Category Archives: gifts

A Pair of Pink Sock Monkey Sisters for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I hope you decided to join our pink sock monkey craft-along in honor of breast cancer awareness month. If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time to make your monkey!

You’ve already met Cupcake, but allow me to introduce her slightly younger sister (only three weeks apart in age, go figure!), Endura. She’s the monkey you saw being pieced and constructed through much of the craft-along.


As a distance runner, the aptly named Endura sports a somewhat shorter ‘do than Cupcake. As a baker, Cupcake prefers her tresses long enough to pull back so they’ll stay out of the batter.

Both girls will soon be in new homes. Cupcake is going to a cupcake-obsessed woman fighting breast cancer for the second time, and Endura is going to a runner who is also battling breast cancer. These pink sock monkeys are more than sisters, they share a common bond as cheerleaders against a loathsome disease.

Family portrait: Endura (left) and Cupcake (right)

How’s your pink sock monkey progressing?


Pink Sock Monkey Craft-Along: Initial Cuts

Do you have your Rockford Red Heel Socks ready?

Be sure to save the cardboard label since the directions for the sock monkeys are printed on the inside. If you forgot to save the tag, you can download instructions here, just scroll down a bit – they’re available in English or Spanish.

The first thing you do is turn both socks inside out. Fold the first sock flat, front-to-back, so the red heel is all on one side (this sock will be the body so the heel becomes the monkey’s rear end). Then fold the other sock so you see the profile of the foot. The heels might not align perfectly, so just do your best. The trick I use for the second sock is aligning the red corners on each side, like this, before folding:

Hold the red corners together when folding your second sock. It will be the monkey's mouth.

Next you need to measure, stitch and cut the legs. This is where the written pattern is a bit tricky. It says to start sewing 3″ from the white heel (but which part of the white heel?), and cut between the seams to within 1-1/2″ of the heel. After making a couple monkeys, I realized precision doesn’t matter here as long as you stop cutting at least 1″ before the outer edge of the white heel. If you stop cutting 2″ or so before the heel, your monkey will just have slightly shorter legs. Not a big deal.

I used a special water-soluble pen to mark approximate sewing lines, but any water-soluble pen or pencil will work.

Actually, you’re marking the inside, so you could probably even use a pencil. (I’ve been known to mark fabric with colored pencils, chalk, anything that won’t bleed through the fabric.)

Leave a gap of 1/4″ or more between the lines, since you’ll need to cut between the seams after sewing. I use a sewing machine, but you can sew these by hand if you don’t have a machine.

I like to start sewing the legs (and arms) from the middle of the sock. That’s just me. You can start at the cuff ends (aka Monkey paws) in you prefer.

I want you to notice that the curved ends are not perfect. One leg is a bit shorter and slightly squared off, the other is a bit rounder. It doesn’t matter. Once you turn the pieces right-side out and fill them you won’t even notice.

Onto the second sock. Use the diagram in the directions as a guide. The arms are sewn much like the legs, only they are shorter. The tail continues down the topside of the sock, curving down the white toe a bit. Again, sew before you cut.

The ears are fairly free form. The thing to remember with the ears is to leave about 3/4″ unsewn so you can turn the pieces right-side out and fill them. That’s something I forgot when I sewed the first ear for this monkey (I had to pull out a few stitches but it worked). So I marked the second ear with a pin so I would see where to stop or start sewing.

Before you start cutting the tail, ears, arms and mouth remember you’ll need to leave a little fabric between the pieces to help hold the stitches. The mouth doesn’t have any stitches around it, so make sure you leave at least 1/4″ of pink all the way around. This is when you’ll understand why you had to align the sock before folding – it makes cutting the mouth easier.

As carefully as I tried to align the heel, you can see I had less pink on the right side than the left. The good news is, because I didn’t cut too close to the heel, I still have plenty of fabric to turn under for a clean edge when I attach the mouth.

Notice how I positioned the folded (straight) edges of the ears down? That’s to remind me that the flat edge is what attaches to the head, not the open areas (which face the center, above).

