The Wonderful World of Sock Monkeys!

Archive for April, 2012

A sock monkey for baby Noah

When is the right time to introduce a child to his or her first sock monkey? When they’re born!

Vintage sweater to be used for the monkey

My awesome culinary school buddy, Loreilee, and her husband JR recently had their first baby. Little Noah is adorable and as cute as can be, and I wanted to make a sock monkey for him to go along with the book of nursery rhymes Rolland and I picked out as a baby gift. I remembered I’d picked up a sweet little vintage wool sweater intending to felt it for a project, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Pastel blue and green with cream stripes, I thought it would be perfect to use for the monkey.

I guess by using a sweater it’s technically not a sock monkey, but I’ve been wanting to move past the traditional brown socks used and come up with something more colorful. It’s a little harder than I expected – there just aren’t that many socks out there that work. The ideal candidate has at minimum a contrasting heel – which becomes the mouth and the bum – and hopefully a contrasting top as well, which becomes the feet and hands. A lot of the socks I’ve found that look like they’ll work have a lot of spandex in them and are too “tight” when trying to stuff them and create a character. So even though my vintage sweater didn’t have a heel, the sweater’s stripes were the look I wanted for Noah’s monkey.

After gently washing, drying and blocking the sweater, I cut it out and assembled it. The stripes required a lot of pinning to match up, because I’m a bit obsessive on stuff like that. I sat and watched an episode of “Downton Abbey” while I stuffed and assembled him, and planned on adding ears, tail, eyes and mouth the following night, leaving him on the table next to my chair in the living room.

Of course, I hadn’t consulted with my dog Noodle about my plans, and just to remind me of my error, she ate Noah’s monkey. This has happened before. The first time, she just took the monkey and put it in her bed, claiming it for her own. After my initial freak out when I saw it lying there, I told myself it was a good lesson and how lucky I was that she wasn’t interested in chewing it up. The second time it happened was on a road trip last summer, and I’d brought along a monkey to do some detail work on while in the car. Rolland and I stopped at a convenience store during the trip and I put the monkey in a bag and shoved her under the front seat. When we came out ABOUT 3 MINUTES LATER, Noodle had taken the monkey, shredded it, and left its lifeless carcass on my seat. She had this “I told you so” look on her face, and I was pissed, mainly at myself, but also because it was a vintage sock for a monkey that was nearly finished and going into my exhibit at McCaw Hall. So you’d think I’d learned my lesson after the 2nd disaster, but evidently not.

Carcass #1 and #2, courtesy of Noodle

Fortunately I was using a sweater, so there was a lot of fabric left. I was trying to use the sleeves as the body to save time, which worked great. Again I cut it out, pinned it, sewed it, stuffed it and planned to finish the following night – this time, leaving the monkey on the middle of the dining room table. And again, Noodle got it, tore it to pieces and left me to find the fuzzy remains on the couch. How she got it off the dining table, I don’t know – she’s never climbed onto a chair to get up there before, but I guess she wanted to expand her skills that day.

I still had some sweater left, and started monkey #3. As it was a vintage sweater, there were a few moth holes in it, and now it was harder to cut out the larger pieces I needed – I was able to save the arms and tail from the first two disasters, but the body of the monkey ended up being shorter than the others to avoid the holes. After assembling the newest attempt, I placed it in my dresser drawer in the bedroom while waiting to finish the detail work on it. Noodle was pretty annoyed that she was unable to grow opposable thumbs immediately and open the drawer, but I was able to finish the monkey without further chewing.

"I am Noodle and I get what I want. Got it?"

Because it was for an infant, I had to forego the button eyes (choking hazard). I made jumbo French knots from wool yarn and used the same yarn for a mouth. I loved the result and so did Noah – he snuggled right up to it in his stroller and went to sleep. I named this monkey “Third Times a Charm” – or just “Three” for short. And of course Noodle is still waiting to teach me who’s boss the next time I start another monkey…..

"Third Time's a Charm!"

Baby Noah loves his monkey!

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Somebody likes me! My feature on “The Curious Dressmaker”

I’ve always thought of an artist as a person who is an accomplished painter, singer, sculptor, pianist, photographer, etc. Because I don’t think of myself as a powerhouse in any of those areas, I usually think of myself as “a guy who makes stuff”, but according to a favorite co-worker/blogger/crafter friend of mine, Kati Dawson, I’m the ARTIST OF THE MONTH on her cool blog, The Curious Dressmaker – 

The amazing Kati Dawson!

