Sunday, 3 February 2013

with the SOCK MONKEY story

MY INTRO TO SOCK MONKEYS:  Sock Monkeys! I'd never heard of them until about two years ago.  I was in a taxi .... well, not an ordinary taxi, it was a huge 11 seater, mostly used for taking groups and luggage to and from the airport.  So, there I was, perched on one of the 11 tiny seats in the back, trying to find a hand hold and the driver begins chatting about the groups she usually takes and how children get upset when travelling and that she wanted to make in-expensive soft toys to have in the taxi for them to cuddle. Suddenly she asked me if I could sew. I said yes, and she explained that she had seen some sock monkeys and then found the pattern on line. I was a little confused when she asked if I knew how to make them! I told her I'd never heard of them before and didn't know anything about them. So she explained that they were toy monkeys made out of socks and she was collecting socks, especially the long striped ones, which looked better.  The idea of making toys from socks was becoming interesting - and it sounded like something I would do. 

Two sock monkeys in beanies
By the time we'd turned into my road I had an understanding that one monkey needed two socks, the first was cut off above the heel so the heel became the monkey's head.  The sock top, now the bottom, was split up to half an inch below the heel, to form two legs and the cut off piece was shaped to make two little ears. The other sock was cut into strips, one the full length from top to toe, for the long tail and the other half of that sock cut into three pieces - the heel to form the monkey nose and the rest split in two to make the arms.  I could see in my mind where the seams would be and how to put it together, but was not sure what the finished monkey would look like. We pulled up on the road by our letter box as she wasn't happy about taking the big vehicle down the bush track. I needed her foot stool to get out and then we stood on the road talking.  It seems she was having trouble getting her machine to sew the seam on the monkey legs and we discussed that for a while. I asked her name and said I'd have a try and let her know.   

Of course I went home and Googled sock monkeys and now I know all about them!  

I phoned the taxi company and they said they couldn't pass private messages on to drivers. So, if anyone knows a taxi driver on the Sunshine Coast, named Lyn, who drives an 11 seater and makes sock monkeys, please tell her the problem is that most of the striped socks are nylon and sewing machines do not like that.  I tried a variety of socks on two machines and the nylon socks were impossible, I had the same problem she did.  However, woollen socks were okay to sew and cotton socks are a breeze.

SOCK MONKEY HISTORY: Yes, there is a sock monkey history.  Way back in time, long, long ago there were no toy makers for the ordinary folk, except mothers and grandmothers and aunties.  The creative ladies used left over sewing materials and old clothes to make soft toys and dolls for their little ones, stuffing them with old stockings, sawdust, horse hair or newspaper.  I think there were also dads and grandpas and uncles in the sheds or barns carving wooden rocking horses and skittles shaped like soldiers, but we're not talking about them today(that will come up in another post). 

Back to the sewing room. We all know and love rag dolls, gollywogs and glove puppets. When the teddy bear was invented (and that is also another story), it really took off and every two year old had to have one.  As Africa was opened up and people (in England, Europe and the US) became aware of monkeys and lions and other wild animals, the nursery sewers made soft toys to cuddle while the scary stories were told.  

Now, skip to 1852.  Immigrants from Sweden arrived in the US. One man, John Nelson, settled in the town of Rockford.  He was a clever man with big ideas. In 1869 he patented the first machine to knit socks, including toe and heel, in one piece without a seam, then opened the Nelson Knitting Company in 1888.  There were several knitting factories in Rockford and after WWl they were all producing brown work socks for men, with a cream (US tan) toe, heel and top that were called 'Rockfords'.  Nelson Knitting wanted their socks to stand out so they used red yarn for the toe, heel and top of their cotton work socks. These became famous and Nelson Knitting thrived.  

Skip ahead again to 1955. Makers of homemade toys across the US were using worn out Nelson Knitting socks to make toys. Several ladies, using new socks, made monkeys and sold them.  Someone sent a sock monkey to Nelsen Knitting and they were so delighted they bought out the patents, paid several ladies for their designs and became the home of the sock monkey. 

In 1992 Nelson Knitting was taken over by Fox River Mills.  With new machinery socks now have a seam at the toe and the only red bit is the heel, but they are still famous and are known as the Rockford Red Heel. A free Sock Monkey pattern is included with every pair of socks they sell. The socks come in brown, blue and pink, all with the red heel that gives the monkeys the big red lips and promotes the socks to this day.

It's a wonderful story of innovation, invention and enterprise joining with craft and creativity.  If you are interested, a full history, including old photos, newspaper articles and a copy of the original patent is here -(cut/paste if the link is broken)

SOCK MONKEY INSTRUCTIONS:  There are many blogs and web sites selling sock monkeys and sharing the pattern. 

SOCK MONKEYS TODAY:  I've now seen sock monkey fabric, pyjamas, woolly hats, fancy dress costumes, picture books, birthday cakes, sock-monkeys-on-a-stick, masks, mugs, tee shirts, cookies, key rings, giant sock monkeys, tiny sock monkeys - in fact it's a never ending parade.  As usual we have managed to destroy something sweet, simple and precious by making them in factories, in plastic and digitally ....  until we are drowning in the souvenirs.  Help!

Sock monkey baby bottle covers
Though I do think the original idea was wonderful - we could have sock monkeys for the conservatives, who like them all the same and need a herd of sock monkeys, or sock monkeys for the super creative who love colour, and variety, or the collector who will never find one of each, and something different for everyone else, BUT -  just between us, I think the big red lips are scary. I don't mind a red bum or red top but the lippy thing is weird.

Sock monkey hats

The herd of sock monkeys

SOCK MONKEY PROBLEMS: Oh dear. We must also have the negative.  Amazingly, there are people who think sock monkey toys are racist.  Here are snippets from two (unnamed web sites I've visited, but you can Google them)- 'remember the racist caricatures of the 19th and 20th centuries' - 'objects on sale have links to slavery, minstrel shows and racism' - 'sock monkeys and the inclusion of physical characteristics that resemble those found in minstrel shows' - 'no human being or monkey for that matter, looks like these “sock moneys”' (The typo is theirs, I'm sure they meant monkeys).  

Now, I'm thinking, if they don't look like any human being or a monkey, how could they be racist? 

I found this cute little Q and A.

Q/  Are sock monkey's racist?
A/  No. I think sock monkeys love everyone and base their opinions on character and not race.

SOCK MONKEY PHOTOS:  I did make my own sock monkey, from an old pair of stretched and floppy purple cotton bed socks.  I think he looks sweet sitting on the chair beside me. Good sock monkey.

My purple sock monkey                                                             Misc Striped sock monkey

Rockford Red Heel

Sock Monkey to wear


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  1. Thanks Ann - Wow you are going gangbusters with your blog...,takes me three days to find mine.. Well done

  2. So cute. Stef

  3. Great writing. I love how obedient your purple monkey is on the chair. Made me smile. I am a guy and three years ago received brown flannel/red sock monkey print Christmas pajamas... love them. Am wearing them now, so for the record... even grown men can appreciate the magical mysterious pleasure power sock monkeys' endow upon those with open hearts. Keep your heart free.


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