of Ann Made Bears goes even further than that. She creates characters and then builds a 'film' set to display them in. For example, a troupe of circus performers come with their very own tent and stage.
While Chris does not make bears or stage sets, he is a very skilled carpenter, and makes high quality bear chairs at excellent value for money. I loved the high chair he had on display this time round, and slightly amused by the commode.
The biggest spectacle of the day could be found at Pic-Nic-Bears. Nicole Woodward, who is inspired by history and literature, had created two magnificent bears dressed up as the Pearly Kings and Queens. Then just as I was about to move on, who did I see, a group of real life Pearly Kings and Queens, admiring her stall. Curiosity makes me want to know the story about how this came about.
Up until this point, the bears on display had been interesting to look at, but none were quite my cup of tea. Little did I know that just down the corridor a big surprise was waiting for me. Help Clear My Attic is a small business based in Bradford, West Yorkshire that specialise in selling vintage and collectable toys. Among a muddle of miscellaneous bears and toys, I could not believe my eyes when there on one of the top shelves sat Diesel. Diesel is a retired collectable bear designed by Charlie Bears in 2009. Diesel is one of the most sought after bears by Charlie Bear collectors, and at auction can sell for up to almost ten times his original price. The Empty My attic price was about four times the original RRP. Still expensive and more than I was willing to pay, but at fairs like these, a bit of haggling can go a long way – especially if you buy more than one item. Next to Diesel was an even older Charlie Bear – Edward, who was one of the first twenty-four made when the company started out. In the end, I got a really good deal for the two, trading in one of my other Charlie Bears as a part exchange. This find sent me walking on air for the rest of the day.
But the day was not over yet. The Basement was still to be explored. Down in the depths I discovered another new stallholder called Laura Mirjami. Laura combines her love of writing and her love of craft to create imaginative stories. She is currently working on Bilberry Woods, which is a series of storybooks, with animal characters she had brought to life through felt. Some of the characters include Benny the Bat, Bernard the Badger, and my favourite Marie the Mouse. Laura was host a competition, where you had to guess the weight of Onni the Polar Bear, and the person closest would win him. For their size, they are quite heavy. The small felt creatures would make good paperweights, while the larger creatures would make a good doorstop.
Mum was also taken with a new artist at the show. Elmwoods Little Teds was founded by Debbie Carr, who is also a felt artist. She uses sheep and alpaca fleece to create posable life-like animals and cute looking little creatures. Mum fell in love with Filbert the hare, who was realistic with just touch of anthropomorphism in the face to give him extra personality.
Although we had a bit of a slow start to the day, our Hugglets adventure once again ended in triumph. I am looking forward to September 10th with great anticipation, and if you have caught the bear bug, I expect you will be too.