So what do you think, too cool NOT to wear?
HALLOWEEN is barely over, and I’m ready with a CHRISTMAS GIFT and I couldn’t be happier with it!
After finishing the beading on the beard and hair, I did the mustache, with dimensional bead loops. I wasn’t happy with how the nose outline and the cheek looked, so I took out the stitching and switched the colors so the cheek was the darker rose color and it looks much better.
I think I like this idea of starting Christmas projects way before the deadline – no rush and I’ve got time to jump onto a couple more ornaments that I’m doing without a kit or pre-purchased pattern: gingerbread men and women with lots of sequin and beaded bling, and snowmen heads I’m making from yarn and old thread spools. Look for those posts soon!
It’s so exciting to be on track with a project and know it will get finished WAY BEFORE the Christmas deadline!
I always think that I’m going to crank these things out in a couple of hours, partly because I never build in any “fix it” time. And I definitely needed fix it time on Santa’s hair and beard. I had finished two of the four sections and was cruising along on my third when I realized something was way off. I pored over the pattern and my work and couldn’t really figure out a way to “fudge” it with what I’d completed because it would affect Santa’s face, so I took out all of the stitching on the third section and started over – what a difference! Everything now lined up properly, and even though I was annoyed that it took a lot more time, it did give me more confidence in what I was doing.
I just can’t help myself when it comes to throwing out useable cast-offs. I have a garage and basement full of stuff that I have no idea how I’m going to use, but it just seems too cool to trash. Sometimes that piece of junk ends up being the EXACT THING I need to finish a sewing or craft project, but it doesn’t reveal itself until another piece comes along to create that “Eureka!” moment.
Such was the case with the bird feeder I just made. I’ve been helping my friend EJ remodel a house she just bought, and it’s been a treasure trove of cool stuff. The people who moved out left TONS of crap behind – and a lot was crap – and there were a few gems I had to adopt and bring home. Among my new findings were some decorative woodworking pieces and an old lathe-turned spindle to a staircase. All they needed was for me to find the giant, over-sized vintage tea cup at a thrift store to know they were meant to be a bird feeder!
Now this was one idea that I couldn’t realize without the help of my handy work friend, Marc. He’s made and/or repaired great stuff for me over the years including a shelf for my laundry sprinkler collection, bookends from old bowling trophies, and a kitchen counter to help organize the clutter of my tiny 1940s kitchen. He has awesome ideas to make things easier and more sturdy than my concepts often are, and he has access to a huge shop full of tools and equipment at our workplace, which he’s a whiz at using.
So – the first thing he did was make a little platform to set the tea cup and saucer on, which would become the actual bird feeder. He trimmed the platform with some of the decorative wood pieces I had, then he attached that to the turned spindle. Although I hadn’t asked him to do it (but had thought about it), he added a metal rod to the bottom of the spindle so I could stick that part into the ground for stability.
The next part involved the “feeder”. I really scored the day I found that oversized cup and saucer while thrifting. I mean, it’s not just large, it’s HUGE, and I’ve never seen another like it. The fact that it has fancy/cheesy Rococo-style images and lots of gold trim on it make it that much better! My plan was to drill through both pieces so they could fit onto a threaded bolt inserted into the platform, then I’d hold them on with a gasket and wing nut. I wanted it to be removable so I could wash the feeder every so often.
Drilling through this tea cup was WAY HARDER than I thought it would be. I had my special drill bit for drilling tile and glass, but the pedestal portion of the base I was drilling trough was almost 5/8″ thick and it took for-freakin’ ever. Seriously, I must have spent an hour and a half on it and several battery recharges to the drill over a couple of days. Anyway, once I got through that, I tackled the saucer, which took five minutes at the most.
Now my garden is not exactly the most lush, verdant thing I’ve always hoped it would be (I used my neighbor’s yard for the picture) and I’m not entirely sure the feeder is going to be at home there – it may end up as a wedding present – but I like the way it looks among the leaves and flowers, and I hope the birds will like it too.
