Roan Mountain resident makes memory bears for grieving families

A Roan Mountain resident has been helping families heal from death in the family by stitching special teddy bears, made from the clothes of the deceased loved ones.

Barbara Guinn, who lives in the heart of Roan Mountain, said she came up with the idea after her husband died in October of 2018.

“As I was going through his stuff, it was hard for me to part with it,” Guinn said.

Rather than throw it out or donate it, however, she decided to make a few teddy bears out of her husband’s clothes for her grandchildren. They loved the idea.

“I took a picture and posted it on Facebook,” she said. “I was surprised how many people still have a shirt that belonged to a loved one.”

Popular demand saw her make a few more for her friends and neighbors, and slowly her reputation spread.

Now, a year later, Guinn occasionally gets requests from as far away as Montana. Currently, she is working on five orders of about 14 bears total.

“It is very humbling,” Guinn said. “It is kind of an honor they would trust you with an article of clothing that is so personal for them.”

Clients can contact Guinn with a variety of requests, and the two parties discuss what will work and what will not. For starters, she said she does not use T-shirts or stretchy fabrics, as it is too difficult to cut consistent limb shapes out of them.

“My favorite fabrics to work with are cotton and flannel,” Guinn said.

She uses patterns to make sure all the limbs, the torso and the head are all the same size, which have been used so often in the past year they are starting to fade with age and tear slightly at the edges.

From there, Guinn has a small, personal sewing machine she uses to attach the pieces together and fill the bear with the right amount of stuffing. Each bear takes between four and five hours to complete.

The bears will not use all of a given article of clothing, so unless the client specifically requests Guinn keep the  scraps, she will always send them back to them along with the bear.

She said she is thinking of creating a quilt later using these scraps to represent the roughly 150 to 175 bears she has made in the last year.

“I am not in it to get rich,” Guinn said. “I want to make something they can cherish.”

This desire to help people, she said, comes from her faith. An attendee at Morgan Branch Freewill Baptist, she said she takes particular inspiration from Psalms 147:3, which reads “He heals the brokenhearted and stitches their wounds.”

“If I did not have my church family, I do not know what I would do,” she said. “It is not just a verse. It is a promise.”

She said she loves seeing the smiling faces when they see their completed bear. One little girl who got one took multiple tries for her parents to convince her not to take hers literally everywhere they went, for fear of losing it.

Lately, as word has spread of her work, Guinn said it has been overwhelming keeping up with all the requests.

“You hear a lot of heartache,” she said. “It touches your heart.”

Again, she said faith is her motivator when the job gets tough.

“I always pray for [the recipients],” Guinn said. “It was the worst heartache I have had in my life.”

Those interested in obtaining a bear of their own can contact Guinn for details either through email at nannybguinn@hotmail.com or by messaging her on Facebook. She said each bear is $35, and she works to make sure her prices stay exactly the same unless the cost of materials go up.

“I do not know how to put it into words,” Guinn said. “It is a lot of fun.”

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