Making Magic


Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, ca. 1889

Can you spin straw into gold?

What? You say that’s ridiculous, it only happens in fairy tales? And with the help of creepy little elves?

I beg to differ.

We probably all know the story of Rumpelstiltskin. The young woman in the story is tasked with the seemingly impossible, the magical—she is told to spin straw into gold. But that doesn’t happen in real life.

And yet this morning, as I took plain, pale ingredients and cooked them into the molten gold of caramel, it occurred to me that spinning straw into gold is a metaphor for the creating we do with our hands at home.

When the spinner takes flax (really, isn’t that basically straw?) and, in her hands, it becomes finest linen, that’s magic being made.

When the weaver or knitter takes string and manipulates it into rich tweed or an Aran sweater, that’s magic being made.

When the woodworker or the quilter or the cook takes bits and pieces, plain and unlovely, and transforms them into something as valuable as gold, magic is made.

The magic comes from making something useful from the useless, something beautiful from the plain, something special from the quotidian.

There was a time when people made this magic almost routinely, and out of necessity. If one wanted cloth, one likely needed to spin and weave it. If one wanted food, one cooked. If one wanted most anything, they made it. It was a do-it-yourself world.

Today we don’t NEED to make much of anything. We can buy so much, so easily and so cheaply, often for far less than we could make it ourselves.

And, yet, all indicators suggest that, for many of us, we don’t care if we can buy it. We want to make it. We want to do it ourselves.

Why would someone in the 21st century spin her own wool? Bake his own bread? Build their own bookcase? I think the answer is that we believe in magic and we want to participate in the magic, to create the magic in our own world.

Because when we make something with our own hands, we don’t just transform the ingredients into something different, we transform ourselves.

We re-make ourselves from consumers—dependent on others for what we eat, wear, and use in our homes—into makers—competent, creative, individual.

And if that isn’t magic, my friend, I don’t know what is. It’s time to get busy—go spin some straw into gold.



39 thoughts on “Making Magic

  1. You have woven more than a little magic your self with this perfect post! You have brought into focus the pure alchemy of any creative process.
    Like you and many other of your followers, making things is second nature and any other way would just feel wrong. I almost take for granted this approach to life and the resulting joy of transformation which comes with it. But something I am just recognising is how honest and true it feels to bake bread or to make something ourselves. No cheating, no buying a cheap alternative, but committing to the real-deal, however imperfect the result. It is a way of life and it makes me very happy.

    • I agree–for so many of us it IS a way of life but I think that means we can lose track of how magical it really is–I know I forget. I love seeing younger people seeming to care about learning some of these skills–building, making, cooking, growing–it gives me hope for the future.

  2. That illustration is lovely, I’ve always liked fairy tales. This is such a gorgeous way of understanding the story, and I agree, the process of making things is magical! The things we produce are usually better because when you’re putting time into producing something you want it to last, you want it to be beautiful and you want to be proud of it. I’m sure your golden caramel would have satisfied rumplsltiltskin! xx

  3. Making makes me,ME!…..if that makes sense? I am passionate about skills being passed through the generations too. It’s encouraging that as GB is in the grip of austerity,more people are turning to these skills and learning to make or amend rather than buy or discard. Now where’s today’s magic gonna take me…….

    • Today’s magic took you into that sweet shop you blogged about! The feeling is so strong and it’s so wonderful when someone else “gets it”–like you do!

  4. I love the magic of making. What a great post! My husband is growing some vegetables from seeds now in our garden which counts too I think! x

    • Oh, yes, indeed–growing things is magic, for sure! I can’t believe I didn’t mention gardening–probably because we still have lots of snow on the ground!

  5. Honestly, sometimes you have a way of looking at things that is just truly unique. I’ll never think of Rumpelstiltskin–or any fairy tale–the same way again.

    You have found your calling–at least for now. (Don’t fear what lies around the corner.)
    You writing is great, and believe it or not, you allow me to leave my problems behind for a while.
    Please read this:
    and maybe I can help you and your readers forget about life for a while.

  6. For me “making magic” gives purpose and appreciation. The slowness of a repetitive motion gives me time to reflect and dream. The road taken is an adventure and the results are as you said, golden…okay so there are a few rotten eggs in the mix. I agree, less consumed is better for all of us. Not reaching out for that easy purchase but to slowly make magic, now that’s what I’m talking about! I keep thinking, what’s the rush? Just make it and enjoy the complete process.

    You said it right! Thank you for the most excellent post!

