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The tale of a lovely young girl wickedly abused by the stereotypical witch of a stepmother is one told in various forms in different cultures. Poor stepmoms! They continue to get a bad rap.

It appears that the earliest version lies deep in antiquity with some historians maintaining that a Greek slave girl, Rhodope, so named for her rosy cheeks, and who endured various trials and tribulations until she wed the king of Egypt, is the basis for the numerous Cinderella stories. According to one account of the Rhodope fable, an eagle snatched her sandal as she bathed and it fell into the lap of the aforementioned king, who went quite dilly over it, resolving to find the owner as she was sure to be most beautiful. You can guess the rest.

The enduring themes of all variations are the gorgeous girl of sweet disposition who’s mistreated and unappreciated until suddenly things are put right and she trips off to a life of luxury and ease with a rescuer, usually a prince. Shoes tend to feature, along with dainty feet, rags, ashes, housework and nasty sisters; modern retellings are embellished with magic wands and pumpkins.

My Cinderella had a bad a time of it, like all the classical Cinderellas, and she too finds happiness with a prince of a man, but mine, though uncomplaining like all the others, has a bit more gumption, and in addition is a most accomplished knitter. This is because her poor sainted mother (look, they’re always wonderful mothers in these stories) took the trouble to teach her when Cinderella was very young.

Therapists will tell you this was a good thing for both of them as they bonded very well and Cinderella was able to draw on all her happy memories to sustain her through her terrible situation during the stepma interlude. I do feel however that her male parent must have been quite sorely lacking in that he was either totally unaware of his daughter’s situation or not anxious to do anything about it. Whatever the reason, in my book he was a complete and utter disaster as a caregiver. Anyway, I digress from my story of the motherless, but knitting-empowered Cinderella.

One day, quite early on in the stepfamily relationship while the evil stepma was gritting her pointed little teeth and pretending to be nice to Cinderella who was not yet lumbered with all the chores, she came upon Cinders knitting away at a lovely sock. This impressed her no end for Stephorror and her miserable daughters were all perfectly hopeless at any such dainty arts. Now remember, in those days one could not waltz into a shop and purchase a pair of socks, handknit or otherwise, for the perfectly obvious reason that all articles of clothing had to be made at home by industrious housewives, or if one was lucky, by loving maiden aunties or grannies, or specially ordered from some soul seeking to supplement the family income. Anyway, my point is that Stepmutter, absolutely not slow to seize upon an opportunity, immediately saw the potential in Cinderella’s skills and promptly demanded the finished pair of socks.

Cindy sweetly gave them to her, but of course the ugly stepsisters quarreled most unpleasantly over who was to have them, finally sulking off into separate corners, each clutching a sock, which try as they might, and even allowing for the wondrous elasticity of handknitted socks, they couldn’t possibly tug over their great ugly knobbled feet. But they whinged and they cringed, they snivelled and snorted and generally made themselves even more unpleasant than usual so their doting mama promised they would have socks. She would obtain yarn as soon as she could and Cinderella would knit them socks to fit.

Before long Cinderella was getting stuck with more and more chores, and being not only a very beautiful young woman, but a smart one too, wisely chose not to mention that she had spun the yarn. And on a drop spindle yet, for where would she have been able to find a spinning wheel?

It was something of a bother for the old cow to find someone who was prepared to spin yarn for her, but she managed it and indeed was fortunate enough to find a spinster, who as we all know is an unmarried woman, but probably not all of us know that the unmarried woman in times now fortunately gone by often did the spinning for the household. Anyway, she secured for herself and her miserable offspring a fairly good and steady supply of yarn.

Poor Cinderella now found herself in an even more difficult situation than before, for not only did she have a never-ending work schedule, but knitting, which had previously been such an enjoyable outlet for her, became a burden in that she was forced to use her skills in the service of that horrendously ungrateful trio.

So she cooked and cleaned and polished and mended until she finally could settle down before the fire to work on a pair of stockings for one of the miseries. The spinster meanwhile, also not slow to spot a good thing when she saw one, began to dye her yarns in enticing colours which Stepmonster just couldn’t resist buying.

Time passed, and Cinderella knitted away on socks for the hags, who demanded more and more pairs of the wonderfully patterned ones that her nimble fingers created from the beautifully coloured yarns. She worked late into the night, getting more and more sleep deprived, all the while carefully hoarding the odds and ends of yarns left over. The knitting took on that soothing quality all knitters know. As her fingers flew, her mind raced and her plans grew. She determined, did my feisty Cinderella, that she would run away just as soon as she was able and make her way to a city, there to set up a teensy enterprise knitting gorgeous garments for discerning ladies.

See, her late mama had impressed upon her the need for a woman to have the skills necessary to support herself in the world, and not to be dependent upon a man. In the world in which you and I are fortunate enough to live, there is no question that my heroine would have been a most competent executive woman. She would have worn red power suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes. She’d have jetted about all over the world, sourcing yarns and designs for her multi-million dollar knitwear business, but that time was still far ahead in the future. So, in the absence of any kind of shoes, Cindsy planned and prepared while she turned the knitted heels and grafted the toes of the socks that would greatly improve the appearance of the stepcrowd’s ugly feet.

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Before she could run away, she had to give some thought to suitable clothing, and using the leftover yarns was an obvious place to start. Like all knitters she faced the challenge of how to make the best use of those oddballs, and after careful consideration, she began to cast on stitches for a cardigan. She managed to work on it a little at the end of each long day, content in the knowledge that she would soon set off on her great adventure, until it was done.

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Well, she never actually got to run away. Before long all that stuff you remember, or jolly well should from your childhood, about the great excitement of the ball, the prince and his search for a bride, the fairy godmother (who as far as I am concerned should have shown up a great deal earlier in Cinderella’s young life, though I suppose better late than never) pumpkins, glass slippers, coaches and so on came about.

We’ll fast forward a bit, quite a bit in fact, to find my Cinderella working away happily in her knitting room, in one of the palaces that she and the charming prince occupied at various seasons. With all her tools to hand and every kind of yarn her heart could desire did Cinderella pass her peaceful time. She never got rid of that cardigan. Indeed she kept it with her always as a reminder of how far she had come, even though she now had whole armoires full of the beautiful things she had knitted, very becoming to a beloved, good and kind princess.

It only remains for me to add that the Prince adored her, her mother in law treasured her, and as for her father…well the best I can do for him is that he continues to live with the trio, feeling awfully sorry for himself.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I love it!

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