Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Becoming Mrs. Tiggy Winkle

Teacher, mom, knitter.  These roles certainly don’t conjure up images of physical fitness and glamour.  Rather, as the years have gone by and I’ve expanded both my girth and understanding of little bits of life, I find that I’ve all too easily transfigured from a style-obsessed thin young woman to someone who favors cozy cups of tea accompanied by the pleasures of a knitting bag and warm fire.  Especially in the cold months, I find myself slowly turning into Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, Beatrix Potter’s tidy washerwoman hedgehog whose matronly figure attests to a love of yummy cakes and cozy domesticity.

I haven’t found any pictures of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle knitting, but I’m sure that she did.  In fact, Potter based her character upon her own family’s Scottish washerwoman, Kitty MacDonald, whom author Leslie Linder describes as “very independent, proud and proper” and who spoke of "the broom of the Cowden Knowes", the sun and wind on the hills where she played, and knitted, and herded cattle and sheep. A bonny life it was. . . .”

MacDonald, in real life, and Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, in fiction, never had to struggle with living up to society’s standards of midlife style or anorexic beauty.  They didn’t watch television shows where functional, well-built homes were gutted and redone with the cookie-cutter sameness of sleek modern furniture or where women found themselves faced with family and friends and a panel of experts accused of the crime of unstylishness, of retaining hairdos and shoes reminiscent of bygone eras.  Macdonald and Tiggy Winkle didn’t have New Jersey housewives or the Kardashians as style mongers who urged them in not-so-subtle ways to stay in the game of being chic and slim.    

This holiday season, in the midst of anticipating baking holiday treats and knitting by the fire, I was faced with a style crisis—the cold shower of the social occasion of my niece’s elegant evening wedding.  As I contemplated this event that would be held in the champagne cellar of the Biltmore House, I came to the realization that, yes, I had become Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.  Two days before the wedding I tried on a dress I’d planned to wear and saw I looked like a sausage stuffed into its casing.  (I’d been so proud of this dress, too—a plain black sheath I’d bought at Goodwill for a mere four or five dollars.)  I’d been so busy knitting up Christmas gifts, enjoying running around to yarn shops, and making certain that my two boys had all the requisite neckties, socks, etc. for this event during the few days I had off from school before the wedding, that I’d neglected to try on the dress again or see about attending to my other style needs, such as hair and make-up. 

Needless to say I was in as bad a need of a makeover as was Susan Boyle in her pre-fame days, so, several hundred dollars and a tank of gas later, I had new shockingly expensive face cream, an “Assets” shaper, lace-trimmed dress, sparkly heels, and new vibrant red hair color.  The process of self-transformation was exhausting, but boosted my self-esteem for socializing at the wedding and made for photos that wouldn't be embarrassing. 

The day after the wedding, however, when I woke up in Asheville in a post-party haze, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a big sweater and left the family in the motel room.  I did not bother to put on make-up.  Driving through downtown, I eagerly anticipated my trip to “Yarn Paradise” in the Biltmore Village.  There, I purchased a booklet which was on sale from “Filatura di Crosa” because one sweater in it caught my eye.  It has a high collar, three-quarter sleeves, and a lace yoke.  It is fitted and stylish and a far cry from the squirrel decorated cardigan whose pattern and recently obtained yarn waited for me in my closet at home while I shopped in Asheville.  I’m not certain what style fairies inspired this pattern purchase, banishing the loose patterns favored by Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.  Perhaps it was these same fairies who gave me the motivation to actually go running (well, very slow jogging with longer intervals of walking) a couple of times when I returned home to the Charlotte area.  (Of course, the digital images of me looking a little too voluptuous in my new dress at the wedding might have served as inspiration for exercise as well.)    
Here's a picture of the sweater.  You can purchase this pattern
 in the "Holiday Booklet" available at Yarnmarket.com.

Along with new attempts to exercise, I am certain that whether I spend my free time during the next month or so knitting the stylish Italian sweater or my cozy squirrel cardigan, I will find pleasurable hours.  Perhaps there is room for Mrs. Tiggy Winkle and high fashion in my life, although in the course of stressful, modern, day-to-day existence, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s is certainly an easier, more comforting role to embrace.  


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