The Making of Polar Bear in Fireweed

One of my last hat commissions in 2022 was also one of my more unusual requests – a polar bear in a field of fireweed. I had never heard of such a thing, so Carina, who is originally from the NW Territories, sent me links to some photos. Another contact, Jennifer, told that “Fireweed is such an integral part of life here in AK [Alaska]. When the blossoms go to seed, you know that winter is only six weeks away…”

So after reviewing the links Carina sent, I settled on this photograph by Dennis Fast. I also looked for botanical prints for the fireweed.

I went through my yarn stash and found the perfect thing – a shiny, flat, hot pink rayon with black weft that would mimic ribbon embroidery. From the botanical plates I determined that I could do stalks of 4-petal blossoms with leaves at the base, which I laid freehand. I sent a sample to Carina to make sure it was what she had in mind.

Carina was pleased, so I continued with the rest of the hat, embroidering the singular panels and then adding more fireweed over the seams once the hat was constructed, so the field would be continuous. The fireweed took up 2/3 of the crown. This design worked fairly quickly but was also pretty intense, hence frequent breaks to rest my fingers and my eyes.

The Polar Bear was more challenging. After testing 3-4 choices from my fabric stash, I settled on a white suede-like fabric with a short nap, which was the most workable and which would simulate the fur on the bear. I’ve done several dimensional birds, and used the same technique here of stacked layers of padding to give the body some depth.

The next step was to build the Polar Bear’s face so it didn’t come out looking like a sheep. Since fiberfill plays havoc when you embroidering through a dimensional form, I tried to build the face up with “contour padding” which involves building the layers up from the back-side before applying the surface applique. Ultimately, I ended up using fiber fill in the face after the contour padding failed to achieve the result I wanted. Contouring of the face was achieved via needles and thread.

Here is the completed hat, against a mirror so you can see front and back. The bear and fireweed are on a black wool background. His paw is reaching out over a cuff of vintage dyed muskrat. I added a glass button at the top to mimic a piece of ice.

With small beady eyes and a cute button nose, this bear will follow her wherever she goes..

One Comment on “The Making of Polar Bear in Fireweed

  1. Thank you for sharing this process with us. I especially like the fireweed, it sets off the white of the polar bear perfectly. I love the whole thing.

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