by Heather Lyell
The wonderful world of bears entered my life in 1989. In a shop window, sitting all alone, a furry little fellow with soulful eyes begged “take me home, please”. How could I resist, and how could I have known that this was only the start and that life would never be the same again.
I started collecting bears and one day, I saw a kitset for sale and bought it. The thought of making my own bear appealed, even though I had not sewed for years. One day at home sick I started sewing and before long he was ready to be stuffed, but what could I use as stuffing? A solution was found. My husband's pants! Don't worry Roy wasn’t wearing them at the time. The bear was finished, complete with crooked smile and crooked ears. My passion for making bears had started!
It was difficult to find the materials to make bears from, so after much debate we decided to open a Teddy shop supplying fabrics, kits, patterns and collectors bears. This was a momentous decision as I was a Bank manager and Roy was an avionics engineer with Air New Zealand, so we really were jumping into the unknown. ‘Bear Essentials’ fortunately became very successful, giving me no time for my own bear making, so after 7 years we sold the shop to concentrate on developing my own range under the name 'D’Lyell Bears'. The name D’Lyell was my original family name from France that was shortened to Lyell many centuries ago when the family moved to Scotland.
I have developed my own unique style, following on from my love of collecting vintage fashion accessories. We started with our 'Bears of Yesteryear' Collection that I fondly call my ‘old girls’. They were inspired by a vision of a little old lady, dressed up in her Sunday best waiting for a train. She wears a coat, hat, fur stole and carries a handbag filled with necessities an elderly lady needs. Vintage accessories are used whenever possible, even down to vintage lace on they’re underwear! Because they are so detailed we make only a few of these one off pieces each year and each bear comes with a detailed portfolio. Recently I have been asked to make ‘husbands’ for some of my ‘old girls’ and also special commission pieces using mementos from elderly family members incorporated into the bears. This is especially rewarding for me as I work closely with the customer resulting in a very ‘special’ piece having great sentimental attachment.
These bears make beautiful display pieces and the response from around the world has been fantastic. We have been delighted with how many people buy them who have never bought a bear before, hopefully encouraging new customers into the world of collecting bears.
I am now enjoying making new animals. Starting with little ‘Spike’, our hedgehog, and now ‘Rastus’ the rat, these animals are very interactive. Spike will roll into a ball and Rastus holds many interesting positions. Both feature special magnets that we first used for Monty, which was the second bear we designed for the famous German company 'Teddy Hermann Original' which was very successful. Hermann since released 8 of our designs since Edwin in 1998 and we have been extremely proud to be able to work with this prestigious company.
Our latest project is designing and collaborating with a fantastic new English company called 'Charlie Bears' (www.charliebears.com). We were the first designer Charlie approached when they started their company in 2005 and it has been really rewarding to watch them grow Internationally. We get quite a thrill out of seeing our 'children' being sold all around the world by Charlie and continue to work closely with them.
Another highlight is to have been an official Judge at many International Bear Shows. While this can be quite stressful it is also very rewarding to see so many creative people make such wonderful pieces. Often it can be quite difficult to pick a winner out of the top entries in each category!
Taking bears to the other side of the world can be very challenging, especially as many of our bears have antique accessories that are breakable. It takes several days to pack our many suitcases containing not just the bears and accessories, but also the tablecloth, display materials, signs, lighting. Hopefully there will be a little space left for our clothes. Because the ‘Bears of Yesteryear’ are quite large, along with the old leather cases and handbags they are difficult to pack, and it is a stressful time, so Roy tends to stay clear! Our bags usually weigh up to 100kg(!), which keeps us fit loading them in and out of cars or taxis.
Some of the more delicate items we take on board the aircraft and this always causes problems when X-rayed. The security operators are (fortunately) more alert since 9/11 and they always want to examine the contents – especially the old folding Kodak cameras that seem to look so interesting on their monitors. Then we have to try and fit everything back in as it was before which is not always an easy task. Getting on the aircraft is always a relief and that first glass of wine tastes especially good!
Languages in the different countries we visit can be interesting as unfortunately we only speak English, but as long as we try a little, and smile a lot, everything is OK. Exhibiting at shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, America and Belgium certainly keeps us busy. Roy and I make all the bears completely ourselves so we tend to work seven days a week between shows from our home in central Auckland. We have a large studio above our garage, so at least we don’t have far to go every morning.
BED & BREAKFAST!
Welcome to our pride and joy - our 1880's (almost!) restored villa in the quiet, leafy, central suburb of Mt Eden in Auckland. Relax and unwind in the comfort of our home of 26 years. Sensatively restored but featuring all the usual modern extras like central heating and WiFi. We have 2 guest bedrooms - the main one features an excellent full bathroom while the small second room has its own toilet. Excellent for those travelling as a family with 1 older child or 2 couples together. We have several lounge areas for you to relax in, reading, watching TV or listen to Roys extensive music collection. Outside you can use the decks - perfect for a glass of wine! We are ideally located approx 10 mins to the CBD and 25 mins from the airport. An excellent range of restaurants are nearby at both the top and bottom of our street so you won't go hungry! From casual to one of Aucklands top 5, cafes and bars are also nearby. Excellent public transport within an easy walk. For those of you who love sport we are only 15 mins walk to Eden Park. If you are driving we have secure off street parking. We offer a tasty Continental Breakfast and tea/coffee/knibbles are available all day. Please contact us for rates and availability - we would love to hear from you!
New Zealanders have a proud tradition of innovation and in our own small way we hope to continue that tradition. While bears don’t quite have the same global impact as splitting the atom, jet boats, electric fences, Lord of the Rings or bungy jumping we hope that our creations will have made the world a happier place. We have certainly made great friends around the world with quite a few even coming to stay with us in New Zealand. Our bears are now featured in museums around the world and are keenly sought after by collectors. Our web site,www.dlyellbears.co.nz keeps those who cannot see us at the shows up to date with the latest creations although Roy can be a little slow updating it, as the Bears usually sell before we have time to list them.
We hope you enjoy our bears as much as we have enjoyed creating them.
Heather (head bear) and Roy