The Wonderful World of Sock Monkeys!


Vintage Angel Ornaments for Christmas

I needed several little projects to fill down time backstage during my recent stint on Wagner’s RING Cycle, especially during the 5+ hours each of Siegfried and Gotterdamerung – oy! My strategy was to work on several unfinished projects, which was part of my GRANDER scheme of getting my basement back under control. I heard this great quote by Dr. Phil (yeah, I know), that was something like “…to be a better person, finish what you start…” or something to that affect. I took that to mean cleaning and organizing my basement by finishing up the multitude of craft/sewing projects overflowing from boxes and surfaces. So I made a list of the projects I wanted to work on, but in the general disarray could only find one of them. Anyway….

Another funky, kitschy kit perfect to work on backstage -

Another funky, kitschy kit perfect to work on backstage –

You know how much I love the old embroidery and craft kits from the ’60s and ’70s, right? Well I’d picked up this particular little gem about four years ago because it was one of my favorite styles – felt ornaments with a little embroidery and tons of bling with sequins, beads and braid trim. These old kits have great felt colors (and it’s not crappy polyester felt), they’re graphically cute and silly, they’re easy to pick up and put down when I’m at work, and I can give them as gifts, use them as package ties or on occasion, keep them for myself. When I find these kits at yard sales and thrift stores, they’re often opened with some of the contents missing. Using/substituting my own materials, trim, and sometimes even pattern pieces, is part of the challenge and fun of working on the stuff, and these little angels fit the bill.

For some reason the crafty, creative designers at Bucilla billed this charmer as:

Novel “MOBILE” may be hung from Mantel, Chandelier, Archway; or in windows and doorways – handsome decoration for Foyer or any room in the home. So gay, so cheerful, so decorative for the Holiday Season. A real conversation piece!

OK, let’s just examine that for a moment. Yes, it’s definitely gay, which is a good thing, because the cheerful kitschy quality is a conversation piece. However, there’s no way I could hang this from my mantel as the plastic ring the angels swing from is about 8″ across, so it would hardly hang “freely”.  And the only chandelier I could see this dangling from is the crappy piece of junk in my dining room, which I definitely do not want to draw attention to.  Add to this the fact that the tinsel garland and “velvetex” ribbon used for hanging were flattened beyond use after 40+ years in their package. So mobile was out, but ornaments were on.

The helpful instructions! But really, it's not that difficult to attach beads and sequins to felt...

The helpful instructions! But really, it’s not that difficult to attach beads and sequins to felt…

I had to pick out some beads for those that were missing and some braid trim. I added purple beads to the original “color palette”, and I scrapped the directions to cut out and use this hard, gold vinyl to fill the opening of the skirts – I just couldn’t figure out how I’d attach it to the dress – hand sewing with felt isn’t really the easiest thing because the felting process makes it come apart when it’s manipulated too much. So I just ended up stuffing the body and sewing the skirt closed.

The ornaments filled up lots of time (although there was still plenty of time to read, write letters, do some clothing repairs, work on my magazine and make a SOCK MONKEY, which I’ll share in an upcoming blog) and they turned out so cute. My friend Anne wanted one (and I forgot to photo), and after deciding to keep the blue for myself, decided to give the hot pink to my awesome college pal LeAnn, and the green will go to my niece Nicole.

Hark! The gay, cheerful, decorative felt, blinged-out angels sing!

Hark! The gay, cheerful, decorative felt, holiday blinged-out angels sing!

Oh, and the basement is back to a functional state! I owe this more to LeAnn’s help in the last few weeks, than decluttering by completing a few little angel ornaments, but I can actually work on stuff again and I see a busy fall of completion ahead! I’ve already found the other projects I wanted to do this summer that were MIA, and the parts for a few more Christmas ornaments that I’ll share soon – snowmen and some ginger boy and girls. Time to get crafting!

Green for Nicole...

Green for Nicole…

...and hot pink for LeAnn!

…and hot pink for LeAnn! for me to keep...

…blue for me to keep…


A “bunch of junk” to make a bird feeder

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!

THRIFT SCORE! Look how big this oversized tea cup and saucer is sitting next to a regular size!

THRIFT SCORE! Look how big this oversized tea cup and saucer is sitting next to a regular sized set –

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.

I love how a cheesy 18th century-style image and a bunch of gold trim means "Look! This is FANCY!"

