My bear- and plushie-making library is a scattershot one; with few exceptions every book in it still has the price tag from a used bookstore. I’m going to run down a quick review of them less to give you an impression of any specific book, and more to give you an idea of what kinds of things books cover, so when you are in a book store or library with a book in your hands, you can decide if it’s what you’re looking for.
I have a lot, and have checked out probably every book in the library on the subject, so it’ll take awhile to get through them all. I’ll try to skip around from bear-making to plushie-making to some doll-making.
I’m going to include Amazon links with my referral code, but always check your library first, or for the older ones, a local used book store.
Jodie Davis has a whole series of “Easy-To-Make” books, which tend to be very easy to find in used bookstores. They’re easy to overlook, because they were published in the late 80’s with low-quality binding and paper, and the covers have a very dated “country decor” look. Don’t be deceived: they’re still some of the best beginner books out there.
Good: She covers every step of the process, though only crown joints and bolt-and-nut. She gives several sizes of bear, and a plethora (more than half the book) of clothing, accessories, bear-themed Christmas ornaments, etc.
Bad: The perfect binding really does not stand up to being flattened to trace patterns, so often-used library copies tend to shed pages. The larger patterns are broken into multiple parts, or printed with overlap, though this is done as clearly as possible.
One of the few modern books on sewing jointed animals, this one by Sue Quinn covers (obviously) felt specifically. Unlike some of the other felt books (which I’ll cover in future reviews), this one uses the same sew-and-turn techniques that are used on other bear fabrics. I suspect the patterns would work just as well in upholstery fabric; certainly all the techniques would (though I prefer backstitching when hand-sewing).
Good: The patterns are a cute assortment of animals, and they all come with clothing patterns. Sue manages to get an amazing amount of detail into clothes without making them a fiddly bunch of tiny pieces.
Bad: The patterns are all printed at 75% scale to fit in the book… except when they aren’t. The clothing patterns appear to actually be 100%, though I haven’t checked them all to see if that’s consistent. Sanity-check the patterns before you commit to fabric.
This Neysa Phillippi book is at the same time very traditional and very nontraditional. Traditional because she covers mohair, nose embroidery, and jointing. Nontraditional because her creations are very distinctive characters, and as far as I know she’s the only bearmaker with a distictive style who is also willing to share her patterns.
The good: Neysa includes a lot of different options for arms and legs, and the head shapes are anything but standard. Very good for learning about pattern drafting.
The bad: The general instructions don’t cover fabric selection at all, and as mentioned above the only deviation from traditional bearmaking is the inclusion of both safety and sew-in eyes.
Jennifer Laing’s book has a wide variety of non-bear “friends.” She has both a teddy-style and all-fours bear, plus some patterns that veer into doll territory (an elf, gnome, and golliwog).
The good: The variety of animal types gives a lot of room for seeing how things work - the elephant’s trunk, a wedge joint for “flexible” necks, etc. She also includes a lot of technique instructions for things like securing whiskers and hand-tufted mohair, making claws, and so on.
The bad: The technique instructions are included with the specific pattern they’re used on, so it’s not as useful for a reference book.
The worse: Even in the early 2000’s, golliwogs were controversial. I’m going to just say it: they’re racist. If you want to avoid them, her earlier book, The Art Of Making Teddy Bears, is bears-only. I can’t personally vouch for it, but I’ve heard good things about it, though it only has three patterns.
If you don’t spot any of these and you’re browsing in a library or bookstore, it’s hard to go wrong with almost any book if you’re looking for basic instructions. Find a book that appeals to you, that has clear illustration or photos, and that has a good index or at least table of contents. If you plan to work with a knit fabric like faux fur or minky, find a book that covers it rather than one that deals entirely in mohairs, at least if you plan to use the patterns in it. (I’ll be covering how to stabilize stretchy fabrics with an interlining, though.)
Where books go awry tends to be in the actual patterns themselves - not all bear makers are as nerdy as I am, so publishers are often working with quirky hand-drawn patterns. Sometimes things get enlarged or reduced along the way, which can introduce errors. The same is true of patterns downloaded from the internet. Mistakes are easier to correct but you might be the first person to try that pattern. Or you might misprint it; single-page patterns like Flower Bear are hard to goof up even if you accidentally print-to-fit. At worst, your entire Flower Bear is a little too big or too small, which is better than an oversized head or, worse, a head side printed at a different scale than its gusset. And sometimes the designer makes some simple but untested changes to a pattern, or forgets to include last-minute changes. I made Flower Bear from the pattern exactly as published, and I won’t publish the Little Big Cat pattern until I make the revisions, print a new pattern out of Inkscape, and sew a Big Cat I’m happy with. (Although if you want to be a pattern tester, I’ll share early-release versions.)
Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!