I’m excited for this second installment of my new blog post series, “Meet the Pattern.” This series reveals the stories behind knitting and crochet patterns. Each story will differ a little, but the goal is to:
- introduce you to a new pattern
- show you what’s involved in making it
- hear some of the designer’s thoughts
- follow my finished object on its first adventures.
Now, let’s meet another pattern!
The teddy bears that save us
This story has 3 teddy bear saviors: a famous TV teddy, a romantic gift, and a pattern that saved a man from homelessness.
One of my all-time favorite custom commissions is this recent order for Mr Bean’s teddy bear. If you’re a major Rowan Atkinson fan like me, you’ll love his stand-up, Blackadder, and Johnny English roles. Of course, he’s most famous for his exquisitely silent physical comedy as Mr Bean, infantile yet endearing with his brown teddy bear.
A dreamboat (surely) named Cody wanted to surprise his long-distance girlfriend with the bear from her favorite TV show for her birthday. Their story is so adorable and she is so lucky to have such a thoughtful, sneaky BF. We packed her bear with secret customized references to their relationship, which he dished all about to me.
Instead of starting from scratch for this bear, I modified a knitting pattern for a similar bear by Gregory Patrick called The Teddy Bear That Saved Me. He means it literally: knitting saved Gregory from homelessness and addiction, kind of like it did for me during my depression and anxiety in grad school. He told me he’s knit over 1,000 bears in the past two years, and even wrote a book about it. Here’s his Craftsy profile:
So, I look more suited for Nascar. A simple and scruffy guy in boots and ballcap who happens to be a great knitter. A year ago I suffered homelessness and was sent alive in the woods, 20 miles from the nearest town. With no car, no money, and beginning to lose hope, I started knitting teddy bears to sell so that I could feed myself. The little guys have opened up doors for me I never knew existed….
We had a lot to talk about!
The perfect teddy bear pattern
There are tons of teddy bear patterns, but few of them really stand out like The Teddy Bear That Saved Me. Recreating a sentimental item requires getting it just right. First, I knit a bear directly from the pattern to understand how to change it. I used the lovely wool/alpaca blend from Nashua called Snowbird in natural for my friend’s new baby boy. Second, I knit Mr Bean’s bear in Berroco’s Ultra Alpaca wool/alpaca blend in potting soil mix, using some undyed Malabrigo Merino Worsted wool for the hands. Just a few little shape changes made him a pretty dead ringer for Mr Bean’s bear, don’t you think?
Gregory’s story mulled around in my head while I knit, and I had many questions for him by the time I finished. Come knit a teddy bear and listen in.
Lorna: Why did you decide the world needed another teddy bear pattern?
Gregory: You’re so correct. There are a gazillion teddy bear patterns out there. And thank you for saying mine stands out! But, when I first knit that bear, it was primarily so I could raise money for food to begin with, then a place to live. Many in the knitting community said that I should raise my prices, but I wanted to keep them affordable. I wanted anyone at all to be able to buy one. If you have a 50% off coupon from your local Jo-Ann store, and the pattern, and some polyfill, you can easily make three of these teddy bears off one skein of the Fisherman’s wool for less than $15.
Lorna: What level of difficulty would you call this project? How long does it take you to knit a bear?
Gregory: I would call the difficulty of the project moderate. If you have a handle on the use of double pointed needles, then this is an easy pattern. You can have this bear finished in less than 5 hours. If you’ve not had much experience with DPNs, it may seem a little more difficult.
Lorna: It’s wonderful of Lion Brand Yarns to supply you with Fisherman’s Wool.
Gregory: Lion Brand was brilliant in helping me out. More than you might ever know. They were not only generous with their yarn, but with their time and advice, which can be more valuable than cash. I’m forever grateful to them for input, and their yarn. I’ve knit up over 1,000 bears in the last two years.
Lorna: What other yarns have you found are ideal for this bear?
Gregory: Animal fibers work best. Cotton sucks. 100 percent acrylic will lead you to suicide. But, sometimes I find a blend with more wool than acrylic works really well. But, to be honest? Wool, full on wool always seems to work better than anything else.
Lorna: When I design shapes, I approach it as a variation on a basic shape. Other designers tell me they use trial and error, with lots of ripped out stitches. As a designer, the number one thing I wonder when knitting a pattern like your bear is, “How did the designer choose this series of stitches and rows to get this shape?”
Gregory: This pattern was designed off the amigurami idea in crochet. Learn to increase and decrease with your stitches and you can make any shape possible. You’re right. Work up, knit up…..pull everything out. I often tell people my first teddy bear looked more like a knit potato.
Lorna: I can appreciate your analogy with crochet amigurumi. Knitting can seem so much more mysterious than crochet, but you’re right–increasing and decreasing are skills that go far. It’s comforting to hear that when you knit because you have to, your bears turn out worse, because the same thing happens to me!
Gregory: And you have to keep learning. That’s what I’ve always loved about knitting. You LEARN patience, you LEARN to accept your mistakes and to correct them quickly. You LEARN that no two pieces are exact, and the uniqueness rules. You LEARN that sometimes you know nothing and that you have more to LEARN.
Lorna: How much time do you spend knitting and writing? Do you have a routine?
Gregory: My routine? Wow. It’s rather boring. Wake. Make coffee. Knit. Eat lunch. Knit. Make dinner. Knit. Crawl into bed. I do spend about 16 hours a day knitting. Sometimes I take a nap mid day (especially now since its so hot). But, I do spend every waking minute working on these bears. My writing has taken a touch of a side step lately, but that’s ok.
When I want to write, I’ll put the bears down for a minute and write a page or two. I don’t like either the writing, nor the bears worked up because they need to be. My writing ends up reading flat and my bears look pissy. So, I knit and knit and write and write just when both of those expressions decide to be born. And right now? The teddy bears are ruling.
Lorna: Have you heard of any adventures your finished bears have had?
Gregory: People send me pictures of their bears in their new homes often. I encourage it. I WANT to see that they’re being adored, used, held, squeezed, drug through the mud, tucked under bedsheets. I guess I call myself a craftsman, rather than artist. I don’t want you to sit and stare at the bear…I want you to hold it, have your child spend moments with it….and 20 years from now pull it out of a box in the attic and say, “Oh…..wow. This was my little teddy bear……He went everywhere with me.”
Lorna: Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers! I know people will be eager to read your story.
Gregory: Wish we had the chance to actually chit chat over coffee. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and if there is ANYTHING I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask!
Swoon! Gregory is such a charming guy. You will thank yourself for heading over to his Facebook Page to follow him and his army of teddy bears. All of his classic toy patterns make a gift more full of love than the recipient could ever imagine, don’t you think?
Teddy meets girl
Nothing beats handmade gifts, and fortunately the world is still full of people who know it. Since I was so intrigued by this little love bear, I asked Cody to fill in the back story a little. Let me simulate his sweet response (boyfriends, take notes!):
Um, yeah, jealous much? What a sweetheart!
The little details he referred to are equally endearing. I discreetly embroidered each of their initials on the bear’s palms. For Cody’s handmade heart pendant, we added a little back pocket with a secret tethered pouch inside. The pouch is in a color that evokes the Ecuadorian cloud forests, which is a special part of the world for this squee-inducing couple.
I made a paper hat for teddy just like the one he wears in the show and shipped him off to his new home. I trust he is doing a good job keeping Cody’s girlfriend company while he’s not there, and I’m sure he made her birthday hard to top.