The Wonderful World of Sock Monkeys!

childhood toy

THAT*Doll Magazine

So what do I do in my SPARE time? I work on my vintage fashion doll magazine, of course!

The Skipper collecting book I co-authored - this is the cover of the 2nd edition

The Skipper collecting book I co-authored – this is the cover of the 2nd edition

Yes, I’m a guy and I like dolls. That being said, I really like vintage Barbie and family dolls and am considered to be an expert on the subject – really! Almost more than the dolls themselves, I’m drawn to the fashions. And there are loads of fashion dolls other than Barbie, with weird, wild and wonderful wardrobes that are at times both fascinating and god-awful. But there’s just something about those mini fashion mannequins and their tiny shoes, gloves, purses and hats that I just can’t get enough of.

Now several years ago, the Barbie doll collecting market had a bit of a melt down and the collecting magazines went away. Hard-core vintage collectors (like me) have always missed them. There’s a crazy thrill or rush of excitement at seeing a gorgeous, mint condition doll in a pristine outfit that’s been beautifully photographed, especially when the subjects are hard-to-find examples. Call it doll crack or call it crazy, but when you’re into it, it’s awesome! So the fact that the publications I loved and wrote for were no longer around was always bugging me.

Premiere Issue!

Premiere Issue – MEET TAMMY!

Enter my friend Barry Sturgill. Barry is a Seattle area photographer who just happens to be one of the top toy photographers in the world, and he’s nuts about vintage Barbie dolls too. Well our little doll-lovin’ minds got together for lunch about a year and a half ago and decided we needed to bring back a magazine devoted to vintage fashion dolls in general, not just Barbie, but the whole enchilada. As we figured it, with all the technological progress in the last ten years, doing an online publication would be a snap, right? HA!

Figuring we’d “just have to learn a little HTML” and be on our way, we dove into the project. And about three months later we realized we were way over our heads. Too much stuff that sounded sic-fi and well, technical, made our pretty artsy heads hurt, and we hired a tech-savvy design firm to help us make it a reality. We started tracking down obscure dolls, fashions and accessories. We found some knowledgable collectors who knew loads of stuff about dolls we were just vaguely familiar with, and our project started moving forward much faster.

Issue #2 - DAWN!

Issue #2 – DAWN!

January 2013: our premiere, online issue is published! 68 pages chock full of Barry’s gorgeous photos and loads of vintage doll info to make a collector’s head spin: Ideal’s Tammy doll, vintage Barbie’s first evening ensembles, information on clone dolls (knock-offs made of the more expensive, brand-name toys, sometimes using pirated molds), obscure dolls like Bonnie Breck – this issue wasn’t just good, it was GREAT!

Our 2nd issue came out at the end of May featuring Dawn. A lot of people think my project – and me – are a bit weird, but I don’t really care about that. I’ve got a completed product that I’m really proud of and it does what I wanted it to do – entertain, educate, and get readers excited about toys we loved as kids. And even if we don’t get to hold them in our hands, we can still feel that same thrill we had walking through the toy department or ripping into a beautifully wrapped birthday or holiday gift bearing a tag with our name on it…FUN!

And now we’ve got our 3rd issue out – we’ve “embraced” online marketing and social media (to the best of our abilities) and have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and even use MailChimp for our marketing and email updates – how’s that for creative-type-meets-the-interweb? Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.54.48 AM

Hey – even if you’re not into dolls, you might love seeing some gorgeous pictures and reading some humorous stuff about toys. It’s a mid-century vinyl love fest – check out or website and buy a copy – it’s just $5.99! Oh yeah – and it’s an online publication – we hope it will be in print soon, but right now you view it on your computer.

click on thatdollmagazine.com

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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!


Time to meet Monkey!

Monkey!

Another introduction to a coworker’s vintage sock monkey this week. Kara’s mom made “Monkey” for her in the early 1970s when she was two years old. Her mom is a phenomenal seamstress and during her 4H sewing days won lots of ribbons at the Nebraska State Fair for her projects. I really like Monkey’s embroidered face, which is great for a little kid – no buttons or other trim to come off and accidentally be swallowed.

One of the awesome things about Monkey are the photos Kara has of him from when she was little. Like so many of our moms did when we left for college, Monkey was packed away into a box with other childhood playthings. A few years ago while Kara was going through these boxes, Monkey was found and happily reunited with his owner. Unfortunately, some nasty critter was less-than-kind to his arm and part of his tail while he was in storage. After some surgery and restoration, he’s good as new, even though he’s now an amputee. We decided it sounded a lot more noble and gave Monkey good street cred to say he’d lost his arm in the infamous “Playground Wars” of the 1980s.

Aunt Molly, Monkey and Gertrude

Monkey joined Aunt Gertrude and Molly on the work table and kept us company for awhile – they look great together!

Kara and Monkey with her dad - Christmas 1973

Kara and toy friends, including Monkey - 1974

Monkey is a fighter! Now an amputee, he still has a cheerful outlook on life -

Monkey looks on as Kara opens one of her other favorite childhood presents - an orange acrylic crocheted shawl - 1973