Making Notes: A Load of Balls!

I first came across this method of making balls at the Latitude Festival last year, where Cambridge Community Circus were running workshops for kids. They were making juggling balls, but the finished product also works quite well as a stress ball, and I even used one to go with a set of skittles I made.

Skittles made from yoghurt drink bottles and Kinder Egg middles, with bird seed balloon ball and washing up tablet box

You will need:
– balloons
– bird seed (the small round kind – I found it sold as budgie seed)
– scissors
– a jug
– a tray with sides, or a roasting pan (optional)
– dustpan and brush (almost certainly)

Begin by tipping some seeds into the jug. I tend to do this, and the next few steps, over a roasting pan or high-sided tray, to catch any stray seeds.

Cut the necks off a couple of balloons (don’t throw the necks away).  You can use balloons of the same colour, or different colours, depending on what effect you want.

Carefully pour seeds from the jug into one of the balloons. If you can recruit a helper to hold the balloon upright for you, the process will become much easier. When it’s full, take the other balloon and put your seed-filled ballon inside it, facing the opposite way, so that the second balloon covers up the neck hole of the first balloon. You might need to trim a little from the neck hole on the second ballon so that it fits snugly.

You now have a basic seed-filled ball.

If you just want a simple juggling ball for practising your own circus skills, then you can stop there  (although if this is your plan you might want to add an additional step: put the seeds into the corner of a small sandwich bag and tie a knot in it, before adding the first balloon layer – that way you are less likely to get any spillage).

But in my experience, a ball made with just two balloon bodies like this has a tendency to settle into a sort of lemon shape, and that bugged me enough to make me fiddle about with it in search of improvements.

I have found that using the leftover neck pieces as further layers helps to make a much more robust (and spherical) sphere. Cut off the very end part of the neck, which has the little rollover, and simply stretch the remaining tube over your ball, covering up the baggy ends that cause the lemon tendency.  You might need to trim the ends of the neck further in order to get a snug fit.  You can add as many layers as you want, until you are happy with the strength and shape of your ball.

To make up a  juggling ball kit I put three balls inside an old tea bag box which I covered in patterned paper, and added a set of instructions printed from the internet.

Juggling Kit

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Making Notes: Sock Monkeys

This is probably one of the more ambitious items on my Christmas present list, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected, and I quickly got hooked.

I first saw a sock monkey just a few years ago, although apparently they have been around in America since the 1930s. It was love at first sight, and I couldn’t wait to make one of my very own. I looked around for patterns and instructions and hints and tips, and finally decided I was ready.

This is the pattern I use for cutting the socks*:

Sock Monkey Cutting Pattern

*Other methods of cutting are available. In particular some (possibly more authentic) versions make a longer tail by using the full length of the sock, but that must also make the arms thinner. Personally I think the half tail length is sufficient, particularly when using adult sized socks, but it’s an option to bear in mind.

Now some clever people could no doubt work out exactly how to put their monkey together just using the diagram above. But I am not that good at sewing, so I searched some more and found this excellent step-by-step tutorial. There is a tremendous amount of detail here, which I found extremely helpful. Even after making a number of pretty successful monkeys I still went back to the tutorial every so often to double-check things like the positioning of the nose and arms.

There’s not much I can add, but I do have a few tiny tips:

  • You don’t need a sewing machine to make a sock monkey. I sew all mine by hand, it doesn’t take long.
  • Stripes can be a bit intimidating when you are just starting out.  Although it might help you to line things up it also means you can tell when they don’t!
  • Don’t forget that any patterns on the sock will be upside down once you make it into a monkey. I have made one monkey (see below) using patterned socks, and I did manage to work out how to amend the cutting out in order to stop the flamingoes from standing on their heads, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
  • I think it’s worth using decent quality socks. They tend to make the finished article feel softer and cuddlier and are also more forgiving of any little stitching slip ups.
  • In fact, it’s worth using decent quality everything. Your sewing experience and your finished article will be so much nicer if you have sharp scissors, good quality thread and specialised soft toy stuffing.

My Sock Monkey Gallery

Sock Monkey the First
My first ever Sock Monkey

This was my first ever attempt at a Sock Monkey, and the fact that it came out pretty well says something for how easy it is to do. I went for spots rather than stripes, and a contrasting heel and toe. This wasn’t top quality though, made with cheap socks and some stuffing I pulled out of a cushion on my sofa because I was too impatient to wait until I could get to a haberdashers to buy the real thing.

Stripey Sock Monkey
Stripes

There were a few more monkeys between the first and this one, so by now I felt able to cope with stripes. This was made for my teenage niece so I used brightly coloured socks from one of her favourite shops. It does look a bit on the thin side – I have a tendency to under-stuff – but in this case it helps stripey monkey to fit into my niece’s suitcase while she is off travelling.

Mini Sock Monkey
Baby Sock Monkey

A tiny sock monkey made using baby socks, for 12-18 months I think. This was made for an adult, but would also be great for a baby (although for safety you would have to use something other than buttons for eyes – small pieces of felt can work well.)

Our Wedding in Sock Monkeys

The ultimate sock monkey creation: our family as sock monkeys. This represents our wedding, and the groom monkey is actually made out of the socks my husband wore at our wedding. The eyes are buttons from the cuffs of his wedding jacket. (The hat was a misguided attempt to lighten it up a bit, and has since been lost.) The bride monkey is patterned with flamingoes because we were married at the Flamingo Hotel (that’s the one I had to reverse the cutting pattern for.) And the baby monkey is our little boy, who was at our wedding too (oops!)

Now it’s time for you to give it a try – but be warned, once you start, you won’t be able to stop.