Teddy Bear Hospital: Helping Childhood Friends back to Loving Condition

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

I have been very busy lately, as there have been many vintage bears needing care and restoration. In this article, we will look at two childhood friends—one from the 1930s and one from the 1950s. They’re both still with their original owners and, as you can see, they are very worn and much loved.

The Irish Teddy bear before a trip to Dot Bird’s hospital.

The Irish Teddy bear after the restoration was complete.

Irish Teddy Bear
The first patient is a small bear, around 12 inches tall. It’s generally thought that these bears were made by the Irish manufacturer, Tara Toys (not to be confused with the American company Tara Toy Corporation). Some examples have been found with small labels stitched into the footpad seam with the words “Gaeltarra Eireann,” which indicates it was made in Ireland. Some of these bears had a mechanism inside their head and body, which enabled their mouth to open when the tummy of the bear was pressed, like this bear—the larger bear in this series had levers at the back of the head to operate the mouth action.

As you can see from the “before” image, the fabric around his mouth had worn away, exposing part of the wooden frame in his upper muzzle. He had lost his nose, mouth, one eye, and a lot of his blond mohair. His pads were worn away, too, but I felt confident that I could help him.
I began by repairing and patching the fabric around the lower and upper muzzle, and then pressed his tummy to open his mouth. The red felt lining had nearly all worn away, so I replaced that where required. Then I sewed him a new nose with aged embroidery floss. I secured the loose black threads from the top of his mouth, then matched a new eye to his remaining one and secured it into place. After repairing a small hole in his left ear, I checked his body and limb fabric for any other holes or worn areas.

His paw and foot pads were originally Rexine fabric (an old type of faux leather cloth), but this fabric is not available anymore, so the owner decided to have wool felt. I re-covered his pads with wool felt in a shade of brown that matched the traces of the original color, leaving the remains of the original pads underneath.

When his repairs were completed, I sat him down for his final photograph and pressed his tummy to check that his mouth was still opening and closing properly; I’m glad that I managed to restore his cheeky smile!

A 1930s-era Merrythought bear, around 19 inches tall. The end of his muzzle torn off by the family dog many years ago. He had quite a few other problems too.

When Susan, his owner, arrived to collect him, she was a little emotional—it had been many years since her childhood friend was in possession of all his features.

Merrythought Teddy Bear
The second patient is a Merrythought bear a little larger than the previous one, around 19 inches tall. He, too, had seen many adventures and had also been unfortunate enough to have the end of his muzzle torn off by the family dog many years ago. He had quite a few other problems too—worn pads, a hole in his tummy, sewn-on left arm, saggy stuffing and very if any fur left, to name but a few.

I began work on him by releasing the sewn-on left arm. Then I opened the final seam on his back and removed some stuffing and the broken squeaker. I put the stuffing to one side, and then selected some vintage fabric to line and patch the hole in his tummy. Once this was completed, I prepared the left arm for re-jointing with new components, re-jointed the arm and put the stuffing back inside. His owner had asked me to replace the broken squeaker, so once I had it in place in his tummy, I topped up the original stuffing with more kapok to help him sit up a little bit better and closed the back seam.

Once his tummy was secured and the stuffing wasn’t leaking out anymore, I turned my attention to his poor face. I chose some more vintage fabric to repair his muzzle, cut it into the shapes that I needed, and then pinned it onto his muzzle following the seam lines, adding a little more excelsior stuffing to bring it back into shape. Once I was happy with the shape of his muzzle, I sewed the pieces into place and added a nose and mouth with aged floss in the typical 1930s Merrythought style. Next, I removed the black stitches that represented his eyes and replaced them with a pair of amber glass eyes, securing them in the original holes. I was happy to see that he had retained the Merrythought button in his ear, although his foot label had been lost many years ago.

This particular bear had cotton pads originally; wool felt is more common. As you can see, they’d torn quite a bit, so his owner asked me to re-cover them all, which I did, using cotton fabric in a similar color and leaving the original pads underneath. I also replaced the missing webbed claw paw stitches and foot stitches with aged floss. Merrythought bears from this era usually had webbed claw stitching on their paws, with four claws sewn across the mohair and pad fabric, joined by horizontal stitches across the ends. (They’re different from teddy bears manufactured by Farnell, which usually have five claws).

The last job was to add a little more kapok stuffing to the tops of his limbs to support the sagging fabric and stop it from creasing, which can lead to the fabric fibers breaking along the creases.

When Susan, his owner, arrived to collect him, she was a little emotional—it had been many years since her childhood friend was in possession of all his features. I was really happy to help her, and teddy, too, of course! She left with teddy clutched close to her, already planning the outfit that she was going to knit for him to keep him warm!

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

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