Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Elephant No. 157: Towel Origami

A couple of months back, my friend Sylvie sent me some photos of towel elephants her friends had seen on a cruise. We both thought they were pretty funny, so I tucked the idea away for this blog.

Although people have been drying themselves off with various types of fabric for millennia, the looped fabric we think of as "towelling" was first produced in Turkey during the eighteenth century A.D. The looping comes to us courtesy of the Ottomans, who adapted their carpet-weaving skills to the production of towels. The first towels with a sparsely looped texture were produced in Bursa in northwestern Turkey during the eighteenth century. Because the towels were handwoven, production was limited to only three or four towels a day.

Originally known as `havly` or `havlu`—the Turkish word for "towel"—these early towels were usually intended for brides. Heavily embroidered and fringed, they were part of a ceremonial bath taken before the wedding, then kept in the family to be used on other important occasions.

Embroidered Turkish towel, nineteenth century.

As many of you know by now, I don't like origami—but only because I'm no good at it. I was hoping that folding towels would be much easier. Since I'm excellent at folding my towels into persnickety and precise thirds for the linen cupboard, towel origami might be a better fit for me than paper origami.

I had assumed, when Sylvie sent me the photos, that I would have to figure this out for myself. But, lo and behold, there are several online tutorials for elephants. This is the one I used, but there are many others, including a number of videos.

Instead of using a full-sized bath towel and hand towel as the directions suggest, I bought a smallish bath towel and facecloths instead. I couldn't find anything in grey, so I bought a sort of taupe colour, which could be construed as the colour of a muddy African elephant.

Looking at the instructions, I saw that I would need something less square than a facecloth, so I pinned two of them together before getting started.

I followed the instructions closely, but they're very simple. First, I folded part of the bath/hand towel down about six inches.

 Next, I folded it over again the same amount.

 I did the same from the other side, so that the folds met in the middle.

Next, I started rolling in the sides.

I then rolled from the opposite side until I had two equal rolls that met at the centre.

I then folded this so that the rolls faced outwards. This forms the elephant's legs and body. It helps at this point to place the legs on a towel or other slightly textured surface, to keep them from unfolding and collapsing. It took me a few minutes to realize why the thing kept falling apart, but once I put it on a towel it was quite solid.

Taking my pinned-together facecloths, I began making the head. I started by making a fold that began at the centre line.

From there, I rolled in a cone shape towards the centre.

I did the same from the other side, to create the basic head shape.

This is what it looks like from the side:

Rather than place the head on the body right away, I held the trunk in my hand and fiddled with the "ears" first. I pulled them out and opened them up a bit until I thought they looked as much like ears as they were likely to get, then placed the head on top of the body at an angle that I thought gave it a bit of personality. Well, as much personality as towels can have.

This was obviously very easy, and the final result is kind of cute. Our house is too small to take many overnight guests, but if we ever have someone stay over, I'll do my best to have one of these waiting for them.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In 2006, a story was written in the magazine The Hindu about 79-year-old Abraham Thomas of Kerala. A lawyer by profession, at the age of 72 Thomas had decided to turn his 60-hectare (150-acre) rubber plantation into a burial ground for elephants. At the time of the article, Thomas already had 47 elephant graves on the plantation, along with seven live elephants he kept as companions.

Each of the graves was marked by a stone tablet, inscribed with the name of the elephant, its age, and how and when it died. Originally Thomas buried the elephants for free, despite the fact that burying the elephants required a backhoe, and a pit measuring 78 cubic metres (2,744 cubic feet). Eventually he began charging for the service, largely because mourners and their entourage expected Thomas to provide food and drink. At the time of the article, Thomas was charging only the value of the land on which the elephant was buried, which worked out to about R.15,000 (a little under $300 U.S. at today's exchange rates).

Grave markers in Abraham Thomas's elephant
graveyard, Palakunnam, Kerala, 2006.

Before Thomas buried a deceased elephant, its tusks were removed and given to the owner, but only if the owner wished to pay for this service. Last rites were carried out according to the wishes of the elephant's owner. The grave marker was added later at Thomas's expense.

According to the reporter who covered the story, Thomas could remember each and every burial, and noted that only two people had ever come back to visit the graves of their elephants. Thomas had already picked out his own gravesite in the midst of the elephant graveyard. He had even written his epitaph, which describes him as ottoyan, meaning "rogue elephant".

Abraham Thomas and one of his elephants,
Kerala, 2006.

Elephant's World (Thailand)

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