No big deal

This morning dawned bright and early (one way in which life with a five year old is different than that with teens. The five year old gets up in the morning where you have to hold a mirror under the teenagers nostrils around 11 to see if they are actually alive) and Hank went to the front door and got this.


I don’t talk about it much, but I write books. Knitting books. Silly knitting books, just little wee ideas about knitting, like in this one….

“At Knit’s End : Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much” (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee)

or longer stories about knitting, like in this one.

“Yarn Harlot : The Secret Life of a Knitter” (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee)

No patterns, no help, nothing useful at all…just thinking about knitting and knitting humour. (I know. Don’t ever try to explain this genre at a party. Say you write books and then pull the fire alarm to get out of there before they ask you what kind. Trust me.) From time to time I get an email from someone who wonders why the books aren’t plastered all over the blog and why I don’t mention them all the time….and, well. I don’t know why. I’m certainly proud of them, and I certainly don’t think that there is anything wrong with standing up and saying so when you’ve done a big job fairly well. As a matter of fact, I regularly applaud other people, especially women, and especially knitters, who give their work it’s proper due and take credit for their own intelligence and achievements.

I think my reluctance to do the same for myself comes from some very early lessons taught to me about things like being humble, not blowing your own horn and pride going before a fall. Or perhaps my family’s belief that if your talent happens to be writing books, it doesn’t make you any more special than someone who’s talent is accounting or working a factory line. It could also be that while I have been extraordinarily successful in this life in all the ways that matter…I have many friends, a very good family, healthy children….yarn. I have never been very successful in the ways that society measures it.

My house is very small, my clothes are ratty, I can’t seem to accessorize and I don’t get my hair cut often enough…and since Joe and I both work freelance, money is always, well. Interesting. A lot of this is my own fault, money wise, it was important to me to stay home with the girls (I knew I wouldn’t get paid for that), it was me who decided to do LC and Doula work on a sliding scale, and some of it was the fates…like Joe and I both getting completely wiped out of our jobs at the same time when SARS rolled through Toronto. Really, waking up one morning two years ago, making a decision that I would take a stab at my goal of being a writer (what the hell. I was unemployed.) and having it go so well, being this lucky, having all of the stars aligned in a way that let me not only support my family in a way that I love, but realize a dream for myself…. I think I worry that any minute now the planet is going to notice that I’m getting so much of what I’ve always wanted, realize its cosmic mistake and send me right back to where I belong. This fear is compounded by knowing with absolute shining certainty that much of the good fortune I have had in the last year is the product of timing and luck, for which I take no credit. There are many smarter, more talented writers starving in crappy basement apartments all over the world who deserve to do better.

So when something like this happens, when a book I wrote appears in my mailbox from the printer with charming notes like “hope you like it” written on it I’m completely torn. Part of me wants to scream “Look! A book! With my name on it!” and throw a big party, and part of me wants to say. “There. Good job.” and quietly go back to my knitting before Mr. Washie breaks down to remind me of my place.


I have positioned the book with the latest skein of Joe’s Gansey yarn so that Rams won’t think I’m losing my focus. I know where her priorities lie. In fact,


a closer look, just for Rams. The book that it lies upon is my third. (You can get a better look here, though Amazon still has the old cover and title.) I did some checking this morning and looked back at my archives and lo and behold, it was March 15th of last year, exactly one year ago today that I held my first book in my hands for the first time. What a crazy 365 days. I’m so very grateful to everyone who has contributed to this wonderful journey and kept the whole thing from being a public humiliation.

This book has stuff like the first two in it, stories, ideas, funny things about knitting…but it is also the first book I’ve written that pretends in any small way to be useful. My sock recipe is in there, some stuff I’ve found to be helpful…


and anything I could think of that I could tell knitters before they learned the hard way.


It’s still that bizarre “knitting humour” genre that you can’t discuss at parties, but I’m proud of it and I hope you like it, and I hope that it doesn’t disappoint. It should start turning up in stores next week.

Now move along. Nothing to see here.

(PS. There will be a tour, it will be in April, August and September, and I’ll give you the details when I know ’em.)

