If at first you don’t succeed, make your own patterns

Sometimes it can take time to develop not only the skills needed for a craft, but also the ability to think outside the design box of pre-bought patterns.

If at first you don’t succeed,
make your own patterns

Kim Endlich did not enjoy sewing at all when she first tried it at 18. Now, she makes her livelihood sewing teddy bears! All that she needed was to break away from store bought patterns and create her own.

The first bear Kim ever created was made from an awful mint green polka dotted cotton fabric. “I hated it,” she states simply. “I really didn’t enjoy my sewing experience at all.” The machine went into a closet where it stayed for about five years, until one day Kim decided to try again. Using another store bought pattern, Kim attempted to make another bear. Again, she had no luck. It was at this point when she decided to try her hand at designing her own pattern. And she hasn't stopped since.

Today, Kim works full time as a bear artist. “I love what I do, and it gives me a lot of flexibility to spend time with my family.” A mother of five, she lives in Washington with her husband and children. She admits that they don’t fully understand her career. “I don’t think they get what it takes to do what I do. I rarely leave my studio during ‘working hours’,” she says. “They don’t see the many hours of time and love that go into each creation since I do most of my work when they are gone at school or work.”

That being said, Kim names her youngest son Tucker as her biggest fan. He’s 12, and has recently taken an interest in making a bear. He’s currently working on his first mohair teddy, and Kim can’t wait to see it finished.

The time she spends in her studio isn’t structured or planned. After some coffee and household tasks, Kim settles in to work between 5 and 6 hours each day. “I always have a basket with multiple zip lock baggies with bears cut out and ready to sew, and another basket with them all sewn and ready to turn and stuff.” This way, she is able to decide what she feels like doing on any given day.

Some days, a design will pop into her head and Kim will run with it. “Each day is a new adventure. I never know what I will be doing until I sit down in the morning and decide what kind of day is in store for me.”

Strangely, her best work is done when she’s camping with her family. They love to camp, and Kim brings along her sewing machine to do some work away from home. “I find that I have none of the distractions of the computer and phone, or the stress of everyday life,” she says. “There is nothing like sitting at the table working on a new bear, watching it snow as an elk herd strolls by.”

Kim’s inspiration from bears comes from a variety of places, though she says vintage items are among her favourite pieces. “I find antiques and vintage children’s clothing to be a great source of inspiration for me,” she reveals. “I admit I have a huge closet full of vintage clothing that I just love. I know that these pieces are a once in a lifetime find, so I have a very difficult time parting with some of them.”

In fact, there are a few bears that Kim has kept for herself. What’s really great is that for Christmas one year, Kim’s sister adopted one of her bears as a gift for Kim! “It was one of my favourite bears I had sold a few years ago,” she recalls. “He became available for sale and she saw it and re-adopted him for me.” His home now and forever is with him in her studio.

Kim’s studio is home for many things besides just bears. She jokes that because her studio door is used as the main entrance to their home, it is the family drop zone. “Everyone just drops their stuff as they pass through. It drives me crazy!”

Despite all the craziness, her studio is actually a very peaceful place. “I love a lot of light, so I have a big bay window with a seating area and red checkered pillows lining it so I can watch the birds and flowers outside my window.” Kim has a handful of artist bears displayed in her studio, along with a selection of mismatched Victorian hightop baby shoes. There are also shelves full of vintage hats that are just waiting for the right bear for them.

Both her patterns and her bears are for sale online, as well as at online shows. One of her patterns was featured in issue 206 of Teddy Bear Times. While making bears is something she loves, she does say that she struggles with being accountable for her time. “I have to remember that bears are not just a hobby for me, but they are a means of supporting my family.”

There is always something in particular that artists love about teddy bears. For Kim, bears are a “comfort and reminder of the simpler times of our childhood.” Teddies are a friendly face, a keeper of secrets, a comfortable presence. “You knew no matter what, your teddy would still love you unconditionally. I can’t help but to see a smile when I see a teddy bear, especially those well-loved ones.”

As for what’s in the future for teddy bears, Kim is very optimistic. “There are lots of fantastic new artists emerging in the world of teddy bears, and many of the more seasoned artists are forthcoming with information and techniques with these new artists.” This sharing of information brings about a creative environment that inspires new techniques, patterns and designs. “I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to make a teddy bear. It just takes practice.”

Practice and perseverance are two traits that Kim most definitely has. From hating her first bear to falling in love with each new creation, Kim has come a long way in her bear making career.