Should you restore an old teddy bear? Absolutely! (Or maybe not…)
There are relatively few subjects in the teddy bear world that are considered somewhat controversial. Buying an old bear for investment is one (a topic for another day), and whether to repair or restore a vintage teddy bear is another. The latter is the subject we’ll deal with today. Unfortunately, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer. It depends on the bear, the age, the condition and several other factors. Some problems are easy to correct and others may require the services of a professional. Let’s look first at some of the things you can do yourself, if you choose to.
Sweet Smell of Success
If Teddy has a bit of musty smell from storage in a damp basement, you can remove a good deal of the odor by placing him in a cardboard box with a layer of charcoal in the bottom. Set Teddy in the box on a wire rack so he is not touching the charcoal. Close the box up and check the bear in a couple weeks to see how he is doing. It may be necessary to change the charcoal to a fresh batch and leave him in for an extended period.
Making a Clean Getaway
Next we’ll talk about cleaning old bears. Many collectors in Britain prefer to keep the old bear as found, with no cleaning. Personally, we prefer to clean a bear that joins our collection, as the dust and grime of ages could attract moths, silverfish or other creatures that love to eat mohair!
Step one, before we clean the bear, is to wrap him in plastic and tuck him into the freezer for a week or ten days to kill off any larvae that he may have acquired. Before Teddy gets his bath, we use a vacuum to remove as much dust from his mohair as possible. Then, to clean the teddy bear, we use a double sink with warm water and Woolite suds on one side, and clear warm water on the other. If the old bear is mohair (as most are) he will clean beautifully, but never immerse the bear in water! It is always best to start with a small spot on the back.
We wet a cloth and scoop up a small handful of suds and gently massage Teddy’s mohair in a small area to loosen the dirt. Then we take a second cloth and wet it in the clear water, squeeze out the excess and wipe the suds off the area we just cleaned. You can then proceed to an adjoining area and continue until his bath is complete. If he is exceptionally dirty, he may require a second round of cleaning.
Once you have finished cleaning the teddy, take a dry towel and wipe him down gently, then place him on a wire rack or something to suspend him off the towel and allow him to dry naturally for 24 hours. We do not recommend using a hair dryer, as it could damage the mohair on an elderly bear. Once he is completely dry, you can use a soft brush and give him a good brushing to fluff him up a bit.
The Fundamentals of Fixing
Doing repair work on Teddy is something not everyone agrees should be done, but we take the position that if the repair work will help avoid further deterioration, by all means, do it! An example would be paw pads that are ripped open and his straw stuffing is starting to come out. If it is a very small hole in the pad, we will sometimes water down a bit of Elmer’s glue (to thin it) and apply it directly to the straw to aid it in staying in place. Pad replacement is something you may want to have done by a professional, for they will use the same type and shade of material that he had originally.
We generally leave Teddy’s stitched nose and mouth as found, unless it is mostly missing. These features are not as simple to do for the inexperienced sewer, so it is also a step you may want to have done by someone with experience.
MIA: Missing Items Availability
Missing parts, such as an eye or an ear? You will be hard-pressed to find a matching eye for the teddy, so you may want to consider replacing both eyes, but retain the remaining original one for future reference. Some repair services keep a supply of old eyes on hand for their work.
Does Teddy have a missing ear? Our very first bear (the Professor) was in such a state, and Doris removed the remaining ear and opened the seam to give her two old pieces to use for the front of his ears, then backed it with some fabric that was a close match. With a lot of patience and time, you can actually dye small pieces of mohair until you get an exact match.
One condition that cannot be cured is dry rot. This happens when the cotton backing on the mohair deteriorates to the point where you can actually push your finger through the fabric. You can completely disassemble the entire bear and iron a Pelon backing on it, but this would be a major undertaking that few would have the courage to do. If we discover this condition before buying an old bear, we simply pass on it, no matter how charming Teddy is.
Super Savers: The Power of a Professional
Doris and I have been doing repair work for collectors for many years now, but for some jobs we turn to those with the expertise to do it properly. An example would be a missing limb, as it takes real skill to do an exact match.
When seeking someone to do your repair, always get an estimate of cost and time in advance and ask for references. Unfortunately, not everyone who offers to do repair and restoration is qualified to do the best work.
Two people whose work is outstanding are Laura Boeck-Singers, of Milwaukee, Wis., and Martha Anderson, of Midlothian, Va. Both will be more than happy to discuss the procedures they use and to give you an estimate on your repair or restoration request.
There are many other talented professional teddy bear restoration services available, perhaps one in your own area. Check the ads in this magazine or look in your yellow pages under “Doll and Teddy Bear repair.”
A Marvelous Maxim
A favorite old saying is: “If you haven’t got the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over again?” Carefully consider whether or not you have the talent to do the job right.
Terry and Doris Michaud, 505 W. Broad St., Chesaning, MI 48616; (989) 845-7881
Laura Boeck-Singers, 2326 N. 58th St., Milwaukee, WI 53210; (414) 871-4956
Martha Anderson, Mar-Ke Mohair, 14440 Aldengate Road, Midlothian, VA 23114