You’re listening to YarnCraft.
Jessica: Welcome to YarnCraft, Episode 4. It’s November 27, and I’m Jessica Abo. I want to remind you that we have a new podcast twice a month. To find out more about how to subscribe or to leave comments about our episodes, please visit our blog at YarnCraft.LionBrand.com. And you can always listen to our episodes directly from our website, LionBrand.com. So tell us what you think and leave us a message at 206-350-3957; and remember, we may include your comments in an upcoming episode!
Today, we are coming to you from the Lion Brand Design Center in New York City, and we have a special episode just for you. We have an entire show with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.
If you don’t already know Stephanie, she is the author of four extremely popular knitting-related books: Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter, At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women who Knit Too Much, Knitting Rules!: The Yarn Harlot’s Bag of Knitting Tricks, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting.
Stephanie also has a popular blog called Yarn Harlot. In 2004, she started an organization called Knitters Without Borders, dedicated to raising money for the non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders.
As of September 2007, her organization has raised over $368,000. In 2006, she started the Knitting Olympics, a competition for knitters to complete one project during the Winter Olympics. Over 4000 knitters have participated worldwide.
Stephanie will be answering questions from us and from listeners at the end of this podcast. Listen for our regular feature—Stash This: Ideas for your Crafting Life.
Zontee: Before Jessica talks to Stephanie, this is Zontee and this is Liz, and we just want to gush for a minute about how much we love Stephanie.
Liz: Hopefully it will not be in any way creepy, the extent to which we love her. I started reading her blog many, many years ago. I feel like I happened to find knitting in blogs just when people were getting started, and I feel like I appreciate her work more and more because when I started, my stash was basically a shopping bag and now it’s taken over my life and apartment and everything. So I really feel like someone else understands.
Zontee: Yeah. The thing I like about Stephanie is that she is such an every- knitter; you know she goes through the bad stuff, she goes through the good stuff and she has a really fun way of letting you know that it’s okay to be an average person who loves to knit. Well, she is a little bit more than average, but it does make you feel good!
Liz: Yes, I never actually met anyone in real life who feels as strongly as I do about wool. So when I read about her being addicted, it makes me feel less alone.
Zontee: Alright, well…
Liz: …and I guess that’s why I work on the yarn at LionBrand. Because even at LionBrand I’m more obsessed with yarn than anybody!
Liz: There are few people…we’re a core group of extremely obsessed people. And I know probably a lot of our listeners have the same intense relationship with their yarn and their stashes that I’d say Stephanie, and if I may presume, I do. It’s just such a treat that we’re going to hear from her.
Zontee: Alright. So now that we’re done hijacking the show, I just want to remind you to listen in towards the end of the show when I come back with some questions from the listeners for Stephanie. So stay tuned to can find out if got your question answered.
Jessica: Alright, Stephanie, we have you on the line. Thank you so much for joining us.
Stephanie: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on the show.
Jessica: First, I want to just say that I think your blog is absolutely hysterical. I am so thrilled that Sam and Hank finally got their chocolate chip cookies. I read your blog, and being a chocolate chip cookie lover myself, I can only imagine what kind of adventure that must have been.
Stephanie: It was a nightmare. I mean the kid’s seven and you say we’ll bake cookies. You can only imagine the peril when you disappoint a seven year old who’s been promised cookies. We’re lucky we escaped with our lives.
Jessica: After measuring the ingredients and throwing cookies away and finally getting the final product, at least they have a sense of commitment towards the product and that’s a good lesson whether about chocolate chip cookies or anything else. So they’re on the right track for sure, right?
Stephanie: Exactly. Well I like to believe they have that kind of stick-to-it-ness because they’re knitters.
Jessica: Absolutely. Let’s get to you a bit, Stephanie, because like I said, you’re so funny in your blogs, you are hysterical in your books. You are one of the most well-known knitters out there right now. So everyone wants to know, what is your favorite thing to knit?
Stephanie: My favorite thing to knit? Just everything, that’s why my nickname is Yarn Harlot. I am sort of an equal opportunity knitter. I will knit anything once. The only qualifier for me is that I don’t usually knit for inanimate objects. I don’t knit wine bottle cozies or anything like that.
Stephanie: I only knit for people. I won’t knit for something that won’t say thank you, which also rules out dogs, as barking doesn’t count. And really, I barely knit for babies because sometimes they chew on the stuff you know, and dogs are just notoriously ungrateful. But other than that, I’ll knit just about anything. I am tremendously fickle. What I think is the best knitting ever is usually what I’m knitting right now. But the only permanent love affair I have is with socks. No matter what else I have going on, there’s always socks in the background.
