I was glad to see that all the teddies arrived safely and on time to Kensington Town Hall for the Winter Bear Fest 2018. They must have taken the car. I, on the other hand, ended up arriving twenty minutes later than usual due to London's infamous tradition of weekend engineering works on the trains. The one problem with High Street Kensington is that it if the main route there is closed off, alternative options make for a long and convoluted journey. Fortunately, the good people who run Hugglets help minimise disruption to our journeys as they always let guests know if there is going to be any trouble with public transport beforehand on their Facebook page, and suggest other ways to get to the town hall.
The bi-annual event always begins at 10:30am, although if you arrive early, you receive free chocolate while you wait in the queue; it also means that you'll be one of the first in and get to snatch up any teddy bears looking for a new home. You can, however, enter any time after opening, and with a 4 o'clock finish there is plenty of time to look around, even if you don't turn up until the afternoon. Entry is £4 for adults and free for under 16s, but if you register on the Hugglets website, then you will receive two complimentary tickets, along with a catalogue guide.
The next Teddies Festival is being held on the 9th September 2018, but so you can get a flavour of what to expect, here was my experience of last February's Winter Bear Fest. It was the first time that the event was not run by founders, Irene and Glenn Jackman; the reigns have now been passed onto Sebastian Marquardt and Tom Wellhausen, whose German company runs the world's largest teddy bear fair, TeddyBär Total and the Golden George bear artist competition. While the essence of the festival remained the same, there were a few notable changes. As stated before, entry for under 16s is now free, which is great news for parents, but it does increase the potential number of young kids wandering around, which could be the cause of some anxiety to traders who have very rare and expensive bears on their stalls. It also makes buying presents secretly more challenging. While most of the bears available are for adult collectors, there are a number specifically for children, such as Charlie Bears Baby Boutique range. Anyone wanting to get a baby shower gift might also be interested in Talechka who has created a range of 'It's a boy/girl' bears. The high-quality material looks like mohair, but it is, in fact, a very soft plush.
Another improvement is that is now a lot easier to understand announcements made over the tannoy speaker. For the first time since attending, I could clearly understand what was being said, which is important, because the announcements are of great interest; your ticket does not simply provide you with entry but is also a means to enter you into a prize draw for a £50 voucher to spend at any Hugglets event. The drawings take place every hour after 12pm and the winner is announced over the tannoy.
On top of the hourly prize draw, an additional new feature has been introduced: a treasure hunt that could win you a £250 voucher to spend at Hugglets. Hidden throughout the three floors were thirteen letters. It was our job to find all the letters and rearrange them to form a phrase. I spent over an hour looking, but despite my best efforts, the last letter eluded me - it was fun searching though.
The other changes were more to do with orientation. The layout itself remained the same, but a lot of the stallholders had been moved to different locations from their usual spots. However, as everyone is provided with a map upon entry, however, finding your favourite artists is not a problem – unless, of course, they are not there. While traders come and go every year, I was surprised by just how many of the stallholders I am accustomed to seeing, were absent. When this happens, usually the spot becomes occupied by a new trader, but a number of spots were completely empty, including Mohair Bear Making Supplies. Fortunately, Bear Basics were still there to provide any amateur bear makers with the supplies they needed, but I am still at a loss as to why so many regulars were not present. Whether the price of exhibiting has increased, I do not know, but it was a bit disappointing. That's not to say there were not new artists to see - there were, in fact, quite a few, but they trended towards the whimsical than the classical. If that is your style, then it is good news. I have a preference for more traditional bears, and thus felt there was not as much of interest this time around.
I find that old bears, in particular, have the ability to elicit a great fondness and tenderness due to their pre-loved state. They look like they need looking after in their twilight years. Two bears which drew out such feelings in me were displayed by Vintage Bears.
Not all old toys pull at my heartstrings in the same way. The antiques sold by Daniel Agnew rouse my curiosity more than anything else. I see them and immediately want to learn about their history. David is an expert in this field, so any questions you have, he'd likely be able to answer.
If you too are into traditional bears, then you might very well have a number of vintage bears in your collection, some of which might not be as in as pristine condition as they were in their youth. Fear not, Dot Bird is a master physician when it comes to the sympathetic restoration of pre-1960s bears. If your bears are younger than that, then Bear it in Mind will treat companions of any age, whether they are collectables or children's soft toys.
One of my favourite bear artists at Hugglets is Gail Thornton, whose Bisson Bears have a distinct style. These weighty bears have gorgeous faces and are made from quality mohair. Gail had a real stunner on display in February, called Aldans.
My first purchase, however, was made at the stall directly opposite. Run by a lady whose friend sadly passed away, she was selling some of her bears at bargain prices. I spotted a Lakeland Bear in hiking gear, standing by the foot of her table, and fell for him immediately. I later saw the same bear again at the Vectis Auction House table.
Around the corner, another bear created by Bower Bird Bears, caught my eye. who runs. Gill Cattroll's bears all have a similar facial appearance, but it is the variety of fabric she uses that gives them individuality. On this occasion, she made a selection of bears using a luxury haute couture silk velvet by Charles Patricia Lester, which made them look like beautiful nebulae.
On the other end of the spectrum, Shoebutton Bears uses a material much more familiar to the average household: pipe cleaners. These cute creatures remind me a bit of Sylvanian Families, not in appearance, but due to the available accessories that you can buy to go with them, such as woodland houses to create scenes in your home. At one inch high, Shoebutton Bears have always been the smallest teds at the festival, but newcomer, Flutter By Bears might just have beat them by half an inch (I'd have to get my measuring stick out).
Whether a bear is thirty inches or just one, their creation is an intense labour of love and the minimal profit made will never tally up to the man hours put into their creation. It is therefore even more admirable when bears are born for purely philanthropic purposes. Enter Dave, a limited edition Merrythought Bear that offers of A Touch of Hope by helping to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
It's not just bears that like to get in on the act, lots of animals join the picnic and hope to be adopted. Rabbits and hares are very popular, and one of my mum's favourites is byElmwoods Little Teds, who creates poseable fleece sculptures.
As a nation of pet lovers, it is no surprise that JCW Bears & Furry Friends are also popular at Hugglets. Jacqui Wickden is an award-winning soft sculpture artist who takes commissions to capture the spirit and quirkiness of our much loved and dearly departed pets.
One of the reasons that Hugglets has such a diverse range of bears at its festivals is because it has a diverse range of artists, who come from all over the world. If you pay particular attention, you can notice certain styles running through different artists who are from the same country. One new artist I liked was from the Netherlands and is the founder of Atelier Bears in Mind. I particularly liked a bear called Socks, so named for its two-toned fur, which differed at the paws.
I debated whether to get Socks for a long time, but another teddy with a green jumper and growler won me over. He had such a sweet face, and when the creator offered a 40% discount, it sealed the deal. It is always worth negotiating as most traders are willing to manoeuvre a little on the price. There was a giant polar bear my mum loved but was hesitant to buy because of the price. I managed to knock £30 off for her, resulting in a sale.
Once you have bought your bears, you then need to consider how to display them once you get them home. Shelves are an easy option, but if you want to be a bit more creative, then there are other options out there, such as. Christopher's Bear Chairs. Christopher makes good value, high-quality wooden furniture especially for teddies to park their bottoms on. The only problem you'll face is when your bears come to argue over who gets to sit in the chair.