You can do this project easily – fancy tea cups and saucers are easily found at thrift stores and yard sales, and you could use any pieces of scrap wood for a stand. You might even want to make one that hangs and skip the stand part. Just get some decorative chain to attach to the base and you’re ready to hang it. I do think you’re going to want to anchor the cup and saucer to the base – if not with my method you could always glue it, but I like the ability to take it apart and wash it and maybe put it away for the winter months if there’s a chance it could freeze and crack if it ended filled with rain or snow.
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!
Deciding it was time to stop saying I wanted to learn this and just LEARN it, I signed up for an upholstery class last week.
My choice for the class is a mid-century club chair that belonged to my grandmother. She had it recoverd around 1970 in an OVERSIZED floral print in three shades of orange with lots of avocado and celery green accents. It sounds worse than it really is, but dog chews to the arm, fading to the fabric and the overwhelming smell of cigarettes and wood smoke meant it needed a fix or a toss. I chose to fix it!
Other than the instructor Ollie, I was the only guy in the class. My fellow classmates had all taken the class before, so were far into the reupholstering process already – boy could these ladies use a nail gun! They were tacking, cutting, sewing and stapling like mad. The woman next to me said “I’m finishing this during this class or my husband says the damn thing’s going in the trash.” I could tell she was serious about finishing it.
Since I was just starting, I spent four hours pulling upholstery tacks, decorative hammer nails and staples – and I didn’t even get the chair completely apart! There was a lot of dust and floating bits of old padding and foam in the air to go with it, and I was wishing I’d taken an allergy pill and worn a dust mask – there’s always class #2 for that, huh?.
I found a lot of “hidden treasures” as I ripped my chair apart – a screw driver that was lost inside by the last upholsterer, an ink pen, a few assorted pieces to board games, a couple candy wrappers, and a penny for good luck! The best thing inside was the instructor saying “this chair has a good frame and will look great when you’re done.” Nice to know I hadn’t chosen another fruitless effort to work on –
The chairs can’t stay at the class location, and as I had howmework – to finish ripping it apart – I loaded my chair back into the car to work on in the garage. My instructor said we’d be reusing some of the original padding, so I doused it with a lot of odor neutralizing spray that’s supposed to work on cigarette smell, but I don’t think they ever tested it on something as stinky as this! I’m leaving it outside to help with the de-smelling process.
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 –
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!
*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.
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!
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 –
Although I enjoy making my sock opera monkeys and other monkeys inspired by fictional characters from theatre and books, sometimes I want to make one to commemorate or celebrate other inspirations.
A little over a year ago, my partner Rolland had to have open heart surgery. He had a history of heart disease, and had suffered a heart attack five years earlier. Between then and a blockage problem a year and a half later, he already had eight stents, and the doctor felt a bypass to restore blood flow to an area of his heart that didn’t appear to be getting any was his only option. We were scheduled for surgery at the UW Regional Heart Center on a Monday morning in mid-June, and had met with his awesome surgeon, Dr. Daniel Rabkin. The doctor told us what to expect during surgery and the 5 to 7 day post-op recovery at the hospital. We notified family, and got ready, which really means I had no idea what to do so I went on a manic house-cleaning frenzy. I said it was to prepare for Rolland’s mom and sister who were coming into town for the surgery, but in reality I was totally freaked out and just needed to stay busy. Rolland stayed calm, but underneath it he was pretty scared, and my crazy cleaning wasn’t helping the situation much.
Rolland was pretty sick – something we didn’t realize until after the fact, but there was a tip-off when he suffered another heart attack between his pre-surgery testing on Friday and the surgery Monday morning. When he was being prepped for surgery that morning, I was trying to be strong, but I had no idea if it might be the last time to see him. I just smiled a lot, told him I loved him and when they wheeled him out, told him I’d see him soon.
