Last Updated on August 6, 2022
Once a year in Rockford Illinois, the Midway Village Museum hosts the Sock Monkey Madness Festival celebrating all things sock monkey in its official home! The Sock Monkey is recognised around the world and started right here in the Midwest, and yes they are made completely from a pair of socks!
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Rockford Sock Monkey
Sock Monkey History
where did the sock monkey originate?
Back in the late 1800’s, the Nelson Knitting company, based in Rockford Illinois, started creating pairs of socks that didn’t have seams on the heels. These were popular with workmen as the heel seams of previous socks used to rub in the wrong places!
when did the sock monkeys originate
It wasn’t until the 1930’s when the company started producing red heel socks that the iconic monkey image that we see today came about. Monkeys weren’t the first thing to be created from Rockford socks. Before the red heel socks were produced, people actually made dolls from the socks!
It was during the Great Depression that the sock monkeys really took off. Money was tight and people would make monkeys for their children out of worn out red heal socks, pretty creative if you ask me! (Although I don’t know what I would have thought if during the recession of the 2000s my Mum had made me something out of a pair of my Dad’s stinky ole ‘full of holes’ work socks!).
The red heels became the monkey’s mouth and its butt (which I find hilarious that it has a red bum but then it’s like a real life monkey!)
In the 1950s, the Rockford ‘sock monkey socks’ actually started to be sold with the ‘how to make a sock monkey’ instructions inside the packaging! Fox River Mills (an Iowa company) bought Nelson Knitting company in the 1990’s but continued the tradition of including the sock monkey instructions in the red heel socks.
There’s a permanent display in the Midway Village Museum about the history of the Nelson Knitting Company and the sock monkey, which features the evolution of the sock monkey and the culture that this icon turned in to!
Rockford Sock Monkey Madness Festival
Every year the festival has a different theme. I visited in 2018 and the theme was ‘Under The Sea’, which included ‘sea themed’ games and crafts for the children and workshops to create felt ‘underwater themed’ clothes for sock monkeys. I personally thought the Sock Monkey Puppet Theatre was brilliant, like the big kid I am, it made my day when a monkey waved at me…
Make Your Own Rockford Sock Monkey
The part I found the coolest was the make a sock monkey workshop. For $25 your could choose a pair of Rockford sock monkey socks, I opted for the traditional brown red heel socks (the pink/red ones were a popular colour with other visitors!), and then make your own sock monkey.
You were provided with everything you needed including: basic instructions, thread in all different colours, buttons, stuffing etc. I could have just bought a finished one in the gift shop but it meant more actually being able to put it together myself, in the place where they were invented! It took me around 2 hours to finish my monkey. And that was with ‘cheating’ as for speed the socks had already been pre stitched using a sewing machine and Sharpied in the places you needed to cut. This way you only had to cut out the pieces, stuff them and then stitch them altogether.
It was interesting to see how exactly they were made from a sock, literally every scrap of it is used! One complete sock becomes the main body and legs. Not a single part of this sock is wasted, all it takes is one cut that separates the legs and then the whole lot is turned inside out to hide the seams and then stuffed.
The second sock is cut into sections and becomes: the tail, the mouth, the ears AND the arms! The only part I did waste was the section that was marked out for a hat (the toe of the sock). The toe of the other sock had already made the top of the monkey’s head, so I didn’t really understand why it’d need a hat that was the same.
But then the whole process was all about your interpretation of it, there was no right or wrong way of making it. Some people had odd shaped eyes, others added hair, the instructions said you could add a black line along the mouth and little black nostrils, I’m happy with the way mine turned out!
Once you’d finished turning your pair of red heel socks into a monkey, you could then name it and fill out a birth certificate! A bit like a Build-a-Bear-Workshop…but with a lot more effort involved!
The festival also included vendors selling sock monkey gifts and the Rockford General Hospital, where you could take your old, worn out monkeys and volunteers would stitch them back together and replace lost button eyes etc. There was also a dance group (dressed as sock monkeys) and the ‘2nd City Chorus’ singing group.
🗺Visiting the Midway Village Museum
6799 Guilford Road
Rockford, Illinois 61107
Buy Your Own Sock Monkey Socks!
If you can’t make it to Rockford and want to MAKE your own sock monkey, you can find Red Heels Socks with Sock Monkey Instructions here.
I bought some Sock Monkey socks for myself as a gift (made by the Fox River Mills Company). They are similar to the traditional style but they have sock monkeys printed on them! Fox River Women’s Monkey See Crew, Brown Heather. They are very good quality compared to some other socks. *Note* They do come up a little higher than regular ankle socks.
Or if you don’t have 2 hours to spare to make your own, here are some ready made Sock Monkey Products.