The making of a Winter Bear

Sometimes I find it hard to find presents for people.  There is an ongoing and unresolved discussion with my siblings about Christmas – whether we should do presents for each other.  My view is almost always yes – I’m single, have no kids and so if my family don’t get me present then I don’t really get any and that just seems sad.


I love planning presents – what to get each person, how to wrap and present it.  This year was a bit different to usual as I was made redundant in August and from September to the end of November I really had very little money.  I managed to pay for some things for the nieces and nephews and make something for Mum, but everyone else was going to miss out a little.


I was due to stay with my brother for Christmas, so wanted to get something for him and he’d said that they always like home made presents, which is handy because I have resources at home and I can normally think of something to put together.


When we were younger we had some lovely picture books; one that went astray and which we have both tracked down copies of was ‘The Winter Bear’ written by Ruth Craft and illustrated by Erik Blegvad.  The story is a simple one, of a group of siblings on a winter walk and finding a lost bear.  The landscapes are beautifully painted and drawn and for a while I’d thought that I could re-create some of it in felt but the main issue would be picking which page.


I settled on an image of the boy rescuing the bear from the tree because I liked the snowy scene, the colours of the landscape, I could embroider the grass and tree and the boy reminded me of my youngest nephew.


I’ve been working using the needle felting method, securing wool tops to a piece of pre-made felt using a needle felting tool. Needle felting is a process which uses barbed needles to interlock wool fibres to form a more condensed material. Wool fibres have scales which when rubbed against each other catch and lock into place to create the felt.  This is why a woollen jumper will shrink if handled too roughly of washed at too high a heat!


I started with a piece of white felt for the background and laid out the fibres for the sky and the snow.  I like to position the majority of the background first, check that it all fits together with the plan in my head and then start to felt them in to achieve the look I’m after.   Then I began to embroider the grassy section with a combination of 1, 2 or 3 strands of embroidery floss in some different shades of yellow brown.  As I didn’t plan to write this up and only began making it a week before Christmas I didn’t take many pictures as I was going along.  It’s enough really to be embroidering on the tram on the way to work without taking pictures too.   So let’s skip to the first one I remembered to take when I had completed the landscape, grasses peeking through the snow and half of the tree.



The tree was a bit of struggle because there is a bit of brush beneath it and I wanted to try and stitch the bare branches with a feeling of depth.  I was also trying to recreate the illustration as closely as I could so it took quite a while.  I also didn’t have enough shades of brown in my embroidery floss box (yes, that’s a thing I have) so I couldn’t get as many shades in as I’d wanted.

The figure of the boy was a combination of pre-made felt, embroidery and felting.  I made a paper pattern for his clothes and face but when you felt a piece to a background it shrinks a bit, so it’s not quite as close to the drawing as I’d like.


Next was adding more detail and texture to the tree, working out where to place the bear based on the position of the boy’s arms, sew in his poking stick and my least favourite part, the detail of the face.

I cannot draw to save my life.  I have issues transferring the plan in my head to paper, so trying to sew an expression wasn’t going to be easy, but I think I had a reasonably good crack at it.

The finishing touch was to add some snow across the sky and to highlight parts of the branches.  I tried to work in some French knots, but I’m still not very good at them, so settled for little flecks instead.

With most of my felt pictures I mount them enclosed in a window card, that I cut myself to my own dimensions but I liked the irregular shape that had developed through the process.  It felt truer to the original, so I just glued it to some white card and added the text from the facing page to finish it off.




5 thoughts on “The making of a Winter Bear

  1. The picture is lovely Ellie, it reminds me of each you five children listening to the story with me as I read the book with all when you were little. With all my love Mum

  2. I stumbled across this while looking at images on google… Wow!! What a beautiful recreation. This book was a huge inspiration to me and shaped how I drew even as a child. Your brother is a lucky man. I know how much work goes into handmade gifts, but I also know they’re worth every minute for a loved one. Just fantastic ❤️

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