My friend Dana’s mom passed away a few months ago. I met Dana when we were both new moms sitting on the floor, exhausted, in a playgroup that was really a support group for getting through that infancy blur. A few years later she moved across the country and I’ve watched her baby grow up through Facebook posts of dance recitals and first days of school.
Over the past several weeks Dana has been cleaning out her mother’s closet and found herself with a pile of wool sweaters she just couldn’t part with. She asked if I would make bears out of them, two for her children and two for her nieces.
On Saturday the box arrived and I pulled out a collection of sweaters worn by a woman I never met who raised and loved my friend. I designed a simple bear that can be made from any kind of fabric and I thought I’d share the pattern with you in case you’d like to make a memory bear, too.
I felted the sweaters by washing them in warm soapy water in the washing machine and putting them in the dryer. Then I cut them apart along the seams. If you’re using sweaters for your bear the fabric will stretch and your bear will be a bit more round, but you can also use woven fabrics such as men’s shirts in which case your bear will be more true to size.
I’m making these bears for a friend, but the work of making a memory bear out of the clothes of a loved one who has died can be a way to work through feelings of grief and incorporate what that person meant to you into your self as you move forward in your own life.
And memory bear doesn’t have to be made from the clothing of someone who has passed away. You can also make one as a way to carry memories during any kind of separation. Some ideas include making a bear out of special clothing or pre-loved fabrics:
- for a student studying abroad
- for a child going to overnight camp for the first time
- for siblings or family members going through divorce
- for a friend moving to another state or another country
To get started, download the memory bear templates. Next, cut out your pieces. If your fabric has stretch, place the templates on the fabric so that the arrows are aligned with the least stretchy direction. If the item of clothing you’re using has special features such as a pocket or button loop you can incorporate those into your bear by strategically placing the templates. One of the sweaters I used had pockets and I placed on the bear’s belly so it’s got a place to slip secret notes or treasures.
- 2 body pieces
- 2 left arms + 2 right arms
- 2 left legs + 2 right legs
- 2 ears
- 2 heads
- 1 muzzle (cut from felt) + 1 nose (cut from felt)
- 2 small buttons for eyes
- 1 tag (optional)
To create a tag you can use an ink jet printer and printable fabric sheets (affiliate link) to print out a message to sew into the seam. I have a laser printer so I cut an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of freezer paper, fused it to the back of some cotton muslin, and ran it through my printer to create the labels. Dana requested that they read, “Love from Grammy.”
Start by assembling the limbs and ears. Place two arm pieces right sides together, stitch around, leaving the top edge open. Clip the curves and turn right side out. Stuff lightly. Repeat with the other arm and both legs. Sew the ears the same way, but leave them unstuffed.
Place the ears on the right side of one head piece as marked. Pin in place. Put other head piece on top, right side down. Pin. Stitch all the way around, leaving the opening as marked. Clip the curves, then turn the head right side out. Stuff the head, then close the opening with ladder stitch.
Place the nose on the muzzle piece and whipstitch it in place using coordinating thread or embroidery floss. Stitch the mouth with small, straight stitches. Now place the muzzle on the head and whipstitch it in place. Sew the buttons in place for eyes.
Place the arms, legs, and folded tag on the right side of one body piece as marked and pin in place. Place the other body piece on top and pin well. Sew around the body, leaving the top edge open as marked. Clip the curves and turn the body right side out. Stuff. Take a running stitch along the top edge of the body and pull the stitches to gather it mostly closed.
Pin the head to the body and sew the head to the body with ladder stitch, going around twice to make it extra secure.
I used polyester fiberfill stuffing for these bears which makes them easy to wash. I would advise gently hand washing and laying flat to dry.
One of the beautiful things about making a bear from someone’s garments, especially their sweaters, is that the bear continues to offer their loved ones a warm hug, even in their absence. I hope this memory bear tutorial helps you to create a bear that fills that role for someone in your life.