Jessica: I remember reading in one of your books that socks are very addicting. You have to beware while working on your socks, that it’s probably just the beginning of your sock career.
Stephanie: It probably is, I mean it’s such a great project in itself, so portable, small, they fit in your bag. And if you’re doing a small sock, or a plain sock, you don’t even have a pattern to keep track of, because the whole leg is plain, and the whole foot is plain; you only have to wake up and do the heal. And the rest of the time, knit and knit and knit. It’s grand stuff for holding in your bags while you are in the queue at the grocery store or waiting for an appointment. Socks are probably the only reason people think I’m nice.
Jessica: I just have this mental picture of you knitting all the time, which leads me to my next question: Do you get recognized a lot and what’s the craziest thing people generally ask you when they stop you?
Stephanie: I don’t get recognized a whole lot. We all live in the knitting world and we forget it’s not the only world there is. And it’s a really interesting thing to have… I feel like in yarn shops or, other knitting areas, I feel a little bit like Cheers—a place where everybody knows my name. Then I go to the grocery store and I’m nobody. I’m scooping cat litter. I’m doing entirely ordinary things and I almost never get recognized in public. It’s only happened very few times, and all those times it’s really rocked my world pretty hard.
Jessica: That’s so funny. And what do your kids say about your this hobby and passion and lifestyle of yours?
Stephanie: Well, you know it’s how they were raised. I’ve always been like this. They’re used to it. You know I corrupted them early and young and now they think I’m right… most of the time. It’s a little bit odd, but I think they’ve connected with the idea that everyone is odd about something if you look hard enough at them. Like sure, I have way too much yarn, but it turns out that Bobby’s dad has trains in the basement. If you think somebody is normal, usually it means you haven’t looked closely enough at them. And you know, they knit too, on and off, mostly off, but they all know how so they don’t think it’s as insane as maybe another kid would.
Jessica: Does your husband knit?
Stephanie: He knows how to knit. He doesn’t knit often. But he does know how. He learned it in school when he was a little boy.
Jessica: No way!
Stephanie: It’s something that’s taught in the schools here a lot of the time. Particularly the older you are, the more likely you are to know. All of Joe’s relatives know how, they learned in school. Depending on what part of Canada you live in, it’s taken a long time to come off the curriculum. We’re a northern country. Knitting is a very useful skill here.
Jessica: Well, in an upcoming episode, we’re going to talk about men who knit and crochet, so we may have to recruit your other half for that one!
Stephanie: I don’t think he thinks of himself as a knitter, but rather someone who knows how to knit. Like for instance, in the same way, we’re vegetarians, but he knows how to barbeque steak.
Jessica: This is some fascinating information. What is some other information that may surprise our listeners? You have told so much about your yarn crafting life in your blog but are there other things that may surprise people about what you do in your off-time when you aren’t knitting, though I know that is not probably too often, as I have a mental picture of you with needles in your hand all the time.
Stephanie: Sometimes I think people may be surprised to know how much writing is part of my job. You know I think they kind of imagine me knitting and playing with yarn and would say to me, “I have no idea how you get so much done writing-wise.” And I always kind of laugh because I bet if I looked at what they did for a living I also would be boggled at how much they got done. But really, I sit in my desk early in the morning and sit there till I’m done at maybe 3 or 5 o’clock when I’m finished. And I think they would be surprised at what a regular schedule I keep. And I think the number one thing that would shock people is if they really saw my stash. I think they would be stunned at how small it is.
Stephanie: I think people have taken that as legendary, epic, you know? In people’s imaginations, it’ the hugest stash you’ve ever seen. I have been knitting a long time, you know. I’ve been knitting since I was four. After thirty-five years of knitting, I have a lot of stash but it isn’t as big in keeping with people’s imaginations. I live in a really tiny house in downtown Toronto. And our home is really small. I have lots of yarn for this size of house, but I’ve met lots and lots of knitters with more yarn than I have.
Jessica: Wow, that’s incredible. I know one of my favorite things you’ve written in your Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off book was the story about how when you were dating your husband you never talked about the stash during the dating days. And eventually when you were sharing the same house, there was this unspoken rule about no one could talk about the other’s collections. And I just think it’s great that you ended with ‘marriage is all about compromise.’ I think it’s fantastic because your husband has his room with all his guitars and amps and he doesn’t say anything about all your un-knit sweaters. I think that’s amazing. Do you think that is a trick to keeping relationships together when there is a knitter involved?
