Four years ago at Christmas time I was doing some holiday shopping on Etsy and came across SockHollow, an Etsy shop with wonderfully charming sock puppets like I’d never seen before. I bought two (a zebra and a giraffe) for our good friend, Huck, who was in preschool at the time. When they came I loved them so much that I had a hard time wrapping them up to give away.
I really like puppets. I’ve designed a few myself and I want to do more. I also really like making something amazing from everyday materials, like socks.
A few weeks ago I was at the bookstore looking at all the new craft book releases. When I saw the cover of The Ultimate Sock Puppet Book I immediately recognized the puppets as the same ones I’d bought years ago. “Oh wow! They wrote a book!” So I bought it.
I read it cover to cover. I made two projects and I’ll get to those in a second, but first a few words about the book overall.
This book is a gem in a way that very few craft books are, with fewer every day. With the very real threat of digital self-publishing bearing down on print publishers, craft books have begun to change. They’ve become more beautiful.
Many craft books now are styled and photographed and designed to such a level that they’re meant to be displayed in Anthropologie and on your coffee table. They’re art objects in and of themselves, sometimes to the detriment of the instructional content and usefulness of the patterns inside. They’re meant to be looked at, like an aspiration, but not used.
This book does not fall into that category. The cover is…bland. But the instructional quality is unbeatable and well worth the $24.99 cover price.
Tiger and Heather have a whole system for creating appealing puppets of any animal you can imagine and they share every single technique in their arsenal here. Step-by-step photos and friendly, easy to follow instructions show you how to:
- tie dye socks
- create a mouth for your puppet
- attach any appendage
- make ears, eyes, whiskers, noses, teeth, tongues, tusks, horns, beaks, tails, wings, feathers, flippers, fins, a shell, and limbs
Full-sized templates in the back are ready to trace so you can jump into your first project right away. Because socks are tubular they are difficult to manuever with a sewing machine. The authors encourage you to use a combination of sewing and hot glue to attach pieces to your socks. And they heartily endorse using fun craft materials like craft foam and pompoms. This is a craft book through and through.
For me one of the most striking things about The Ultimate Sock Puppet Book is that there are no projects! This is a book of techniques accompanied by lots of photos of puppets that Tiger and Heather have made. This is sorta shocking to me! When I was in conversation with publishers about Stuffed Animals every single one of them insisted that we have projects. One wanted 20, another 16, but all were in agreement that you cannot publish a sewing book without projects. And yet…here’s one!
The authors provide great tips about designing your own puppets. “Keep in mind that the object is to capture the characteristics of the animal without completely losing the essence of the sock or the flexibility of the puppet,” they advise.
For my first attempt at making sock puppets I decided to copy two of the designs in the book. Even without project instructions, it was very easy to do. There are plenty of pictures of each design and the shapes that don’t have templates (like the nose on the lion) are very basic and easy to draft.
My child, Simon, is 8-years-old. She came into my studio, slid these puppets onto her arms, and immediately did a show for me. That lion? He really likes ham, apparently. It was hilarious. She’s at school now so I made this little soundless video for you of my lion puppet in action:
I wish the publisher had hired some children to model the puppets for the beauty shots. This is the kind of thing publishers skimp on all the time, especially in softie and toy books, and it’s really a shame. The only photo of a child in this book is a poorly lit snapshot the author’s took themselves.
I also wish there had been a resources page at the back of the book. I bought a 6-pack of tube socks at Family Dollar, but I really wanted to know where Tiger and Heather buy their socks. This information isn’t listed, so I asked them.
When we began, almost a decade ago, we were buying our socks at Target. If you are going to do your own dying then the most important thing is to have a high cotton content and no polyester. At the time we could get pretty great socks in 6 packs (12 puppets) that were 87% cotton/ 9% nylon/ 1% spandex. They were pretty nice socks actually.
As our need for high quality, cotton socks grew and they became more difficult to find and less economically practical to buy retail, we started having our socks knit for us. Now they come to us in large crates from hosiery mills in Alabama and North Carolina.
If you are not doing your own dying, then just as we suggest in the book, there are thousands of interesting, colorful, textured socks out there that one can purchase ready made, and get right to work making sock puppets!
You may notice that this book hasn’t been reviewed anywhere. I found this weird YouTube video of someone flipping through every single page, but there was no publicity push or launch event or blog tour. As far as I can tell Creative Publishing International has done no online promotion of the book whatsoever which is so sad. This book deserves praise!
I wanted to mention that this book is an Etsy success story in every way. I asked Tiger and Heather how they got a book deal. “We were approached by Creative Publishing International. They were interested in adding a sock puppet book to their craft book line and found us on Etsy,” they explained. “We jumped at the opportunity.”
If you’re looking for an especially unique gift, Tiger and Heather also create custom portrait sock puppets that are pretty amazing. Take a look at those here. Buy finished puppets from their Etsy shop or pick up a copy of The Ultimate Sock Puppet Book and make some puppets yourself. This one is a keeper.