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.