Stephanie: I think the best thing a knitter can do, a knitter with a stash, because not all knitters have a stash, is to immediately find out something that the other partner collects. Immediately!! When he says, “Holy crap, you have so much yarn all over the place!” you can say, “You have spoons, buddy, and that’s not normal!” Haha. Or snow globes, picture frames. So yes, amplifiers, and just learn how to relate what you’ve got to what they’ve got. Joe never thought the yarn was all that odd. So when he says I have so much yarn I just cock an eyebrow and say, “So how much wire is in the basement?” That would shut him right up. It sorted things right there. It helps to think about it as a really normal thing that he did too, just with something else.
Jessica: Right, right. Well, talking a little bit more about your books, it is so much fun to read your books. As the reader you really feel like you’re in the room talking; we can really hear your voice. One of my favorite parts of Knitting Rules is when you talk about five reasons why people don’t knit, and reason number four is “I’m not smart enough.” And you go on to say every item is made up of two stitches—knit and purl. If you’re wearing clothes and you dressed yourself, you’re smart enough to knit. And if you’re wearing matching clothes, or coordinating accessories, you’re smart enough to knit well. So do you laugh at yourself when you’re writing these things?
Stephanie: Sometimes that’s how I know I’ve got it. I’ll write something and think, “That’s not very funny.” When I have a little giggle with the moment that it occurs to me, that’s how I know I’m there.
Jessica: What is the typical day for you? You’re a mom, you’re a knitter, you’re an author, you’re a blogger… so how do you get it all done?
Stephanie: It’s pretty ordinary. I get up in the morning by 7:30, make oatmeal or sign permission forms, get people out the door. But they’re teenagers now so I just sort of have to make sure they leave on time. Sometimes while they’re going out the door I’ll drink coffee and knit a little bit. So once they’re out the door, the house is quiet for a while. And I’ll knit and read my email, see if there’s anything really pressing I need to take care of. I get so much mail. Answering all my emails gets insane sometimes, but I look over it as best I can and try to reply to as much as possible. Then I open my blog software and leave it running while I do other things. I blog on the go. Blogging is an ongoing process for me. I leave it open until I think I’ve got an entry. I wait for something to occur to me. So I write from 10-12 on the blog or on a book. I take a break at noon, have lunch. I go down to the basement, visit Mr. Washy, do a load of laundry, make a few phone calls, knit while I’m on the phone.
Jessica: You do so much in a day, it’s incredible. Are you knitting now?
Stephanie: No, I am not knitting now, though my knitting is laying by my side. But I am not knitting. So then I’ll sit back down around 1 and I write again until about 3:30 when the kids come home, and then I do my housework. I talk to the kids about their days, usually I help them with projects. Then I listen to the radio and make dinner. And I knit while things are cooking. Then after dinner I usually work for a few more hours, writing, then I watch TV and knit. Aren’t I boring?
Jessica: No, not at all. But I imagine you must sleep well after such a busy day!
Stephanie: Well, I don’t think my life is that busy when I think of those who have a real job who have to wake up by 7:30 and get in their car and drive and have to work 9-5. I think my day’s got kind of an easier pace than that. And if I go to a yoga class or something, I’ll just work extra hard the next day.
Jessica: What were you doing before you took on the name and lifestyle of the Yarn Harlot?
Stephanie: I was a doulas, who is a woman who supports other women in childbirth. And I was a consultant for eleven years. And I worked for the health care center. And I was a freelance writer.
Jessica: That’s amazing. I think being an author, a blogger, a mother and wife all constitute “real job” also. So don’t sell yourself short!
Stephanie: Back when I got one of those, what do you call them, salaries?
Jessica: Well I think you do more in a day than some people do in a week. What’s it like now to be identified by this one aspect of what you’re interested in, as the Yarn Harlot?
Stephanie: Professionally, I’m mostly identified as a writer. I have some friends who are writers and I think they think of me as a writer who just happens to knit all the time. It’s a really good time in my life for me. It’s challenging and it’s hard work but at least it’s work that I’m really interested in.
Jessica: And that definitely comes through in your work. Have you come across any local quirks or commonalities in your travels in North America on your book tours that you feel like sharing?
Stephanie: I think the most incredibly remarkable thing is how alike knitters are everywhere. I could parachute into the middle of Texas right now and I would have very nice dinner company as long as I found some knitters! We’re all interested in the same things. It’s all surface things that seem different. I remember the first time I went to a yarn shop in the deep south and was just amazed at what they were knitting. A lot of novelty yarn. I just kept thinking, where’s the wool, where’s the tweed? And then it occurred to me that it’s a thousand degrees in the shade. Of course they’re knitting cottons! They were knitting a lot of accessories, purses, bags. Here in Toronto, people knit the occasional bag, but we’re into socks and sweaters, practical things. But that’s the only thing that’s different at all. All the knitting jokes are the same. They’re all getting screwed over by gauge. The similarities are incredible. And knitters identify as knitters before they identify as anything else. When I go and give these talks I always say look around you, at the hundreds of other knitters in this room, and think about, if they weren’t also knitters, you wouldn’t be caught dead with half of them, because you’re too different. But knitters will identify as knitters before anything else; they don’t care about politics, religion, they’ll sit down and knit together and only later will they be shocked to find out that that person is nothing like them. They were tricked by the presence of wool!
