Repair, Not Replace: Bunbury the Trusty Robin/Doorstop

A number of years ago my family were given a lovely doorstop in the shape of a robin – it was made of felt, with a heavy beanbag in the bottom to give it weight. Originally inteded as a piece of Christmas home decor, we just kept him out all year (there does be robins in the garden all year – that’s our excuse).

Over time, he started to look more and more worse for wear. The top of his head was pulled out of shape and the felt on his front was looking sparse, then started tearing, leaving bits of stuffing falling out. Repairing him was on my list for a while but I didn’t have any wool roving (unspun wool) to re-needle-felt the torn areas so I kept putting it off. The longer I put him off, the worse he got until I finally got the energy recently to fix him up. Without wanting to splash out on wool roving and needle felting equipment, I worked with what I had lying around.This sort of project is so three-dimensional so I used only hand-stitching for this. To do any machine-stitching I would have had to have completely disassemble poor Bunbury and there’s no guarantee he’d even go back together again..

Our poor robin doorstop, weathered from years of use and bad design

‘Quite Exploded’

I dubbed the robin Bunbury because he was ‘quite exploded‘ – the only phrase that can accurately describe the carnage that he’d suffered (much like Algernon’s “friend” Mr. Bunbury in The Importance of Being Earnest).

On inspection, poor Bunbury had been victim to a fundamental design flaw from the beginning: at the bottom was a heavy weight, at the top was a carrying handle, joined only by FELT, a fabric with NO WEAVE or structural integrity. Essentially, every time Bunbury was picked up, the entire weight of the beanbag pulled on the felt around his middle, tearing it apart.

Handle Repositioning

I opened his top seam and removed the original handle. I sewed up his head by hand, reshaping it as a went to look more like a robin’s head and less like a dunce’s cap.

Next, I opened up a section of the seam further back in the centre of Bunbury’s back to make a new hole for the handle that was more central, reinforcing it with a buttonhole stitch to give it strength. I dipped into my collection of sturdy strings/ropes and found a slightly longer handle for him – because this new handle was extending down further inside him, it needs to be longer than the original – and I sewed the new rope/handle directly onto the beanbag. Now the handle lifts the heavy beanbag directly without putting any pressure on the outer fabric of the robin, so it shouldn’t tear again.

New positioning of handle, reinforced with buttonhole stitch

Reinforcing the holes

Because felt doesn’t have any weave to it (it’s just sort of a load of strands of wool hanging out next to one another), there were whole sections of the robin that were being pulled apart and loosening. Even had I fixed the actual holes, the whole body of Bunbury had been stretched out of shape, and the felt was stretched out, losing all structure.

I started by running a gather stitch around the existing holes and lightly gathering them, drawing the holes slightly more closed and trying to bring the fabric back to something resembling its original shape before it was stretched out, then running a few stitches over the holes to hold the stuffing in place.

Bunbury mid-operation: gathering around holes and stitching across, drawing the holes together and holding in stuffing

The whole middle section (the equator of Bunbury, if you will) had been stretched, leaving sparse fabric with the stuffing showing through. I just started running lines of running stitch up and down to reinforce the fabric, then worked from side to side doing the same thing, essentially “weaving” new fabric with the thread. By catching a small amount of the stuffing behind into the stitches, it also helped add structure to the fabric and strengthened it further.

Visible Mending

Even after his operations, Bunbury still looked a state. I thought about ways to add patches to him that wouldn’t look too weird, but eventually decided that for a respectable robin like Bunbury a waistcoat was the way to go! Using some tartan fabric I had bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show, I cut out a little rectangle in vaguely the right size. Then, I started draping the fabric on the robin – you’ve heard of “draping on the stand”, get ready for “draping on the robin!”

Draping on the Robin

I pinned the piece of fabric to the robin at the front, then moulded it around him to see how it would fit. Where the fabric touched his wings I marked with chalk and cut out (leaving seam allowance to have a finished edge!) Cutting in a few cms from the top on the centre front line, the fabric naturally folded down into “lapels” with very little additional shaping.

For the back of Bunbury I stuck to a traditional patch. When I tried to make a back for the waistcoat it just didn’t look right, so I went with more of a “visible mending” approach, using some wool in a contrasting colour but a similar texture. (I actually used an offcut of wool from my tailored jacket I made in college!) Before fully sealing him up, I adding in some extra wadding to stuff him and and return him to his rotund grandeur.

((I also had to fix a minor tear on his wing, where some stitches had come loose. I repaired them using the maroon thread I was using for his jacket – because I was too lazy to rethread my needle..))
Visible mending patch: contrasting colour but similar texture

Final Touches

I love the way Bunbury’s waistcoat folds over like a Victorian shawl collar! To emphasize this, I got white thread and ran a tiny running stitch around the outline of the jacket and down the front to emulate a front closure. I found two matching buttons from my button box and sewed them on the front. Then all that was left was to attach the jacket to Bunbury around the armholes and he was ready to take pride of place in our kitchen once again!

Bunbury back at his post

I always liked the robin doorstop, hence the efforts I went to to fix him, but definitely the process of repairing Bunbury has made me a lot more attached to him. As with anything you make yourself, you appreciate the work that goes into these objects and you learn to respect them. Also, having spent this long repairing him now, I’m not going to throw him out if/when he gets another injury – I’m invested now and I’ll feel compelled to repair him again.

The philosophy of visible mending is that the item is improved through having been repaired, because now they have a story behind them and an individuality about them.

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