From the Blog

Interview With A Monster Maker

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We have monsters in our house. They came home with us from the Oregon State Fair, but they were born in SE Portland, where there is a full-on Monster Den. Did you know? Did you know there are monsters in SE Portland? Our uber crafty friend Lise makes them. We love our monsters, and I asked Lise about how she makes them. (hint: good holiday gifts for adults and kids who are not easily freaked out.)

When did you discover there were monsters in your sock drawer?

Chris, my Husband, and the Studio Photographer, and Web King for La Société, gave me John Murphy’s book and kit Stupid Sock Creatures for Christmas four years ago. It took me almost another year when a friend and I started getting together for regular craft nights before I tried making a monster, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The kit came with two pairs of socks and some buttons, but since I’ve always liked funky socks and interesting buttons, I had plenty of material on hand to fuel my growing obsession with monster-making.

Stupid Sock Creatures is an excellent, clearly illustrated and explained introduction to creature making. About a year before I started making monsters I started taking sewing classes. Sewing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned. It’s the upside down, inside out, and backwards way things usually are constructed that makes it harder than a lot of other arts or crafts I’ve tried. It involves two things that add to the difficulty (for me, anyway): Math and the fact fabric is not cheap and even when it is there’s a perception that it is precious and shouldn’t be ruined or wasted.

The rule “measure twice, cut once” has a very practical reason for being, but that caution can get in the way of creativity, growth, and having fun as an artist. Every time you cut something, you’re committing, and commitment can be scary, but it’s better to ruin something every now and then than it is to get stuck in a rut. At least if you try, you will learn something.

How do you plan out making a monster? Do you think in colors, shapes or textures? Or do they “create” themselves?

I don’t work from a pattern. I create each monster as I go. Sometimes I look at a sock and have an instant idea where I want to go with it. Other times I start sewing tiny scraps of fabric that I like together in ways that interest me. Only after I’ve got several all put together do I even start to know if there’s a personality coming into being. I’m frequently working on several monsters at a time. When I’m not sure where to go with one, I’ll take a break and work on another one.

Color is probably the first factor that affects my decisions. If I like two colors together, I’m likely to try to find a way to create a monster out of that combination. Textures have a way of suggesting certain directions, too. Several times, I’ve turned socks inside out because the texture felt really monster-like, fuzzy, or fluffy, or bumpy. Shape is an interesting thing too, since with shape, especially, you really are exploring the issue of monstrosity. Asymmetricality can be disturbing, as can unusual proportions. I like that my monsters are all different from one another in all these various ways.

How long does a monster typically take to make?

The short answer is between 6 and 12 hours. Sometimes I have a really clear vision of what a particular monster will become and those monsters usually take less time to make, especially if he or she is not complicated, doesn’t have a ton of arms or horns or fiddly bits like antennae, toes, claws, etc…. or complicated textures that involve appliqué or embroidery.

The simpler they are the shorter it takes, but even with the smaller, simpler monsters, I spend a lot of time deciding on each element of the design, trying different buttons for eyes for example, or changing the expression of the mouth, or the amount of stuffing. I’ll keep trying, doing and undoing the work until I like where it’s headed. All the little details really affect a monster’s demeanor and expression and the character that I’m starting to see develop. I really like incorporating mistakes and surprises though, so it’s not that I have a clear concept and don’t deviate from it.

Sometimes I realize that I’m always working from the head down, that the legs are the last decisions I make, and that that is limiting what I can do. I’ll turn the whole monster upside down and see if it’s better that way, or I’ll just start cutting or I’ll add a piece of fabric somewhere without knowing what it will become or if I’ll like it.

What do monsters eat for breakfast?

Monsters are like people in that no two monsters like exactly the same thing for breakfast. Most monsters agree, though, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

It’s can get crazy in the clubhouse kitchen during breakfast time, which begins with the early risers at about 5:30am. By 11:00 am, the late risers have mostly finished up. The Den Mother is hard-pressed to keep the pantry stocked with the many foods monsters enjoy, but she is adamant about one thing: unless they eat the oatmeal she serves at 7:00am, Monsters are responsible for making—and cleaning up!—their own breakfasts.

You’re a pretty crafty chick. What other projects tickle your fancy pants?

Wow. There are so many things I want to make and forms of creativity I’d like to try, from making my own clothes to learning how to cook better. One project I’d really like to tackle in the near future is developing some of my doodles into fabric designs and printing them on yardage for my own sewing projects or for other apparel or home dec designers. I have story ideas for children’s books I’d like to illustrate, paintings I want to make. I really enjoy painting, and would love to explore that further. In terms of the monsters, I have so many ideas for projects with them! Hopefully soon I’ll be producing some videos of their shenanigans.

A cheap ass genie pops out of a bottle with ONE wish (not three, because he’s cheap), What do you wish for?

Aside from the obvious things: world peace, an end to famine, etc.., if I were to choose a purely personal wish it would be Chris being able to have time and space to do his creative projects. He’s been so supportive of me and my artistic goals, and I would love to watch him flourish as an artist. I grew up in an environment very friendly to art as a profession. Chris did not. I just wish I could give that to him.

Where to find out more?

Monsters live at La Société des Monstres Célèbres. Monsters also tweet: @societemonstres. They get chatty on Facebook, and post on flickr.

Come say hi!


  1. Thank you, Heather! Monsters are so proud to be featured on Mile73. They feel more célèbres than ever!

  2. precious!

  3. Lise, I love reading about your process of creating the monsters to whom you are essentially giving birth. They are wonderful – fun, funny, silly, poignant, so human. We enjoyed being at open mic last nigh and seeing all of you! : )

  4. Wonderful to see Les Monstres getting more recognition. Me & my Sock Pets are definitely Monstres Fans and love to read about them and their lives.
    Fun to read about how a new Monstre comes into being. And the photos are fab!

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