Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back after an extended absence...

Well, I happened to go in to the blog link and read some of the old posts. They made me feel happy. Sometime after that last post, I got too serious and lost some of my capacity for joy. BIG MISTAKE. That is so contrary to my personal goal in starting blogging and embarking on my Sock Monkey adventure. I wanted to wander and explore and drift through the trivial and the moment, rather than my usual tank armor rolling through obstacles and trying to change the world (or at least my immediate perimeter). Some sad things happened. Baby Nico, who I made a monkey for, died. I wonder if anyone remembers the old Suburbs song with the line, "Spring came. The baby died. There must be someone to blame." This is just a very hard part of life. I mourn Nico, but I especially am sad watching his parents and sister moving through their mourning. I am so helpless to ease anything of their burden. And yet, they have the grace, which I think they find in their faith, to keep moving and keep working.

And then one of my own sons has been battling this whole time through health problem after health problem. Again, I feel helpless. Though that hasn't stopped my husband and I from trying to Google our way into a medical degree (not that we're actually going for the degree; we just have the compulsive need to double-check and direct the doctors. As dysfunctional as that sounds, it has proved sadly necessary to helping our son. But that's another story).

And, well, I worked too hard and too long during this period at my work-work. There were some good results, and some learning, and some creativity. But rather than finding the creative/playful side while working, I turned a lot of essentially creative work into a chore.

So, there you have it. I have used this serindipitous (spelling?) moment to renew my committment to continuing on the sock monkey journey. I actually had 3 more fun projects I did after I stopped blogging, so my first task will be to blog about each of those. But before then, I need to finish some responsibilities and obligations still left on my big plate of OverWhelmDuJour. Just writing this is giving me the strength to get through those and look forward to future sock monkey-making adventures!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Teaching Jessi the Art of Making Sock Monkeys

My niece, Jessi, made this adorable sock monkey! We spent a chunk of each of two days (probably 4 or 5 hours total) each making a sock monkey. I would show each step on mine, and then Jessi would do on hers. It was a wonderful aunt/niece experience, and I will cherish it always.

Training Notes
To teach Jessi (who is 14), we basically did a side-by-side making of the monkeys. Beforehand, I showed her all the monkeys I had made and we glanced through the book "Everything's Coming Up Sock Monkeys", for some history and ideas.

Then, we sat down at my sewing table, each with our own pair of Large Rockford Red Heel socks, and the instructions that come with laid out in front of us. I would explain each step, and then do the step on mine. Then Jessi would do the same step on hers.

I've gotten to the point where I have a process. I do all the machine seaming parts first -- body sock and arms, tail on 2nd sock. Then I cut out the pieces and seams. Then I stuff body and arms and ears, then do all the finishing/closing on ears (see previous posts for details). At that point, I have a nice little stack of body parts all ready for attachment. This pleasant hand-sewing/embroidery, is best done in a comfie chair by the fire, so that is what we did.

Jessi pronounced the hand-sewing "easy", and was faster at it than me. The only issue she had was that her arms were attached a little lopsided and a little too far back. Naturally, a good seamstress would have pointed out that you could just rip the seam out and do-over. I think I might have mentioned that, briefly, after going through my theory that the best "art" (and life, in my opinion) comes from your reaction to the little accidents thrown in your way. Personally, I like to build on the accident, such as turning this monkey into the Hunch-Monkey of Notre Dame. Hiding the mistake is always an option (and a strategy I use with all my clothing choices for my own mistake-ridden body).

Jessi had already picked out a fur-lined black sweater for her monkey, which hid the lopsided arms perfectly, so that was her decision. She liked some "zebra" print felt I had, and we just cut it and used some sticky velcro in the back as a fastener. She also like some black, leatherette doll boots I had purchased from Micheal's. Jessi knew exactly how to accessorize her monkey, gluing on rhinestone earrings and using a red, heart-shaped button for a belly-button ring (since the outfit showed off the monkey-belly). I also suggested a red pompom for the top of her head to make that white part into a hat, and Jessi sewed that on. Final touch, a bit of red ribbon with "best friends" imprinted on it to tie a bow at the top of her tail. And, Voila, proud Jessi and beautiful sock monkey!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ballerina Sock Monkey

This ballerina sock monkey was made for my niece Macie, who is just 4. She is a tiny (her mom says she is not even on the growth chart) little red-hed with a chirruppy, perfectly-articulated little munchkin voice. She's adorable and sweet.

