Carol Cowen had a little spare yarn and a lot of spare time. So one day, about a year and a half ago, she started knitting bears. She stuffed them with cotton batting left from her quilting projects and used her embroidery skills to stitch their faces.
Cowen made the first one with her great-grandchild — who was on the way at the time — in mind. But she enjoyed making the little creatures, so she made another, then another. Soon she had a line of them sitting against a wall.
“I had a bunch of them made up, and I needed to find a home for them,” she said.
A friend suggested she offer them to the local Head Start program, which serves some 150 children ages 3 to 5.
Director Sally Frick enthusiastically accepted the bears, which are about a foot tall and washable. She keeps them in her office and offers them to the children as a comfort object if they are sick or upset and need a little lift. The bears are theirs to keep.
“When they’re feeling bad, they want their mommy, they can hug their bear and then get to feeling better,” Cowen said. She said Frick recently sent her a photo of a little girl who was crying and fiercely hugging one of the bears.
“It’s good to make somebody feel better,” she said. “I was real glad to be able to fill that niche.”
Cowen said she has made 60-70 bears to date, working on them in her spare time. In addition to donating them to Head Start, she sometimes gives them as baby shower gifts or to “other little tykes I run across,” she said.
Each bear takes about two and a half days to make — though that’s not eight straight hours of knitting, Cowen said. She does all kinds of needlework, so she’ll knit until she gets tired, then work on a hand-stitched quilt for a while, then switch to something else.
“I can’t just sit,” she said. “I have to have my hands doing something. That’s just part of my makeup.”
Cowen said she has been knitting and doing needlework for a long time.
“Oh, golly. I taught myself to knit and crochet when my kids were little,” she said. “And I’ve been sewing since before I was married. I’d sew for my daughter. My handiwork has always been real important to me.”
But she said she didn’t always have much time for it, working with her late husband on their farm in Zeandale and tending to their three children.
“We grew corn, wheat and beans,” she said. “We used to have cattle. We farmed together. We had a good life here.”
Cowen still lives on the farm, but now the children are grown, and she has seven grandchildren, along with one great-grandchild and another now on the way. So she has more time for her projects.
“I used to make a lot of sweaters for people,” she said. “But those things don’t wear out very easy, so after a while, you have to find something else to do.”
She made quilts for each of her grandkids and is working on quilts for the great-grandkids.
Cowen also said she used to teach knitting and quilting as a 4-H leader.
“Some of those girls, now they’re married ladies and have families of their own,” Cowen said, and she likes that she could pass on those skills to them.
But now she shares her craft in another way, giving comfort to preschoolers with the bears that are so familiar now she doesn’t even need directions.
She said she plans to keep up the knitting and needlework as long as she can.
“I’ll be fine; as long as my hands and my eyes hold out I’ll be a happy camper,” she said.