Today we meet UK Handmade team member Clare, who is also the talented designer/maker behind the gorgeous range of cuddly plush bears, Clare Bears.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
My name is Clare and I live and work in Gateshead in the sunny North East. I am currently working full time on my bears after being made redundant from my job while we wait for the arrival of our first baby at the end of November. So, I am making lots of handmade goodies for the nursery! I am also having great fun being involved with UK Handmade.
My first ever bear I made was when I was in the Brownies aged about 8. It was a Pooh Bear kit that I'd been given for Christmas and I submitted it for my craft badge and Brown Owl thought I couldn't have made it because it was too good! She said my Mam must have made it, so I suppose it was a compliment. We had to go and make something worse so she would believe I'd made it. But I was always the one to steal the scissors and tape and glue. I was very happy with all things crafty.
What is the ethos behind your work?
I have always had a soft spot for a cuddly toy. From the one that went everywhere with me (seriously, everywhere, I went nowhere without Bonzo) and the few that were always on my bed at home. My Nana used to say that they came alive at night to dance round your room and protect you from all the monsters under the bed. OK, I was small so I believed it but that meant that all my toys had personalities. I still believe that each toy has a personality and each one should be loved. I aim to make toys that are loved until their stuffing falls out.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I did a chemistry degree. Yep really handy! All of my sewing knowledge and experience has come from women in my family who have been there and done that. With the occasional You Tube video thrown in more recently. I read a lot of blogs and learn as I go. I am easily tempted to buy craft books and I learn a little from each one. So I don't need any certificates to say I can do what I do. I just do it and if I make a mistake then well, I start over.
What inspired you to start making bears?
Making plush toys became a way to keep me and my sister entertained when family visited. My Step-Grandma made bears herself and she taught me how to follow a pattern, how to cut out the fabric and how to do all the little finishing touches that you don't find out about in book. So I collected patterns and made toys until I had too many in my bedroom. I occasionally made them as gifts for friends and made the odd sale here and there. Until I found Etsy and then all the fun began!
What do you love most about what you do and what do you find the most frustrating?
I love being able to do something I enjoy. What more can anyone ask for? I find it frustrating when I have too many ideas and not enough time, money or materials to make them come true. But if that's all I've got to worry about then that's not so bad.
Is handmade a lifestyle choice for you and if so why?
It is more now than before. When I first left university and got a job I had more money than I'd ever had before so you go a bit mad buying nice things that everyone else has. Now we're in a different situation and there is something much more satisfying in spending time, care and attention to detail to make something for someone or buy a handmade item from someone who shares that view.
Can you tell us a bit about where your bears are made, can we take a sneaky peak?
My bears are currently made in my spare room (and on the sofa) and it's never as neat as the picture suggests! But that room will soon become the nursery and then who knows? I think it'll be from the dining room (which is not even a dining room and more a cubby under the stairs) and wherever I can keep my craft stash. My knitting stash lives near the sofa generally and all my fur fabric is on a big shelving unit that is in the spare room.
How do you balance your work and home life, what do you do to wind down?
It's a hard job trying to put down the project I'm working on. I do have an understanding husband and he has his own hobbies so we strike a good balance. My non-commercial craft of choice is knitting so I often do that to wind down. And I can't sleep without reading a good book for a little while before closing my eyes.
Do you ever experience periods of creative slump and if so what helps you through?
Regularly. I try to go and work on something else to take my mind off it like knitting or another sewing project. I may go and surf some blogs, I go back through my ideas scrapbook and see if anything jumps out at me. Or I just go and make something better that I haven't liked for a while. Tweaking a pattern can be just as satisfying.
If you could give an aspiring maker one piece of advice what would it be?
Keep at it. Work on your photos and work on your product. Never think your work can't be improved. My jointed bear pattern has been changed many, many times over the ten + years I've been making it.
Who or what inspires you most in your work?
I don't think I could point to one thing. I get ideas and inspiration anywhere. I do like to look at vintage teddies though and see if I can recreate them with a modern twist. But not the vintage jointed teddy types, the vintage well loved and sad looking toys that are a little past their best. I love their personalities more.
If you had the time to learn a new skill what would it be?
I am actually the happy owner of an Adana Letterpress. I wish I had the time to get it working and to work out how to use it correctly.
ClareBears shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ClareBears
Supplies shop: http://www.littlegreyclouds.etsy.com/