Thursday, 16 January 2014

Elephant No. 85: Tea Cozy

This year's challenge in my fibre arts guild was tea cozies. Although I'm a tea drinker, I usually make it by the cup, so tea cozies are not really my thing. You have to admit, however, that a teapot does bear a certain resemblance to an elephant, so this particular challenge seemed tailor-made for me.

I was going to use a pattern for this, but the only elephant tea-cozy pattern I found wasn't quite what I wanted. So I decided to wing it. I'm not the kind of person who whips off fantastically clever knitted things without a pattern, but I figured I could probably manage some kind of rounded shape, a trunk, some ears and a tail.

I planned to "full" or felt the elephant components in my washing machine, so I needed yarn that was 100% wool and/or other animal fibre. I had some yarn from a stash exchange that looked like it might work. Unfortunately, it had no label, so I burned a bit to test it. According to a study I found online, if a fibre "flames up then snuffs itself out quickly, leaving a small, easily crushed bead of carbon," it's wool. Okey dokey, then.

I wanted a smallish elephant, so I chose the second-smallest teapot we have.

These were the pieces I knitted. I used large (7.5 mm) needles to make everything spacey enough to allow for shrinkage. I added a green party hat to the mix, as I wanted to end up with a party elephant.

I tossed everything into my top-loading washing machine, and ran it through a long cycle with hot water, a bit of laundry soap, and lots of agitation. Then I did it again. And again. And again. Actually, I lost count of how many cycles it took. I began to loathe this project.

Eventually I ended up with pieces I could live with. The yarn turned surprisingly fluffy and shed like a Persian cat, but there was no way I was going to knit everything again, so I made the best of it.

I stitched the grey parts together, then needlefelted a few details onto the elephant, including an eye, a black tip to the tail, some pink inside the ears, and the all-important pink toenails. (I know at least two people who will agree about the toenails.)

At this point, it looked to me a bit like a mutant mouse or a jerboa, but I didn't really see how the shape would accommodate something more elephant-like, so this was going to have to do.

Sadly, the green hat I'd knitted was far too big. I tried needlefelting it to make it smaller. That didn't work, so I cut it apart and tried to sew it back together, but it looked weird. So I decided to needlefelt a new one. I also needlefelted a little blue bird to perch on top.

In addition to a party hat, I needlefelted a party blowout. I was crazy enough to make this as a flat strip, then decorate it, roll it and add a mouthpiece.

Finally, I made a pair of balloons that I wired around the elephant's tail. I like to make my needlefelting things free of anything but wool, so the balloons needed to be a bit on the small side, or they'd droop on the wire. The size kind of bugged me—but not enough to start over with a piece of styrofoam on the inside.

I still think it looks like a mouse or some other kind of rodent, but I don't hate it. However, if I were ever to do this again (and we won't hold our breath), I would probably choose a different type of teapot, or a more conventional half-moon tea cozy shape.

Still, as an anti-tea-cozy tea cozy, this works for me. And in the end, it's kind of cute.

Elephant Lore of the Day
On March 24, 1939, an elephant was welcomed into the Robur Tea Room for a special tea party. Sadly, there are no details on what prompted the owners to invite an elephant to tea, nor has the name of the elephant been recorded for posterity.

Young elephant from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia entering the
Robur Tea Room for the Elephant's Tea Party, March 24, 1939.
Photo: Sam Hood
Collection of the State Library of NSW

After doing a bit of online research, however, I think this might be Sarina, who was somewhere between six and nine years old in 1939. According to a newspaper article printed that year, Sarina was about six and a half feet tall, which would make her just about the right size to fit through the tearoom door. Her fellow elephants at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney—Jumbo, Jessie and the famous Queenie—were all much older and larger at the time.

Young elephant enjoying a large cup of tea, Robur Tea Room,
Sydney Australia—March 24, 1939.
Photo: Sam Hood
Collection of the State Library of NSW

If this is indeed Sarina, she is arrived at the Taronga Zoo in either 1936 or 1938, and is thought to have been born on the island of Singapore. Caught in the wild, she was apparently sent to Thailand (then known as Siam), later ending up at the Taronga Zoo. She died in 1971 of unrecorded causes.

Young elephant at the Robur Tea Room, Sydney, Australia—March 24, 1939.
Photo: Sam Hood
Collection of the State Library of NSW

To Support Elephant Welfare

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