I love how a cheesy 18th century-style image and a bunch of gold trim means “I’m FANCY!”

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 wood I couldn't throw out but had no idea what I would do with it

The wood I couldn’t throw out but had no idea what I would do with it

Ready to drill the cup and saucer - HARD!

Ready to drill the cup and saucer – HARD!

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.

Felt like I should have drilled through to China for how long this took...

Finally! Felt like I should have drilled through to China for how long this took!

I drilled a hole in the top of the base for the threaded bolt piece and filled it with wood glue before I inserted the bolt. 2013-07-02 10.05.40

I let that dry for a day, then assembled the whole thing for the first time – base, then cup and saucer on the bolt and a gasket and wing nut to hold it all on. Loving it!2013-07-07 19.42.44

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.

Bring on the hungry birds!

Bring on the hungry birds!

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.

Mid Century Modern – Amanda the Sock Monkey

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!

Luretta with Amanda "in progress"

Luretta with Amanda “in progress”


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!


Amanda cookin' up a storm! Photo by Rozarii Lynch

Amanda cookin’ up a storm! Photo by Rozarii Lynch

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?

With my pal Luretta - 7/4/2013

With my pal Luretta – 7/4/2013

Wedding Bells – and an embroidered wedding gift!

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.

With the happy bride!

With the happy bride!

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!

IMG_4489Like 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!

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Upholstery class – week #3…..and redecorating!

Well not a huge update this week, other than the fact that this was the last class and I DIDN’T FINISH MY CHAIR! I guess it’s not that big of a deal, as a couple ladies in my class were taking it for the second time and one was taking it a third time (although she was working on a pair of channel-backed chairs, which is quite difficult). So even though I hoped to finish it in three weeks, I’ll be signing up for one more round.

Adding more batting to the seat

Adding more batting to the seat

The first step was to add more batting to the seat bottom. I wanted the seat to sit up higher, and other than just making the cushion fatter, this will help beef it up. Then I had to put new batting on the arm and “reshape” it because of the snack my mom’s dogs had made of it. IMG_4120

At that point I was ready to start on the sides. My instructor did some magical calculations about how what size the piece of fabric needed to be. I really don’t understand how he came up with it, probably because too much MATH was involved, but however he did it, it was the right size. I was given this tool to push the IMG_4121fabric under the arm frame and to the back to attach it. It looked like a long, thick ruler  that was kind of beveled, and had the highly technical name of “stuffing stick.” After using it and getting everything tacked down correctly, I managed to get the other side cut out before class was over. There was a lot of extra stuffing going on for the front panels as well to get things “filled out”. I’m still amazed at how little sewing there is for upholstering – more stretching, tacking and stapling than I’d imagined. But I can see how the chair is going to look now and I’m excited!

The highly specific "stuffing stick"

The highly specific “stuffing stick” in action

I started to imagine some needed decor changes at home featuring the new chair, and if I change one thing, then a whole bunch of other stuff will need updating too, right? I’m envisioning some new paint in the living room, and I’m working a trade for an amazing 1960s “Declaration” secretary made by Drexel. Designed by Kip Stewart and Stewart MacDougall, the designers looked at creating a a clear modern aesthetic, while relating to Shaker furniture and the Shakers’ desire that the construction details of furniture be visible. This is a brilliant design, because it appeals to modernists and traditionalists, alike. And, it’s frickin’ FANTASTIC! If you are into mid-century furniture and/or design at all, you’ve gotta check out my favorite new website, retro renovation.

The great '60s secretary I'm working a trade for

The great ’60s secretary I’m working a trade for

Of course I will have to have a chair to sit on when I use the desk part, so I bought another chair to work on! I couldn’t pass it up – a beautiful mid-century Gunlocke arm/desk chair I snagged for only $5 on craigslist. It’s going to look great with the new secretary, and it should be an easier project to tackle (famous last words) as it only needs a small back and seat, and I know I can find some great coordinating fabric to go with my armchair. And I’ve got a great ’50s rattan chair that needs a little work, then I’ll need to tackle the beatiful Danish Modern sofa that’s been languishing in the garage the last three years (it was FREE – I HAD to get it!), but maybe that’s a project for a real upholsterer…..

