Create Your Own Huggable Monstrosity

Today I have the pleasure of lending my blog to someone who immediately wowed me with their potential to become a kick-ass children’s librarian. Samuel Elkind, recent MLIS grad, is here today to share a program that encourages mistake-making, that positions the program leader as a learner, and that brings a sense of silliness and fun kids love.

What do you all think? Have you done anything like this? Please share the love with Sam in the comments!

Create Your Own Huggable Monstrosity

A Guide to Running Terrible Teddy Bear Workshops

For several years, I had the incredible privilege of working as a librarian and summer camp counselor at an arts camp in New Jersey. One of the requirements of the role, each summer, was to run a number of workshops on Sundays, which were the campers’ dedicated Free Activity days.

By my third summer, I had learned the incredible draw-power of baffling, silly crafts projects, devoted to creativity and permission to fail. To that end, I decided to run something that I was completely, hilariously, unqualified for – a teddy-bear making workshop.

It was very important to me to do as little research as possible, learning only enough to be technically more knowledgeable than the kids I was instructing. For several of them, I suspect, I was a great deal less knowledgeable; but then, kids never fail to impress with their creativity and problem-solving abilities. I determined a vague overview of the process, figured out what I would need, and proceeded to stumble my way through what turned out to be a fun, funny, hour-long smash-hit.

If you are looking for something fun and silly, that inspires creation and celebrates mistakes, then this is the tutorial for you!

Photo credit: Ricky Elliot

The Materials

Various arts and crafts stores sell wonderful, simple kits for creating teddy bears. I made sure to have these on hand, for those kids who valued doing the thing correctly, but to my surprise not a single participant opted for the “easy way.” Instead, all pulled from my store of:

  • Various scrap fabrics, in swatches no smaller than 1 square foot (929 square centimeters)
  • Buttons of several sizes and colors
  • Magic markers (or fabric markers, for those who like to live dangerously)
  • Needles and thread (for older/more confident participants), or staplers (for the rest of us)
  • Staple removers (trust me on this one)
  • Safety pins
  • Fabric scissors
  • Cotton or polyester stuffing
  • Masking tape (optional)

The Process

Step 1: Framing

I know, I know—we don’t usually do this in creative workshops, but, in this case, it was important to me that my kiddos know just how unqualified I was. It was part of the fun! I explained that not only had I never done this before, but I was aiming to make the worst, ugliest teddy bear of the bunch, and that errors were just going to be part of the charm.

MISTAKES: are part of the fun!

Step 2: Design

In shaping our Terrible Teddies, my cadre of creators and I each selected our fabrics, and, using magic markers, traced or drew the shapes of our desired monsters. I chose a classic bear, but with an absurdly large head on a tiny body.

We then attached our fabric swatches to a roughly same-sized partner, using safety pins, and carefully cut them out with fabric scissors. The result was two (roughly) identical pieces of creature-shaped fabric.

MISTAKES: as we learned, some fabrics don’t love being cut this way, and immediately began fraying. That is a-okay! We tried several ways to fix it, including my personal favorite, folding masking tape over the edges.  Did that work? Only kind of. Was it funny? Definitely.

Step 3: Stitching

From here, we set to attaching the two pieces to each other. Going around the outside, the more-confident kiddos used needle-and-thread to stitch the edges of their fabric together, leaving a few inches of gap that would serve as an entrance for the stuffing.

I, and many of the younger participants, achieved similar results with a stapler, though we did have to admit to a slightly less-cuddly final product. Theoretically, I think that Elmer’s glue might work, but that seemed like it might take a while to dry, followed by a while for me to clean up.

MISTAKES: I forgot to leave a hole in mine! No worries, that’s what the staple remover is for. I pulled out a couple staples (and one of the thread-users, who had also erred, cut some of their stitches) and the problem was solved. Maybe the hole isn’t in a great spot, or won’t be convenient to work with, or is too large or too small—all simply lead to a more fun and ridiculous end.

Step 4: Eyes

From here, we turned our creations inside out. That’s right! Everything we had done so far was looking at the inside! I, for one, was relieved, as it let my unsightly and uneven staples disappear into the not-yet-stuffed bear.

From there, participants could either draw on eyes and faces with markers, or attach buttons. I decided that this was as good a time as any to try needlework, and carefully used the hole in the seam of my bear as an access point for when I needed to turn the needle around and push it back out. The resulting button eyes and nose were adorable, if maybe a little poorly attached.

MISTAKES: one kiddo accidentally put their needle all the way through, stitching the eyes not only to the front but also the BACK of the head. This resulted in a fun, squished-head appearance, that they decided to keep, rather than undoing and trying again. Another, with markers, drew eyes lower than they meant to, giving their monstrosity an extra-silly face, which caused a great many giggles at stuffing time.

Step 5: Stuffing

This was the simplest step, all told. We took our stuffing (we mainly used polyester, because it was cheap, but one of the older participants had a bag of cotton balls they had brought, which resulted in a fun, lumpy shape), and pushed it through the holes we had left in our seams, into all of the corners of our now-huggable friends.

MISTAKES: some of us under- or over-stuffed our monsters. The underdone ones flopped around sillily, and the overdone ones had fluff literally coming out of the seams. Both were easily correctable, but by this time the kiddos agreed that the mistakes were a funnier outcome than doing it “right.”

