By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

Pictured above, knitting talent Nicky Epstein poses with Papa & Mama Bear, two bigger-than-life stuffed bears outfitted entirely with sweater swatches. Baby Bear will be joining them at VK Live in both Seattle and NYC. They are sure to top the ‘photo op’ seekers!
Epstein is also working on a sheep that will be totally covered with knitted flowers that have embellished some of her previous work. The sheep has been affectionately named “Lady Baa Baa”!

Knitter/designer/author Nicky Epstein, a native of Harrison County, will be the first to admit that her New York City residence is bursting at the seams with yarn, needles, patterns and swatches that have accumulated over her 30+ year career.  This collection of beautiful ‘scraps’ has encompassed so much work that simply tossing them away was not an option, so she kept and stored them.  But after a point, she had to ask “What can I do with all of this?”

An exceptionally creative woman, Epstein has chosen to repurpose the swatches and make something unique.  The swatches of various sizes, various colors, various stitches  and patterns put her in mind of a patchwork quilt.  At first she considered designing a wearable gown made from the swatches … and then, along came the notion to dress up a life-size bear.  This concept has gathered momentum ever since!

Nicky went bear hunting (via an online search).  Googling ‘giant stuffed teddy bears’ resulted in a six-foot find!  She called Vogue Knitting and presented her unusual idea; they agreed that it was matchlessly creative and offered to purchase the bear if she would work her magic on it!  Papa Bear is now outfitted in a striking Epstein original – made from swatches.

At the same time, she had also asked a friend to look for a big teddy bear, and she, too, had success.  Now, with  another bear measuring a little over five feet in height, Nicky was excited that she was the perfect size for Mama Bear!  With  plenty of swatches to spare, Mama Bear has also been ‘dressed to the nines’ in designer swatches sewn together to cover her full-bodied figure.

You have heard the expression “All dressed up and nowhere to go”?  That is hardly the case for Papa & Mama Bear; they will be travelling from the east coast to the west coast – destination: Seattle, Washington for the VK Live show there in November!

“It was hysterical the day my husband and I took the two bears to Vogue Knitting,” Nicky related.  “We could hardly get them both into the back seat of our car!  But once we arrived, they produced exactly the reaction I was hoping for.  Everyone crowded around them and wanted their pictures taken with them and recognized the swatches from some of my original sweater designs.   I am hoping that many of my followers attending VK Live will recognize the swatches too.”

Nicky says that many who have caught a glimpse of the giant bear duo are amazed at how much work they must have entailed.   On the contrary – she says all the knitted parts were already done; they were retired swatches and all that was required was sewing them together.  The most difficult part, she reports, was assembling all the swatches and sorting them according to gender to ensure that Papa Bear would appear masculine and Mama Bear’s attire would feature more feminine colors, lacy edgings, etc.   And of course Nicky always likes to add a few “fun” features – like heart-shaped swatches attached to each bear’s chest!

Apparently somewhat infatuated with animals, her last book was “Knit A Square – Create A Cuddly Creature”, which featured step-by-step instructions on how to create miniature animals from a knitted square.  Some of the patterns included turtles, owls, pigs, etc.  Not intimidating projects, Nicky shows knitters how to shape, sew and stuff these simple squares, adding some embellishments to lend character to each creature.  The bear couple is an ENLARGED extension of this idea.

The big news is that Papa and Mama Bear have a “little one” on the way!  Baby Bear is just a little over four feet tall and is also in the process of being “swatched” for cross-country travel to Seattle!  Now “Tea for Two” has become a tea party for three!  Following the Seattle show, the bear trio will return to New York City for Vogue Knitting Live in NYC, a three-day event to be held in January, 2018.  This huge event showcases products such as yarn, needles, jewelry, buttons, beads, etc., items of interest to those in the Handicrafts, Textile, Fabrics & Yarns, and Fashion Accessories industries.

And what will happen to the three bears later?  Nicky says she likes the idea of them being auctioned for charity … or perhaps a yarn company will be interested in purchasing them.  But they’re sure to be the center of attention wherever they go.

Working ahead, Nicky is also making a large sheep for another show that will get bedecked with leftover flowers from former projects.  This one, though, she has made from scratch, stuffing it herself.   A contest was held to give this wooly one a name!  And, cleverly, the winner was ……. “Lady Baa Baa”!

Nicky Epstein first learned how to knit in a 7th grade home economics class, and later learned how to do fine detailing from a Spanish lady in her native community of Spelter.   She was hooked from that point forward.  She knows and has used every technique there is in knitting – three-dimensional flowers, leaves and trees, bobbles, mosaic knitting, intarsia knitting, cable, lace, stripes, textures, two color knitting, fair isle knitting, Shetland lace and ruffles, and all kinds of edging (circles, blocks, and the list goes on and on).  She continues to do things that have never been done before in the knitting industry, which explains why her books are so popular.

Nicky Epstein has published 30 books and sold over a million knitting books during her career.  Creativity seems to come to her naturally.

When asked what has been the biggest asset to her successful career, she said, “Being unique and original … and patterns in my books are very versatile and can be used to embellish a number of knitted items.”

Certainly the three bears’ Tea Party will be something unique and original for VK Live this year!  And hopefully, these life-size fairy tale characters will be offered more than a bowl of porridge for the stir they are sure to cause!