The surgery went OK – Dr. Rabkin said he had completed two bypasses, but wasn’t entirely happy with the results. Rolland was doing fine and we’d be able to see him soon. About four hours later, the doctor returned to say that it appeared one of the bypasses was not working at all, and he thought the best option was to return to surgery for another operation. As power of attorney, he needed my permission for the second surgery – YES! Several hours later, an exhausted doc returned to tell us things looked great, with the help of a colleague they’d restored blood flow to the heart as he’d hoped to and Rolland’s heart was in better shape than it had been in years. I think I cried, but I know I felt like the weight I’d felt pressing down on me during the weeks leading up to this was gone. Now to get Rolland strong and back home!
We weren’t exactly out of the woods yet – there were complications in recovery and Rolland’s 5 to 7 day post-op lasted 17 days. There were also two more unexpected hospital stays that summer as he continued to heal and get stronger. At this point, Rolland’s care was in the hands of his cardiologist, but each time Dr. Rabkin checked in to see how he was doing. He is a kind, brilliant and humble man who saved Rolland’s life, and thanking him a billion times just didn’t seem like enough. Enter the sock monkey.
I had a blue and white sock I wanted to use for the monkey, and I knew a surgeon costume would be easy – I picked up some scrubs “for authenticity” at the thrift store, and a friend who works at Children’s Hospital got one of those surgical hats for me to use as well. Rolland’s mom has one of those fancy embroidering sewing machines, so I got her to embroider the lab coat with Dr. Rabkin’s name, and my final accessory came from ebay – a sock-monkey sized stethoscope. The finished result is probably not the usual gift a world-class surgeon receives, but he fixed my patner’s heart and I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than give him a gift from mine.
THANK YOU DR. RABKIN!
P.S. – I entered the Dr. Rabkin monkey at the Western Washington State Fair (the Puyallup) this past fall – I’ve entered embroidery pieces and Christmas tree skirts I’ve made in the past, so this was a departure for me. The good doctor earned a “Judges Craftsmanship Award”! He was displayed with a hand-made wool rug of sock monkeys that was really amazing – thanks again Doc!
Have you ever had a situation where you do/say/create something with a certain intent (or no intent), then somebody else comes along and puts their own spin on it and completely changes your original idea into something you never intended or never actually even imagined somebody would think of when you originated that thought or idea? Such is the case with VERBOTEN – the sock monkey that dare not show her face.
During a production of Lucia di Lamermoor at Seattle Opera last season, it was our good fortune to have among the supernumaries Miss Rosetta Greek. Rosetta is one of the coolest, most creative people I know – she is the kick-ass proprietress of Heavens To Betsie, and a very talented actress. She also inspired me to start my own sock monkeys after she created the beautiful Mermonkey, Atlantis, a few years ago. So it wasn’t difficult to decide I wanted to make a sock monkey for Rosetta based on her character, The Love-Cursed Bride, in the opera.
I wanted to do something different for this monkey – a different look and I wanted it to be special for Rosetta. I found a pair of gray, vintage socks I thought would be perfect for a ghost, I had some lovely silk for the wedding gown and matching gloves (trimmed with real vintage mother-of-pearl buttons from Aunt Fofo’s button box), I made her a real boned corset, some lace-trimmed bloomers and I hand beaded the veil similar to what was on her original costume. She is beautiful! But that’s not quite the end of the story.
As you’ve seen from my other posts, I had a show at McCaw Hall during the opera’s production of Porgy and Bess over the summer. I submitted photos of my work and I got the green light that I was chosen to exhibit. Then the problems began. When you assemble a sock monkey, the heel becomes the head, face and mouth of it. My ghostly gray sock had a black heel, so the monkey had a black head, face and mouth. I received an email a couple weeks before the show that the Ghost Bride would not be allowed in the show because it would “potentially offend patrons.” Huh? This was followed by another email a few days later telling me I could not refer to my work as “sock monkeys” because the term “monkey” was used to negatively refer to African Americans. Wow. And this is 2011?
