Bagley’s Bears have become a regular attraction since ’00

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Donna Bagley poses with some of the bears she has made for her booth at the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair. ?It?s really rewarding,? she says of her effort.Malinda Just / Free Press

What do chenille bedspreads, bath robes and antique quilts have in common?

For Donna Bagley, a Hillsboro resident and Tabor College education professor, the three items represent a hobby she is able to share with the public?and for the eighth consecutive year with visitors to the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair on Saturday.

Bagley, owner of Bagley?s Bears, transforms fabric from vintage and found materials into teddy bears. She has been making bears for 10 years.

?I was unemployed and looking for something I could do because I was at the end of my savings,? she said. ?So I thought, ?this is something I could do.??

After moving to Hillsboro from St. Louis in 1999, Bagley kept up her hobby and was encouraged to attend the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair.

?I was blown away when I went to it the first time (in 2000),? she said. ?I applied the next year and I?ve been there ever since.

?I?ve done this sale long enough and have found a space I really like and I stay in that one spot,? she said. ?People started looking for (the bears) and I get repeat customers.?

She explained that one repeat customer comes to her booth each year to ?see what the new crop is.?

?It?s really rewarding,? she said.

To make a ?new crop? each year, Bagley said she purchases the majority of her materials at antique malls and the Et Cetera shops in Hillsboro and Newton.

?Each quilt, or sometimes within a quilt, (the bears) come out with different personalities,? she said. ?It?s fun to watch that.?

For Bagley, bear-making occurs in a three-stage process: cutting, sewing and stuffing.

?I have to be in the right mood to cut out,? she said, ?because that really takes the thinking.?

After cutting, she places all the pieces for each bear in a plastic bag and stores them in a tub at the foot of her bed.

?When I?m watching TV, I just take out one bear and sew it up,? she said. ?That gets it to the point where it needs to be stuffed. And then right before a show is when I stuff (the bears).

?You can kind of see the personality come together when you sew it, but it really comes together when you stuff it.?

In preparation for the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair on Saturday, Bagley said she will have hundreds of bears ready to sell.

?I had to buy new price tags,? she said, ?and there?s 100 in each package. I?m on my second package and I still have four more boxes to stuff.?

Bagley?s Bears come in two sizes. The small size ranges in price from $15 to $17.50. The large size ranges in price from $29 to $35.

?I used to just have the larger size, but then people kept asking for smaller bears,? she said.

?Some (materials) I just make one large and the rest into small. But other things I?ll make as many large ones as I can and then can usually get one or two small ones.

?It was a way to get more bears out of my fabric.?

Another way Bagley gets more out of her fabric is by making a recently added Christmas line that includes Santas and tree ornaments.

?I started Santas because I get so much stuff with fringe,? she said.

Bagley uses the fringe to make beards for her Santas. She also said that she uses excess white chenille to make snowmen.

?I started doing (the Christmas line) because a lot of the other shows I go to are closer to Christmas,? she said. ?I was getting bored because not everybody needs teddy bears at that time.

?I started doing (the Christmas line) because I think it supplements well the bears.?

Bagley said she usually attends four shows per year. But because she is on sabbatical, she plans to attend seven or eight this year.

?I just really enjoy doing it,? she said.

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