Jessica: It’s amazing!
Stephanie: It’s pretty remarkable.
Jessica: And who taught you to knit?
Stephanie: My nana taught me to knit, my father’s mother. I often say the only good thing she ever gave me was knitting. We did not get along at all. Most people have those warm, fuzzy knitting relationships with the person who taught them, and I didn’t have that at all. I wrote an essay in one of my books about how ironic it is that the woman who I didn’t get along with at all gave me the thing that’s brought me the most pleasure and satisfaction in my entire life. That’s pretty remarkable. She taught me when I was four. She was a professional knitter; she was always knitting. She knit for money. I came out to the garden one day and said, “Nana, I learned how to read!” And she said, “Well, if you are old enough to read, you’re definitely old enough to knit. It’s much easier.” And she plunked me down and taught me right there. And she was right. Knitting is much easier than reading.
Jessica: Were you hooked right away?
Stephanie: Instantly. I remember that moment the way some people remember a religious epiphany. It was absolutely an intriguing moment for me. At four years old! Realizing everything that I owned was knitted. So when she taught me how to do the knit stitch and the purl stitch and said, “There, now you know the whole thing,” I realized everything I had ever seen was made exactly like this. It was the most intriguing thing I’d ever come across. Socks, shawls, bags—it all comes from these two stitches. It’s boggling to me. Still is, actually; never quite gotten over it.
Jessica: So what advise do you have for all the beginner knitters?
Stephanie: You’re not diffusing a bomb! People you see, new knitters, are always crouched over it. They’re a little bit sweaty and they look really worried. They say things like, “Oh cables. I’m afraid.” Remember—yarn is reusable. One of the great things about knitting is, no matter how badly you screw it up, there are no consequences. No one goes to prison, no one dumps you, you’re not going to get fired. I always say, you’re not diffusing a bomb. Nothing terrible is going to happen. It’s easier than you think it is!
Jessica: I know in one of your books you have said knitting is not dangerous as long as you don’t leave your needles on the floor!
Stephanie: Exactly. And if that doesn’t help, I remind them that up until the turn of the century and in many parts of the world still, this is actually child labor. So if you’re feeling defeated, you should really keep that in mind.
Jessica: Let’s talk about some of the work that you actually do with Knitters Without Borders. What inspired you to get involved with them?
Stephanie: My brother-in-law Ben works for Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders (DWB), here in Toronto. Ben can’t be in your life for long before you realize he does so much to help his fellow man. Ben rescues more human beings before coffee than I ever will in my entire life. So when I was looking for a charity that I could extend my good will to, DWB was a natural first choice. Also there’s an enormous diversity among knitters; they’re from all different genders, religions, political affiliations, everything. And I was looking for an organization that was 100% neutral. No affiliations. Nothing anyone could complain about. And DWB is the only NGO to ever win the National Peace Prize. Then the tsunami happened and people started very generously donating to that cause, which was appropriate and wonderful. But at the same time, as fantastically horrific as that was, more people are killed by malaria, about three times more, in a year, than the tsunami killed. More people are dying in Darfur every three months than died in the tsunami. DWB is very good at not just responding to the tsunami crisis, but making sure the other crises around the world aren’t getting trampled on the way there. And I thought that was really noble. So we started Knitters Without Borders for people to donate to the general emergency fund for DWB, which has been a tremendous success. Knitters are uncharacteristically generous, surprisingly so.
Jessica: Do the knitters send in money or do they actually make things and sell it at fundraisers and send the proceeds to you?
Stephanie: They don’t send any things to me. I don’t handle any of the money. Sending me money would be a bad idea. I probably can’t be trusted that way. Haha. They donate the money to the Doctors Without Borders in their home country and just send me either a copy of the receipt or just notify me how much the donation was and I add your name and the amount to my list and keep a running tally on the blog.
Jessica: So how can our listeners get involved if they’d like to?
Stephanie: What they need to do is go to my blog and click on Knitters Without Borders on the right-hand side; it takes you to the page about how to go about that entirely and it even links to the Doctors Without Borders donation pages. You go and donate and there’s an email link to let me know. And you’re done.
Jessica: What is your website address?