I found it rather difficult to believe that anyone was going to look at my work and read it as offensive (so not what this project/endeavor has ever been about), but I offered to call them “sock puppets” (even thought they’re not) and be done with it. I did find it interesting that the Seattle Opera’s blog showed photos of the Ghost Bride and referred to my work as sock monkeys, but then I wasn’t in charge of that, was I?
Anyway, the show got a lot of positive feedback, Rosetta was thrilled with her monkey, my friend Rozarii did an amazing photo of her, and I think she’s still my favorite. After all the “trouble” she caused, Rosetta decided to name her Verboten, which I think is absolutely perfect. And just in case you’re wondering, they were called sock monkeys when they were invented 70+ years ago and they have tails like real monkeys do. What do you think?
It always amazes me at what a small town Seattle seems like at times. There I was shopping at the Pike Place Market a couple weeks ago, and who should I run into but the awesome tenor, Alex Mansoori. Now in NYC, Alex originally grew up just east of here in Issaquah, and he and his girlfriend Laura were in town to see the parents. It was great timing too, because I had yet to get his sock monkey in the mail to him and his visit gave me the opportunity to deliver it in person.
Alex is one of those people I liked from the moment I met him. He was in the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera, and one of the first things to stand out about him was his voice – gorgeous! When I sing in my head, I wish I sounded like Alex does. The fact that he’s got a great sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. I worked with him on two YAP productions, then was his dresser on his mainstage debut at Seattle Opera in “Amelia”, where he played a Viet Cong killer. Sorry Alex, but I had a hard time buying that one, but you looked great on stage! Last winter he had a larger role in the production of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” as Juan, and that’s where the sock monkey comes in.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to do monkeys for people I’ve worked with and have an established relationship with, so creating a monkey for Alex was a no-brainer. First of all, he had an awesome period costume – all in red with doublet, breeches, a big, swirling cape and these cool, cuffed boots. I found my own fabric for the costume, creating the breeches from a silk/linen fabric, the doublet from a beautiful silk dupioni, and as always, I found the perfect buttons for eyes and even a vintage belt buckle in my Aunt Fofo’s button box. Fate stepped in to guide me to a terrific old 1950s sword-shaped hors d’oeuvres pick in the shape of a sword – perfect! I wasn’t able to recreate the wavy locks of his wig in my yarn version (which I don’t have a picture of), but it’s not bad. As so often happens with my creations, it takes me a lot longer than the run of a given show to finish, so Alex was united with Juan a few months late. But Alex loved the monkey, so that’s all that really mattered.
Seems as if Quichotte/Quixote are popping into my life again soon – Pacific Northwest Ballet is presenting the ballet “Don Quixote” next month and I’m working on it. Yes, there’s already a sock monkey in the works…stay tuned!
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.
Monkey joined Aunt Gertrude and Molly on the work table and kept us company for awhile – they look great together!
This month I’ve been working on PNB’s annual production of “Nutcracker”, which has been a pretty decent way to spend a December. Perry, one of the young ballerinas from the Professional Division asked me if I’d make a sock monkey as a Christmas present for her dad. She was so sweet about it I had to say yes, even though I probably should have just said “Bah, humbug!” and continued working on the other dozen projects that needed to be completed before Christmas.
Part of her request was to give the monkey blue eyes like her dad and a winter ski hat. I really didn’t think it would be a problem, figuring I’d just make a fleece hat for the monkey by shrinking down the human-sized pattern I already had. Wrong! I always seem to forget the proportions are crazy for a sock monkey, and in the case of a ski hat, you can’t really pull it down on the head because there’s not much crown and it’s so soft. I kept fitting it and cutting it down, and after more than an hour, was satisfied with the result. Just to make sure it stayed on, I stitched the hat to its head, and gave him a scarf to match. Perry was thrilled with the finished monkey and said it turned out exactly like she was hoping it would. As with every sock monkey, it had to have a name, so we named him Robert, after Perry’s dad. Naturally, it’s perfect for him.
