Above and beyond the teddy bear picnic 

Orkidz Art Studio teams up with local artisan to teach kids how to make their own unique teddy bear creations

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Brows are furrowed in deep concentration and pink tips of tongues poke out from the corners of mouths as kids aged five to 13, armed with needle and thread, painstakingly stitch together two pieces of furry fabric.

Their project is a labour of love. This past Sunday, these crafty kids were busily transforming pieces of cloth, fistfuls of stuffing and plastic beads into a one-of-a-kind, handcrafted teddy bear, complete with a little red heart sewn into the chest, as part of Orkidz Art Studio's roster of craft workshops.

The business, which is located in Function Junction, just opened earlier this spring, the pet project of local businesswoman Layna Mawson. But the teddy bear workshop is the brainchild of Fiona Hickey, proprietor of www.FloydieBear.com, a stuffed animal company that has been making the rounds at craft sales throughout the Sea to Sky region since Hickey debuted her creations at Bizarre Bazaar last year.

Hickey had never taught the art of teddy bear-making to a group of kids before, and wasn't exactly sure how the process would go.

"I didn't know how they were going to tackle it, or where their skill level was at," she added.

All of the kids had varying levels of ability - and interest - in their bears.

"I think the five-year-old's mom was into it more than the five-year-old was," she reflected with a smile. "She was really keen on it, so that was kind of cool, too."

When adults showed up towards the end of the two and a half-hour workshop, they were eager to jump in and help create outfits - bright vests and matching hats - for their kids' new furry friends.

Hickey was just a kid when she first became immersed in the world of teddy bears and their kin, hiding away in her bedroom to play with her teddy bear friends to escape the teasing of her older brother, who subsequently dubbed her the "Cut and Paste Kid."

"So that started the whole thing," she said with a laugh.

Hickey got a child's sewing machine, and would mail away for patterns so she could make her own creations. Eventually, she began designing her own. Then, as a starving university student, she decided to return to the childhood craft of bear making and created teddies for all of her friends as economical Christmas gifts.

"Someone saw that I was doing that, and they knew a designer who needed a prototype for the Paper Bag Princess doll," she said.

After her first professional prototype project, word quickly spread, and Hickey found herself using a kid's sewing machine to design more creations for computer software companies and the like.

Today, she creates tribes of one-of-a-kind custom stuffies for her own company, www.FloydieBear.com, which she sells online and at local craft fairs. The company also sends pre-loved teddies to children in Central America.

When Orkidz came to Hickey's attention a few weeks ago, she was immediately keen to share her teddy-making skills with the kids of Whistler and because, well, as she put it: "Who doesn't need and love a teddy bear?"

"I made a simple pattern for them to follow - it wasn't complicated - I started it for them and got them to finish the last two pieces," she said.

Emily and Rachel, both grade seven students at Myrtle Philip, are return Orkidz customers that also participated in a mirror-making workshop a few weeks ago when they heard about the teddy bear sessions in June.

"A lot of kids, when they were leaving at the end of the workshop, they were saying, 'I can't believe I made a teddy bear!  For them to see something come in two pieces of flat material and they're leaving with a three-dimensional bear, they were impressed by that."

Orkidz also has plans in the works for pillow and plush puppet making workshops, plus summer camps. The next teddy bear workshop, which costs $30, will allow kids to get a bit more creative with their designs, adding in elements like clothing and hair. It takes place on Father's Day - Sunday, June 21. For more information, visit www.orkidzartstudio.com.

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