Bunnies that is the simple answer. When is a bear artist not a bear artist? When they devote themselves to making bunnies. Shelly Allison has always loved rabbits.
“I didn’t have a teddy bear as a child it was always rabbits, lots of them” she says. “My first was homemade. My nana bought it for me from a school fair at about the age of four. I still have him today but he now belongs to my son, he’s just looking after him for me.”
“He isn’t a jointed rabbit; he’s what I would call a flat rabbit, all in one with sticking out arms and legs.”As Shelly grew up she discovered bear shops and took to visiting them in the hope of finding a rabbit.
“There wasn’t really very much choice” she says. “There were Steiff rabbits and crouching rabbits, but I was looking for a big jointed rabbit, like a teddy bear, and not a teddy bear with rabbit ears!”
Through sheer frustration at not being able to find what she wanted Shelly decided to make one herself. “Nine years ago I decided that I would have ago at making one. I had to make my pattern as I couldn’t find one to work from.
I was living down south at the time and found a teddy bear magazine in a shop listing mohair suppliers. Oakley fabrics was not far from me so I took a visit and bought my first piece of mohair and some eyes.
Trial and big errors!
“I didn’t use the piece of mohair because I just couldn’t get the head right. I had a bag full of cloth mock ups and frustrated I bundled everything into a bag and put it in the loft.”
It was several house moves and another child, six years of renovating her house later that Shelly’s mind finally turned back to her poor rabbit and that bag of mohair in the loft!
“I decided to have another go” she says. “I did a course run by H&M bears in April 2006 and really enjoyed it. It taught me about joints and finishing etc.”
“So in October 2006 I decided to drag the bag out from the loft and have another go at a rabbit.”
“I bought some books, but to get the head shape it was just trial and error, my head pattern bares no resemblance to a teddy bear head pattern.”
“My patterns were somewhat nearer to the look I wanted and a couple of tweaks later and here I am. I decided to dress my rabbits as it is an opportunity to use my skills and I do enjoy it.”
Shelly makes it sound so simple but in reality a rabbit pattern can be a very taxing thing! The slope of the face needs to be just right, the eyes set differently to a bears, the ears, whilst being the most distinctive features can be a nightmare of proportion and construction.
“I made a rabbit each for my sons, they look a bit foxy but that was before I learnt about needle sculpting and scissor sculpting. Rabbits are quite different facially to bears.”
“Their faces aren’t nearly as flat, so you don’t really see both eyes from the front, like you would with a bear. This makes them difficult to photograph, you end up with a lot of profiles.”
“I actually only make rabbits, “Shelly admits. “They are my first love, but I may have a go at a bear as I would like to enter some competitions and most of them are for bears.”
“My skills are really self taught. I have always sewn from being very young and I wouldn’t be without my machine or over locker (one of the best presents I ever got).”
“Books are a great source but apart from that it’s just jump in and have a go. Being able to pattern cut has been helpful, but pattern cutting in 3D is quite different.”
“Always sewing things as a child it was not surprising to find myself with a career in fashion design.”
“Up until I was married I was a ladies wear designer and pattern cutter and spent a lot of my time making my own clothes. I then progressed to soft furnishings, curtains, cushions and some upholstery, all self taught, which I do only for myself and now of course I make rabbits.”
Shelly has drawn on all of her skills as a dress maker to ensure that her rabbits are dapper and beautiful, and although one might think a rabbit dressed sounds like a strange idea, they really work!
“I think my rabbits are more ‘proud’ than ‘cute and cuddly’. “ Shelly says. “I like being able to dress them in costumes, so my inspiration comes from period dramas and I love the antique French style.”
“I want my bears to look more traditional than modern. Currently I am doing OOAK. I know this can be a touchy subject but as all my rabbits are still in development the pattern is changing all the time”.
“If OOAK means same pattern, different fabric and clothes, then in future my rabbits will fit into this category.”
“I can’t see myself doing limited editions because I think I would get bored. As for commissions, possibly, as long as it’s not too tying and doesn’t stifle my creativity.”
This is as important for Shelly as for any bear artist, she need to be confident and inspired in what she makes and with such fabulous skills at her disposal, it is with great anticipation that collectors await to see what she will produce next.
“There doesn’t seem to be many rabbit makers, so hopefully I am filling a gap for all those fellow rabbit lovers. I have lots of things I would like to develop.”
“My rabbits are quite large and although I love them being big I would like to make a smaller one just to see how it turns out. My trading name couldn’t really be anything else. I make rabbits therefore I am ‘The Rabbit Maker’” she laughs.
New but different
“Being new to the bear world is a continuous learning curve. I have found some wonderful artists and their skills are amazing. They are all a very friendly bunch. I love making rabbits I couldn’t ask for anything more, and I hope people will wish to adopt some otherwise they will take over the house and unfortunately my husband doesn’t love rabbits in the same way as I do!!”
I don’t think that Shelly’s husband is in any danger, her rabbits are too delightful to stay around for long, and it seems only fitting that every hug should have one!