Members of FMCA’s Colonial Virginians chapter have caught on to the craft of teddy bear making.
By Rich Payne, F211301
Teddy bear fever is running rampant among motorhoming ladies in FMCA’s Colonial Virginians chapter. In fact, four out of every 10 women in the chapter have happily succumbed to this epidemic. At the chapter’s regular monthly rallies, which usually attract 25 or more motorhomers, no less than a dozen members are afflicted by teddy-bear-itis.
What is teddy bear fever? It’s the euphoria these ladies apparently feel when they are totally engrossed in making — from scratch — beautiful teddy bears in a host of hues and fur types. When do these bears get worked on? On the drives to and from campgrounds in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland where the chapter holds its monthly rallies; at the “bear workshops” that take place at every chapter gathering; and at members’ homes, if a bear is still “in gestation” when a Colonial Virginians rally ends.
Teddy bear fever begins when a newcomer to one of the chapter’s two- to three-hour workshops enviously watches another woman “birthing” her bear. This is the process of snapping together the joints, which hold arms, legs, and head together; stuffing the bears with soft fiberfill batting that transforms a flat-as-a-pancake bear into its final rotund shape; and sewing the bear’s seams closed. If you’ve ever been to a teddy bear birthing, it’s easy to understand why these ladies are quickly addicted; it’s fascinating to watch. Once a bear is completed, it is named by its creator and its birth date is recorded on a tiny “birth certificate,” which usually accompanies the bear to its final home.
Considerable energy goes into the selection of bear names. Some are named in honor of the creator’s grandparents to help keep their memories alive. Some receive names that just sound bearish — like Bailey Bear, for example. Still others are given names in keeping with their place of birth, such as Margarita Sonora, which was created by one Colonial Virginians crafter during a winter caravan trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Nearly every newborn bear has its photo taken after it is named. According to one Colonial Virginian, there are several reasons for recording these births on film. First, each bruin takes on its own personality during the fur selection, pattern cutting, sewing, and stitching stages. Accordingly, it deserves a snapshot that captures its unique personality. Another chapter member told me that when she gives her bears to grandchildren and friends, she always takes photos in order to remember them after they have been turned over to their adoptive parents. (She lovingly showed me her hefty photo album.)
What are the symptoms of teddy bear fever? When a lady becomes addicted, she immediately starts thumbing through friends’ pattern files with the objective of copying those that appeal to her. Teddy bears come in all shapes and sizes. Patterns are available to create small bears and large bears — from 7 inches tall to 15 inches tall. Bear patterns can incorporate long or short snouts, legs and arms of varying lengths, as well as different-shaped tummies. Among the most popular patterns are panda bears, and those that resemble the long-armed, small-headed original teddy bear, whose name was inspired in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear cub during a hunting expedition in Mississippi.
The next symptom of teddy bear fever becomes apparent after the patterns are selected, when the new bear maker begins to stuff her motorhome with teddy bear supplies. This involves a frenzied buying spree in search of curly, long-, and short-haired furs in more colors than real bears in the woods could ever imagine. Colors range from white and cream to tan, red, dark brown, black, and even spotted — if you can believe a leopard-like teddy bear.
Next, the newly addicted bear maker fills at least one whole motorhome storage compartment with bear eyes, noses, joints (the plastic fittings that attach totally movable arms, legs, and heads), music boxes (stuffed into teddy bear ears), and an assortment of furs. Most newly addicted bear makers are so eager to begin creating their own fuzzy bruins that they dash to national chain fabric stores such as Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts or Hancock Fabrics to pick up supplies. If these outlets don’t stock furs that are exotic enough, or have the right size eyes for a particular bear, the teddy bear-afflicted make frantic calls to CR’s Crafts in Iowa, a company that caters to teddy bear makers and typically ships orders the same day.
The final stage of teddy bear fever is the sew-until-your-fingers-hurt phase. The typical bear-making Colonial Virginian has sewn and stuffed more than 20 bears during the past 18 months. The chapter member who caravanned to Mexico said that, after learning how to make bears at the Colonial Virginians’ workshops, she ran her own bear-making classes for her caravan companions. Franzi Yuhas, F205203, one of her pupils, may well hold the speed record for bear bearing. Franzi birthed 63 bears in six months — an average of one bear every three days — between February 2001 and July 2001.
At a Colonial Virginians rally, I had the good fortune to talk with a number of these bear ladies of motorhoming, and asked how they first began making the bears. It seems chapter member Brenda Wagner, F173222, also belongs to one of FMCA’s Monaco chapters and learned about it through that club.
I also inquired why the Colonial Virginians are so attached to bear making, and received a number of answers. Some ladies said that bear making is a hobby particularly well suited to going down the road. Not only can bears be stitched between reading maps and looking for highway signs, but bear supplies take up little storage room. The bears themselves also require very little space if they are left in their flat form prior to stuffing.
Others said that the teddy bears give them the feeling of having children on board. (Most Colonial Virginians’ kids are grown up and on their own.) There’s no doubt that some respondents “mother” their bears. I saw many of these stuffed animals dressed in little outfits — vests, sundresses, baseball uniforms, etc. — and learned that the bear ladies had sewn these pint-sized garments especially for them.
Some ladies said that bear making is a great group activity, since they can cut and stitch while engaging in pleasant conversation. A few in the group noted that they had sold their handmade, 10-inch bears for $25 each or more, although most had kept them or given them away.
Several ladies said that bear making gives the chapter an opportunity to engage in some “good works” projects. For example, in 2001 the Colonial Virginians bear ladies each pledged to make at least one stuffed bruin to donate at Christmas to young patients at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.
These days, it’s hard to walk around a campground without passing at least one motorhome windshield stuffed with furry passengers. Apparently, Colonial Virginians members are not the only RVers who have a fondness for teddy bears and other stuffed critters. But the bear-making ladies in this group have taken their love of these soft, cuddly bruins a step further, and their teddy bear creations delight children of all ages.