March Break- Day 2

May the force be with me. It rained the whole first day and I was forced to move to my big guns. We had a very good day during which we enjoyed each other a great deal and no-one had a screaming teenaged girl fit. (Not even me…) however I may have peaked too early and am perhaps doomed, only riding out the week will tell. I am surprised actually, to discover that my children are now old enough that I don’t need to do much to occupy them. Just give them all of my possessions, lift the refined sugar rule, and keep giving them all my money whenever they ask for it. No problem.

I let Meg use my wheel:


I offered to help her when the leader on the bobbin wasn’t working right and she looked me dead in the eye and said, with all seriousness, using exactly the tone she would have employed had I offered help figuring out how to brush her hair…

“Mom, I’m not stupid. I know how a spinning wheel works. ”

(Ever wonder how strange you’re making your own kids?)

Sam went into the kitchen and baked up a storm


and me? I feigned responsibility and worked on the tinks sweaters.

All the pieces are done, so I marked the spots for the steeks,


I measured the sleeve depths,


I sewed the steeks and cut them.


Then I sewed in the sleeves on one of the sweaters and began the buttonbands, but you’re going to have to wait to see that since my camera batteries crapped out. (They appear to be as exhausted as I am.) Today, it’s carding and spinning for Joe’s Gansey, (See Rams? See?) and Hank is coming for a sleepover.

Luckily, all I have to do to keep him busy is make popcorn and give him the ball winder. I don’t think he wants money. Yet.

March Break, Day one.

It’s the March Break. Nine days with three teenagers kicking around the house trying to eat everything that isn’t nailed down, leaving a wake of filth everywhere they go, and dedicating every cell in their bodies to keeping me from writing a single word. I have several strategies I will be employing to ensure that I may come out the other end of this with my sanity intact. Todays tips:

1. Only buy enough food for one day at a time. Teenagers will eat all the food you have, regardless of how many days it is intended to feed them. This is confusing to rookie adults in the house, because while the teenagers are consuming their own body weight in food every fourteen seconds they will also loudly state (screech or wail) that there “IS NOTHING TO EAT IN THIS HOUSE”. The hypocrisy of hurling this into the universe while you are hoovering up an entire package of pita bread and hummus washed down with a litre of apple juice mere seconds after eating a half bag of carrots, two oranges and a salad is completely lost on them. Trying to get teenagers to not eat all the food you have is like trying to take a meal away from a pride of wild lions. The only thing I have figured out to deal with this is to fill the house up with 5 tons of healthy food a day and try not to stand between them and the fridge.

2. Knit socks.

These are Regia Brasil Color #5478, finished and (get this) tucked away for Christmas. I know. Stunning foresight. Don’t expect it to continue.


If you work from home you aren’t going to get anything done anyway, and if you work outside the home you are going to spend all of your free time grocery shopping for the ravening hordes as well as trying to restore order to your life. Give up now. Knit simple.

Work on something where you can just do a row or two here or there. Lower your expectations of yourself, you just want to get out of this alive.

3. When the going gets rough, distract and reward yourself with beautiful projects in languages you don’t speak.


This is going much better with many thanks to several good ideas and the help of Anja, Lene (go look at her beautiful stockings) and various other witty, charming and kind Finns. Paljon kiitoksia!

Save these involved projects for when you can no longer stand to be in a room with three teen girls who are all arguing about who has the right to the computer (Hint: there is no winner) and need a way to mentally excuse yourself. Go sit on the floor in a corner of the kitchen and knit something tricky or weave in ends.


Do not look up. Do not make any noise. If you are very quiet, they may not find you until the food runs out and their primitive instincts kick in. Good luck.

Peukalo is thumb

Late last night I realized that I had been prevented from having hours of knitting time by Sam’s project on Pluto, and I felt a little deja vu. I think that it’s possible that this is the third time in my life that I’ve lost knitting time to a project on Pluto. Once when I was in grade six, then twice with Amanda and Meg. Go on. Ask me anything. Average surface temperature? I know it. Atmosphere? Yeah baby. I’m trying to celebrate being a walking Pluto trivia receptacle without being hostile about being quite sure that knowing that Pluto has a retrograde orbit probably has displaced something really useful from my limited brain space.