I made a ballerina sock monkey for her, because I wanted something with soft colors and all sweetness and huggability. (She does not like little, yappy dogs or scary-looking animals -- like the turtle her cousins caught and kept in a cardboard box under the deck).

Note the little toy bunny this sock monkey carries. Her tutu and slippers are off-the-shelf doll clothes. Her top and hat are made from an old pair of my socks. I just cut and rolled the fabric -- nothing easier! But I thought it was to nice effect. I was tempted to use the other sock to make leg warmers, but sock monkeys kind of have their own built-in leg warmers with the white part of their legs. So, I forced myself to keep it simple, and I'm glad.

Construction Notes:

With this monkey, I think I finally solved my eye problem. I bought some felt that was JUST the shade of the creamy part of the sock, and used that for eyelids. You still get a little of the froggy effect with the lighter colors, but I think, with time, I can mitigate that with changing the shape of the eyes and getting embroidered eyeliner or lashes on the lid. I did the more child-proof eye construction -- sew on the base, glue the wiggly eye onto the felt, then glue the felt eyelid onto the wiggly eye (with intense gun-glue which is clingier than a psychotic girlfriend).

Also, with this monkey and the cheerleader monkey, I got into a new accessory -- neck ribbon. I saw this concept mentioned in several of the older, classic instructions. If you tie some yarn around the neck, the sock monkey looks a little less like a football player on steroids. At Michael's craft store, I found a little display called "bobbin ribbon". I think the bobbin part refers to its little small shape, because it surely would not fit in a sewing machine bobbin. Anyway, this ribbon had several colors, patterns and sayings on it. I bought several. The ballerina monkey's ribbon says "Imagine . . . " on it. The cheerleader (previous post) says "Best Friends".

Cheerleader Sock Monkey, for Miah

This cheerleader sock monkey is for my spirited niece, Miah. Whenever I think of her, I think of her in motion -- skipping through the house, shooting across the pool, laughing and flitting about. So, I wanted her monkey to be reflective of that energy.

AND, she informed me, with her missing front teeth "I was in cheerleading classes!"

This was the first monkey I made for a child that I have witnessed the child's reaction upon opening the gift. I was nervous. In this age of electronics and mass-produced toy lines made for every popular T.V. show and movie character, could a child appreciate an unknown character hand-made from a pair of socks?

Well, the answer is yes, but differently. It's a little slower appreciation (not the big ooh/aaah at initial opening, but a nice building appreciation). Miah took the doll out of its wrapping and examined it. When I told her there was a prayer inside it for her, she immediately started feeling around in the stuffing for it. (Of course! Why didn't I think of that. It might be fun to put a small object inside and have the child feel for it and guess what it is). When her younger sister opened hers (next post), she was attracted to that one more. (By the end of the night they had switched). During the course of the evening, at various times Miah noticed things and commented on them (like, "hey, there's another sock monkey!" from my collection. Then I showed her mine and told her why I made them the way they were). She was also intrigued with the "made from socks" concept.

At the end of the night, when she and her family were leaving (the kids all jammied up with coats and boots over jammies), Miah was clutching her sister's sock monkey doll. "HOW do you make them?" she said to me, with just a note of awe. "I will teach you sometime," I replied, much gratified, and thinking that that is the true gift of the sock monkey -- a shared experience built on love and the age-old gift of creating.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dress-up Sock Monkey, for Katja

This is a sock monkey for my sweet little niece, Katja. She is a beautiful little girl with dark, silky curls, and has an interesting story to her name. Her parents spent a summer in Norway before she was born. One of the stops they made was a museum which featured the work of Edvard Munch (you know, the Scream guy). Anyway, the second floor contains painting of a woman named Katja, and they were intrigued with that and brought the name home with them.
Little Katja has diverse interests. I intended to make her a "dress-up" monkey -- one that you could play with like a doll and put on different clothes and hats, etc. And that's what she is, but every time I look at her (the monkey), that old 70s song goes through my head -- "Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say, he was a-meeting you here today, to take you to his mansion in the sky-ahhhhhh". So, I think some where in that pair of socks was a crazy lady dying to come out (but darn happy about being crazy!), and it must somehow be Katja's destiny to own her. Who am I to question the fates?

Classic Sock Monkey, for Nico

This sock monkey was made in the classic style (just a cap) for a very special little boy named Nico, my nephew. Nico was born on 7/7/07 (thus the number on his heart). He and his family have faced a lot of struggles just getting him born and keeping him strong (he has a hole in his little heart), but he is doing very well, and will have corrective surgery in the spring, and he is much beloved by his big sister and the rest of his family and extended family.