Stephanie: My website address is yarnharlot.ca, or .com gets you there too.
Jessica: Do you participate in any knitting groups locally, and what are some of your favorite blogs and websites to check out?
Stephanie: I’m a member of the Downtown Knit Collective which is the Toronto knitting guild, which is huge, hundreds of knitters. I think everyone should be a member of their local guild. We’re at a risk in our culture of losing textile information. It’s not something that’s taught in schools anymore. And one day we’re going to wake up and find that all these great masters are gone and there’s nobody formally teaching it anymore. And the guilds are really the backbone that’s going to keep this information from getting lost. They’re the people that hold classes, bring teachers from away. And I have a local knit-night that I like to go down to with my buddies. And some of my favorite blogs…well, I’m pretty fickle. I don’t really say what my favorite blogs are. It changes often. I read my friends’ blogs. And other than that, if you leave a comment on my blog it asks you for your URL, so I like to click on those and see what’s going on in the community around me. I like to keep it pretty diverse.
Jessica: That’s really great. What is one thing you think every yarn-crafter should have?
Stephanie: Ziplocs are probably the greatest knitting tool known to mankind. You can keep your projects in them. If you keep your ball of yarn in it, it keeps it from rolling around, getting dirty, caught in your keys. Keep your yarn in them, and it’s moth-proof. Keeps me from pouring coffee or wine on it. And I don’t know about you but I’ve got all this technology in my bag now. I’ve got an Ipod and it’s got strings coming off that, a digital camera and it’s got a string, cell phone chargers with strings…ziplocs keep my yarn from getting tied up. You can use ziplocs for dying, put a little skein of yarn in, they come huge too; you can get ziplocs in the size of eight year old children now! You can make a kit for yourself, the pattern book, the yarn and needle, and put it all in the ziploc. My life would just explode without ziplocs!
Jessica: Do you have any books coming out soon we should know about?
Stephanie: Yes. Two, I think. Wait maybe three. I have one coming out in the spring, another one with Storey Publishing that’s about knitting and life lessons, things that I’ve learned from knitting. It’s another useless book about knitting, no patterns. And that comes out in the spring. And I have a book of essays that’s a lot like my second book, Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter coming out in the fall with Andrews McMeel, another useless book about knitting. Haha! What I mean is it’s not technically useful. No patterns. And we’re also talking about a page-a-day calendar.
Jessica: Wow, that’s awesome. Before we go, are there any life lessons you want to share with us?
Stephanie: Well, I read an adage the other day, one of those old-fashioned expressions, and realized it was obviously about a yarn sale: he who hesitates is lost.
Jessica: Thank you very much for your time. It was great talking with you.
Stephanie: Thanks for having me, Jessica!
Zontee: Hi this is Zontee, joined once again by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee with questions from our listeners. We have over 80 questions from our listeners. We are really excited that so many of you commented. We will share a couple of them with Stephanie. How are you doing Stephanie, excited about these questions?
Stephanie: I am excited. I’m getting a new roof, so I apologize for any banging or slamming you might hear in the background. Anybody who knows me will know how ironic this is, a squirrel has eaten a hole in my roof!
Zontee: Speaking of squirrels, we actually have a question from somebody claiming to be your furry friend. When will you be washing more fleece for the gainsay? Even though I know you said you didn’t want to answer any more gansey questions.
Stephanie: Well they’re hitting my two favorite topics in one question, the squirrel and the gansey.
Zontee: Exactly. Well we want to thank you again for posting on your blog for asking people to ask questions here because we’re getting so many of your fans on our site and we’re really excited about that.
Stephanie: It’s a new and interesting way for people to torture me so I thought they’d love it.
Zontee: So our fist question comes from Jude who asks “I’d like to know if you consider yourself more of a product knitter or a process knitter, I’m curious about what people knit and why people choose the projects they have on their needles?”
Stephanie: I think I’m both. Sometimes I’ll knit just for the sake of knitting. I’ll often choose a project that I won’t wear or want for myself, just for the experience of knitting it. A lot of lace is like that for me. Because I’m not a girly girl. But sometimes I’m possessed with the mysterious urge for something pink and frothy. But I do care about how things turn out, so I am in it for the product. But if I had to say, I’d say I’m more of a process knitter. I’m just in it for the knitting.
Zontee: Our second question is from Judi. She says “English, throwing, continental, picking or German, Portuguese and the heredic, combination. There are so many types of knitting. But why so much fuss about which way is better? Just as there is more than one way to decrease, shouldn’t we have more than one way to knit? What are your thoughts on the aforementioned ways to knit and what style fits you most closely?”