Today in fact I’m blaming Pluto (and it’s apparently intimate and perennial relationship to the Toronto District School Board) for not being able to read Finnish.

This mitten kit that I’m wild about (scroll down, it’s the one with the 14 colours) has my full attention, and last night I cozied up with the pattern, needles and a good attitude, and I sat down and read the instructions.


Now, this was not a surprise. I knew the intructions were in Finnish – but I really didn’t see that as a barrier to understanding.

I’m an optimist, I feel pretty good about my intelligence, and as a general rule, if I’m interested in something …I can make it work. Perpetually (and despite failing miserably at things on a regular basis) I’m convinced that if I really try and am really motivated, I will really be able to do something. This means that even though I don’t speak Finnish, have never had a Finnish lesson, don’t speak with Finnish people so can’t have even picked up a word or two, don’t have a Finnish radio station I like to listen to….in effect, have no working knowledge, relationship or ability in this area….

I believed that if I really made an effort. I could read Finnish.

I thought that (there is really something wrong with me.) I thought that my knowledge of knitting (holy crap) would throw me enough hints that I would be able to figure out Finnish, at least in a knitting pattern context.

Plus, I had this picture to illustrate how to do the twist/braid thing on the edge of the mitten.


No problem, right?

(I know. You don’t have to mock me. I mock myself. It’s like I live on planet happyland.)

I sat down with the pattern, common sense and a good outlook.

Three hours later I had established ………… things.

1. The first instruction is probably “Cast on 52 Stitches.” I say probably, because the mitten’s looking a little big. No way to know.

2. Pretty darned sure that “krs” is the Finnish version of “sts”. (This is so much less useful than I can tell you. Essentially it means that I have worked out that stitches are relevant and manipulated in this knitting pattern, which…frankly, I had suspected for some time.

3. The online Finnish translator said that “kerros” means “floor”.

This is bad news, in that I’m not sure what the floor has to do with mittens, unless the words before it say “throw on” , in which case I’m right on track.

4. The online Finnish translator knows very little…perhaps nothing, about knitting.

5. Neulo is a significant word. The translator has no idea. I did a google search on it, and the first three hits were these pages.

I now suspect it may mean “Knit”. This is a good start.

6. Peukalo is definitely thumb.


7. My best try (which is really just making up whatever I want) is very much wrong.


8. I really don’t speak Finnish. Even if I really make an effort.

9. Finnish is not a language that is intuitive to me. Concentrating does not help. Loosening up does not help. Wine does not help. Nothing about really, really wanting to read Finnish actually lends me this skill. I have no idea why this shocks me to no end.

10. I would like mittens, and therefore I feel compelled to admit all of this and throw myself on the mercy of anyone who can confirm that “molemmista päistä” has anything do do with knitting. I searched for in on Google images, and it may be a beaded man, a dresser, a sort of table or tomato or a yoga pose. If you can narrow it down, could you let me know?

While we’re at it, I’ll also cop to not being able to bowl, write Russion or spin cashmere, despite my emotional belief that I should be good at these things.

Carry on.

I know what I like.

I’ve decided to start talking about knitting books a little bit on the blog (It was inevitable, wasn’t it? That a knitter who’s also a writer would eventually start talking about knitting books?) I started to review a book that I love, and got to thinking about what I was going to do when I got to a book that I didn’t love. Say nothing? What I see others do sometimes? Too often, I think ( but I’ve been frequently accused of overthinking) there is an inherent unkindness in how knitters address patterns, designers or yarn they don’t like. I know you are guilty of this, as am I, we all are from time to time.( I do try to keep it so that if I think mean things I do my level best to contain it to the space inside my head, but everyone has their moments). There are other times though, when something is so completely out there that you cannot resist a good kick at it, and since I spend much of my time worrying about being someone who walks lightly on the planet and leaves little hurt, I thought I’d have a little think (there’s that overthinking again) about opinion, ethics and the way I feel about them, and I’ve got the perfect explanatory place to start. There are several people at Lettuce knit who saw me completely giggle myself into fits while perusing this book…

In my defense, I have three points.

