It's no bear market in teddy bear business

By Looi Sue-Chern

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia - Handsewn teddy bears from Simpang Ampat made a comeback at the Little Penang Street Market recently.

Their maker Helen Lee, 34, set up stall at the street market for the first time to sell, exhibit and demonstrate how teddy bears, the world's most enduring stuffed toys, could be made by hand right at home.

Lee's teddy bears were previously sold at the street market briefly by her friend, who used to have a stall there.

"Making teddy bears are not as difficult as some people would think. I take an hour to make a small one and three hours to make an extra large one.

"If I sit down for a day to make bears, I can make up to 15 small ones. That shows how easy it is to pick up teddy bear-making," said Lee, who began making teddy bears in 2006.

The former graphic designer said she always had a passion for sewing and teddy bears so after she read books and researched about teddy bear-making online, she was immediately hooked.

She first made teddy bears as gifts for her friends, who quickly took a liking to her work and eventually, her creative hobby turned into a small business when she supplied some of her bears to a florist and gift shop at Auto-City in Juru.

To make the art of making teddy bears accessible to teddy bear fans, Lee has also put together "My Bear Easy Packs" that contained pieces of fabrics, threads, buttons, ribbons and instruction manuals to guide people to make their own bears at home.

The easy packs for bears in four sizes, from small to extra large, were so popular she had them exported to Singapore too.

The only difficult part for Lee was finding the right buttons and ribbons to match the different fabrics used to make the bears.

She had to make many trips to different stores before she could find what she needed.

"For more special bears like the Schulte Mohair bear, I had to import the Schulte Mohair fabric from Germany to make the bear," she said.

After making bears for five years, Lee is hoping to put her skills to the test by taking part in the 2011 Taiwan Teddy Bear Show & Creative Awards in November.

"Although I am teaching others to make bears, I believe I still have much to learn about making teddy bears," she said.