Stephanie: I knit in a kind of a really unique way. Technically I’m a thrower. But I hold the needle in an unusual way. The more I get out and look at the way knitters are knitting, the more I see that there are all these people knitting in this weird way. But it doesn’t matter much as long as you end up with knitting at the end of it. If you end up with a scarf, you’re doing it right and it really doesn’t matter. I don’t really concern myself with how people are knitting unless they’re unhappy with their efficiency. Like if somebody says, “I knit really, really, really slowly. Is there a better way?” And you look at the way they are knitting and see that they are massively inefficient. You know, dropping the yarn between every stitch and picking it back up again. There’s nothing wrong with that if you don’t mind knitting slowly, but if it bothers you then I think there’s room for changing the way you do things. But mostly I don’t think it matters at all how people knit. A lot of pickers complain that they don’t like pearling because of the way you have to move your thumb back over to accomplish a pearl, but if you don’t mind, I don’t know why you would care much.
Zontee: Next question comes from Deanna who asks, “Stranded on a desert island, what knitting reference book would be imperative?”
Stephanie: I think if I had to be stranded anywhere, I would take a stitch dictionary. One of the really classic German stitch dictionaries, or some of the Barbara Walkers or something like that. Because once you really know how to knit and purl and increase and decrease, those are the books I imagine would really give you something to do more than anything else. But I’ve been knitting long enough that stranded on a desert island I would probably not going to be looking up how to make a buttonhole, but I am going to get bored pretty quickly. So I think I would take a stitch dictionary.
Zontee: Another question is from Nicole. I read in your blog that you are able to knit and read at the same time. I found this quite astounding. No wonder you’re able to get so much done. How have you learned to accomplish this feat?
Stephanie: I’ve been knitting since I was four, and I’m 39 now, so that’s a lot of practice. I certainly didn’t start out being about to knit and read at the same time, and I can’t knit a pattern and read at the same time, but if it’s just …and I’m just going around and around, that’s a movement I’ve made millions of times. It’s only practice. The hard part was figuring out how I would get the book to stay open.
Zontee: How you do get to set your book open?
Stephanie: I sit cross-legged and hold my book with my feet, or I hold it open with an assortment of objects, like a coffee cup and a stapler, or the top edge of my laptop. That’s really the bigger issue. The rest is just practice. There are even devices you can get, like little stands. But I find they make it hard to turn the pages. I’m all about the efficiency. The queen of multi-tasking.
Zontee: I have a question from Megan who asks, “I read your blog regularly and I am in awe of the ever-increasing total for Knitters Without Borders. To what do you attribute this stunning success? Do you think that knitting just attracts generous people, or is there something about knitting (maybe wool fumes?) that inspires generosity?”
Stephanie: I think knitting creates generous people. I’ve heard people say knitters are the nicest people. But I think that knitters are like plumbers or electricians or anything. There are nice and not so nice knitters. But she’s right that they are uniformly more generous than you’d expect any one group to be especially considering how diverse we are. I think that knitting creates generous people by virtue of changing the way we think. And in order to give to charity you have to believe that any small thing you give can make a difference. And knitting is very good at teaching people that small things can make a difference. Because if you didn’t think that small things could make a difference, then you wouldn’t knit. Because the whole thing would seem hopeless. If you couldn’t believe that small, individual stitches could add up to be a sweater then you would never embark on this bit of business anyway. I think it’s the action of knitting that helps people understand charity. And it creates generous people.
Zontee: Our next comment is from Afton. “Do you ever feel the pressure to be “on” or should I say ‘funny’ whenever you are around other knitters? Do you wonder if you will freeze up and say the most mundane thing while they are waiting around for you to say something that will cause them to roll on the floor, clutching their knitting needles and howling? Do you have take stress meds or did I just cause you to go down that path?”
Stephanie: I don’t take stress meds although I occasionally contemplate some fairly heavy drinking, but I’m fairly certain that would end in disaster so I’ve avoided it. But I do worry, I worry a lot. I don’t worry in my daily life or at knit-night or when I’m with knitters in a casual setting. But when I’m standing up in front of a couple hundred knitters and they’re all looking at me expectedly and they’re like ‘Go, be funny, we’ve all driven this far, go!’ sometimes I do, I worry I’ll get up there and be completely boring or mundane. I have a recurring nightmare where my skirt is tucked up in the back of my underpants which I think is a bigger worry for me. Or I worry a lot about using foul language like getting into an expletive spiral where I say something bad and then I’m so upset about that that I say something worse and it keeps degenerating until I’m some hysterical swearing Canadian. But I do, I worry about doing a good job. I think it’s a universal feeling for people. I think it’s the same stress that anybody must feel when going to work, but maybe a little bit more stressful because I’m acutely aware that if I make a mistake it will be blogged from here to Kentucky in the next 45 seconds. And if I ever do have my skirt tucked up in the back of my underpants, my picture will be taken. I won’t be entitled to any sort of private humiliation. It will all just be so public. Luckily, I’m not a very competent human being, so I screw up a lot so I have a lot of practice with dealing with my own mistakes. If I was a more perfect person I think I’d be more anxiety ridden than I am, but luckily I’m a raving incompetent and I have a lot of practice.
