I have been reading The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar and it is very interesting, tracing the tales through various versions throughout the world in their different forms, guises and names and I have discovered the answer to something which has been puzzling me for years. I can, off-hand, think of two stories in which the heroine has to spin straw into gold (Rumpelstiltskin and the story of Eros and Psyche) both of which feature bad mothers-in-law.
There is a whole section in the book about evil mothers-in-law and stepmothers and my favourite lines are "Not all female villains in the Grimms' fairy tales indulge a taste for human flesh. Many are experts in the art of weaving spells: these are the enchantresses for whom uttering curses rather than devouring children is the preferred mode of oral expression."
Anyway - straw into gold. I have found out that straw is actually flax which is eminently spinnable but how it turns into gold still defeats me unless it is that really good (or reputedly good) spinners inevitable marry the king. Not that that is altogether a good thing because the poor girl still has to contend with her evil mother-in-law after which she dies, her husband marries a wicked step-mother who eats the children, loses them in the forest or condemns them to the kitchen to sweep the ashes.
However, I have no intention of trying my hand at spinning flax and I have my doubts about silk as there seems to be a limited number of things which can be knitted from silk; I'll stick to wool, especially as we are having almost-frosts at the moment and the local railway station gives no shelter from the wind so I have taken to wearing a coat and woolly headscarf.
I had an email from Australia Post this morning to say that the parcel of fibre which seemed to be lost is finally found and on its way to me. It should arrive sometime next week. I am not holding my breath but it sounds hopeful.