I never considered myself an ‘arty crafty’ type but have always had an ‘I could make that’ kind of attitude; because of this I decided to take an old Fair Isle jumper and turn it in to two teddy bears as an anniversary present for my sister – and so Burra Bears was born!
I had always been around knitting of some sort, my Mam was a prolific knitter; unfortunately I didn’t inherit her talent. I can’t knit to save myself (sewing is a different matter), but I have come to appreciate the skill and effort involved in every single Fair Isle jumper; the careful choice of pattern and blending of the colours combined with the painstaking construction process – all going to make each one totally individual.
Because these jumpers are so well loved they often become totally worn out, this is the time to salvage them to be re-worked into a unique Burra Bear; I really do believe that it is a crime to throw away any woollen jumper when it could become a keepsake filled with memories (and wool) to be appreciated every day.
At first every bear was made from old Fair Isle jumpers; however, it didn’t take long to exhaust the charity shops in Lerwick. We moved on to purchasing Fair Isle waste panels from local knitwear factories but as we grew ever busier we had to source a continuous supply of raw material; so we now design our own Fair Isle fabrics in pure Shetland wool which are produced at the local textile college. Fair Isle continues to be the most popular bear but we have introduced a few relatives; these include the demure Shetland Lace and it’s wayward cousin, Jamiesons Tweed.
Living on a remote Island it might appear difficult to avoid air miles/carbon footprints etc, etc …… but this is not the case! We can honestly say that everything is done in house or ‘on Island’, from the raw fleece being spun and dyed into wool at Jamiesons Mill, then knitted up at the Shetland College and finally being crafted into bears in our famous workshop – the first time that the wool leaves Shetland, from when it was still a fleece on the back of a sheep is as a finished Burra Bear, often emigrating ‘oot foreign’.
So whether your Burra Bear is made from a much loved jumper or purchased on the Northlink ferry one thing is for sure, the Original Shetland Teddy Bear will be passed down through the generations and treasured as an heirloom for years to come - In the words of Pauline McGinty, ‘everyone should have a Burra Bear’.