My $5 craigslist score

My $5 craigslist score

This blog is just a little insight into the tangential way my mind works – from sock monkeys to crafts to furniture reupholstery then redecorating the house, I suppose it’s really not that big a surprise that I have so many unfinished projects and millions of ideas without the hours needed in a day to finish them. And I haven’t even gotten to COOKING yet! For that, you can check out my other blogs – COOKWITHSCOTT.COM and my blog for the Seattle P.I. newspaper. It gets a bit crazy trying to fit it all in on top of working, doesn’t it?

My chair's gonna look GREAT!

My chair’s gonna look GREAT!

Put a bird on it!

What a wonderful surprise to receive a phone call from my long-time friend Trish Lehman, inviting me to join her at a Mixed Media Collage class in Edmonds last weekend. Besides the opportunity to create in a medium I hadn’t really worked in before, I was excited to see Trish, as she’d just returned from a trip to ICELAND and I wanted to hear all about it! We agreed to meet, and I offered to pack a special picnic lunch for us.

Caitlin doing what she does so well - making beautiful art!

Caitlin doing what she does so well – making beautiful art!

The all-day class was taught by an amazing Seattle artist, Caitlin Dundon, the owner of One Heart Studio. Caitlin is known for her trademark handwritten script and colorful mixed media paintings, and she’s a professional calligrapher and instructor in both mixed media collage and pointed pen calligraphy. Her introduction class was titled “Put a Bird On It”, and we were to spend the day using bird imagery and themes to explore the different techniques and possibilities creating work on paper, paperboard and wood.


Goldfish for Rolland!

After Trish and I fortified ourselves with the thermos of coffee I brought and some home made cinnamon rolls I baked the night before, we were ready to get to work. Of course, I couldn’t just “put a bird on it”, I had to use goldfish! There was a wonderful handprinted wrapping paper in the paper box with big fat goldfish on them, and it made me want to create something for Rolland as he loves blue and orange. Thinking the collage thing would be really easy, I started ripping and pasting to my board (OK, it’s actually a gel matte fixative, but I call it pasting). I had the fish hiding in some weeds at the bottom of what I thought was going to be a fishbowl, complete with fishy air bubbles. It didn’t look so great. Caitlin gently got me to think about a couple of ideas to make more of a composition from it – adding another fish, less of a highlight on the air bubbles, more of a “horizon” line toward the top – and she was right on every one of them. I added a light wash of yellow and the whole thing popped in a way that made me like the piece instead of wanting to chuck it.

On to Bird piece number 2. For me, that was a SOCK MONKEY! I’ve been saving paper stuff with sock monkeys on it for a couple years now, thinking one day I’d find a use for them. I had this idea of doing a tree with some monkeys hanging from it, but it evolved into a house. I don’t think a sock monkey house would look like a regular house, so I gave it some cartoony, angled walls, roof and window frame. My original plan to have three monkeys in the house made it too crowded and busy, so I chose my favorite guy (from a calendar of vintage sock monkeys), and had him looking out the window. A tree next to the house was the right addition – highlighted with some yellow to make it pop – and I added a door step in some hand-marbled paper I made WAY BACK in college when I was studying book binding and decorative papers. And last, I added SMile! to my piece, because that’s what always happens when I look at sock monkeys for awhile.

A house is not a home without a SOCK MONKEY in it...

A house is not a home without a SOCK MONKEY in it…

Lunch break! I loaded my favorite vintage picnic hamper with freshly made chicken salad, cantaloupe, yogurt, carrot sticks and bagels. I must say I make a MEAN chicken salad, and of course I’d brought along my favorite Stangl plates from the ’50s to serve it on. For dessert we had some spice cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting – YUM! Luckily, cupcakes just happen to be Trish’s favorite food, and I’d brought along a few extra for her trip back home to Friday Harbor. Trish reported later that several of them didn’t survive the long journey north…

Creation Station

Creation Station

So the afternoon was winding down, and I’d yet to do anything with my bird! I decided to just crank it out and not overthink it, and I really wanted to finish my project DURING CLASS because the last thing I needed to take home was another unfinished ANYTHING. I’ve been working on this children’s book lately where the main character realizes the way out of his problem is to sing, so I wanted a little bird with SING on the piece. I’d prepped my board with blue and green (I love blue and green!), then I used this very cool technique of transferring my bird image onto fabric before I glued it down. A few leaves cut from a spin painting I’d done at the fair years ago, some music notes, lettering, then my final touch: a pearly, embossed swirl with the same embossed swirl over it in gold. I wanted it to look like that was the song coming from the bird, and I like how it turned out.IMG_4111

