March 7 – Sock Monkey Day

Posted on March 7, 2015

A homemade sock monkey
Is it homemade toy, or a piece of folk art?

Is it a touch of the exotic in an American nursery, or corn-ball kitsch?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Sock monkeys are of course, just as you would suspect, toy monkeys made from socks.

During the later years of the Victorian era, there was a craze for imitation stuffed animals for children. At around the same time, there was a huge Arts and Crafts Movement that elevated the decorative arts, AND there was a Scramble to colonize Africa, and therefore interest in African animals. So by the early 1900s, lots of nurseries had toy stuffed monkeys.

But those monkeys were not generally made of socks.

Manufactured sock monkey
In the meantime, John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States, patented a sock-knitting machine that created seamless work socks. The Nelson Knitting Company's socks (called Rockfords, because the Nelson Knitting Company was located in Rockford, Illinois) were so popular, soon others copied the technology and started pumping out imitation seamless work socks. So Nelson trademarked a red heel to set their socks apart from the crowd.

The same year that the red-heeled socks appeared, the iconic sock monkey with a red mouth was introduced to the world. A variety of American crafters made sock monkeys from worn out red-heeled socks, but in 1955 Nelson Knitting was awarded the patent for the sock monkey doll.

Actually, any color of sock can be made into
a sock monkey. Adorable, right?
Here's how to make a sock monkey:

In Rockford, IL, there is an annual Sock Monkey Madness Festival. This year participants will be able to meet the world's largest sock monkey (7 feet tall), get free medical check-ups and minor surgeries for their sock monkeys (patches, repairs), make their own sock monkeys, do other sorts of crafts, and of course eat fun festival food that has nothing to do with socks or monkeys!

Yarn bombed bus (above), trees, and building (below)
The Midway Village Museum is also going with a knitting theme for this year's Sock Monkey Festival, and is planning on covering the entire museum with colorful knitted yarn. Have you ever seen yarn bombing before? It's really cool!

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