Monday, April 18, 2011

A Chip Off the Old Sock: The Road Trip

It was back in December that I learned that the official socks for creating sock monkeys are made in Iowa. The Etsy story that appeared today has been planned since then, but it wasn't until three weeks ago that Emily Martin and I took a road trip to Osage and Fox River Mills. Of course we felt it was necessary to take a sock monkey along for the ride and so my orthopedically challenged monkey, Jockoline, rode safely in the back seat.

 We stopped along the way to see Iowa's Largest Frying Pan (in Brandon), to gas up, and for lunch at the Teluwat restaurant (seriously good pork products).
Gassing up in Floyd

Emily shares the menu with Jockoline (she can't read)
After dining, we found Fox River Mills. You'd think that given it's the largest employer (around 200 employees) in the county that wouldn't have been hard, but somehow we got lost and had to ask people who were outside raking their lawns for directions. Once there, I made Emily leave Jockoline in the car (Emily is shameless, but I had to remind her I was there for professional reasons and walking in with a sock monkey might have clued them in to my true nature).
Sock critters from the Fox River Mills collection
We were greeted by Mike (PR) and Rebecca (who self-identified as the VP for Monkey Business) and taken to a conference room where they'd laid out sock monkey photos from their history files, along with examples of socks and monkeys they had in their collection. It was a fascinating tale (see Etsy story for background) and I loved the way they embraced the tradition.

 Along the wall of the conference room was sock after sock...Fox River produces 140 styles, but the original Rockford Red-Heels are one of the best sellers (Rebecca said some people even wear them).


After our history lesson, Mike took Emily and me on a factory tour. There is something so magical about a the interwoven nature of machinery and workers on a factory floor (The lede I wrote for this Etsy post is about what I saw at Fox River Mills.) The factory was huge and spotlessly clean. (Emily noted later that she'd just been reading about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and that one of the things that made it so flammable was that everything, including the workers, was covered with lint. At Fox River each knitting machine had a suction tube that was collecting lint and moving it overhead to an area where it was recycled for stuffing. Green technology and recycling efforts are a big part of the philosophy of the mill.)
Newly knitted sock before it's sucked into a pneumatic tube

Socks await toe-sewing
Hundreds of knitting machines turned out sock after sock, and these were sucked overhead in pneumatic tubes, inspected and sorted. Stacks awaited the workers who readied the socks for the machines that stitched the toes. Enormous laundry facilities took care of the washing and drying and then socks were stretched on sock-shaped forms and put through an iron/steamer to make them flat and tidy. Finally they were folded and fed into a machine that labeled them and inserted the plastic loop on which they hang on store walls. Throughout, giant, wheeled bins held socks awaiting the next step of the process. We also got to see the warehouse and area where they sell socks directly to the public (via their online store). A totally fascinating afternoon.
Emily inspects an older knitting machine

Sock monkey swag
I am a major fan of cozy socks and was fortunate to be given a sample of one of Fox River's light hiking socks and I'm a convert. Not only am I so happy to be able to support an Iowa business, but I'm thrilled that I'll be so very comfortable doing so. I also got a copy of their pattern book and plan to make a sock critter one of these days. I'm thinking a dachshund might be just the thing.

Next post, I'll share some photos of Todd Thelen's sock monkey collection that I photographed for the Etsy post. Lots more good monkeys!

4 comments:

Marsha said...

Glad the two of you had a great road trip! Personally, I was rather disappointed in the frying pan. Somehow I expected more!
Marsha

anne said...

I am LOVING all the sock monkey photos. You are such responsible roadtrippers, making sure the monkey had her seatbelt on for the trip!

Maeve Clark said...

I love the photographs with this story. I guess I always thought the stork delivered sock monkeys to the jungle, but I know I know the truth.

I think you should take others on your road trips.

This is now my favorite Pearl the Squirrel piece, knocking out my previous favorite the Muscatine button factory.

LuckyLou said...

oh, how funny! I thought the sock monkey had passed out in a martini glass after a hard day out!! Thanks for explaining what that tube was~xo~