The bear in our logo
Bear Bits is based in Minting, a very small
village about 6 miles from Horncastle and 15 from Lincoln. Jean, Bill and their son
Jonathan moved to Lincolnshire from Essex in June 1998. The house in Minting provides
both the family and the business with all the space that’s needed in lovely surroundings.
It's a very small business, which like "Topsy" just grew from Jean's creativity -
all she wanted to do initially was make a traditional bear for her sister and that was at the
end of the 1980s. Jean wasn’t happy with the patterns available and soon began to alter, adapt
them or create her own designs. Bits of bears began to take over the house as ideas were tried
Bill's involvement came from a helpful comment made while watching Jean tighten a cotter pin joint
- "I could get that tighter for you." He’s done just about all of them ever since! He also
demonstrated that he could achieve a far firmer finish when stuffing a bear with wood wool and with
surprisingly less effort; so guess what!
Possibly in an attempt to get back some of the space that the bears had taken over - or perhaps to
regain some of the money laid out on materials - Bill suggested that they should have a stand at a Craft
Fair to sell what Jean considered "rejects" but were really quite good!
CRISIS - a trade name was needed but what should it be? The name "Bear Bits" really does come
from the bits of bear, or fabric, or joints, or stuffing that had found their way into several of the rooms
in the old house! At this stage they certainly didn’t consider that it would go on to be a profitable
business or they might not have settled for such a light-hearted name. However, it has always made Bill
smile and has proved memorable for many collectors. An artist friend designed the logo using the very
first 60cm traditional bear that Jean had designed and made.
Jean gave up the day job (she taught Science and was Head of Year in a Comprehensive School) in 1993.
Bill still wasn’t completely convinced that she could "make up" the lost salary but after doing their
first specialist Bear Fair - the Winter BearFest, several shops had asked to be supplied with bears.
"It just might be possible. You could always do a bit of supply teaching," said Bill. Three years later
and with a full order book, including several from abroad, Bill left his teaching job and joined the
business on a full time basis.
Initially they made quite large traditional teddy bears but quickly learned that not everyone has either
the space or the bank balance necessary! Jean extended the range by designing small, medium and large bears
in a variety of mohair finishes.
Arcturus - a bear from 2000
A feature of every bear from Bear Bits is the specially trimmed and often needle sculpted muzzle. The muzzles are never shaved,
each one is meticulously “sculpted” by precise trimming with scissors to reproduce a realistic shape. Eyes are set deeply and nose
and mouth are carefully embroidered to produce the distinctive intense expression. In recent years we have added our subtle, just open mouth
combining it with our ‘trademark complex naturally shaped embroidered nose. Bear Bits has a reputation for the outstanding quality of these features
and it is for this reason that many customers have not only chosen their first bear but have come back for a second . . . . and a third . . . . and . . . . .
Innovation is important to us, not just because it's so great when a new design "comes together" but also because the new bears tempt more people to buy
- or people to buy more! We are always working to make our bears even better. The "realistic range" started out as traditionally shaped bears but with more natural features.
However, this is where a scientific background really helped as we were both Biology specialists and had spent years studying animals.
As scientists we were also very familiar with the experiment-evaluate-modify process. Scientist to teacher to "soft toy maker" to sole trader business
may not seem a natural progression but there have been lots of transferable skills. It has taken many years to develop both the experience necessary
and the techniques and processes used to make not just high quality teddy bears, but also the realistic bears that have won awards and gained international acclaim.
Bear Bits won the only class that we entered in the 1996 British Bear Artist
Awards - Class 10 (A group
of bears 12-17") with the group - A Week of Bears. The 1997 entry, "Stuff
and Nonsense" a unique
pair featuring a large realistic bear (with an intricately embroidered nose, Trapunto pads and claws together
with a flirty female teddy bear complete with eyelashes and a feather boa standing with one arm round
"Stuff"), were nominated as one the best 6 entries in Class 8 (A group of bears over 16"). The
techniques used to make them were incorporated into the current designs; for example the intricate realistic
embroidered nose is now featured on all our medium and large bears and it has been further refined over the
years. We continued to develop new skills and were able to incorporate the asymmetric joint into the ankle
of a 12-inch design, which meant that the position of each foot could be altered. In 1999
we entered 2
classes with these multi-jointed realistic bears and we won one and came second in the other! In
we brought out our really successful new but traditional design - Ted (who went on to have all sorts of
relations - brother, cousin and father!). On the natural front in 2000, we
developed a new "drop paw"
design (with a proper pad) to produce a range of realistic bears that not only sit, but also lie and crouch.
In 2001 our 14" panda, 24" brown bear and the Ice Bear family were each
nominated as one of the best
6 entries in their respective classes in the Bear Artist Awards. The Ice Bears were runners up in their
class - that year traditional designs seemed to be favoured by the judges! However, in 2002
we won 2 classes
- the beautiful 22" Caramel Bear won the individual class for bears over 16", and the group entry
- "Where’s my teddy?" consisting of a mother bear, two cubs and a small 5" teddy also found
favour with the judges and was awarded first place. 2003 was yet another successful
year for us and we
consolidated and developed our winning designs, incorporating the techniques used for the competition bears
into those in our range; the first half of 2004 was brilliant and as planned,
we introduced a "fusion"
bear, Hugh - traditional style but multi-jointed so very posable. We entered "Safety Zone" -
a mother polar bear and cub in the Teddy Bear Scene Readers Choice Awards and won the Bare Bear Class.
We subsequently donated the piece to be auctioned for the China Bear Rescue Charity in February 2005 and it
raised over £800! We entered the TBS Readers Awards again in 2006 and won
the Bare Bear Class with
"Happiness is a Hug", and again in 2007 with "I’ve got a Secret"!
In May 2011 we designed “Arthur” as our entry for the National Teddy Bear Artist Awards
and not only won the Naturalistic Bear Class but also BEST IN SHOW! 2012 has brought 4 more awards –
our latest hare design was awarded first place in the National Teddy Bear Artist Awards, Friends Class and our panda was given a second place.
We entered our most natural looking bear yet, Peter with his subtle open mouth and flexible ‘backbone’,
in the Realistic Class of the Excellence in Bear Artistry Awards (UK) and the French Teddy Bear Awards. Peter won first place in his class in each
I've got a secret - 2007 winner
For our more recent awards, please look at the lower part of our News page.
Our bears can be bought directly from us at 5 major fairs each year - the two organised by Hugglets at Kensington Town Hall in London,
and 3 in Germany (Teddy Bear Welt in Wiesbaden, Teddy Bear Total in Munster and the SeeBaren Festival In Lindau.
We also usually attend the Great Yorkshire Teddy Bear Event in Sheffield in the autumn. Alternatively our bears are available by mail order.
We supply bears from our range to the Bear Garden in Guildford. Teddy Bears of Witney commission their own exclusive design each year.
We have a long waiting list but can assure customers that the wait will be worthwhile. Buy a bear from Bear Bits and you gain a small friend for life!
Jean and Bill Ashburner November 2015