I’m a big fan of traditions, as long as they are positive. For example, an institutional tradition of not hiring women? Not a fan. A Russian tradition of long and elaborate toasts? Love it! And so on. I especially like forging traditions, with friends, with family, with myself. As long as traditions can be fluid, as long as they can be explained, they work for me. If you can elucidate the tradition, it becomes exclusive, rather than inclusive, it doesn’t bring people in, it shuts people out.
The most infuriating thing about India (among the thousand and one infuriating things about India) is the way people are comfortable explaining their behavior with the phrase “this is what we have always done”. The positive of this is of course a link with history, that is, “people have been doing this for hundreds of years, isn’t that great?”. The negative is when it comes as a way to block innovation, or when you are trying to understand what’s going on and you are met with a firm “just because”. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. Tradition can represent stagnation, inertia, a dogmatic mentality that values sameness over new evolving needs. But it can also be a sign of valuing what has come before, appreciating that while many things change, what we hold dear doesn’t always have to. Traditions are ours to make, and maintain,
All this is to say, I made another dress with elephants on it, and I think this is now my newest best tradition. As you may or may not recall, I made a dress with elephants on it two years ago (and if you want to see a bunch of adorable elephant videos I advise you click that link and see them on my post). One of the BEST things about India is the elephants. Gentler than their African cousins (who are also amazing), the Indian elephant is less aggressive in its adulthood, which means that elephants are used in farming and as transportation. This is not always great, in fact, it’s rarely great at all, despite being a centuries old Indian tradition (there it is again). But there are places that pack elephants are rescued, taken care of and loved, and there are many places where elephants roam wild, following the paths bisecting the subcontinent that their mothers and mother’s mother’s forged before them (elephants themselves enjoy traditions, hence the saying “elephants never forget”). They color the national imagination of India making their way into images from every age and kingdom. In Rajasthan they adorn every palace, in Maharashtra you seem them in the ancient Buddhist site Elephanta (it’s right there in the name!), along with the tiger they sit proudly rupee notes, so you can have elephants with you everywhere you go.
They even make elephants out of women here! It’s an amazing place.
We got to visit Elephantastic in December, a place where you can hang out with rescue elephants and be really happy. My family collectively kvelled and what’s-his-face did not understand why we were so happy. I’m telling you, elephants are wasted on this country. People here are too used to them. It’s like, huh, right, an elephant, just like always. When do traditions just become commonplace things? How do you get to see this all the time and not be in a constant state of joy?
We even got to paint the elephants with non-toxic safe-for-elephants paint. My brother did this one. Miniature Matisse, am I right? What’s-his-face just played with his phone.
I know, right? WHAAAAAT? How you gonna play on your phone when there are elephants around!
I love elephants. There are many foundations where you can contribute to their preservation and care and I would if I were you (and do, because I am me.) So I think my new yearly elephant dress tradition is going to be a positive tradition for me. And I’m not doing it because this is what I’ve always done, despite being in India, a place where that is a thing. I’m doing it because why not?
Well. I guess that could be a reason….
Well, never mind. To the dress!
This was my first iteration of McCall’s 7351, the one I made pretty much straight from the packet (and realized I needed to take in the waist for future makes, hence the belt). Or at least, the bodice is unaltered. The skirt is just a pleated skirt all the way around, making it fuller than the original pattern version(s).
I have actually already blogged version number 2, so I’m all out-of-order with this thing.
There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the dress with elephants on it that I made in the US two years ago looks so Indian, but the fabric was sourced in Philadelphia, and this dress, whose fabric I bought here in Mumbai, looks so…not.
The fabric reminds me of this J Crew fabric I saw years ago in a pair of shorts:
And yet I bought it at Mangaldas Market, a supremely Indian place. Whatcha gonna do?
Here I am with my own little elephant-like creature. People here cannot get over how large Cadfael is. I really hope he doesn’t feel they are body shaming him. It’s really hard being a cat-parent these days…
Come to think of it, that belt might actually BE from J Crew….wow. The details of the dress might be a little obscured by elephants but…who cares. Elephants.
I did cut the front placket thing against the grain to give it a little variety, as you can see, elephants are climbing up and down my body even as they walk side to side. The buttons are a white shell button I bought here, and that’s it for notions, I think. I used white thread for contrast and machine stitched the hem because sometimes that’s how life works.
A little side view. The pockets are invisible between being in-seam and being all elephant inundated so that’s fun. This pocket is, I will say, much better than the pockets of my trusty McCalls 6696, and by better I mean deeper and more smartphone friendly. So yeah. Better. I would very much do a full bicep adjustment next time (thanks, lovely people who responded to my last post on this pattern!) so the sleeves fit a little better, but otherwise I think it’s a nice fit.
A little back view for you. That sure…looks like my back. You can’t really see the little pleat at the back but it’s there, I tell you!
I had put waist darts in my second version, which I like, but the loose comfort of this one is nice, and as you can see, I can always belt it!
I love my elephants. I would wear them forever. And now I can! Not just every summer! Yes, this seems like the start of a beautiful tradition.
Annual Elephants for all!