“Old Ella Mason keeps cats, eleven at last count / In her ramshackle house off Somerset Terrace…”
Like the children from the poem, let’s take a peek into the house filled with Ella Mason’s eleven cats! I wonder what they’re doing today.
Except, what’s that? They’re made out of… paper?
These two origami cats look like they are lounging on a colorful crocheted antimacassar
Uh oh, it seems these ones got themselves up onto the kitchen cupboard shelves again
These two cats look like they are waiting for something else to go with their saucer of cream
These guys are looking out of the window, maybe they are wondering why there are kids spying in
It looks like this one is guarding all of the toys for herself, but the other is content with their catnip
Whoa, eleven cats all tucked in! Do you think something’s addled in a woman who has this many cats?
Hello to whoever happens to be here a day before the semester ends! This is my third and final project for this course, an arts and crafts-esque project based on Sylvia Plath’s “Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats”. I really enjoyed this poem for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was really interesting to me that the “crazy cat lady” archetype has been around for longer than I thought and I can imagine people I’ve met in the current day who fall into the same descriptions. Secondly, because there are so many different ways to interpret this poem and break down lines to reflect themes of marriage, femininity, queerness, societal stereotypes, social suicide, loneliness, freedom, and more. And thirdly because I’m a sucker for cats.
I chose origami because I started to get into learning different origami patterns last year as something to do in my free time, because I always feel like I need to be fiddling with something in my hands if I’m sitting still for too long, so I figured picking up things like crochet or origami would be pretty cool. I haven’t done it in a while though with how busy I’ve been with school. This past month of the semester has been really overwhelming academically, like I know it has been for a lot of us, and saying that I feel burnout seems like an understatement at this point. Almost all of my finals for this week have been long research papers or huge presentations, so when brainstorming projects to wrap up this class, origami seemed like a good thing to do that would be fun and creative while also not too intense.
For the cats, each one is two sheets of paper, so it ended up being twenty-two pieces of folded paper total. I decided that even though they don’t look like real cats or anything, I would rather use fur patterned paper as opposed to bright colored ones. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t really have a booklet with specifically housecat fur patterns, so I had to use jungle cat and animal furs, and it works well enough. As for where I posed and photographed them, I wanted to put them in places that a normal cat could be found, while also trying to reference them back to lines from Plath’s original poem. The captions are just simple one-sentence things, but if you remember the poem, you can see that what they’re doing ties back to some direct imagery from it!
The first picture has the cats laying on a crocheted blanket. This is to reference the line talking about the cats lounging “on antimacassars”. Now, I have to be honest, I did not know what that was at first and had to look it up. When I did though, I found out I actually had one at my house thrown over the back of the living room couch! For the second picture, I posed three cats poking out some shelves of the cupboards in my kitchen. This was a reference to a similar spot as the previous, Plath saying on “table-top, cupboard shelf, cats lounged brazen”. For the third set of paper cats, they are on the kitchen table with a saucer of cream. I posed this one based on two different lines, the first mentioning “in her kitchen paved with saucers” and the second “with cream and chicken-gut feasting the palates”. So the caption saying they might want something to go with their cream, I was referring to the chicken-guts, which I didn’t have.
The paper cats hanging out on the window are from a couple of things. Dr. Helms was throwing out some examples of normal cat things, such as sitting on the window, so I did that. I also thought about how in the poem the kids “peered agog through the cobwebbed door” and pretended in the caption maybe these cats could see them. With the duo of cats playing in the toys, that one was mostly just because it is a very typical cat thing and I thought it was cute. The poem mentions the cats being “stentorian” and “finical” and I thought about how a lot of cats I’ve encountered with those traits like to play a lot too. And then there is the final picture, all of the cats under a small blanket. Even though the origami cats are pretty small, I wanted to try to use this one to emphasize the crowdedness and just how many there were altogether, like in the poem. The caption references a line from the Plath saying “something’s addled in a woman who accommodates that many cats.” I guess I just wanted to ask the audience, do you agree someone must be crazy to have this many cats?
Plath, Sylvia. “Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=27376.
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6 thoughts on “Eleven Cats (Origami Edition)”
I’m! So fucking delighted! Your project reads like a picture book, like one of those things that grandparents make when they babysit for any long period of time (but with cats, so obviously better), and I’m losing my damn mind over how cute it is! Your reflection is equally delightful. I also really enjoy origami because I need a quiet fidget to pay attention to, which this activity is perfect for, and I’m experiencing burnout to the point of “I’m 90% sure I’m not passing one of my classes, but am too mentally exhausted to check”, so I absolutely get it on all fronts here. In reference to your last question, my mother-in-law has a clowder of cats of her own (somewhere around 14 at last count), but she’s far from “crazy.” She certainly prefers their company over that of people, and loves them all, but she’s more stable than I am, and I don’t have a single cat (just my own anxiety that I named and keep as a terrible little pet, a cross between a literal daemon and a marimo ball, really). Have an amazing summer, and, again, delightful project!
Wow this was really sweet, thank you so much ;-; I didn’t think anyone was going to read this blog, let alone comment, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this. I also don’t think that cat lady necessarily means crazy! My grandmother had several cats while I was growing up, she was always taking in those that were abandoned, and she is one of the most mentally stable and intelligent people I know, with so much clarity about life that I can only hope to have one day (I love your comparison of your anxiety being like a pet, I never thought of naming mine lol). And I relate to you 100000% about the burnout and mental exhaustion! It sucks but also feels a little relieving to know we aren’t the only ones feeling like this. Sending you good wishes and a great summer too! <3
This is absolutely lovely lol. Just the type of thing I needed having just sprinted to the finish line here. The origami is so cool, and I love your reflection as well. Not to piggyback off the top comment too much, but it does absolutely remind me of those picture books with the pop up cutouts and stuff. Also your origami is really good?? Like I’m no expert but the closest I can do this is making a paper airplane, so this kinda blew my mind lol. I also appreciated your little reflection on taking this as third project and making it a sort of fun and relaxed affair. I know that doing that can sort of feel like a cop out some times, but this is a genuinely fun and valuable project, and it stands as a testament to the unessay model and its usefulness. Now I’m just waffling on about education stuff, but yeah, great work! It’s been a pleasure, and good luck as you wrap up finals!
Thank you so much! I love the idea of this being like a picturebook, and I appreciate that you read my reflection as well. This project actually did feel a bit like a cop out, especially because these origami folds are actually more on the basic side haha. You should look up other origami cats, there are some really crazy intricate ones! I’m glad you liked mine though and its use as a unessay, it makes me feel good doing this as a final project. Good luck with your finals as well, and I hope you have a great summer!
I’ve always wondered how difficult origami was, and wasn’t expecting to see this as an actual project for an assignment. I like your creativity in response to this particular reading. How long did it take to make the pieces ? did you know how to create the folds and shapes before hand or did you have to study up on particular shapes to take something that shared a resemblance to the texts ? Overall I was very impressed by what you’ve created. Awesome Job !
I’m a beginner at origami but I know some of the basic folds! I already knew how to make the cat head from when I was younger, and as for the bodies, I had forgotten so I just improvised until I found a few that worked and kept doing those. All in all it took me a couple hours to do all the folds and put everything together? I’m glad you liked it!