1. If you whack a knitted bird on a hat or knit a samurai headdress I would really imagine that you are the clever sort of person who expects that some people (people who have way, way more structure around hats than you do, people like, say….me.) are going to have a very good laugh at it. There is simply no way that this woman is intelligent enough to produce these ideas but not clever enough to know that a structurally perfect Samurai Kabuto is going to knock some knitters with different personal taste flat on their backs in a yarn shop helplessly dissolved.

2. I didn’t laugh at all of them. Some of the hats are completely to my taste, the instructions (should a bird hat strike your fancy) are very clear and good, the author is clearly a creative individual with an enormous sense of whimsy, the illustrations are actually illustrative and the information about hats around the world is very interesting. See that? While I am (in places) of a dissenting view, there is much that redeems this book for me, and I’m open to it. This means that I can have a good laugh and still be able to go to the shop and buy it (don’t you think that Hank needs a Samurai headress for the dress-up box?) without exploding in a cloud of hypocrisy.

3. Here’s the clincher.

Just because I wouldn’t wear or knit some of these hats does not mean, and I really can’t stress this enough… that I think that this designer is dimwitted, un-talented or underrepresented in the intelligence pool. There is a sparkling supposition that I read out there all the time where someone writes something very negative like (and I am perhaps paraphrasing) “this is a design only a twit would design and a moron would knit” when really, what they really mean to say is “this is not at all to my taste”. This approach leads knitters into inferring that if a knitter chooses to knit such and such a pattern, or with such and such a yarn, that they think the knitter is making a dreadful mistake and since the knitter is not making something they would make, that the knitter is a being of lesser worth.

While “What were you thinking?” is a valid question somewhat deserving of an answer (I can say this because I admitted publicly to having knit this green sweater.) implying that the knitter is incapable of thought is not.

I admit too, that all of this smacks of “Why can’t we all just get along” but really, why can’t we? “Why can’t we all agree” is a ridiculous statement, and denying personal taste is just as demeaning as jabbing someone for it, but is there some value in a personal attack or a diminishing barb that I’m missing? Is there a usefulness in deriding the choices of other knitters? Isn’t it just knitting, and isn’t it possible to critique a book, a pattern or yarn without hurting someone? Why does it seem so difficult for so many of us to say “I madam, would not be caught dead in a bird hat” or “I would never knit cotton” without adding or inferring the troublesome statement “and neither should you.”

The meat of it would be (did that get away from me?) that I’m not actually sure that ones yarn choices, pattern selection or personal taste are related to moral superiority, personal worthiness or the right to turn up at a yarn shop.

This, naturally, is all just my opinion, and one that you are welcome to disagree with. (Hopefully without trashing me, but I can’t have things my way all the time. When I run the world, things will be different.) At what point does critique become cruel? Where do you draw your line? Is there ever a good reason to cross that line?

(Should I immediately forget I ever had the idea of talking about books and stick to my knitting?)

For the people who only look at the pictures on blogs (you know who you are.)


I spun yarn.

Who left the swift here?

Nobody was as surprised as I was by the latest big needle garter stitch phase. I have very little against big needles (as evidenced by the way that I didn’t need to go buy some when the urge struck) and even less against garter stitch, which I consider very elegant. (I understand the complaints of some anti-garter types who find it boring and somewhat numbing, but I like the simplicity of it.)

Still, I was surprised. I’d sort of thought that the whiplash of knitting one thing for sixteen days would be a wicked case of startitis and an overwhelming need for variety. When recovery consisted of housekeeping and brain dead back and forth knitting…you could have knocked me over with a feather. Most unlike me. I worried actually, that perhaps I was coming down with something. That maybe this simple knitting phase was an early warning system for a cold, or the flu…or maybe an indication that I had finally gathered enough inner peace to knit that garter stitch jacket I’ve been thinking about. I shouldn’t have worried. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I seem to have contracted the predicted exceptional case of startitis.

