When I was very small back in the 1960s, my mother made for me a stuffed bunny rabbit. He was one of those preprinted fabrics you could buy at the fabric store -- you've probably seen them, printed with dolls or animals and that.
We were inseparable. He accompanied me to the hospital when I was 5.
He was the focus point of hysterics when I locked him in the bathroom because I was playing 'house' with him. My brother had to rescue him using a penknife to force the bathroom door. I immediately locked him in the bathroom again, having resumed my game and having the memory of a goldfish.
Being cotton fabric, he wore out pretty quickly; my mother patched him so many times that his face was covered over completely by colourful fabric.
It reached a point, by the time I was around 9 or so, that he was simply too fragile to sleep with anymore, so he lived in a place of honour on the back of the bed. He kept this place for years, moving back and forth across the country and eventually the Atlantic with me. I kept him tucked into a pillow case because he was so fragile.
Like so many stuffed toys from the 1960s, he was stuffed with old silk stockings and a foam-like polyester stuffing that, as it degraded, became hard and brown, sucking up moisture from the air and making poor old Mr Bunny a bit rank. The fill also changed chemical composition which further weakened his fabric. By the time I decided to get that crap out of him and try to restuff him, during the 2020 lockdown, his fabric was so degraded that the fabric disintegrated to the touch.
I got as much out of him as I could, with as little damage as I could muster. He had a very gentle, soapy bath, and then because of the rotting stuffing, he got a bit of radiation treatment, spending a few days in a mesh lingerie bag out in the wind and sun.
There was no way he could be restuffed -- any pressure on his fabric tore the cotton. By this point poor Mr Bunny was just a limp bit of rag -- any other fabric in this state, you'd just bin it. But I couldn't do that to Mr Bunny.
Thinking about a trip to the Altes Museum in Berlin a few years back inspired me with how to solve the problem of restoring Mr Bunny, after a fashion. The museum holds a number of Roman-Egyptian mummy portraits, quite beautiful and lifelike images of the deceased held in wooden caskets.
The obvious solution to the Mr Bunny issue was to create for him his own fabric 'sarcophagous' with his image on the surface like one of these paintings, and the original Mr Bunny nestled safely inside, surrounded by clean, scoured sheep's wool -- unlike nasty 1960s foam stuffing, wool will not degrade and stays soft.
First thing was to recreate him -- I looked online to see if I could find vintage fabric printed with his character, as people collect that sort of stuff, 1970s-era Sears bedsheets and all that. Nope.
So, the thing to do was carefully to unpick the fabric patches covering his face, and for the first time in about 40 years, seeing Mr Bunny's goofy expression.
From this I was able to make a one-to-one line drawing of his body and design. I used Sigma pens to do all of the outlining on a fresh piece of cotton muslin fabric. Paint pens were used to fill in much of the colours. I gave his flower design a bit of a glittery upgrade with a gold glitter paint pen from the original.
A second, plainer sheathe was made to hold the original Mr Bunny, and to act as a protective layer between Mr Bunny and the new outer cover, so that the wool stuffing wouldn't be pressed directly up against him.
An explanation and the date was written on both the new outer shell and the inner shell. Mr Bunny is now safely nestled inside his new body, and for the first time in decades he can be robustly held.
All told, the project took about a year, as I worked on him on and off in between teaching and research duties.