Thursday, December 27, 2012

Watch me make a mink polar bear .... step-by-step

from Mink Jacket to Polar Bears ...........

Please note: there are lots of photos on this page ... please be patient while they load

The first step is to find an old vintage mink coat or stole 
that is in good condition

This STEP-BY-STEP does not include my pattern design process which is a process that typically takes many hours and usually involves making several teddies in order to  continually refine my pattern until I am happy with the results. As an example, it took me several years of playing with my mouse pattern until it reached the point where I no longer wanted to make changes to the pattern.

Taking the garment apart:

This is a very messy process
and it can be very time consuming
depending on how the garment was constructed

This particular jacket took me several hours 
to take apart. I removed all the lining, interfacing
 and seam tape until the remaining
 pelts were easy for me to work with.

It typically takes me an average of
30 hours to complete one mink teddy bear
... from deconstruction of mink garment
to completion of teddy bear.

There can be a few surprises when taking apart old
mink coats and stoles. Due to age and poor storage
many old mink pelts will start to split at the seams 
or shred in areas where the pelts are starting to go bad.

Sometimes there are interesting surprises such as hand
written notes on the inside leather. This jacket had
the name of the original owner written on the inside
and it matched the name that was embroidered on
the lining.

 When the mink has been previously professionally cleaned
using ground walnut shells
I will find left-over shell surprises in the seams:

Even though I reuse as much as possible
I still discard a large bag full of scraps:

This is a very messy process 
(as you can see from my jeans)

If all goes well then a beautiful pelt is revealed
without too many bad areas where 
the leather may be weak from age 
and poor storage. Of course, I avoid using
those areas when laying out my 
pattern pieces.

This is what a typical mink looks like on the leather side.
Many people are surprised to know that the pelts 
are sewn together in many hundreds of tiny strips.
The diagonal stripes are the seam lines where the
thin mink strips have been sewn together.
Then these long strips are sewn together in parallel strips.
Sometimes these are parallel strips will have 
leather strips between the parallel strips.
(This example does not have the leather strips)
I prefer that my pattern pieces do not extend over 
the parallel seam lines (especially when it includes 
the leather strips). This is one reason that I
prefer to keep my bears smaller in size.

This is front of the mink  ... on a good quality mink
it is really hard see the seam lines:

Placing the pattern pieces:
I find it easier to cut out my pattern pieces
in the fabric lining first:

Then I lay out my pattern on the pelt,
always checking the length of the hairs
on the other side. This is very important
because when you are sewing the pieces together
 you want the length of the hairs to match.
As you can see, as mentioned before, my pattern 
pieces fit inside the parallel seams when possible
and each piece is gently attached with just
a little glue:

I've added this example of a beautiful dark brown mink that has very small
parallel strips with leather strips between the mink strips
... as you can see this causes ridges in the appearance of the mink.
While  I prefer to avoid these ridges by not placing
my pattern piece across the leather strips
sometimes this just can't be avoided, 
as in this mink. The teddy body will have some 
unavoidable ridges. But I will, of course, carefully
place my head pattern so it will not have ridges (if possible).

Cut the mink pattern pieces:
Finally, I can start cutting out the pieces.
I must use great care not to cut the hairs ...
only the leather backing needs to be cut out.

I always pre-trim my seam lines:

Sewing the pieces:

I have always hand-sewn all of my teddy bears.
I prefer the control of hand sewing.
Of course, after hand sewing leather pelts
daily for the past 24 years
my hands and fingers often hurt
so I try to remember to take as many
 breaks as possible
from sewing long hours. 
I use strong thread and leather needles
 when I hand sew.

Hand sewing the pattern pieces is by far 
the most time consuming step.
I measure this step in days rather than hours.
Recently, I decided to use a little machine sewing
(to spare the stress on my hands and fingers) 
when making "larger" bears ... but don't know
how well this is working since
 I don't feel like I have enough
control unless I hand baste each piece first. LOL.
Oh well, I admit it ... when it comes to my Mink Creations
I am a detail-oriented-control-freak ...
and I seriously think that is a good thing!

I do make a variety of different paw pads.
In this example I have made trapunto paw pads.
Trapunto pads are two layers: 
the ultrasuede and the lining.
I hand stitch around the outline of the toes.
Then I cut a slit in the lining so I can stuff the toes.
This trapunto process, while time consuming, 
gives the paw pads a wonderful three-dimensional quality.

To give my bears a little more "movement"
for better posing ... I insert a covered
wire in the arms and legs. 
This provides the teddy with a 
wire skeleton.
In some animals I will include wire
in the ears, tails, or any other
body part that might benefit
from movement.

(there are no photos of the next step)
Turn and stuff the arms and legs.
Turn the body and now it is time to

Put the bear together:

I prefer to joint my teddies using
cotter pins and discs. I think that 
cotter pins give me better control 
because I don't like my joints to be
too tight ... mainly because these 
vintage minks can have fragile areas.

Joint the legs to the body:

Joint the arms to the body:

The head:
Usually I make the head first 
but this time I saved the head for last.

I trim the muzzle before I sew the head
 because once I sew, turn, and stuff the head 
the head just looks like a mink ball. 
Trimming the muzzle a little first
makes it easier to find.

Add a double jointed neck: 
I give just about all of my creations
a double jointed neck
because I love the way this extra feature
allows my teddy to tilt its head.
I think that a tilted head is such a charming pose.

Insert the glass eyes and embroider the nose:

This is my favorite part ...
sculpting the face !
I love scissor sculpting, this is when the
teddy's personality comes shining through.

Attach the head to the body. 
Stuff the body.
(By the way, all of my teddies have a little tail)
The last step is to attach the ears.
Attaching the ears is a very important step
because the entire personality of the teddy
can change with just the positioning of the ears.

Teddy is almost finished ...

Finishing touches:
Finishing touches include:
* waxing and sealing the nose
* hand painting shadow details on the face

Time for their Photo Shoot !  .... but that doesn't always mean
that teddy is finished because sometimes I will see details though
the eyes of the camera that I didn't see otherwise. If I do then I will
make a few changes before the final photo shoot.

After about 60 hours of cutting, sewing, stuffing, scissor sculpting and a little paint ...
I am pleased to introduce:
Mother and Daughter Polar Bear Set