Start With a Kit
Although you can source all of your patterns, fur, eyes and all the other supplies you need individually to make your bear unique, it is recommended that you use a kit for your first bear. It is best to start with a bear that is about 10 inches (25 cm). Anything smaller or bigger will present more challenges which generally need more experience. If you have been given a special pattern or piece of fur that you really want to use, have a look at this article for information on what you need: Put Together Your Own Teddy Bear Making Kit.
Laying Out Your Pattern and Cutting
Once you have gathered your supplies, take the time to read through the instructions that come with your pattern. You will need to copy as many pattern pieces as you are required to cut. For example, you may see an instruction that says: Inner Arm, cut 2 (rev 1). This means that you need to copy this piece twice as you will need two of them. One of these needs to be traced and cut out in reverse. Make sure you transfer all markings, such as the placement of joints and openings.
After you have traced all of your pattern pieces and cut them out, you will need to lay these out on the back of your mohair. Most patterns will show the pile direction on them. The down arrow points to the bottom of the fabric. The down side is indicated by where the pile hangs below the backing. Think about the direction the your own hair grows. Your may want to experiment with a slight variation in pile direction once you have completed a bear or two.
Double check that you have reversed all the pieces that need to be reversed, especially if you don't have any extra mohair. Trace and mark all lines given on to the back of your mohair. You can use a marking pen or marker for this if the backing fabric is dark; use a pencil for lighter fabrics as markers will stain through.
After transferring the pattern pieces, the cutting process begins. You will want to use small scissors or the tips of your scissors only as you need to cut the backing fabric only and not the pile. This is tedious, but do not rush through it; cutting through the pile will affect the result of your bear.
Sewing Your Bear
After cutting all the pieces out, match up all pairs. For example match up the leg pieces and their corresponding foot pads. Put these together with the right sides on the inside, as this is how they will get sewn together. If you have never made a bear before, start with easy pieces, such as the sides of the body.
It is advisable to hand sitch your first bear until you understand how the fabric works. Although you may never part with your first bear, hand stitched bears are valued above machine sewn ones. With right sides together and pieces exactly matched, use a back-stitch to sew 1/5" (5mm) from the edge. Make sure you avoid all areas that you have been directed to keep open as you will need to use this area to turn right side out and then for stuffing. Once you have completed a piece, such as the legs and have sewn the foot pads on as well, turn it right side out straight away. The longer you leave your sewn pieces inside out, the more likely the fur will crease. It will be hard to tame once this has happened.
Eyes, Nose and Ears
With all the pieces stitched together and turned right side out, it is time to work on the facial features. Unless you are using safety eyes (which are more difficult to accurately place) you will start by stuffing the head.
Most bear artists start by adding the eyes first as it is often easier for them to balance the positioning of the nose and ears afterwards. You may find that you prefer to start with the nose first. Do what makes you most comfortable as your bear's facial features are what makes the bear.
For the eyes, test the positioning before sewing them in. There are test eyes that can be used if this makes it easier for you. To sew the eyes in, use a very strong thread cut long. Knot this string at the end so that it won't come through the mohair. Tie it through the base of the neck and up through where you want your first eye positioned. Thread the eye through and use your pliers to pinch the backing loop closed. Then send your needle back through the spot it came out and then drawn it through the position of the second eye and repeat. Stitch back and forth between the eyes under the fur until the eyes feel secure, then bring the thread back out at the base of the neck and tie it off.
Determining the shape and stitch of the nose is challenging, even for experienced bear makers, so don't panic if this is difficult for you. To begin, trace an outline where you would like your bear's nose to be. Cut off a long piece of your chosen embroidery thread and double or triple knot at the end so it can not slip through. Starting at one side, make even stitches very close together until you reach the other side of the nose. If it doesn't look right, it is actually easier to start again rather than cover it up. When finished, pull the thread out at the bottom tip of the nose to make the mouth. Then pull the thread out at the base of the neck and cut it off close to the edge of the bear.
Use a ladder stitch to sew the ears closed then place them on the side of the head. Using a whip stitch, sew the ears into place. This can be difficult at worst and time consuming at best, however it is best just to be patient and make sure that the ears are sturdy when sewn on. Hide the thread by pulling it out the other side of your bear's head. Cut off the thread as close as you can to the knot.
Start by adding the head to the body. This is typically done using cotterpin joints. Place a washer on to the cotterpin and hold at the base of the neck of your bear's head. The ends, not the head should be sticking out the bottom. Stich the base of the neck closed with a slip stitch and then pulling the threads tightly, being careful not to lose the joint on the inside of the head. Push the cotterpin ends through the hole left at the top of the body pieces. Slip a washer on the inside of the body and curl the ends back until they are circled tight against the base of the washer.
To attach the limbs to the body, you will need to make a small hole that corresponds to the joint markings on the inside of the leg, arm and body pieces. Do not cut holes, as it will lead to the mohair ripping apart as it is stuffed. Instead you will need to pull the fabric apart by using an awl inserted gently into the natural weave of the backing fabric. Use a pencil if you do not have an awl handy. Then place a washer on to the four remaining cotterpins and push these through the holes on the insides of the limbs and then into the corresponding holes of the body pieces. Place a washer on to each cotterpin on the inside of the body. Curl back the ends of each of these as you did for the head attachment.
Stuffing and Finishing
To finish your bear, you will need to stuff and close all the openings. Start with the arms and legs and not the body as you made need to make small adjustments to the joints. This will need to be done from inside the body. Push the stuffing down to the paw and foot pads before stuffing the lengths. If you are using weights, you may want to add these in before the stuffing. Once the limbs are evenly stuffed to your liking and the joints are as tight as needed, stitch the limbs closed using the ladder stitch that was used on the ears. As you close each opening, pull the thread through the stuffing to the other side, knot off again and then cut the thread as close as possible to the fabric.
Continue with the body opening and then your bear is almost complete. You will need to gently pull out any hairs that have been caught in the seams and possibly trim some hairs down at the same seams or on the face for effect. All that is left after that is to name your bear and start planning the next one.
For more in-depth information and techniques, invest in a good teddy bear making book. These are invaluable as a resource as your passion and skill for teddy bear making increases.