I'm hoping this monkey will get as many hugs as I'm sure he will give to Nico. And each one will be blessed with my own special prayer for Nico, which floats in his chest. I printed his prayer to the right here, with the monkey, as I am sure he wouldn't mind the publicity (being so young and nonverbal and all).

On a construction note: His eyes are my evolved attempt at baby-proofing. First I sewed 2 felt circles on where the eyes would go (lots and lots of little stitches to keep those babies on!) And then I glue-gunned the wiggly-eyes on to the felt. They seem to adhere so much better to the flat felt than the knit material of the sock. So, Nico will be my kid-tester to see if they are truly as little teeth proof as I believe. I'm sure his parents will closely supervise the consumer-product testing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Biker Chick Sock Monkey

This monkey is a Christmas gift for Karla at Fox River Mills. She loves Harley motorcycles, so I had to make her a biker chick sock monkey. She's got a naughty word on the back of her vest, so don't look at the final picture at the end of this blog entry if you are easily offended or are one of my young or very old relatives.

Making the Sock Monkey

The biker chick employed all my best practices learned thus far from making sock monkeys. She is a size Large Rockford Red Heel Sock. She has my new ears. To make my new style ears, I cut them out as shown on the instructions. I put a very small amount of stuffing in, then I hand-close the opening with invisible stitch. I then sew an inner circle with my machine about a sewing foot away from the edge. Finally, I fold the two sides together and stitch them at the edges. This gives a smaller attachment point to the ears and gives them all the weird, bendy shapes you expect from ears.

And one last anatomical point I may as well make here (since Biker Chick already has a naughty word on her). I shall try to say this delicately, but I don't know if I can. I learned the hard way that one does not want a big stuffed tail. In fact, I've stopped putting any stuffing in them all together. They look nice kind of limp and skinny. I noticed in some of the things I read, the grandma-type ladies who have been making them for years mentioned that they were careful not to overstuff the tail. OK. Here's the thing. At best, the overstuffed tail looks like a third leg. Now think of the euphemisms for third leg. I realized this as I proudly posed my first sock monkeys for their first pictures. Sock monkeys sit. They're not big on standing. And, when you sit on a large tail, it naturally finds a place tilted upward a bit between the two legs. I scared myself more than once with this. Enough said.

Dressing the Biker Chick

For this one, I could not find a ready-made doll or bear outfit at the craft store. So, I had to sew!! If you read my earlier posts, you know this is a bit traumatic for me. But I had some help. Fox River sells a book called "How to Make the Original Red Heel Sock Monkey and Other Toys" ( we do not currently sell it on our website, but if anyone posts a comment here asking for it, I will make sure that we do). I found the book a little dated, slightly politically incorrect, but very charming, in a retro-I-found-this-in-my-grandma's-attic kind of way.

Anway, page 28 has 'Jackets and Aprons', inluding a sleeveless jacket I used for the vest. Page 29 has 'Pants 'N' Skirts", including chaps, which I used for chaps.

These were quite simple, and I didn't use the measurements, but just eyeballed things and laid pieces over my monkey. I used some more left-over beading and craft supplies to get the effect of studs on the leather. I affixed them to my faux leather with a glue gun (love that thing!). I couldn't resist using some of the letter beads I had to create a little word on the back of the vest. Karla and I have a running joke where we call each other this name (adults may also know this word as female dog), because, well, we are (Monday mornings especially).

Underneath biker chick's vest is a t-shirt I made from an old throw-away t-shirt of my husbands. I thought it should be kind of ripped and ragged looking, for a biker. I cut out a piece that had the word 'madness' on it, but just took the 'mad' part, as that is all that will fit. It had 'Iowa' on another part, so I just cut that out and sewed it on. (Karla works at the Fox River offices in Iowa.)

I used some faux-tiger felt to make a headband and found the perfect pair of little sunglasses to complete the outfit. She's so cute, I've been keeping her in my office instead of mailing her away. I decided I will have to deliver her in person.

Just to keep things in balance, I should state that she has a prayer inside her as well. This makes her just like Karla -- sometimes prickly and tough on the outside, but a real good-hearted sweetie inside (she will cringe when she reads that -- too sentimental for her tastes).

To conclude, I will leave you a picture of the Biker Chick corrupting the younger sock monkeys with her wild ways (and the picture of the back of her vest).