Shoebutton Bears - cute creations from Ashton on Mersey

Shoebutton Bears

Shoebutton Bears - Credit: Archant

These tiny treasures made in Ashton on Mersey are a bear necessity for the best dolls’ houses, writes Paul Mackenzie

Shoebutton Bears

Shoebutton Bears - Credit: Archant

They are just two centimetres tall but they have some very big fans. The tiny animals Sue Wilkes makes in the spare bedroom of her home in Ashton on Mersey, are avidly sought by collectors all over the world.

As she spoke to Cheshire Life she was busy fixing eyes to a herd of sheep and her range now also includes creatures as diverse as cats, pandas and rabbits but her miniature menagerie began with bears.

‘I have always done crafts, ever since I was young, painting or making cuddly toys or cushions,’ she said. ‘I used to get pattern books from the library and make all sorts of things. If I see something I can make it. The first one might not be perfect, but I’ll get the hang of it very quickly. It’s a gift.

‘My mum was very crafty and my granddad who I never knew was a tailor so I suspect there’s something in the genes. I started doing craft fairs when I had young children, making and selling fabric covered boxes and frilly things. Then about 20 or 25 years ago my eldest daughter took me to a bear show and the place was heaving with people determined to spend money.

‘I was teaching crafts to adults at night school at the time and they wanted a different craft every week. I thought I could do bears with them. There were tiny bears made with pipe cleaners. It took me about six months to perfect them, although when I look at those first ones I made now, I’m embarrassed.’

Despite not liking flying, for years Sue took her bears to shows all over the world where buyers for shops would clamour to stock her creations. The animals she makes are now available in Hamleys in London, where she is the best selling bear artist, and closer to home at Willowtree Bears in Wilmslow.

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The 66-year-old has three children and eight grandchildren and she added: ‘My children all grew up with the bears and were all pretty good at making them and some of my grandchildren are too.’

Sue appeared in the Guinness Book of Records ten years ago for making the smallest bear commercially available, at just 1.58cms and Sue now has a zoo-full of animals in her Shoebutton Bears range including camels, llamas, giraffes, monkeys and sheep, and because all her creations are handmade, no two are the same.

There’s no rats or hedgehogs there yet though, but she’s working on that. ‘I can’t quite get them right yet, but I’ll crack it,’ she said. ‘It took me a long time to get cats right, but I’ve finally done it. At the moment people are desperate for moles. I can’t make moles fast enough. They’re a new line I’ve recently started, along with badgers. If I go two days without making something I start to go stir crazy.

‘There is no let up in demand at all. People will always have dolls’ houses and will always be looking for nice things to put in them.’