Kati is an uber-talented, funny, creative dynamo who is going to make it big in theatrical costuming and the crafting world. We first met when she became the assistant to the Hair and Makeup Department at Seattle Opera, and proved to be a huge asset there.  Since then, we’ve worked together on several shows at Pacific Northwest Ballet where I found out she’s a terrific costume technician, and I learned several construction/sewing tips from her. Kati recently launched her business, “Bagatelle” – a cool line of purses, totes and other fabric items – and has a growing number of loyal customers and fans for her beautiful work. This summer, she is going to be an assistant wardrobe manager at the Santa Fe Opera*. If you don’t know about the Santa Fe Opera, it is one of the top opera venues in the world, with the biggest opera superstars performing there and patrons fly in from all parts of the globe to spend the summer in Santa Fe and watch performances under the stars at this beautiful outdoor space. This is a really big deal and I’m so proud of her for landing this gig.

So check out Kati’s interview with me on her blog, and make sure to look at the great crafting ideas she has. I’m working on her “Fabric Flowers” pattern to make some for gifts and package trims. Her instructions are really easy to follow, she has good pictures showing you the steps to take, and the end result is a fool-proof item for yourself or as a swell gift. Bring out your thread!

Kati's sweet Fabric Flowers - easy-to-make and they never need watering!

*Two favorite singers I’ve worked with, the awesome tenor, Bill Burden (who owns two of my sock monkeys), and superstar baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, will be performing King Roger there together this season.


Nothing to do with a sock monkey

I am great at starting projects, and I’m great at shopping. This is not always a great combination as I find “must have” new fabric, patterns, vintage craft kits, etc. It often feels like the new project has barely gotten underway when another new thing acquired on a shopping trip takes its place. This results in a dresser full of things to finish – granted it’s organized into project bags and well labelled, but it’s still a constant reminder about how easily I can get distracted.

This little hedgehog pincushion is something I started four or five years ago. It began as a vintage 1970s craft kit I found unopened at a yard sale for $2. I loved the sweet and happy look to it, plus I needed a pincushion, so I felt that purchasing it was OK as it had a function and wasn’t another project to work on that I had no idea what I’d do with once it was finished. And I liked it for the fact that it was embroidery and then assembling, so it was “multi-dimensional” skill usage.

The embroidery went quickly, even though some of those flower centers proved tough to keep sewing into with the wool crewel yarn as the thickness built up. I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time, so I thought I’d just hand sew the pieces together, and that’s when the project started to fall apart – I just couldn’t get the seams lined up well enough so they wouldn’t show when I turned it inside out to stuff it. It went in and out of the unfinished project drawer for a couple years, until I tried a new approach at finishing – buying the perfect stuffing! This was emery sand for weight and to keep pins and needles sharpened, but it didn’t move me any closer to finishing, so back to the drawer.

Fast forward to my present avoidance of working on the five different sock monkeys I have started, and I decided to hit the temple of unfinished business. Not just for something to work on, but to hopefully inspire sock monkey sewing again. I started by taking out all my hand sewing, and put the hedgehog together by machine sewing. It didn’t go right the first time, but it was much faster and easier to whittle down that seam allowance mark by machine, rather than by hand. Next I made a couple “pillows” of emery sand to pop in his nose and tummy. I used a double layer of muslin so the sand wouldn’t leak out. Finally, I stuffed fiberfill around the pillows and sewed him up.  

Finished result: adorable and functional! And one less piece of unfinished business in my craft zone. But as I’ve come to learn all too well, nature abhors a vacuum, and garage sale season is about to be in full swing – time to reload!


Easter crafting

I’ve temporarily run out of steam on my sock monkey production. Well actually, I have five different monkeys in various states of doneness at the moment and I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed by it. And when I feel overwhelmed, I procrastinate! Enter the Easter crafting….

I picked up these “finger puppet” kits at the craft store, on sale for $1.50. The kits contained four felt figures, an assortment of precut flowers and “ties”, a few rhinestones, craft sticks and the pattern for where to glue the bits on. I thought the kit was a good jumping off point, but I wanted more. Being the committed thrifter and garage saler that I am, I have loads of extra crafting bits – vintage sequins, novelty beads, felt and googly eyes to name a few – that I thought would be the perfect enhancers to bump up the volume on these kits. It also meant not following the “how to” pattern. I’m not against all-out cute, but I also wanted to balance it with some funny and kooky.

With a few extra hours to kill at work and a big bottle of white glue, I cranked these out the other night in between costume changes on Don Pasquale. I plan to use a couple on the coconut cake I’m baking for dessert on Easter Sunday. Can’t you just see the snowy white coconut piled on the cake, with just a small bit of coconut tinted green in the center of the cake for a bunny or chick to stand on? Right now the strongest candidate is the chicky with the psychedelic eyes, with a close 2nd going to the pink bunny with the glittery lei –