These are the pieces you’ll have once you’re done cutting:

inside out…

Just turn them right side out (chopsticks are great tools for turning the legs, arms and tail), and you’ve got the makings of your new sock monkey.

…right-side out.

Questions, anyone?

Next time: Filling and forming your monkey!

Join the Pink Sock Monkey Craft-Along for Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Happy October! You know what that means, it’s officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and time to kick off the Pink Sock Monkey Craft-Along!

Think the Ru-Paul-meets-Lady-Ga-Ga eyelashes are a bit much? (No worries – they can be trimmed.)

My mom died of breast cancer when I was little, and my sister Lisa is a 13+ year breast cancer survivor, so this is an important month for our family.

Lisa’s taken a (triple) negative and done something really great: She became a peer counselor and uses her own experiences and insights to help other young women dealing with disease navigate their way through testing, treatment, recovery – and figuring out what to do if your health insurance company bails on you. (That’s a whole different story.)

So I wasn’t surprised when Lisa saw the sock monkeys I made for our niece and nephew and asked if I could make one — using pink socks — for a friend of hers who’s currently undergoing treatment for her second bout with breast cancer. When Lisa realized each 2-pair package of Rockford Red Heel Socks can make two sock monkeys, she asked if I could make one for another friend. That’s when I decided we should try a craft-along.

The project is pretty simple since the socks are really forgiving. Precision is not required, so don’t be scared off if you don’t sew. I’m not a great sewer, either, but see how darn cute Pink Monkey #1 turned out?

Get your pink socks, fiberfill and thread ready! Tomorrow we’ll start making a twin for the monkey above.

Who’s in?

Customized Wrist Warmers

When I asked my sister, Lisa, what she wanted for her birthday this year, she said she wanted me to make a pair of  fingerless gloves for her. Only she didn’t want the kind with a thumb hole, and she wanted them long enough to go clear up to her elbows.

I scoured for patterns. Most had thumb holes. Most went only to mid-wrist. So I needed a pattern I could tailor to Lisa’s wishes. (For my part, I wanted a pattern that didn’t use tiny needles.) The easy part was choosing the yarn – Patons’ Classic Wool in “pumpkin” – since she loves orange. This is what I came up with:

I couldn’t figure out how to program the timer on my camera, so you’re stuck with separate shots for the right and left arms.

Raverly members can find the pattern I used here. It’s Kim Sandborn’s Winter Wrist Warmers. Here’s a side-by-side showing where the original pattern would have ended vs. the extra-long version:

See how the sections to the right are slightly narrower than the end with the needles? That’s because the non-cabled part of the first few inches is a Knit 2 Purl 1 ribbed stitch, which gives it a bit of stretch.

I love the way Kim wrote her pattern. Patterns requiring double pointed needles usually say to place the same number of stitches on each needle, but Kim had the entire cabled section all on one needle, leaving different numbers of stitches on each needle.

Speaking of cables, if you’re a knitter who’s been intimidated by cables, don’t be. All you do is slip a couple of stitches onto a separate needle and knit them a few stitches later. If you hold the stitches in front of the work your cable twists to the left, if you hold them to the back it twists to the right. Here’s how I made the cable twist to the left:

This is a 3-stitch cable, so I slipped three stitches (as if to purl) onto another DPN and left them in front of the work as I knitted the next three stitches…

Then, I knitted the three stitches I’d held to the front of the work…

Finally, I knitted the next three stitches of the cable and purled two to finish the twist.

The thing I love about knitting cables is they’re so much easier than they look. The twists only come once every so many rows (depending on the exact pattern). The only trick is counting your rows so your cables are even. It’s super-low tech, but this is how I keep track of my twists:

This pattern has an 8-row repeat, with a front (left) twist on every 3rd row and a back (right) twist on every 7th row. I highlighted the twist rows in orange.

Lisa’s birthday is still a couple days away, but the surprise isn’t spoiled. Not only did she pretty much custom order her wrist warmers, she also had a preview of them last weekend, when I was mid-way through the second one.

Happy birthday, Lisa!

