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What are Sock Monkeys?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sock monkeys are children's toys made from socks, most iconically the trademarked Red Heel Socks manufactured by the Nelson Knitting Company, later acquired by Fox River Mills. Because they are cheap and easy to make, sock monkeys have become a symbol of working class inventiveness for some Americans, as the origins of sock monkeys lie in making innovative children's toys out of existing household scraps and supplies. Today, consumers can either purchase manufactured sock monkeys or make their own: Fox River's Red Heel socks still come with directions for making a sock monkey. Many sewers think fondly of sock monkeys, as they often form the basis of a beginning sewing project, when someone is just beginning to learn the basics of the craft.

Although the first documented appearance of sock monkeys is from the early twentieth century in the United States, they have probably been in existence for much longer. Mothers, especially lower class mothers, have a long tradition of making poppets, dolls, and crude animals for their children from fabric scraps or rags stuffed with straw or other fabrics. The cheap, durable toys could be used until they fell apart, and new ones could be relatively easily manufactured. When the Nelson Knitting Company released the first run of Red Heel socks in 1932, the socks became an instant hit, and the classic sock monkey was born.

To make a sock monkey, a minimum of sewing skills is required, along with two socks, scissors, thread, a needle, and things like buttons and yarn for decorations. The first sock serves as the body of the monkey. The sock is split from the top of the opening to the heel, and the splits are sewn into the legs of the monkey. The red heel of the sock will serve as the monkey's buttocks, while the tip of the sock will narrow into the head of the monkey. Sock monkeys are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate creativity and a sense of fun.

The second sock is cut into strips which are sewn to make arms, ears, and a tail for the monkey. The heel of the sock is cut out and stuffed to create a protruding face and mouth, while buttons or yarn are used to make the eyes. At this stage, the sock monkey is officially finished, and it can be decorated and dressed however the creator wishes to. Many people of all ages in the United States have an affinity for sock monkeys, along with other sock animals such as elephants, and patterns and variations are widely distributed on the Internet.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By naturesgurl3 — On Oct 28, 2010

I think sock monkeys are just so cute. I love the Americana-ness of it. They're handmade out of a fairly common material that you would never think of using in that way, and even the colors are so homey.

Now I don't go so far as to stock up on sock monkey accessories, but I do have one shirt with a screenprint of the original sock monkey on it -- I think it's cute, and it's a nice, fashionable shirt.

Some people do take it a little far though -- I've never heard of sock monkey artwork, but that sounds pretty crazy.

I think I'll just stick with my low-level sock monkey obsession and leave the artwork to others.

By closerfan12 — On Oct 28, 2010

When I was little, I loved the sock monkeys I saw in the store, but couldn't afford one. I must have driven my parents crazy trying to talk them into buying one for me.

My grandmother heard me talking about it (it would have been hard not to, I was pretty constant about it), and she sewed me a little red sock monkey doll just based off of looking at the sock monkeys in the store window.

It was so touching, even when I was young, and I still keep the red monkey to remind me of my grandmother and her kindness.

By TunaLine — On Oct 28, 2010

Do you know, the funny thing is, I was never big on sock monkeys when they first came out, but my daughter just can't get enough of them.

She's got what she calls her sock monkey "artwork" (a poster), sock monkey accessories for her bag and cell phone, and of course, a stuffed sock monkey doll.

I don't know, maybe I'm just not catching the zeitgeist of the whole sock monkey "art" thing, but who knows.

All I know is she's going to have a ton of sock monkey things to get rid of when she gets older and grows out of this stage...

By stolaf23 — On Oct 19, 2010

While I appreciate the original sock monkey idea, as it encourages using what you have to make toys and generally saving money and materials, I don't understand the concept of sock monkeys for sale out of new socks, or the fact that you can now buy shirts, pajama pants, and slippers with sock monkeys on them, and probably even more products besides. I just don't think that buying sock monkeys is the point of them.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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