I’d been thinking I wanted to create a “basic sock monkey” that wasn’t wearing a labor-intensive, detailed costume. I liked the result of this monkey too, and now that I have the hat pattern right, believe Robert will represent sockofages.com as my official, basic spokes-monkey model. Robert can be customized with different eye or hat colors – he’d look great wearing the colors of your favorite college ball team!
I’ve been working on a couple of monkeys on my breaks at work, which has initiated a lot of interest from those I work with and loads of sharing their personal sock monkey memories. Lots of people had them when they were kids, but lucky for me, a couple still own their monkeys and promised to bring them to work for show and tell.
My coworker Stephanie told me she had two monkeys when she was little, and really wanted me to see them. She loves these monkeys and is really happy she’s held on to them for more than 50 years. “Gertrude” and “Aunt Molly” were gifts from her grandfather in the mid 1950s, when Stephanie was about four years old. “My grandfather worked for the Adler Hosiery Company in Cincinnati, and I think he bought them from somebody at work who made them.” Aunt Molly was named for one of her favorite aunts, and she couldn’t remember why she named her Gertrude. “I guess he just looked like a Gertrude to me,” she said. At one time Gertrude did have an outfit, but Stephanie told me it’s been gone for years.
These two girls are charmers! We set them up in the middle of the work table, gave Gertrude a sprig of holly to put her in a holiday mood, and they kept us company for several days. I love the pipe cleaner glasses on Aunt Molly. I’ve been wondering
how to do glasses for one of my monkeys in progress, and now I know! And Gertrude has a really interesting face – it’s actually another toe end of a sock that has been appliqued on to the sock body. Another great idea and gives Gertrude so much character.
Enjoy the pictures of these sweet holiday visitors…..
Earlier this summer when I was the featured “New Visions” artist at McCaw Hall, the Seattle Opera blog featured some photos of my sock monkeys and a story about me. I was pretty chatty when they interviewed me, and there’s a couple of pretty good quotes – check it out here. You may notice they’re called sock puppets – I wasn’t allowed to call them sock “monkeys” because the term “monkey” could potentially offend opera patrons. Go figure…..
I was pleasantly surprised a couple weeks ago to get a phone call from my 16 year old niece, Amanda – “Hey Uncle Scott, could you teach me to make a sock monkey?” You bet! The following week the kids were on an early release from school, and along with a request to join us from niece Emily, I hauled sewing machine and supplies down to their house and the three of us sat down for an afternoon of sock monkey making.
What a great time we had – the kids just dove right into the project and got to work. I tend to overthink and complicate things and often get a little obsessed with minute details of “perfection.” This tends to slow me down, so it was great to watch the kids zip through it and see that I could take a cue from them on speed and efficiency. Emily is a bit like me in that she was trying to do things “perfectly”, while Amanda just watched what I did, then did it herself and said “Do you mean like this?”. Uh, yeah, that’s actually exactly what I wanted you to do – and this from the girl who said she wasn’t sure she could really make one. I realized by watching the girls work that I like the way they put the mouths lower on their monkeys than I’ve been doing – when I got home I moved the mouths lower on two monkeys in progress and think they look a lot better.
So here are the results of our afternoon’s effort – I love the crooked smile that Emily’s monkey has and the cute ears Amanda made fore hers. Unfortunately, I forgot to include my box of vintage buttons in the supply bag, so we just stuck a couple of straight pins in for eyes so we could get a picture, and we all liked the result – maybe I’ll do a monkey in the future with round beads for eyes?
By the end of the afternoon we had discussed the possibility that more sock monkeys might get made as Christmas presents for the girls’ school friends – and who doesn’t love a hand-crafted Christmas gift?
Earlier this summer a number of my sock monkeys were featured as the “New Visions” Exhibit at McCaw Hall, during Seattle Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess. The show included sock monkeys, photos of the performers with their monkeys, and the monkeys in dioramas based on their operas or theme. I don’t have photos of all the monkeys, but this gives you a bit of an idea of how it looked. More info about individual monkeys are in future posts, or send me your questions/comments (all photos by Rolland Lawrenz):