Make a pink sock monkey for breast cancer awareness month

After seeing the sock monkeys  I made for my niece and nephew, my sister asked if I could make one more. In pink. It’s for a sock monkey loving friend of hers who is battling breast cancer, so how could I refuse?

Since the official Rockford Red Heel socks also come in pink, it makes a pink sock monkey a great project to start now to give to someone battling breast cancer or to your favorite breast cancer survivor in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October!

Instructions are inside the label.

The socks are sold in two-pair packs, so I have another pink monkey to make.

Anyone up for an unofficial craft-along?

Sock Monkey Invasion!

On a really hot day last month my sister-in-law, niece, nephew and I went to Midway Village Museum. One of the first things my niece noticed was a banner for the museum’s annual Sock Monkey Madness. She said, “I love sock monkeys!” Inside, the gift shop was filled with all sizes and colors of sock monkeys imaginable. Even my nephew wanted one. Unwilling to strike a deal with their mom to earn the bigger sock monkeys by doing extra chores – helping weed their garden, for instance – they had to settle for the smallest monkeys. That’s when I knew I’d be making sock monkeys for their birthdays!

(Yep. That’s what I had Old Reliable out for a couple weeks ago.)

It all started with two pair of original Rockford Red Heel socks. One pair per primate. The Sock Monkey directions are inside the label.

The scary bit for any knitter is cutting the socks, but the trick is sewing the simple seams before cutting. Then the live stitches don’t unravel.

One monkey body with legs stitched and cut, the other stitched and ready to be cut.

The second sock of each pair is then stitched and cut to make the tail, arms, mouth and ears. The ears were the trickiest for me since I didn’t have an actual monkey on hand to gauge the size and curve of the ears.

I used good old fiber fill to stuff the monkeys, but added little red felt hearts in each torso – because the monkeys were made, and given, with love.

The secret ingredient is always love!

Perhaps the trickiest bit was attaching the arms, tail, mouth and ears. Mostly because you need to fold the live edges under and stitch the pieces on at the same time, but also because the directions don’t say exactly where to position the bits. Were the ears to high? Too low? Does the tail go on the brown part of the sock? The white? (Surely not the red.)

By the end of day one I had two faceless monkeys with gigantic ears. One friend who saw them at this stage quipped, “I didn’t know you were making the sock elephants.” (To be fair, I hadn’t shaped the ears by stitching in half circles yet.)

The next day I cut eyes from black felt and adhered them with fabric glue. When I stitched in the ear circles, I did a little sock monkey plastic surgery by repeatedly pulling the thread crosswise through the stuffing of the ears and tugging them closer to the body.

Right ear done, left ear yet to go.

My favorite part was adding a bit of personality with a few quick embroidery stitches. I started behind the ear, stitched the lips, dimples, nostrils, and then ran the floss through the stuffing and back out behind the opposite ear. The sock monkey plastic surgeon strikes again!

One down, one to go!

When my niece and nephew were trying to convince their mom to buy sock monkeys for them, I suggested making them. My niece shrugged off the idea, her brother didn’t seem to hear it. So I decided to fake them out. When it was time to open presents, I had them open theirs at the same time. They each had a smaller gift on top to open first: Red Heel socks. I said, “You know what those are for, right?” My nephew was first to answer, “To make sock monkeys!”

Then they finally got to open their real gifts. Both kids kept their monkeys close at hand the rest of the day, one being hugged, the other being tossed in the air. Just so they won’t fight about which monkey is which, I pointed out the subtle differences – one has a small notch on one ear, one has a leg where the sock rows didn’t align (not me – it was the actual sock).

Now the hard part: they need to name their new sock monkeys!

Do you have, or have you ever made a sock monkey? If so, what do you like most about it?

Gifts from the birthday girl

I’m not sure Ferne would like me giving away her age, so let’s just say that today is her birthday and she’s probably celebrated more birthdays than most of you have.

Ferne is my mom’s cousin, and despite a slight age gap, the two seemed more like sisters. It’s no wonder since Ferne spent most of her summers and school vacations staying with my grandparents. Since my mom grew up with two brothers, I’m sure she relished every visit from Ferne.