Step 6: Sealing

Okay, so this part is a little more difficult. Once the teddies were stuffed, that last bit of seam needed to be sealed shut. Two main methods emerged: folding the edges in and carefully stitching to try to match the rest of the threadwork, or just letting it be different and maybe a little sloppy. Both proved popular.

MISTAKES: the main trouble was for those of us trying to hide our seams. By the last couple stitches, it became extremely difficult to maneuver the needle. I concluded that anyone who CAN do so is obviously a wizard of some kind. All hail the wizards!

Photo credit: Ricky Elliot

Step 7: Naming

Finally, the names. We had great ones, ranging from “Bob Dog” to “Fluff-topus,” but I, being immensely creative, named my own abomination after myself. I am Sam, this is my son, and I shall call him Samson. At this point, most of the participants, be they aged seven or seventeen, had grown extremely attached to their creations, and took off to show their friends what terrors they had accomplished.

MISTAKES: thankfully, changing a stuffed animal’s name is pretty simple—you just do it!

And there you have it! An hour well-spent, with errors, fixes, laughter, and a wild final product. Those who moved quickly could make more than one teddy (one enterprising 12-year-old made an entire family of monsters), and those who used staples were gently reminded to be careful in hugging.

The resulting stuffies varied from shockingly professional to fragile and abstract. I made sure to let the kids know that they may not stand up to the ravages of time, but everyone left confident in their abilities to fix any damage that might come along.

22 thoughts on “Create Your Own Huggable Monstrosity

  1. this came at the exact right time: struggling to come up with my next program and facing some deadline pressure. So, thank you!

    1. I’m so glad you like it! It was a total blast to run;

  2. This is a wonderful idea, which I’d like to use toward the Halloween season. What age range of kiddos did you do this with. I can see teens being very into it, but we don’t have much teen participation at our library. Do you think younger kids be able to handle it?

    1. I worked with kids age 7 to 17, in the same workshop! The younger kids need a little more care, but they could absolutely grasp the concepts!

  3. What a great program idea! I love how “mistakes” are applauded, giving each beautiful monster even more character. Failing forward indeed. Thank you Sam, and Samson.

    1. That’s precisely the goal! I was struck by how intimidated some kiddos were by crafting projects, insisting “I’m not good at that,” so I tried to make something where that was the point.

  4. Thank you for this great activity. It is beyond creative and adorable; I could only imagine how many happy children will be after finishing their Huggable Monstrosity. I get such joy when I receive your emails. Thank you!!!

  5. Well, that is just hilarious. I think I might even be able to run that program for adults.

    1. Oh absolutely! Samson is currently in the custody of a friend of mine, who has talked about just that!

  6. This is awesome, I love that mistakes were embraced and it sounds like a great time was had by all !

    1. Absolutely! I have always found that mistakes can make great teachers, if we allow them.

  7. I’m so happy to read this post, Lindsey & Sam! I’ve organically started leading my art programs with the same spirit, that is to say that it’s OK to make mistakes and to be imperfect. I noticed my middle grade participants were really focused on perfection in these programs and would copy my examples exactly. During one program I had a glue gun and hole punch available and saw how excited kids were to use these tools. I designed a summer program called “Make Stuff” and each program focuses on using a tool to make a (hopefully imperfect – but self-made) project. More of this for our perfection seeking kids!

    1. I love, love, love that! Giving kids, particularly middle graders who are feeling all kinds of new social pressures, the opportunity to just play in the act of creation is a wonderful thing!

      It reminds me of the classic story from Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, of the two halves a ceramics class; one half was told they would be graded solely on the quality of their final project, the other was told they would be graded solely on the number of projects they completed. In the end, the work put out by those who were encouraged to make, without concern for quality, ended up being better.

      Giving kids the opportunity to just practice the art of making, safe from the judgement of “good” and “bad” work, is one of the greatest ways to set them up for success.

  8. I love this so much!! So many of the kids I work with struggle with perfectionism and feel such a need for everything to be done “the right way”, which can lead to some big feelings when it’s time to try anything new! I love the way you’ve highlighted the importance of leading by example as a facilitator – when we highlight and acknowledge our mistakes, embrace the messy side of creativity, and highlight the importance of a growth mindset, it helps create a warm environment where kids feel supported and safe enough to try and fail and try again. Everybody makes mistakes, even us ‘grown ups’ 🙂

    And what a cutie you ended up with!

    1. I know, right??

      But seriously, kids will mirror what we model; learning this has helped me to have more grace in my own projects, as well, as I think about the example I am setting. And, in turn, I’ve seen a huge increase in the quality of my own art!

  9. This is wonderful!! Perfect (pardon the expression) for fall, when the kids are back in school mode and everything has to be ‘just so.’ Definitely want to give this project a try. Thank you so much!

    1. Please do! And let us know how it goes! I would love to hear about all of the weird and wonderful things your kiddos come up with!

  10. I saw this and immediately sent it to my assistant. We are putting this on the calendar for one of our teen events. It looks so fun.

    1. Awesome! Please let me know how it goes!!

  11. I love modeling mistakes during storytime. My memory is less than ideal when it comes to lyrics, so I forget certain lines, accidentally skip some, or try to incorporate new lyrics the kids give me with middling success. The kids always get a kick out of it and I get to show them how to take mistakes in stride. So I love the whole idea of embracing something you are not good at and giving kids a time to be the same.
    So cool!

    1. Yes! Teach them to have the courage to be wrong, and the greater courage still to acknowledge it!! Love that!

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