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.