Zontee: Our next question is from Michele. “You have written that we knitters would knit grass clippings with sticks if we couldn’t find yarn and needles. Let your mind go now: what fiber and tools would you knit with if they took away your needles and wool? And of course, money were no object?”
Stephanie: Interesting. You know, I’m married to an electrical engineer and our house if full of wires, so I think that would be the first thing I would turn to. And the other thing I’ve been interested in is the people who spin milkweed fluff, and knit that, so I think I would have to turn to something like that. I’m pretty sure I could work it out.
Zontee: There is actually an animation on YouTube where the little animated woman runs out of yarn and starts knitting her own hair because she just has to keep going.
Stephanie: I love that cartoon. It’s hysterical how fast she’s knitting. I love the miles and miles of scarf churning off her needle.
Zontee: Our next question is from Pattie in San Francisco who says, “Hi Stephanie. I have a 16 year old daughter who wouldn’t knit if you gave her a private concert with Fall Out Boy. Do any of your daughters knit? How did you get them started? How old were they when you taught them? Also, what does it feel like to be famous? When you go to buy yarn do people recognize you and ask for sock pictures?”
Stephanie: My daughters do know how to knit. I think most kids are ready to know about the same time they learn how to read and write. Knitting only has two movements– knit and purl–with only two pieces of code. The English language has 26 pieces of code. It takes a lot more fine motor control to write your name than to knit or purl. I think by the time children learn 26 pieces of code and learn to write their names dealing with several movements they probably are ready to learn to knit. That was my experience with my daughters. They learned to knit at the same time they learned letters. But also they were kind of immersed in it from day one. They’re all intuitive knitters. I didn’t give much instruction; they got the hang of it. And they will learn through experience. The analogy I use is when you are 16, you are ready to get your driving license, and you already have a pretty good idea of how driving works because you’ve seen it done so many times. You know how to run a car after watching so many times. The gas makes it go and the brakes make it stop. You just have to go into the car and practice these movements that you already understand. And that’s how knitting was for my kids. The only one who knits obsessively is my middle daughter, Megan. Amanda’s 18 and would rather die than do anything like me. I understand that’s probably going to change over time. And Sam would rather spin than knit. And the way I get them to knit is by telling them that I don’t care whether they knit or not. So I always pretend I don’t give a rat’s arse whether they knit or not, because if kids get the impression you really like something they’re doing, they’ll stop immediately. So that seems to help a bit. And the last question. Do people recognize me and ask for sock pictures? Sometimes people recognize me. But I’m not famous the way some people might think. I don’t feel at all famous. It’s still a very rare thing for people to approach me. But we’re all in the yarn shop for the same reason. But yes, sometimes there are sock pictures, but I take sock pictures, so I don’t think that’s unusual; more likely I’m asking them to hold my sock than them asking me to hold theirs!
Zontee: Our next question is from Julie from Lynesville, PA. She says, “I found your blog by happy accident. I was searching for yarn shops in Toronto and I came across your blog on a day when you had locked yourself out of a hotel room in your underwear. I read enough to determine that you were in Toronto on a tour for a book you had written about knitting. Been hooked on your blog ever since. My question is how do you bring yourself to write about such embarrassing things about yourself in such a humorous and light-hearted way?”
Stephanie: Because it’s funny! Because these things happen to everybody. Somebody once came up to me and said, “Pardon me, but you must be an idiot. Who loses their keys and can’t remember their phone number?” Everybody! We’re all struggling through our days. When I was a young mom, other mothers came by with their kids and I was scrambling to clean up the house and my mother came over and said, “Don’t clean up.” And I would say, “But they’re going to think I’m a pig,” and my mother says, “No, they’re going to think you’re human and it’s going to make them feel better because their houses are trashed. If yours is tidy they think, ‘What is wrong with me that my house is trashed? Here she is doing all this stuff—knitting, writing, touring AND her house is clean. I hate her.’” That was a powerful lesson for me. You don’t want to make people feel that way. You might feel good about yourself if you’re dishonest about your abilities, but it doesn’t make anyone else feel any better about themselves. Everybody does really stupid things. And that’s how I can own up to it, because I know you’re all doing it too you’re just not writing about it!
