One of the more peculiar aspects of the collectibles business is having to think one season ahead. Here we are in the month of August and as you can see from my posts last week, I'm already working on Halloween items. Throw in the lead time for publications and this week I'm actually putting the finishing touches on a pair of Christmas bears that will appear in my ad in the December issue of
These two bears have been a learning experience for me ~ with the emphasis being that I've learned it's not all that scary to experiment. As most of you know, I'm rather new to the larger mohair bears ~ most of my work has been on a much smaller scale and with very different materials. Although I really like the heads with the trimmed snouts that I've created for The Gentry, I was put off by the stubble this leaves behind, especially for the ladies. *gasp*
Before I go any further, you have to understand that doing anything to a head at this stage of construction is daunting because of how much time has already been invested in it. Not only does it require the most exact stitching and meticulous stuffing, especially the nose area, but placement of the features must be done carefully to bring out the charming expression of each bear. Heck, it can take me 20 minutes just to choose glass eyes that match precisely enough for my standards ~ I have a large box of eyes.
Determined to find a solution and heeding the mantra of 'the interweb knows', I found some bear artists who shared the techniques they use when creating faces.
Trimming I cannot tell you how many hours I spent trimming closer and closer, trying many types of really sharp scissors as this was suggested by more than a few artists. Eh ~ still couldn't get what I'd call a smooth finish. But I do now have a rather large collection of scissors.
Plucking More tedious hours were spent actually plucking out each individual strand of mohair (yes, really) which did give a smoother surface, but what's left is the rather coarse weave of the fabric backing showing. Nope ~ not what my ladies deserve.
Needle felting I was intrigued by the smoothness and shaping you can get using wool roving, but for my taste, the problem is the color differences between the mohair fibers and the wool. I suppose if you took the time to dye them together you'd be able to get a good match ~ but that kinda time I don't have.
Then I remembered something I read on Joanne Livingston's blog about how she needle felts individual strands of mohair to shade her bears' faces. (If you aren't familiar with Joanne's work, do yourself a BIG favor and visit her blog and newly upgraded website. She makes the most fabulous realistic bears!!! Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to see her work in a museum someday. And she is truly one of the most gentle, generous souls I've met online.)
Now, I must say I'm nowhere near ready to attempt the intricacy of Joanne's work, but when I thought about the structure of mohair and wool, it seemed reasonable that both of these hair shafts should behave in a similar manner when subjected to a felting needle. After unraveling the mohair fibers from the scraps left from cutting out my bear pieces (using Joanne's technique), I carded the resulting pile of fluff with two wire brushes until I had what resembled wool roving ~ in the exact color that I needed! My small practice patch turned out well enough to spur me on and I plunged in ~ literally plunged my felting needle into the bear's face. And I'm glad I did.
Here's the result:
So the lessons learned are to not be afraid to ask for help, carefully think through the process you are about to attempt and remember that meticulous, detailed work is usually worth it in the end.
I am so excited to start my next bears!!!
Christmas music anyone?