giovedì 4 agosto 2011


When I am asked about my creations by people that are not familiar with the world of teddy bear making, I have a hard time explaining exactly what it is all about. I feel that defining my craft as "soft sculpture" might feel pretentious, but simply saying that I make stuffed animals is reductive.
There are elements that are well known by collectors and teddy bear makers that I would like to explain to the non initiated...:-)
Every animal that I make is OOAK. This is an acronym that stands for One Of A Kind. It means that every creation is unique, it is like a person, or a real animal. You cannot find two exactly the same. This is not true for mass market soft toys that are made in many exemplars all alike.
A couple of examples.
Two penguins that I recently made, PUCK and ZAC. They are from the same design. You can see they come from the same family, but they are clearly unique, like two brothers.
 Here below pictures of the two Igel brothers, Vladimir and Igor. They are both from the same pattern, but their needle felted faces are clearly different and unique. 

Each creation is entirely made by myself. This means that the designing, the sewing, the needle felting, polymer clay sculpting, shading, trimming....all the techniques involved into creating this unique animal are my own achievement. It also means hours of work.

What does it really involve, imagining and crafting a little furry creature from scratch? 
Sometimes I start with a vague idea. "I want to make a dog". Sometimes I have a precise idea . "I want to make a welsh terrier". The first step is always...'research'. In the internet age, it is oh so easy. I start looking on Google for images of real life photos, or sometimes drawings of what I have in mind. I put every 'inspiring' image into a folder. Sometimes an image has only an interesting element to it. The proportions of the animal, a nose, the colours. When I have enough inspiring images, it is time to start designing.

Designing is one of my favourite steps. It can be awfully long and full of mistakes, but I like the challenge of translating the image in my head into a three-dimensional project. At this stage, I already have chosen the fur that I will use but I always try my new designs on cheap cotton fabric first. Proportions change when using fur, but this first step is very important for me.
Part of a  prototype for a fox cub
When I am sure of my newly designed project, I can finally start: tracing the shapes on the fabric, cutting, trimming, hand sewing, turning the pieces. There are many different stages in this long work: probably the most important and defining one is the face-head shaping. In my case, the muzzle-eyes area is shaped through needle felting. I enjoy using this technique as it is  very versatile, you can obtain any shape you like.

Vladimir Igel when he still had no face
Valdimir Igel with his sweet needle felted face
As for the noses, I prefer sculpting them with polymer clay.
Sculpting a bear nose Click here to see how I do it
Another part of the process that I always like very much is the shading. I love seeing a 'rough' creation taking life thanks to delicate brush strokes.

Finally, when my creation is born, all sewn, stuffed, needle felted, trimmed, shaded...I spend some more hours designing a cute accessory to go with it. My 'brand' is felt, as I love doing little felt projects. 
Oscar the cat and his felt fish

Tino Elefantino on his paraglide
When the accessory is done, there is one last important thing. The identity card. All my creations have peculiar and distinctive identity cards, sewn from felt in matching style and colour with the accessory. I always use a piece of the animal's fur, it is a sort of DNA proof!
On the identity card I write the name of the animal, the date of birth, and FB, that are my initials and my signature.
Igor Igel on his daiseis felt mat...

....showing proudly his birth certificate

I choose the best materials for my creations. It is very important to me as so many hours and efforts go into giving life to them, I like to think of the end result as a high quality achievement, not only for how it is made, but also because it can last. 
I use mohair, alpaca and sometimes high quality faux fur. There is a very wide range of choice of those beautiful materials, and choosing the 'right' fur for each project is very important....and it is also fun!
I stuff my creations with sheep wool, and add enclosed granulate for adding a nice weight. 
As for shading, I use different mediums, depending on the project. Oils and pastels are my favourite.
As for the eyes, I mostly use black German glass eyes. 

I hope this has been an interesting read. Most of all, I hope it will help you appreciate the time, passion and  efforts that go into creating one of these little creatures.

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