    • I could guess you’d see this the same way! Like you, I’m very process oriented and really like a project that takes time and focus to accomplish. I’ve never understood the “quick and easy” projects–who wants that?! I hope your 2015 is the best year yet!

  7. True, there is “magic” in the creating, of seeing that vision that’s in my “mind’s eye” become something tangible but, for me, the additional dimension of sharing it with others adds the hidden value and multiplies it greatly! And, yes, therein lies the risk we, who create, take that we become vulnerable and open to the fact that others may not see the ‘value’ as we do but isn’t that what “living” is all about……taking risks, sharing love that may or may not be returned. Posts, such as this one, that cause a body/me to dig deep inside are definitely a “good thing” and the time of year is perfect for it (although, any time is a good time to pause and take stock!!!). Hugs……………………

    • You certainly practice what you preach, in terms of doing lots of creating but also in taking the risks of sharing and being open! I can tell you always grab the gusto! Happy 2015 to you!!

      • To tell the truth, I’m not always so aware of that until it’s pointed out to me (ask DH as he sometimes finds himself hanging on for dear life!!! LOL!!!!) I thank you for taking the moments to leave a few words of delightful conversation! Although we haven’t had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, our friendship is a very treasured thing to me. Blessings to you in the coming year…….and, always,……hugs……………………

  8. I’m so happy you did repost this because it was written before I met you and I would have missed it. You are a remarkably gifted writer, Kerry, and you’ve lifted the ordinary into the extraordinary through your words.

    • Oh, Barbara–thank you so much! I love that you take the time to read and that you find value in what I’m writing. I feel the same about your posts, you know!

  9. Dear Kerry, you always seem to put into the words, the feelings and thoughts that scatter to my mind. The word Magic is one of my favorite words. Silly as it may keeps me grounded. It keeps my core feeling of happiness well fed. It makes my mind, body and spirit in balance. I mix flour and butter and other tasty, fragrant things and out of the oven comes muffins, pies and cakes. I pick up my needles and admire texture and colors of the natural yarn and whilst my mind comes to rest by the gentle movements…there are socks, mittens and hats. I feel morning breeze, sunshine or even stormy weather when I prune, sow seeds and fill containers with dark soil..and there are green leaves and plants and delicous fruits. It is all can we look at it otherwise? Have a lovely New Years Eve, Johanna.

    • What lovely words you wrote here! But I knew you understood about the magic, because it’s evident in every blog post of yours I’ve ever read. The magic, the whimsy, the joy of making something special–you definitely know the secret. I hope you have the perfect 2015 you deserve, Johanna!

  10. Thanks for giving me a new rejoinder when my husband asks me why I keep all those bits of cloth. Your post made me realize I spin straw into gold when I make quilts out of my fabric scraps that otherwise would have been tossed out. And I don’t even need a funny little man to help me; Mr. Janome does much of the work.

    • Maybe Mr. Janome is our 21st century equivalent of Rumpelstiltskin! You definitely are making magic from dross with all those scraps you save and turn into quilts–and you can tell your husband I said so! 😉

  11. So happy you reposted this, Kerry, as I missed it the first time. I’ve been doing a lot of creating lately — aka making magic — so your words feel very comfortable. I’m so glad we connected this year, and I look forward to staying in touch in 2015. May it be a wonderful year for you and yours as you change dance partners. 🙂

    • Hi, Susan–thanks for letting me know you’re here! I have to do better to let you know when I’m reading, too–I wish we were on the same bogging platform! I’m glad to know you’ve been busy making things and enjoying the process!

  12. I also add my voice to those who are glad you reposted. I missed this magic when it first appeared. I think I was on a blogging break. Let’s make 2015 a golden year. 🙂

    • That’s too true! I have a friend, a very good weaver, who just had major surgery on her hand. She can’t weave, for quite awhile, and only now does she understand how much she misses it!

  13. How can one woman have so many talents? You write so beautifully, Kerry. This line really resonated with me “Because when we make something with our own hands, we don’t just transform the ingredients into something different, we transform ourselves”.

    • I don’t know about talents, LB–I do have a lot of interests but sometimes I think I fall in that “jack of all trades, master of none” category. But thank you for such kind words and for reading!

  14. This power of transformation is the power I feed on. One of the most special aspects is that I am energized by others’ spinning of straw into gold, as well as by my own. Thanks for helping provide fuel for creativity for me and others. We are inspired by your writing and the other talents you share.

    • What really nice things to say, Melanie–thank you! I think reading the blogs of others, like you, has re-energized me, in terms of making things and really thinking about what I’m doing. It’s so satisfying to share ideas with like-minded friends.

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