Teddy Bear Hospital: The Recovery of a Pair of Bears

(This article first appeared in the May 2013 issue of Teddy Bear & Friends magazine)

This early Farnell bear, dating to the 1920s, looks much better after restoration.

Early Farnell Bear
This rather worn but terribly sweet little 1920s Farnell bear arrived at a teddy-bear fair I was attending in London. I was expecting him, but when he arrived and I could handle him; it was apparent that he was very fragile and needed some tender care to help him last another 80 or 90 years.

I took him home with me and, when it was his turn for repair, I carefully unwrapped him from his protective tissue paper and assessed him carefully. He had quite a few problems: his stuffing had settled in his arms, his legs were practically empty, his pads had worn away and his neck joint was showing under his chin, as well as the splits in his mohair fabric and half an eye—to name but a few.

His restoration began by opening the front body hand-sewn seam, removing a little stuffing, then removing the head joint. I repaired and re-sewed the head fabric around the joint, then re-jointed his head to his body.

The stuffing was put back inside his body along with a little more kapok just under the head joint, then his body seam was closed.

Before restoration, the Farnell bear was torn, worn and sad.

I repaired the small splits in the mohair fabric in various places on his arms and body, then once he was a little more secure I gave him a very gentle surface clean to remove the dust from his fur and left him to air off overnight. 

The following day I continued his repairs, adding kapok stuffing to all four limbs, then re-covering all four pads with wool felt that I color-matched to the remains of his original pads.

I stitched the claws over the new pads with aged embroidery floss in the typical Farnell style, then used the same floss to fill in the missing nose and mouth stitches, following the original holes for shape and size.

The edges of his ears had become loose over the years; I re-secured them. After removing the remaining half of his eye, I selected a pair of amber glass eyes to match the broken original and secured them to his face in the original holes.

I was so pleased to see this bear back to some of his former glory, and I am happy to report that his owner was pleased, too, especially as she had owned him all her life. She was so happy to have him home and able to take pride of place on her bed once again.

After restoration, this Blue Ribbon bear looks nearly new.

1960s Blue Ribbon Bear
Our second bear is another British bear made by Blue Ribbon Playthings, (see page 203 of “The Century of the Teddy Bear” by Constance King for a picture of a boxed bear from the same company).

These bears are identifiable by their felt sewn-on noses and are often mistaken for or Chad Valley bears or Pedigree bears, which made a range of bears with felt noses that are otherwise quite different.

I have handled quite a few of these bears and own three of them. One has Rexine pads and is musical, like the bear featured here; one has white synthetic fur pads like the one pictured in the book and the last has glow-in-the-dark pads and ear linings. All of them have the same felt nose, but none have a sewn-on label, so it was lovely to find the identity of them in the book.

This little bear had been stuffed with foam chippings and dates from the early 1960s. This was quite a popular type of stuffing, as it could be washed; indeed, Wendy Boston manufactured the first washable bear and used this type of stuffing. Unfortunately no one could have foreseen that, over time, the stuffing would break down into a sticky, sandy mess that clumped together and stuck to the inside of the bear.

This little bear had not been washed, but his stuffing had disintegrated through many years of play and he was very floppy. When this happens with foam stuffing, it’s difficult to add extra stuffing because the grains that are left inside are very sticky. 

Before restoration, the Blue Ribbon bear is unrecognizable due to age and wear.

Foam chip pings were used to make bears washable, but they don’t hold up over time.

The old stuffing has to be completely removed and the fabric has to be hand-washed to remove it all. It took some time to remove the joints and all the stuffing; you can see what a mess the stuffing made in one of the photos shown.

Once I had teddy clean and dry, I re-stuffed his head and limbs with a mix of kapok and cotton stuffing, which will give him softness and also a little weight. I prepared his limbs and head for re-jointing with new components, then re-covered all four of his pads with brown wool felt.

After re-jointing his limbs, reattaching them to his body and stuffing his body with the kapok and cotton mix, I also added some excelsior stuffing around the new music box to help keep it in position. I closed the back body seam and checked that his eyes, nose, and mouth were still secure.

Lastly I gave his fur a brush through to fluff it a little and sat him down to take his “after” picture. 

I was happy to see him all back together again and looking a lot better. His rather quirky character had emerged. His owner was pleased to have him home; she had really missed her childhood friend and was glad that he was secure enough to take part in her life once again.

Dot Bird lives in Yorkshire, England, where she runs a teddy bear hospital and restores antique and vintage teddy bears.

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