Playing Beatie Bow’s major symbol is clothing—throughout the novel, clothes symbolize the differences and similarities between people from vastly divergent worlds. Abigail, who enjoys sewing as a hobby and is quite good at it, in fact launches the entire narrative when she acquires a bit of old crochet from a scrap bag at the home of her next-door neighbor, Justine Crown. Abigail is fascinated with the pattern, which depicts Parnassus grass and bears the mysterious initials A.T., and sews it onto a dress she’s been working on as a neckline. While wearing the dress, Abigail runs away from her mother’s shop and follows a “little furry girl” she has seen at the playground, only to find herself trapped in another century—with the little furry girl, Beatie Bow herself. In this way, the dress is the literal bridge between two different worlds and symbolizes the permeability of not just the physical, but also the psychological barrier between them—but it is not the only significant and symbolic piece of clothing in the book.
When Abigail arrives in the past, she is injured in one of Samuel Bow’s ranting episodes, as she collides with him and falls to the ground, twisting her ankle and hitting her head. The Bows take Abigail in, and as she settles into life with them, she hides from them the fact that she comes from the future, instead claiming to be an amnesiac who has lost her way. The Bows dress her in the clothing of their time—scratchy woolen dresses, heavy undergarments, thick stockings, and uncomfortable shoes—and at first Abigail is despondent to be wearing the uncomfortable, unattractive garb. As time passes, though, and as Abigail learns not just to tolerate but to love the Bows, the clothes become second-nature to her; when she returns to her own time, she is wearing the green dress again, but is still in Dovey’s woolen stockings and Granny’s leather shoes. She keeps the two pieces as a keepsake, and a way to remember the world she lived in—and the people she loved—for a strange few months in her fourteenth year.
Clothing symbolizes the possibility of bridging gaps not just in history but in relationships. Clothing brings Abigail into the Bows’ world—literally and physically—but it also forms a point of connection between her, Dovey, Granny, and Beatie, as the four women share, wash, tend, and mend clothing for themselves and for one another. By the same token, clothing is a bargaining chip—Granny and Dovey confiscate Abigail’s green dress upon her arrival and tell her they have burnt it, as it is the way for Abigail to return to her own time. Granny and Dovey know that the crochet yoke is something they have planned to knit but have not yet begun to sew, and also that the initials it bears—A.T.—are Granny’s own. Granny wants Abigail to stay in the past, as she knows that Abigail is the prophesized Stranger who will be instrumental in helping to preserve the Bow family Gift of second sight. Abigail, when she realizes that the garment has not been burnt but merely hidden, begs to have it back and searches the house high and low for it, but ultimately settles into her role with a stubborn grace after Granny promises that as soon as her duty is fulfilled, she will have the dress back. Clothing is the great equalizer in the world of Beatie Bow, and serves to bridge both physical and emotional gaps between many characters as the narrative progresses.
Clothing Quotes in Playing Beatie Bow
“Do you have a good or a bad feeling about him, poor bairn?”
Granny sighed. “I hae no clear feelings any more, Dovey. They're as mixed up as folk in fog.”
“But you've no doubt that this little one here is the Stranger?”
The two women spoke in whispers, but Abigail heard them, for the night was almost silent. There was no sound of traffic except a dray's wheels rolling like distant thunder over the cobbles at the docks. She could hear the waves breaking on the rocks of Dawes Point and Walsh Bay.
“Aye, when I first saw her I had a flash, clear as it was when I was a lass. Poor ill-favoured little yellow herring of a thing. But still, it came to me then, she was the Stranger that would save the Gift for the family.”
Abigail was so indignant at the description of herself that she almost opened her eyes.
“And then there was the gown, forebye. I swear, Granny, I almost fainted when I set eyes on it. The very pattern that we worked out between us!”
“And not a needle lifted to it yet,” said Granny.
“Stay awhile with us,” begged Dovey the next day, “for you're one of the family, Abby, true!”
“No,” said Abigail. “I have to go home; you know that.”
Her green dress looked strange to her; it had been so long since she had seen it. She saw it was not very well made; it was not worthy of the lace-like crochet. Abigail put on the dress. It fitted more tightly across the chest. My figure’s coming at last, she thought. Inside she was cold and without feeling, like a volcano covered with ice.