Back in the day, Ferne’s hobby was ceramics and she made lots of beautiful gifts for Mom and Grandma. A couple years ago I was chatting with Ferne and told her I’d just put out all of the gorgeous Christmas decorations she’d made, and she seemed a bit surprised that I’d set the “those old things” out each year. In places of honor, no less. But I do.

To help celebrate Ferne’s birthday, I decided to share photos of just a few of her creations. (Others were packed away with more decorations, so I just pulled out the ones that were easy to find.)

This trio of angelic choir kids – painted to look like my siblings and me (I’ve got the pony tails) – is my personal favorite:

Oh, Heavenly voices!

In the background is the Christmas tree light Ferne made. According to family lore, the tree form didn’t originally have all those pin holes, so Ferne had her husband, Lenny, painstakingly drill each and every tiny hole. She also made Grandma a slightly larger three-piece tree, so Lenny was pretty busy that year.

Another  year, she made Mom and Grandma each a Christmas Angel. The coloring of this one kind of reminds me of my mom, which was probably intentional on Ferne’s part:

She also made Mom a green holly leaf candy/nut dish (with bright red berries) and a matching dessert stand. Christmas wasn’t the only holiday Ferne made decorations for. Here’s an Easter egg (she even painted the inside):

One year she personalized a cheese tray for Mom & Dad. I don’t know if you can read the script, but it says, “Nibble with Arlene and Walt,” then she painted in a path of  tiny footprints leading up to the cute little mouse eating a piece of cheese. The footprints were an extra special touch that I adore:

“Nibble with Arlene & Walt”

Mom and Grandma weren’t the only ones to get special gifts. One year Ferne made dainty little covered dishes for my sister and  me. This is my well-worn set:

You can probably see the feint crack across the right side of the larger lid. I was devastated when I accidentally dropped and broke it when I was a teenager, but thankfully a bit of glue did the trick.

Somewhere I still have a large owl she made for us. There’s also an unsigned cake stand that I think Ferne made. It’s elegant, like Ferne herself, and done in her signature colors: off-white and pale green, with gold accents that match the gold on the Angel’s candle holders.

Needless to say I’m very careful when handling all of Ferne’s creations. I treasure each piece for different reasons, but mostly because they were were made with love. By today’s birthday girl.

Happy Birthday, Ferne!

Heirlooms in the making

On Easter Sunday my family did more than celebrate the holiday. My brother Brice, cousin Mark and his wife Mary all kindly came over early to help me with some home repairs.

While Brice, Mary and I were scraping the exterior window trim and prepping it for painting, Mark somehow turned this crumbling 92-year old porch rail that was literally falling apart….

Old porch railing

….into this sturdy new porch rail that’s ready for a couple coats of fresh brown paint:

new porch rail

Somehow Mark beefed it up a bit without losing the Craftsman look and feel of the original design. He had to cut curves to fit around the pillar, which couldn’t be easy since the pillar is slightly tapered.

As if the new porch rail along with Brice, Mary and Mark’s much-appreciated help on the windows wasn’t already enough, the day got even better when the rest of the family came over. We had a really fun raclette dinner and an egg hunt plus a little co-birthday celebration for a cousin (whose birthday was a few weeks earlier) and for me (whose birthday is yet to come).

My sister-in-law Jeanne made a rather fitting carrot cake, but also made us both some really cool birthday gifts. My cousin got a hand-knitted water bottle cozy, and I got these adorable embellished towels….

…..and the perfect gift for a Christmas freak who’s an obsessive knitter:

Yep. A wreath made of yarn! How cool is that?

Someone in the family is always working on something special. (One of these days I’ll get Mark to guest blog about some of his woodworking projects!) It’s especially great knowing a lot of our handmade projects will likely become family heirlooms one day.

I’m lucky to be part of such a talented and creative family. What are some handmade heirlooms from your family? Who made them and why do you love them?

Mika Doyle

Professional Writer & Poet

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