When I started this project I knew I needed to knit five bears. One for each nation of the UK and one ‘Unity’ Birdham Bear to bring all the energies together.
Beyond that I didn’t know what the project would be; I had to start knitting for it to reveal more of itself. I’m still discovering as I continue to move forward with it.
I’ve knitted enough bespoke Birdham Bears to know how unique they look and feel for different customers so, knowing I would be using different yarn for each one, I was excited to see them come to life. Even so, I was still surprised by just how different they were.
Fellow knitters will know what a meditative practice it is. As I knitted I became aware that this project isn’t actually about the bears; it’s about the yarn, which I will talk about in another blog. Today is about …
England Birdham Bear – I started with him because I already knew and loved the energy of the Herdwick yarn I chose to use. You may not be aware that it was meeting a Herdwick lamb in Cumbria that led to me creating Birdham Bear 4 years ago. There were no surprises, perhaps because I am from England so the energy of this land is part of who I am. Perhaps because I have knitted a number of ‘Herdie Birdhams’. He is very strong and sturdy with a resilient energy – the biggest of the four.
Northern Ireland Birdham Bear – I instantly fell in love with the Galway yarn I had sourced. It’s a dense, smooth yarn with a gorgeous, pure ivory colour that looks softer and more delicate than it actually is. I loved watching him developing and could feel a lighthearted energy of fun and humour. He is the smallest bear but has a big energy.
Scotland Birdham Bear – to my surprise and delight the North Ronaldsay yarn I chose was beautifully soft, unlike the others. Knitting him was a dream and I kept being pulled to the beach on the island of North Ronaldsay where the sheep graze. He has a lovely gentleness. A soft, steady, powerful energy.
Wales Birdham Bear – he was the least straightforward to knit. I chose Badger Face Welsh Mountain yarn for him and sourcing it had been tricky. When it arrived and I saw how bulky it is I knew I wouldn’t have enough. One of the difficulties of not being able to see and handle it before buying. There was no more available so I decided to knit him on smaller needles. This was certainly a challenge as it was the thickest, most uneven of the yarns! Initially I was more focused on whether I’d be able to finish him, but as I knitted I fell more and more in love with him.
I was struck by the ruggedness and deep chocolatey colour that revealed auburn highlights as I knitted. Forgive the cliché but it made me think of coal mines and I found myself being taken deep into the ground. I felt the phenomenal strength, resilience and deep love in the energy of the people and their land. This bear is a CHUNK! And (whisper) he’s my favourite.
So now I had four gorgeous bears each embodying the unique energy of their nation.
As you know Birdham Bears have to wear sweaters … actually we believe all bears should! It seemed the obvious way to represent what the nations share. After experimenting and playing with different ideas for symbols inspiration struck.
ACORNS! All four nations share a Celtic past. Paganism was the spiritual connection on these islands before Christianity arrived. It is intrinsically linked with nature and trees, with the oak trees believed to hold special significance. The energy of that ancient wisdom and connection is still in the land, and I would suggest, somewhere deep within every native of the UK.
As we know the acorn is also a symbol of potential and growth … new beginnings.
I chose forest colours for the oak trees and to honour all the ancient woodlands that used to connect our nations and have long disappeared.
Four bears, the same and yet unique and distinctively different, wearing identical sweaters. Representing both the uniqueness of their home nation and the energy we all share. Looking at them lined up next to each other it came to me that more was required.
How to knit the four unique energies together? I had thought that Unity Birdham Bear would serve that purpose … apparently not. The more I pondered the more I realized that each bear needed to carry the merged energies.
What would best represent that? Of course … a heart! So began the next phase.