Symptoms consist of the following:


Working on the tinks sweaters with a zeal I’d forgotten. I’m suddenly aware that they are growing quickly and that if I don’t get the lead out I’m going to have spent all this time and energy knitting them hats with sleeves. Realistically speaking, this means that all I should be knitting is the tinks sweaters….and yet….


Ahem. A pair of socks seems to be almost finished, and worse than that….


Er, there is possibly (though I don’t exactly remember how this happened) a lace scarf started out of the single ball of Misti Alpaca that I had leftover from the snowflake shawl. Does it end here? No my friends, it does not.


This would appear to be a mitten kit from Susanna, a gift from ages ago that has been stalking me from the stash. I’ve managed to resist it for a good long time, but there’s my favourite kind of mitten talk in the blogosphere and this represents a desperate attempt to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of Latvian braids. (Maybe I’ll put one little braid on the cuff….just to take the edge off.) It would appear that I wound this up very quickly sometime yesterday while I was on the phone. It’s a blur.

I know that Rams is reading all of this (muttering darkly of commitment and faith and Tuesdays being for spinning while readying the stash-weasels to beset me) waiting for me to make some sort of gansey noise, so my fear of her wrath has a big lump of gansey Corridale making it’s way through the wash today.


I can’t spin that wet, so….


Sigh. Roving from Spunky Eclectic. I am helpless in the face of it.

I distract you now with yet another gift for an Olympian, (one that I neglected to give out the other day, what with being distracted by all of that garter stitch) this time from Rabbitch


Beautiful peridot and silver stitch markers (Rabbitch acknowledges, and I concur, that it is very difficult to take pictures of sparkly things.) that spell “knit”. Renee S. is the lucky winner. (Great. I went to Renee’s blog and now I want to cast on those socks.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s occurred to me that Fiona’s Book Launch is tomorrow…


(Have you seen this book? It’s beautiful. Maybe I’ll review it tomorrow.) …and I should totally go cast on something cabled. You know, not because I can’t control myself…just so I’m knitting something appropriate at the Launch. It’s about Fiona, not me. I can stop whenever I want to. It’s a choice. Where’s my ball winder? Get out of my way.

Oh, there I am.

The bad news is that I’m so busy that I only have time to drop-in on my own blog for a moment.

The good news is that I dealt with a whole pile of papers, messages, bills, bits and pieces that were sitting beside the computer glaring at me for being a slacker. (We shall not dwell on what the world would have had to say about me if my hydro had been cut off because I was too busy with the Knitting Olympics to pay the bill. They lock people up for less. I’m sure of it.)

The other good news is that I appear to have finished my big needle garter stitch phase along with finishing this shawl.


This is the Fleece Artist “Soft wrap” kit knit up in a triangle instead of a rectangle.


I cast on one stitch, then increased at the beginning of each row, changed yarns at the beginning of each row, left the ends hanging and knotted them up when I was done. Instant fab, and it could have been bigger too…I ran out of the will to knit it before I ran out of the yarn. The left-overs have been gifted to Megan, who has enough for a scarf but said that she would “rather eat the yarn” than knit another scarf. Any ideas?

(PS. Juno? No way.)

Almost as good as a medal

I finished the scarf and started more garter stitch.


I’m even boring myself, so lets do prizes, shall we?

(Note: Someone is going to ask…the coffee cup is from here)

I’ve emailed all the winners, (chosen by random number generation) so if you’re wondering if you are the knitter who won (some of the names are pretty common) check your inbox!

Knit Couture is giving this really neat tool kit to Jane H.

Purlewe has this swank knitting bag


Going to live with Cattie in Norway (There’s one for TSF too….Anj is a pretty sweet pea.)

Ram Wools has a (be still my beating heart) $150 gift certificate for Kathy H.

Fyberspates has a generous donation for Olympians as well. (Don’t you love this stuff?)

Judy B., Susan C., Robin, Denise S. and Phyllis S. each win 2 100gm skeins of hand painted sock yarn.

Shannon B. wins 5 x 50gms of hand dyed lace weight mohair

Erin S. scored 500gms of hand dyed alpaca silk yarn.

Tara L. is the lucky knitter getting 500gms of hand dyed soft aran weight yarn.