Zontee: Finally we have an audio question we received via our voice message line:
VoiceMessage: Hi, my question is on a video I saw on YouTube of Stephanie knitting. And she knits so fast and there’s a lengthy discussion about how she does it, and I was just wondering how she knits so fast.
Stephanie: The first thing to remember is that I have been knitting for 35 years. Someone knitting for 35 years will be pretty quick. I think it is an unfair comparison with someone who’s only been knitting for 2 or 3 years. Wait 35 years and see how fast you are. Also note I have made a lot of changes over the years to try to be more efficient. I make small movements; I keep the stitches at the tips of my needle so things aren’t moving very far. And I’ve practiced a lot of stitches. I’ve cleaned up a lot of inefficiency. Plus I was taught by a production knitter—my nana. She was paid by how much she knit, so it was important to go fast. The style is called Irish Cottage Knitting or Production Knitting, where the right needle is stationary. Or if I’m on straight needles, sometimes I put it under my arm. On dpn’s it’ll just rest like a pencil between thumb and index finger and then my right hand flicks over and back. People say it reminds them of a sewing machine. Left hand moves the stitch over and the right hand with the needle flicks and catches it back and forth. This is a fallout from the old Shetland knitters who were some of the fastest knitters in the world who knit using long, steel, double-pointed needles and one end would be poked in a leather knitting belt around their waist with a pin cushion with holes in it. And they could stick one end of the needle in that belt which holds the needle stationary and frees up their right hand. And all of the fastest knitters, all the award-holders, use a variation of this—one hand is stationary, left hand flicking. I’ve seen a lot of fast pickers too. But really—just practice, practice, practice. And the 35 years thing helps a lot too. Haha.
Zontee: Thank you again Stephanie for answering our questions. And thank you also to everyone whose questions didn’t get answered. We would’ve loved to ask them all, but we know you’re really busy and we didn’t want to overwhelm you.
Stephanie: Or have a four-hour podcast!
Liz: It’s so exciting that we have been able to interview Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot, for our podcast because I have been a big fan of her blog and her books for quite a while.
Zontee: I know you have been. Weren’t you doing some Yarn Harlot reading when you were sick last week?
Liz: Yes, that was about two weeks ago when I was sick with horrible death-flu (technical term). I was too sick to knit, so I dealt with that situation by reading all the Yarn Harlot books. Because of course I own all of them.
Jessica: And as you can tell Zontee and Liz are back with us again, because it’s time for our Stash This: Ideas for your Crafting Life segment.
Liz: Well today we’re going to talk about your stash. Our stashes, and yours too. One tip we have is about storing and organizing your yarn. What works for me is I have a big storage system with wire bins on racks and I sort all my yarn by color, so I have a red bin, a blue bin, etc. The yarn pile system I had been using before had taken over everything.
Zontee: I haven’t left the yarn pile system. I don’t even have a dedicated yarn pile for my yarn. All my crafting stuff is in one place—my tote bag. It’s like a trifle, you know, the dessert? The first layer is my fabrics. In the middle I have all of my yarn, and on top I have my sewing kit and my needles and crochet hooks in boxes; that’s how I store all of my stuff. Not necessarily the most organized way.
Liz: But it’s a system that works for Zontee. She knows everything’s going to be in that bag, and where to find it.
Zontee: That’s true. I do know where everything is. I do keep my needles and hooks in boxes so I can find them and have special cases where I keep them. Everything is in its own little box. So there are things which I can find pretty easily. Also it is a tote bag which I can move around the house. That’s pretty good.
Liz: It’s a mobile stash!
Zontee: Exactly! In terms of pattern and book storage, I like to alphabetize my books by author’s last name.
Liz: All my books are mixed up. You know, the knitting ones, the fictions and cookbooks and everything else.
Zontee: Well I moved relatively recently, a couple of months ago, so I reorganized my bookshelves. I organized them by section, so the crafting books are all together; it’s good.
Liz: What about magazines? Do you keep back issues of magazines?
Zontee: Yes, I do. But I keep magazine boxes which you can buy at your local container store or supply store. I keep them in boxes so they can stand up and also fit on the bookshelf with all the rest of my crafting stuff. And I do the same with my pattern binders; I stick my patterns in sleeves and then in binders, and the binders in boxes, which works because then all my stuff is labeled.
Jessica: Thank you again to our special guest, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, and thank you to everyone who submitted a question. We would like to thank Liz and Zontee for joining us today and remind you to leave your comments on our blog or by calling us at 206-350-3957. Now for our next episode, tell us about a man in your life who knits or crochets. We look forward to hearing from you!
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