Saturday, 15 October 2011

Elephant No. 13: Sock Elephant

I've never tried making any kind of sock creature before. In fact, I'd never even owned a sock monkey until one of my friends made me what we jokingly call the Not Your Average Sock Monkey. Since his eyes don't show, we also call him the Amish Sock Monkey.

True sock monkeys are made with red-heeled wool socks, which were originally a trademark of the Nelson Knitting Company of Rockford, Illinois. The first red-heeled socks were made in 1932, and quickly became known as "Rockfords". It is likely that the first toy sock monkeys were made from worn-out Rockfords during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In 1955, the Nelson Knitting Company was awarded a patent for the traditional sock monkey design, and began including the pattern with every pair of socks. Having a patent allowed them to use sock monkeys in their advertising, thus showcasing a novel use for their product. In 1958, the magazine Pack-O-Fun published How to Make Sock Toys, with instructions on how to make all kinds of animals with red-heeled socks. The book was so popular that it was published right into the 1980s. In the late 1980s, Marketing Tide of Willoughby Hills, Ohio began selling sock monkey kits containing a pair of the original socks.

The Nelson Knitting Company was acquired in 1992 by Fox River Mills, which still produces red-heeled monkey socks. The heels in the newer socks have a different shape, however, lacking the points that gave the original sock monkeys their smile.

Not having any idea how a sock monkey is made, let alone a sock elephant, I looked for patterns online. The one I used is the traditional sock elephant pattern; unfortunately, the only socks I could find didn't have the distinctive red heel, so I had to adapt the design a bit.

The pattern calls for exactly two socks. I goofed cutting out the trunk, however, so it was lucky that the socks came in a six-pack.

The first thing you do is create the main body and the two back legs from a single sock. I was now glad that my socks didn't have the traditional red heel, because my elephant would have ended up with a red rear end, like a baboon.

Once the body is stuffed, you make the two front legs, stuff them, and stitch them on. The pattern called for putting cardboard circles inside the feet, but I hate cardboard inside soft toys, so I just stuffed them tightly instead.

Next come the trunk and ears. The pattern suggests putting a piece of wire inside the trunk to allow it to be bent into interesting shapes. I tried this with the only wire I could find of the right gauge: a glittery pipecleaner that I got who knows where. The glitter showed through, which bugged me, and it was really irritating to try to stuff the trunk around the wire.

I don't think you actually need wire for the trunk, because the pattern suggests following the natural curve of the sock's toe. The trunk is also incredibly long if you cut according to the pattern. If I were ever to make one of these again, I'd definitely cut it shorter.

The pattern calls for pipecleaner tusks, but I thought they would look cheap, so I sewed some tusks from the white part of a scrap sock. The tail was stitched from a scrap piece of grey.

Because I didn't have the red-heeled sock to use for the mouth, I shaped the mouth a bit with some stitching, then embroidered a red mouth with the unravelled top of one of my socks. I also wanted to add a bit more red to him somehow, so I made him a weird little hat from the top of another sock, used some of the unravelled red to make a pompom, and knit him a scarf from the remaining unravelled red. To finish him, I embroidered black eyes with tapestry wool.

For someone with basic sewing skills this should take about two or three hours. The hat took no time, and knitting the scarf took an additional hour or so.

I wanted to make this sock elephant using nothing but the socks themselves, with the exception of the eyes. However, it makes a huge mess if you unravel the sock top to get the extra bit of red. If I were ever to make one of these again, I would used red tapestry wool or something instead.

Kind of cute in an if-elephants-looked-like-aliens sort of way.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The woolly mammoth—an extinct relative of the elephant—once roamed North America and northern Eurasia. Known today from large numbers of bones and frozen carcasses, it probably lived between 150,000 and 10,000 years ago. Until about 1700 B.C., a dwarf species survived on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia.

Woolly mammoths were only slightly taller than today's African elephants, although they were larger and heavier, weighing up to 8 tonnes (8.8 tons). They also had extremely long tusks—some as long as five metres (16 feet)—which were far more curved than those of today's elephants.

The most obvious of its many adaptations to the cold was a thick layer of shaggy orange-brown hair that could grow up to one metre (3.25 feet) in length. In addition to the hair, there was a layer of fine wool underneath, which is what gives this type of mammoth its name. Their coat was probably similar to that of a muskox, and it is believed that they moulted in the summer.

Over the past 100 years or so, there have been claims that the woolly mammoth is not extinct at all. Scientists and hunters have occasionally heard about abominable-snowman-type sightings of woolly mammoths, and some say that small herds might still be lurking somewhere in the vast tundras of the North.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society


  1. A lot of work, no? Heather made a sock monkey for the little guy who used to live across the road from us. I was impressed. It was a very dear thing. I hated to see it go, but delighted in seeing it in his high chair anytime we walked by the kitchen window.

  2. It wasn't too bad, but I kind of like sewing — much more than origami, anyway! Sock monkeys are certainly cute, and that was very sweet of Heather to make one for the little guy.