A fun, fun afternoon creating really gets my blood pumping, and the collaging techniques let me get a little bit dirty, but not so yucky I couldn’t get cleaned up in a few minutes – it’s so fun to get messy! Trish and I both came away with pieces we loved, and she’s getting ready for a BIG collage project, which I could tell was really starting to gel in her head during this class. I think she’s going to create something wonderful with vintage photographs of her family and I can’t wait to see it. And now I know what I can do with all that vintage wrapping paper, funky paper scraps, ticket stubs and old photos I’ve been saving – make some more art!

The super talented and amazing TRISH - my dear friend of 30+ years

The super talented and amazing TRISH – my dear friend of 30+ years

Uphostery Class – Week #2

Week #2 looked really promising as half the class didn’t show up, which meant I’d get more one-on-one time with our instructor, Ollie. He’d given me a homework assignment from Week #1 to finish ripping out the old upholstery tacks, nails and staples. Because I had completed it (I’m a model student), I was able to get right to work on the chair when class started.

Right off, I had to retie the springs because some of them were broken, and the front spring was tied incorrectly (said Ollie), which made it feel like the front of the chair had a slope to it when you were sitting in it. This was not too difficult, but since I never passed the knot tying section in Cub Scouts, it took me a little longer to figure out. But it’s done right now, and nobody will be sliding off the front!


The springs I retied are the lighter color – some of the 40+ year old ties were still in great condition and didn’t need any work –

Problem two with the springs: there are these little staple things that I think he called “cinchers”, that anchor the springs to the heavy canvas webbing in the bottom of the chair. My chair didn’t have ANY of them, so that meant the springs could slide around the webbing, which always made the chair feel kind of spongy. I used the cincher tool to reattach all of the springs to the webbing and the result was fantastic – the bottom of the chair was now firm and felt like it would support weight a lot more evenly.

Step three was to fix a broken part of the frame holding the springs in. If you think of an old timey set of bed springs, this chair has a miniature version for the seat. One section of the outside frame on the top was broken apart, which made it uneven. Ollie was able to put it right with a barrel clamp and a new metal section – a piece he fashioned from a 10 penny nail! Then I wrapped and knotted it with lots of upholstery twine to keep it in place and make sure it wouldn’t poke up through the padding.


Here you can see the repair of the broken outer spring frame we made using a nail! The new “cinchers” I attached to the spring bottoms and the webbing are also visible.

Covering the frame is a burlap/canvas cover that the padding sits on top of. This has to be sewn to the outer spring frame with a big, fat curved needle and upholstery thread, which is like a super skinny, industrial strength twine. This is one of those points in the process that hurt my head because each stitch is knotted onto itself as it’s sewn around the outside of the frame. I just suck at visualizing these things, and once I’d master it, I’d have to turn the corner to go another direction and then need to figure it out all over again. I think there must be physics or some higher math involved in this that my brain is just not wired for.


I made a patch to a weak part of the burlap/canvas covering the springs in the upper left. Figuring out how to knot the thread to itself as I went along was a mental challenge for me!

Now on to some new fabric! The part the seat cushion rests on is called decking, and the funky old kelly green fabric had to go. I replaced it with a beige that looked great with my new fabric. There’s tacking and nailing involved to keep the foam padding tight over the front, which I had to do a couple of times to get right – too tight the first time and not tight enough the second, but third time was a charm.

And finally, some sewing – I cut and shaped the piece that goes on the front where your legs would be – I think there’s an actual name for this part, but I can’t remember it. Ollie told me my choice of fabric would make things easier to line up because if has a kind of grid on it, and he was right. I slid it right into place and I felt for the first time I could start to visualize how great the chair would look when it was finished.


Four hours later, and I’m finally ready to start putting the new fabric on – I LOVE it!

These few steps had taken the whole four hours of class, and I was pooped out! All that knotting, pulling, pounding, stapling and stitching wore me out. I think I had it in my head that this was a more “gentlemanly” art, but it’s a lot more blue collar than I expected, and this boy is definitely a white collar, let’s-not-get-that-dirty kinda guy. But it was fun, and I can’t wait for Week #3.

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