I have another wonderful craft interview to bring you, this time its full of teddies! Thank you to Alison for taking part, and I’m always looking for more chronically ill crafters to feature on my blog so if you would like to take part or know someone who would then please do get in touch.
Who are you and what’s you craft?
My name is Alison Dunlop and my fb page is Tinted Teddies and I make plush, colourful teddy bears.
What illness/es do you have?
I have suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) for 20 years. Main symptoms affecting my crafting are severe widespread pain, fatigue of muscles after little use, and general loss of energy after very little effort (and which is not relieved by normal rest or sleep).
What are your favourite pieces of craft equipment?
I don’t use any major pieces of equipment other than the obvious – needle, thread, scissors, embroidery thread (for noses and for stringing). I prefer very dense, woven backed faux furs as they produce much cuddlier teddies than fun fur. I have a basic pattern, designed by myself, and make changes to it with each bear so that I never make quite the same bear twice. I learn what is possible (or not) with every bear I make.
Why did you start crafting?
I started getting crafty when I became ill 20 years ago. I’d always had the urge but not the time. At that time I painted portraits – human and animal – and other subjects, and sold at craft fairs. But portraits are the kind of thing that people think hard about before ordering so sales were not massive. Also, I became too ill over time to attend many fairs. I dabbled in jewellery making too. During that time I also developed an interest in collecting teddy bears and, about 2 years ago, I decided to see if I could make a bear myself. I got a ready made pattern to begin with and made a very basic bear. Then I began to imagine how my own pattern would look and started to design my own bears. It’s just a hobby. I do sell via my fb page and word-of-mouth, but I don’t make much profit. I like to sell at reasonably low prices as I prefer people to be able to enjoy my creations rather than sell fewer bears (because of cost) and make more profit. I keep my materials simple and sell at prices that cover my costs, adding about £3 profit. To me, making my bears is a way of doing something worthwhile now I am unable work. It’s like my way of achieving something. And I love to see the pleasure on people’s faces when they receive one of my bears.
What adaptations or changes have you had to make to craft because of your illness?
I can only sew bears when I’m feeling reasonably well, when my pain is fairly well controlled and when the lack of coordination that comes with M.E. is at a minimum. (Making jewellery proved tricky as my illness got worse as the fiddly jobs became too much for my fingers to handle). It doesn’t take too long for my fingers to become very painful and for me to get a headache from concentrating so bears have to be made in small increments. But I can sit in front of the TV and spread all my bits and pieces around me on the sofa so, once settled, I do okay. Sometimes I get my hubby to put everything away for me (though he has M.E. too so is often no better than me). Often I leave clearing up til next day. Materials have to be bought by mail order as I don’t have the ability to go to the shops for them.
I have a favourite teddy almost every time I make a new one! But if I had to choose, it would be a little bunny I made last year and which I liked enough to end up keeping her. I love the colour and her fur is amazingly soft. And I just loved the expression on her little face. I always love my cutest (and saddest) bears best – the ones that cry out for love!
Here are a few others I’ve loved including my Viking Teddy, Tattoo Teddy (for a tattoo-loving friend), and Daniel Doorstop who has reinforced legs so that he can stop the door before it bangs against the wall in my bedroom.
How expensive is your craft?
The fur is the most expensive part of my craft as I hate cheap faux fur. I’ve found a couple of great suppliers of luxury fur but it does cost significantly more – about £15 to make a 12″ bear. Then there are eyes, threads, and stuffing plus any accessories (hats, glasses etc) which I tend to find on the internet. Glass eyes can cost about £7 a pair, but I’ve found some beautiful plastic ‘safety’ eyes on eBay which I prefer as they are not a choking hazard for younger children.
Advice for someone with a chronic illness starting off in your craft?
If you want to try bear making start with a simple bear pattern (with instructions) – try eBay to find one you like – and a reasonably cheap fur. Once you know you can do it, and like it, buy eyes, noses, threads, stuffing in bulk to save money. You don’t have to design your own patterns, there are plenty to be had out there and, as you go on, you can always tweak them to make them slightly different. Don’t underestimate the time and energy to do this. Do it in small doses til you know what you can handle without harming yourself or exacerbating your condition.
Be aware that, by law, bears like this ‘cannot be recommended’ for children under 14 years, as they don’t have the European safety mark (CE Mark). That means that if you are selling them, you need to be careful that people are aware that they are hand-made, have small parts, may not be fire safe etc. They are really collector’s bears rather than play-bears.