In a quiet, desert home workshop in Fort Mohave, Arizona, flanked by mountains on both the East and West, Eva designs, creates and brings to life a whole menagerie of critters. You can see, and buy, her spectacular selection of teddy bears, soft dolls, bunnies, hand puppets, mice, dogs, bear head baby blankets and even potato pouches, on her website, http://www.ejcrafts.com/ .
Eva has been making dolls, bears and other stuffed animals just about forever, but bears are her passion. Her website’s home page tells a story about a little girl and her love for a new teddy bear. Eva still feels like that -- she loves to hug her bears and it still gives her a sense of joy and comfort. Over thirty years ago, she began making and selling teddy bears so she could share them with others and she’s still going strong. She estimates she’s made thousands of bears over the years.
New bears are born each week. Eva says her inspiration comes from a lot of places. Sometimes she sees someone else’s bears and thinks, “I can do that or I can improve on that.” Other times, a new bear or doll comes to her in a dream. Customers also come to her with special requests. Eva’s home is often overflowing with bears, dolls and other creations. “I enjoy creating and the joy of seeing the finished products,” she says. “I really do enjoy sewing and don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t sew everyday.”
All of Eva’s critters are designed by her personally. This way, she knows she is not infringing on anyone else’s patterns. She has drawers full of patterns that she uses for inspiration. Not too long ago, she found an old pattern from the 50’s and modified it to make it her own design. (I’d love to be able to sort through her pattern collection, myself!) Eva also designs and makes the clothing for her bears and she often feels the bears “talk” to her and tell her what type of outfit they need.
“I’ve always got several things in the works and my husband will say when are you going to finish them. As a designer, there are some projects that will never get finished because they just are not right.” Eva says her “favorites are any bear that I have just finished.”
Eva uses long-haired faux fur for her animals because she feels the longer fur adds character and personality to each bear. The faux fur is durable and washable, making it practical for a child’s toy. All of her bears, animals and dolls are stuffed with premium Poly-Fil stuffing as it doesn’t bunch up and it does allow the item to be washed and dried when necessary.
She has always made bears that are child-proof. This means plastic joints, eyes and noses for her bears and other animals. All such parts attach with a safety-lock mechanism so they cannot pop- off and become a choking hazard. The plastic won’t rust like some of the cotter pin joints do and allows the bears to be washable. Eva feels a bear is meant to be handled and to be played with by children. She does make some little bears (6-7 inches) which are designed more for collectors and are not marketed for young children. In some of these bears, she does use the cotter pin system and bead or button eyes.
Eva made many of her own clothes from the time she was a teenager, even making her suits when she worked in an office. She made most of her children’s clothing when they were growing up, including formal gowns for her daughter when she participated in beauty contests and Western-style shirts for her husband.
After the kids left home, Eva took up making teddy bears and the business started from there. She basically taught herself by reading books and a lot of trial and error. “Yes, maybe lots of errors,” she acknowledges with a smile. Any advice to newbies just starting out? “Hang in there and you will master it. Just have fun and don’t get stressed out.”
"I will help anyone who wants to learn to make something. All you have to do is ask. I have been sewing since I was a little girl and even though my grandmother taught me, most of the stuff is self-taught and I have read a lot of books. I probably could design and make a bear in my sleep now. I am still learning from others, too. We are never too old to learn something new and I strive to learn something new everyday.”
The business of selling crafts has changed over the last three decades, today, most of Eva’s sales are made on her website, http://www.ejcrafts.com/ , but she does still do at least two traditional craft shows each year where she can interact with live buyers. She says she needs the feedback they provide. “Customer input helps me decide what I need to change or fix.”
Bears don’t move as quickly as they did at the big craft shows in the 80’s but she still loves to make them. Eva believes the days of the good cheap craft shows are gone. “People are going to the internet now to sell because of the cost of craft shows today. The fees to enter a show are higher and the expenses of travel and lodging are high.” She feels crafters can reach a lot more people on the internet than any show in the country can do. Today, Eva’s age and health have stopped her from doing the traveling and the internet allows her to get her work shown.
Ultimately, Eva says, “I don’t intend to make a fortune, just enough to keep me busy.”
Raised by her grandparents, Eva saw her grandmother sewing constantly. Her grandmother was an independent woman and taught Eva she could do anything if she put her mind to it. She was completely self taught and made all of their clothes, including winter coats. She taught Eva to do needlecrafts as early as age five. Eva recalls making embroidered pillow cases and table runners in those early days and says she learned to use the sewing machine by making doll clothes. Eva now has three sewing machines including an old treadle-style but uses a computerized New Home machine that she has had for about eight years. She says it will sew through any fur or fabric she uses. Most of the bear construction is done by machine but face sculpting and finishing still needs to be done by hand.
Her childhood memories of sewing include making tied quilts because that is what her Grandma did and taught she and her sister to do. Eva still occasionally does one but, today, she machine stitches most of her quilts. Those quilting memories include a stretcher frame set up in the parlor where her grandmother would put the backing, cotton insides and the top on the frame and make sure everything was tight. Then Eva and her sister would do the tying. She really hated sitting on the floor and tying all the quilts. Every Spring, her grandmother would take apart all the quilts they used on the beds, wash and repair the tops and bottoms or replace them with new tops that she had made over the winter. Then the girls would have to tie them. Eva recalls it was quite a chore to do this each year. Eva wonders if people today even know what a parlor was and understand that it was only used on special occasions, like Christmas.
Eva doesn’t just sell bears, she also has a great collection of bears . She says she’s afraid to count how many she has! People have always called her the “Bear Lady” and have given her many different types of bears. “Everywhere you look in my house, you will see bears.” The collection ranges from pictures on the wall in her sewing room to bears on the book shelves in the living room. There are shadow boxes full of bears in the dining room, bears in all the bedrooms and there are even stuffed bears and a bear plaque in the bathroom!
Eva has been married to her high school sweetheart and best friend for almost 51 years and they share their home with a 17-pound cat named “Mutt.” She’s “Mom” to three, a grandma to five and a great friend to many. If you’d like to contact Eva, you can usually find her in the forum at Craftbuddy.com. She’s there several times a day!
Take time to check out Eva’s shop at http://www.ejcrafts.com/ and don’t forget to give your bear a big hug!