“Sleep well young soldier, your job is done. You war is over, your battle’s won.”
Stitched onto a special teddy bear, handmade with love, these words were dedicated to the life of Fusilier Lee Rigby, the brave young soldier who was tragically killed in London in 2013.
Kay made this wonderful bear in memory of Fusilier Rigby
‘Daddy Bear’ was made for little Jack Rigby, in memory of his dad and hero.
The beautiful keepsake was created to keep memories of Jack’s dad alive.
Rebecca, Lee’s wife was so grateful to receive the bear for her son to cherish as a reminder of his brave daddy.
“The best thing about memories is making them”
The very special teddy has become one of memory bear maker Kay McEllen’s favourites, since she made her very first in 2012.
The mum of one from Manchester, started making memory bears out of loved one’s clothes, a year after losing her own lovely Mam, Lily, to cancer.
Since then, Kay has made hundreds of memory bears for other people. Each adorable teddy is unique and keeps precious memories of someone very special alive.
##Amazing mam, best friend
Kay and her lovely mum, Lily
Kay’s tight knit mother-daughter bond with Lily is something she still misses every day.
“My Mam was my very best friend” Kay smiles. “She was the most loving, selfless and toughest person I have ever met.
“She was fully content with her life, as long as her family were all okay and she saw them regularly, she didn't need anything more.”
Full of wisdom, Lily was always the first person Kay would call on in a crisis.
“Mam always had the answers to life. She had a real gift of knowing what to say to calm us down, and would always have a story about her past that would relate to our problems. That would always do the trick.”
So it wasn’t easy after Lily died, for Kay to deal with the emotional task of sorting through her Mam’s personal belongings.
“We found all of the colourful tops we brought together on our girly shopping trips. It brought back so many memories,” she says.
Luckily, some of Lily’s cardies still had the ‘standby’ tissues in the pockets she carried in case of emergencies. Ever practical, she’d always been there for her girls.
One of Lily’s favourite items of clothing was her brown suede jacket. Inspired by a teddy-bear keepsake she found on an American blog, Kay suddenly knew what she was going to do with her Mam’s clothes.
“Looking back it was a strange decision to cut it up, along with some of her best cardigans and her woollen dressing gown, but there was no one stopping me,” says Kay.
Kay based her first memory bear on a traditional teddy bear pattern she’d sourced from an antique shop.
“When I got home, I matched it with Mam’s clothes and started collecting little eyes, toy filling and embroidery thread,” she says.
Ignoring the bemused looks she got from her son Luke and husband Mike as she set to with the scissors, Kay was soon completely engrossed in her task.
Within just three days ‘Lily Bear’ was ready and Kay couldn’t wait to share a photo with her friends and family on Facebook.
“Well, that afternoon my laptop didn’t stop pinging. Everyone loved it,” she says.
Sweet Lily: The first memory bear Kay made – in memory of her mam
The praise and positive feedback from Lily Bear encouraged Kay to rummage through the family’s wardrobes to begin another project.
Yet before she knew it, the Facebook page she’d created to share her memory bears with close friends and family, was full of requests from people she’d never even met.
This gave Kay the confidence to begin making personalised bears to order, knowing her Mam would be so proud of her enterprise. Setting up a home workshop, she called her cottage industry Lily’s Love.
The memory bears now have 14,000 likes on Facebook – and counting – as their fanclub grows.
The bears, which are all handmade by Kay, can be made from almost any fabric, and require at least three pieces of clothing each.
“It makes me happy to know that my bears give comfort to so many people, as I sew a lifetime of memories into their own bear,” says Kay, whose own Lily Bear keeps an encouraging eye on her in the workshop.
“Just like Mam would have,” she smiles.
“I have such fond memories of Mam making simple little cotton dresses on an old treadle sewing machine.”
##Very special bears
Making Lee Bear was very special for Kay, while another of her memory bears was inspired by a TV storyline that touched the nation’s hearts.
Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper’s brave battle against pancreatic cancer helped raise awareness and support for research into the disease.
Kay made Hayley Bear with clothes from the Coronation Stree wardrobe department
More than 10 million viewers tuned in on January 2014, when Hayley, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, passed away.
Not long after, Kay got in touch with the Coronation Street costume department: Could she make a memory bear in aid of Pancreatic Cancer UK, the charity which had advised scriptwriters on the storyline?
To her delight, they agreed.
“We were given a bag of Hayley’s clothes,” says Kay.
“I was so pleased to find that I had the blouse from her first appearance and the cardigan Hayley wore in the touching Blackpool Tower episode, when she and husband Roy fulfilled the dream of a lifetime, dancing in the ballroom.
“Most special of all was the top that Hayley wore when she passed away with Roy by her side.”
Hayley Bear was sold at an auction, which raised £400 for Pancreatic Cancer UK and Glossop palliative care and family support centre, Reuben’s Retreat.
Another very special memory bear
Lee Bear was made as a gift for the soldier’s family, after she was contacted by military weddings entrepreneur Emma Waring in 2013.
“Emma asked me if I would make a memory bear that could be sent to Lee’s family as a future keepsake for Lee’s son Jack,” explains Kay.
“I told Emma that I would be honoured and I would gladly make a unique bear in Lee’s remembrance, as a gift to Lee’s family.
“My bears are usually made from personal clothing, but I couldn’t possibly bother the family at a time like this. So I started my search on the internet for clothing and accessories that I could use, I found T shirt with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers crest, which I thought was an great starting point.”
Some bears have been made from Hawaiian shirts, while other customers have chosen football jerseys, pyjamas, jeans and jackets.
From cardigans to football tops and even Hawaiian shirts, people ask Kay to make memory bears from all sorts of clothes that have an unforgettable connection with someone they loved.
“My beautiful Viv Bear is a constant reminder of a fantastic friend,” says one very happy owner.
“I now smile instead of cry. It’s lovely to have a piece of my Viv near me forever.”
“Handing the bears back to their owners is the best part of my job” smiles Kay.
“The best thing about memories is making them.”
Discover how to order your own Lily’s Love teddy in memory of someone special, on Kay’s website,
www.lilyslove.co.uk. Each unique bear is handmade to order, with a waiting list you can register you interest on.