Meet The Repair Shop’s Bear Ladies
PUBLISHED: 15:55 25 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:04 10 September 2020
Julie Tatchel and Amanda Middleditch from Bear It In Mind in Hythe regularly have viewers in tears on the hit BBC show
“About three and a half years ago I had a phone call from someone saying they were a researcher putting together a new show and were we interested in taking part?
“It sounded too good to be true - I didn’t believe a word. Then I went online and discovered it was real, and they wanted us! We did a pilot series and haven’t looked back since.”
As viewers of The Repair Shop are aware, the vibrant Julie Tatchell is one half of a duo which includes Amanda Middleditch, together affectionately known as the Bear Ladies, whose precious teddy bear restoration skills are regularly admired on this increasingly popular series.
Speaking from their Hythe premises where they fix all manner of injuries from limbs that have gone adrift to missing eyes or mauling by a family pet, Amanda recalls their early challenges in the 300 year old Weald and Downland Living Museum barn.
“Getting used to working in front of a camera was initially terrifying. But we now know the crew and everybody is so friendly. There’s a lot of coordinating that goes on; we have a sewing machine there but take all our needles and threads with us.”
“We are part of the original gang,” Julie continues, “and they parachute in other experts. There’s a lot of research. Members of the public have to submit an application and send photographs, which researchers go through looking for something that will fit the show.”
Julie and Amanda are given a few days’ notice for each week of filming (or two weeks for a Christmas episode) and may be summoned half a dozen times during the filming run, which typically spans six months.
While away, they leave their shop in the capable hands of an assistant whom they are training, and swap their normal working environment for the famous barn where every aspect of the restoration is completed.
Sometimes they work on a couple of bears during their allotted week and, in every case, are guided by the owner’s story and what the bear means to that person. Julie describes the process as “an adventure” and both are touched by some of the characters they meet who “make us want to do the best we can.”
The camaraderie between the two women suggests they are lifelong friends. Banter is effortless and free flowing yet they have only worked together for the past 14 years.
Prior to Julie and Amanda’s success on The Repair Shop, Julie had sold high end collectable bears and run a craft studio. When Amanda, who made her own bears, popped in one day hoping to find a willing retailer, the response was positive with one proviso - she had to spend some of her time making bears on site enabling customers to see and appreciate the processes involved.
“At first Julie put me in a corner. Then she gave me an area. Then I moved into the studio!”, says Amanda, before Julie cuts in jokily, “Yes, eventually you took over!”
The two women quickly developed both a rapport, and a thriving business as Julie remembers.
“People were fascinated with what we were doing and asked a lot of questions. We realised that demand was greater for restoration than for new so we started taking in the odd one or two bears to repair. Eventually we switched to restoration work.”
“Bears have been my lifelong passion,” adds Amanda. “There is no official training. It’s a niche market that just took off.”
They certainly filled a gap. With professional restorers showing little interest in low value bears, the Bear Ladies never turn away any customer, regardless of whether their bear is a century old or purchased from a High Street store a decade ago.
In fact, it is working on such a range that has fuelled their knowledge as Julie explains, “A lot of mistakes are made through not understanding design or materials. That’s the bit we are constantly learning.” Amanda agrees.
“The more bears you handle and see, the more you become familiar with different manufacturers’ traits and how they stitch. You have to be passionate about something to want to learn, and bears mean so much to their owners. You can’t put a price on sentiment.”
So far, the oldest bear restored by Bear It In Mind dates back to around 1902. Toys from early eras were fashioned from mohair or wool based material with felt for paws and glass or wooden button eyes. The duo aim to use original materials where possible though modern bears are softer, more mass produced and with a hefty nod to hygiene and safety.
I can’t ever imagine the appeal of teddy bears waning. In fact, to a chorus of Aaahhs! I reveal my own childhood bear with his (it was always a he) patchy fur and now only half embroidered mouth. The idea of throwing him out has never occurred to me which makes me wonder why teddies are such an enduring toy. Amanda responds first.
“We’ve never got to the real answer but I think bears have stood the test of time. Even with technology, most children still have one special cuddly toy.”
Julie takes up the theme. “One customer who was in her seventies had never been parted from her bear until she left it with us to repair. It had been with her through evacuation, boarding school and marriage.”
Such an emotional bond is a reality that Julie and Amanda regularly witness and are perfectly equipped to respond to. You see, their empathy and kindness is as plentiful as their restoration skills, whether they are in their home county or appearing on one of the BBC’s most endearing programmes.
See Julie and Amanda in action on BBC 1 on Wednesdays at 8pm or find the whole series on BBC iPlayer. Find out more here.