Towers and turrets are frequently a feature of medieval buildings in Europe, but particularly striking are those on castles situated high on hills and mountains from which fortifications the occupants attempted to defend themselves against the various attackers who made life rather difficult back then. Many of these remain intact, some still being occupied by the descendants of those who first built them, who live in splendour surrounded by the trappings of their illustrious family histories; many former strongholds are reduced to romantic ruins whose history may or may not now be known.
These centuries-old castles which were constantly being enlarged to accommodate all those who lived within their walls as well as the lesser folk, the serfs, who toiled to provide the food and goods required, certainly capture the imagination and it’s easy to see why stories abound of deeds daring and dastardly, of noble knights and pretty princesses, of loyalty and treachery, not to mention exploits in towers.
Prominent among these is of course Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower. The fairytale version of this was popularised by the Brothers Grimm and is known to most people, though the story upon which it is based is considerably older. The witch is described in some interpretations as wicked, but in others she is depicted as kind and loving towards Rapunzel who lets down her magnificent long hair, depending on which account you read, for the witch to climb up to the tower, or the fabulously handsome prince.
Well, I thought about this and I sure wouldn’t be letting my hair down for someone to yank themselves up on. So I’ve written my own Rapunzel story, about a witch warmly disposed towards a Rapunzel who wasn’t quite such a ninny. My witch would do anything for Rapunzel other than let her go, so witchy was delighted when Rapunzel asked for a spinning wheel with which she might pass her not inconsiderable time. Spinning wheels seem prominent in fairytales about princesses and princes and towers and having a good long sleep, but I digress.
Rapunzel got her spinning wheel and I’d rather not think how it was brought into the tower, but then asked for fleece which she cleaned, carded and combed before spinning a lovely yarn, soft but strong, rather like a good Australian merino, though she did not of course have anything to compare hers to. The witch would have brought her fleece from a local sheep and I sure can’t tell you what that might have been, for I doubt witchy knew much about the properties of fleece. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, Rapunzel would have gone for a merino if she’d had any say in the matter.
Actually, ‘Punzel was quite an accomplished spinner and soon turned out a large quantity of yarn. Well, as all spinners know, she wasn’t content to leave it at that but soon had the urge to dye it herself into some luscious color, and being a cheerful soul in spite of her rather limited existence, she opted for one of the reds. A crimson, or a scarlet would do very nicely, she thought and so she sweetly asked the witch to bring her some berries, or roots, or twigs or leaves or whatever it was that a witch of that period and in that particular region might be able to procure for the production of a good natural dye.
The witch, because she really was very fond of the industrious little Rapunzel, did a fine job of gathering dyestuffs and equipment, even helping Rapunzel tie up her skeins and organize her dyepot before she left to do whatever it was she did when she wasn’t visiting the tower. Rapunzel busied herself immediately with her task, being driven as she was by her desire for beautiful red yarn, now greatly intensified after all she’d been through to get it, what with hauling the old girl up and down so many times on her hair.
And then it was done and Rapunzel was totally delighted with the result, even though life in the tower became a tad more cramped due to her having to weave her way among the luscious skeins drying overhead.
When next the witch clambered up to the tower, Rapunzel requested knitting needles and instructed her not to be stingy with them, but rather to bring several different types and sizes so that she could make gauge swatches. Look, Rapunzel might have lived in a tower but she was no knitting dummy. Now I could devote pages to her efforts with the gauge swatches but it isn’t necessary as we knitters know what’s involved, so suffice it to say she was happy with the results and got started as fast as possible on her project, which was going to be a scarf.
Rapunzel, being a product of her medieval time did not have access to all the knitting stitch dictionaries we do, but she was a resourceful lass and created a stitch to suit her purpose. She wanted her scarf to lie flat and be reversible, she wanted her stitch pattern to be a very simple repeat, and in short she created what we today would call a seed or a moss stitch. And every day for many an hour she worked away at knit one, purl one, alternating on every row, and chanting sweetly “He loves me, he loves me not,” as a way of maintaining her rhythm.
The scarf grew and grew and witchy was delighted that her darling was so happy in her little hobby. Finally it was finished, a long and lovely thing but Raps was not yet satisfied and asked the witch to bring her some beads and baubles as she had a bit of a mind to embellish it. Witchy brought a super collection of beads, some of which Rapunzel selected to apply to her wonderful scarf, so that it became truly a thing of great beauty, dazzling in color and sparkling enticingly whenever the sun’s rays fell through the narrow windows of her high tower.
The day came when Rapunzel was finally satisfied with it, and she stationed herself at the window which afforded her a most excellent view of the forest, for as I have already mentioned, she may have been limited in her opportunities but she was nobody’s fool, and had been scoping out her surroundings for some time. Soon the stunningly handsome prince of the realm came trotting by on his gorgeous white steed, just as these useful princes do in many a good fairy tale, clad in doublet, hose and feathered hat, chirping tunelessly away to his badly played mandolin.
Rapunzel, having secured one end of the scarf firmly to the leg of her very heavy iron bed, flung the other end out of the window and watched as it tumbled in a glorious flash of color to the ground. The prince was greatly amazed, but to his credit grasped both the situation and the end of the scarf immediately, and being quite athletic, as well as very kind and awfully rich, was in the tower in a heartbeat.
Well, it’s obviously all going to end very happily for Rapunzel though the witch won’t be too thrilled. Our Rapunzel was a young woman well ahead of her time, so the prince had to get used to the idea that Rappie was going to do her thing, rather than the typical princessy thing, which meant of course that she would spend her days knitting away while being waited upon hand and foot.
FOOTNOTE: Like Rapunzel, I wanted a cheery crimson scarf, but unlike Rapunzel I wasn’t going to knit umpteen yards of it as I haven’t as yet had any need to facilitate the entry of a prince to my high window, so I settled for a small cowl. The yarn is indeed a merino, purchased pre-spun in the natural colour, which I dyed using two dyes – a red and a fuschia. Seed stitch, in the round, gazing at the TV and not out of a tower, a cat or two on my lap… and here it is.
I love it!