KnitPicks gets in on the act giving away:

Gold –(Mustard Andean Silk – 10 balls) to Joy B.

Silver — (Slate Andean Silk – 10 balls) to Nancy L.

Bronze — (Cinnamon – Andean Silk – 10 balls) Kathleen W.

(they ask that the recipients be Canadian or American addressees, I think these three are, but don’t worry if you’re not. KnitPicks can send it to me (I assure you, I am in their database) and I’ll send it on to you.)

Kathryn V. is generously sending Debra S. a skein of Steadfast Fiber Mohair worsted Boysenberry dye lot #399, straight out of her very own stash. (Has anybody used this yet? It sounds wonderful.)

The very generous Jordana Paige (yes. that one.) will be sending Melissa the knitting bag of her choice. (Sigh. Aren’t those bags slick?)

From me,


a juicy skein of Fleece Artist Curlylocks mohair. (I used another one to make the blue poncho Kelly is wearing here, it’s a big skein.) It’s going to live with Carry T.


and Spirit Trail beautiful sock yarn from Maryland Sheep and wool for Judy P.

Enough? Many, many thanks to the generous prize donors. My favourite people are ones giving away knitting stuff. (It’s a fine quality) I wish I could give all of you a prize. Every single one of you.

Before I fade off into my garter stitch induced trance, a little note for all the Ken fans out there. (If you aren’t a fan yet, read this, and know that Ken is the only reason that this blog exists at all. ) It’s his 40th birthday, a big deal here at Chez Harlot. I’m baking him bread and pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, Joe’s on the job with his famous potato cheese soup and we found him a pretty good present. If you’d like to help spread the cheer around, you can leave him a comment here.

Side effects

One thing I loved about the Knitting Olympics, besides getting a really neat sweater out of it, (Which I love. I love it enough that I’m wearing it continuously. I love it enough that I’m thinking about using it as a pillowcase at night and enough that Joe cautioned someone about touching it without permission yesterday.) was the way that everyone seemed to learn some kind of lesson from it.

Some people learned that they could accomplish more than they thought in 16 days, some learned that turning a sock heel or doing fair isle wasn’t that bad, and some people (and I admit that I sympathize) learned that the next time I get one of these crazy ideas they are going to click on over to a sane knitting blog before they get caught up in something that costs them 2 weeks of their lives. I’m surprised to discover these last two days that I apparently either can’t be taught or didn’t learn what I thought I did. One of the biggest lessons for me was the issue of project monogamy. Only working on one thing for 16 days. Only one thing? It was pretty difficult for me. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 24 hours without a project change. I mean, I’ll work on a sweater or something more or less consistently (Stop that. I do too.) but there’s always a little bit of something else to make for a little variety. More than once in the process I felt myself jonesing for a change. A little lace, a buttonhole band, a little wee bit of a sock leg just to take the edge off of the whole thing.

I imagined that when I finished I would knit about 6 rows on 42 things. The opposite of project monogamy, rampant unfocussed little bit of everything knitting. When I realized (in that sleep-deprived maniacal place I was in at the end) that I actually could knit a Dale of Norway in 16 days, I felt some guilt and learned another lesson. There’s suddenly no excuse for having 29 belligerently unfinished items hanging around. As I rolled into bed with my brand new sweater, I realized that a little more focus in my knitting life was entirely possible, even desirable, and I celebrated the lesson that the epic had taught me. Finished stuff is good, and it’s not that hard to get. I vowed that while I probably had not been reborn as one of those productive “one project at a time” knitters, I would now crack down on some of the beautiful stuff lingering longingly about the linen closet, waiting for a moment in the sun.

That’s why I’m so surprised to discover that immediately after learning this lesson, I’ve got wicked side effects.

It turns out that the whiplash from knitting a very traditional colourwork sweater on 3mm needles in sixteen days is an absolutely irresistible urge to knit a brand spanking new garter stitch scarf on big needles.


Not only that…but (and this is really unexpected) it’s the only thing I want to knit.


Complete project monogamy.

Anybody else got olympic whiplash they weren’t expecting?