It’s another summer RING at Seattle Opera (you can read all about that if you click here), and as this is the third one I’ve worked since 2005, lots of my favorite singers are back in town, including several who own my sock monkeys! You can click on the following to see my creations for performers Greer Grimsley, Gordon Hawkins and Rosetta Greek. But I’ve never posted pictures of the monkey I made for the super talented Luretta Bybee.
Luretta is a southern lady. She’s beautiful, charming, gracious, is a Chair of Vocal Arts at the New England Conservatory, has a wonderful sense of humor and she’s a mezzo-soprano opera star with a heavenly voice. A couple years back, Seattle Opera produced a new work, Amelia, and Luretta was cast as Amanda, a 1960s homemaker who was the mother of the show’s namesake, Amelia. I’d worked with her on several shows before this, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to get her own monkey.
Now you could put Luretta in a tin can and she’d look gorgeous, but she literally stepped out of a guest starring role on the Donna Reed show in her striped shirtwaist dress, pearls, and flip hairstyle – she looked amazing. The dress was pretty easy to do, but the collar was a little tricky on the smaller scale. I decided to cut it from felt and top stitch it to the dress rather than trying to do it “for real” – the notched collar was more work than I wanted to do and the felt gave it the same look as the costume. The apron was easy, but I added a hanky because my grandmother always had one in her apron or smock pocket and I think Amanda would have used one too. The character wore a locket, and I found the tiniest one I could for her. I put a little picture of her real husband – opera superstar Greer Grimsley – as well as her stage husband – the phenomenal tenor, Bill Burden – into the locket so she’d have them both close to her little monkey heart. Then I stitched on some “pearls” for earrings and got my friend Anne McGowan in the hair and makeup department to create the perfect little ’60s flip hairstyle for her. She’s awesome!
When I got ready to do the photo of her, I envisioned her standing at a stove with a pot holder in hand. Since sock monkeys don’t really have fingers to hold anything, I created an oven mitt for her, and posed her in front of my mom’s childhood toy stove from the 1940s. Let me tell you, this is no cheap Easy Bake oven, but an electric stove with a HOT hot plate and an oven with a working thermostat – my brothers and I used to make burgers in a tiny frying pan on it when we were kids. It was exactly what Amanda needed and the photo is perfect!
Luretta was so happy to get her little Amanda, and Greer told me later that it ended up costing him a lot of money because Luretta wanted to redecorate their music room to display his Wotan monkey with her. Now seriously, am I really responsible for that?
Earlier this winter I had the good fortune of attending the wedding of my dear friend, Rosetta Greek and her partner, Miss Roxanne Oliver. Same-sex marriage was legalized by Washington state voters in November of 2011, and these lovely ladies – partners for 17 years! – were finally able to celebrate their commitment to each other in front of friends and family in a wonderful January ceremony. What an afternoon! Rosetta wore a gorgeous ’30s-inspired beaded gown with a custom headband she created herself, and Roxi looked awesome in slacks, vest, bow tie and matching two-tone wing tips.
Rosetta owns Verboten – one of my opera-themed sock monkeys, and she’s a highly talented and creative artist. As the proprietress of Heavens2Betsie she creates hip, urban textile essentials, and she’s an accomplished photographer with an amazing project titled Perfect Strangers that you should check out.
Rosetta and I share a love of vintage textiles and embroidery – I have a few treasured embroidered pillow cases my great aunts did as wedding gifts for my mom back in the 1950s, so when I found a cool old pair of percale cases with a crochet edge at a thrift store recently, I knew I wanted to do matching embroidered cases as a wedding gift for the newlyweds.
You’re probably not surprised to know there aren’t too many “Hers and Hers” vintage-looking transfer patterns out there, so I had to create one myself. I found a floral design and a font I liked in a new transfer pattern, so I cut and taped them together to create what I needed. I reversed the pattern on the second case so they’d be a mirror image of each other, then chose embroidery thread in shades of pink (Rosetta’s favorite color) and several different greens for the leaves and vines. Time to get to work!
Like too many of my projects, I dive in then lose momentum. As I kept working the pattern, it seemed to be one of those situations where the more I worked, the more work I needed to do. Even though I liked the results I was getting, I didn’t seem to be making progress, so I wasn’t working too hard on it, which is why they took five months to complete!
I do have to say I loved doing the little forget-me-knots, and I chose a yellow/orange ombre’ floss to do the French knot centers, which looks great. I finally finished the cases last week, and after a quick wash and press, got the cases to Rosetta over the weekend. She was more excited then I could have hoped, and all that work was really worth it. Even though it’s a labor of love, it’s sure a great feeling to know all that effort is appreciated. And I love Rosetta and Roxie!