Laure Zirbel has been an avid sewer for most of her life. She can make just about anything, but she's been using a pattern for the last 20 years to make something really sentimental: memory bears.
Zirbel says she started making the memory bears over two decades ago, when her sister's husband passed away.
"She had two little girls. They were 10 and eight...she asked me to make bears for them out of his clothes," recalled Zirbel.
She says, at the time, making memory bears seemed to be gaining in popularity. Her sister had seen one or heard of someone making them, and she knew her Zirbel was up to the task.
"I love to sew. I do a lot of sewing. I don't sell anything usually. I usually just make things for people I know," said Zirbel, adding that the cost of fabric is just too high; she wouldn't want to have to charge people so much.
But that doesn't stop her from still sewing up a storm.
Zirbel says when her father died, she made bears out of his clothes and, when her mother died, she did the same. She also made one for her husband's family when her husband's mother passed away, something to remember the loved ones by.
"It's an emotional, sentimental gift that everybody gets really choked up about. I just like to bless people, make them feel good," she said.
While she doesn't make a habit of selling memory bears, she has also made a few for friends and coworkers over the years.
"I don't think I did any for a long time until one of the girls I work with asked me," recalled Zirbel, saying she made one with her coworker's father's clothes. "Her dad was a retired highway patrolman. She gave me some of his old state highway patrol shirts with the emblems on them to use."
Zirbel says the uniqueness of the fabrics is the best part, though it can sometimes make for a challenge. Most recently, Zirbel made a few bears for Liz Molacek, two from Molacek's grandmother's clothes and one from her grandfather's.
"The grandma bear had, like, three different shirts...so that takes a little longer," said Zirbel, adding, "Grandpa bear was really fun to do. She brought me an old pair of overalls, and there was not one piece of fabric on those big overalls that didn't have a patch on it. First, I struggled and thought there's not one piece of fabric to go with."
Eventually, Zirbel was able to figure it out - and even make the little bear look like he was wearing overalls himself.
"I really wanted to make it look like he was wearing the bib overalls," said Zirbel. "That took me a couple of days puzzling with it...but he was a lot of fun to do."
And Molacek says the bears were a hit. She gave the grandpa bear to her father, Albin Warling, who Molacek says was very touched by the gift. She says at first, he was a little puzzled opening a gift and seeing teddy bears inside, but once he realized they were made from the clothes of his late father, she says "You could definitely see the emotion in his face."
Memory bears have been gaining in popularity, recently. Zirbel says a lot of people make them - and they make a great gift, particularly for the loved one of someone who has passed away. Molacek says she had heard that Hospice sometimes makes them, but she decided to ask ZIrbel instead, and Zirbel was happy to do it, knowing how much it would mean to Molacek and her family.
"That's why I do it. It's a fun project, and it means something," said ZIrbel, adding, "It's special."