March 31, 2006

Hello, 911?

You better send somebody over here because I am ON FIRE.


Finished mittens. Finished Finnish mittens. (That is, for anybody counting - FOUR finished items in TWO days. I do not care to discuss how long it took to get to this harshes on my mellow. Mercury must have come out of retrograde or something. )


A shot of them with a reluctant Amanda, just one of the family members I forced to wear these this morning before breakfast. (They don't fit Joe.) I just can't stop admiring these. I love them. I adore them. They are so beautiful that I want to go out into the street and make strangers admire them.

I even think the little pile of ends from the weaving in is art.


Many, many thanks to Susanna for the kit (She's a goddess. Everything anywhere near her is beautiful. I have no idea where she found it, the clever knitter.) This round of finishing stuff up has left me with (comparatively) empty needles, a buzz of springtime energy and rather than investing that into something useful like, I dunno...spring cleaning? I'm going to go toss the Stash. Suggestions?

(PS. If you ever decide to do some research on alternative fleece washing methods...never, ever do an internet search on "dirty sheep". It is not humanity's finest hour.)

Posted by Stephanie at 1:26 PM

March 30, 2006

Done, done and done

I've finally finished all the finishing, and the Tink's sweaters are done.

Two sweaters, knit from the "Voss" pattern in this book, using Dale of Norway "Baby Ull". Great pattern. (Never knitting it again as along as I live. )

I love them. I feel like I churned out a couple of heirlooms, and in an unusual and personal triumph, I churned them out before the babies in question grew too big to use them for anything but sippy cup coasters. These sweaters are for The Tinks, knit by proxy for Lene's twin niece and nephew. The Tinks have grown almost faster than I can knit. See them here, here and here for the idea of this challenge.
For the record, I think that the next time I knit for a set of twins (and there's another set headed my way) that I'm going to make them each something different. This made for beautiful, but monotonous knitting. "Second sweater syndrome" has even more powerful mojo than "second sock syndrome" . (I have to say that the fourth sleeve called for a fortitude of spirit that I don't want to ever summon again. The fourth buttonband was something that Dante could have written about. )

A shot for those of you who like to see the insides of sweaters....(that's all of you, isn't it?)

After I finished those, I went to Megan's concert at Massey Hall


Watched Meg do an awesome job. ("Don't cry for me Argentina" was my personal favourite)


and finished these.


(Meilenweit Mega Boot Stretch - colour 703 -one skein, my standard sock recipe.)

How 'bout that? Three finished things in one day. Don't get used to it.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:47 PM

March 29, 2006

Succession of busy somethings

1. Guess who turns six today?


Everybody's favourite blog fodder Henry James (Hank to his friends) is a whopping six year old today. There was cake, and there were presents.


(Hank is seen here playing with the CD player and audio books that I got him for a present. He is not playing with the Gameboy. I consider this, right or wrong, a personal victory.) Congratulations to my sister Erin for keeping him alive for this long.

2. A big happy birthday to Kamilah, our niece and daughter of Kelly and Ben (MSF Ben). Kamilah, who is lovely, charming, cooperative and clear-thinking, becomes an official teenager today - turning 13. I don't seem to have a picture of her, so you'll have to trust me that she's a beauty. (That's a lie. I have several, but she is younger and not 13 in any of them, and if I had gone to all the trouble of growing up to be a teenager, then I wouldn't want some dorky knitter Aunt posting lame pictures of me as a mere child all over the internet.) I'll get a good one.

3. I turned this washed fleece


into this carded fleece.


I know that's not quite spinning for Tuesdays, but you can't spin uncarded wool, so I feel like it still counts.

4. Progress on the Tinks sweaters remains strong. I bought buttons.


I knit on the subway. (I thought that Subway Knitter might like that one.)


5. I knit while Amanda did this.


That's a concert with the youth orchestra she's in. I find going to the kids stuff really reassuring. Teenagers are out there in the world and I don't like it. I like having them here where I know that they are safe. I wonder what they do when they aren't here...but concerts....concerts make me feel like things are going to be ok. You look at your kid, doing something complex and clever like playing the violin and making real music and you think "Wow. My kid probably doesn't have a smack habit I don't know about."

6. I checked my local Chapters for the new book. It wasn't there. I know it's profoundly pathetic to hunt your own book in the wild, but I can't help it. I never feel like it's real until I see it in a bookstore.

7. I drew a name for the copy of Mason-Dixon Knitting. Out of all the broke knitters who emailed me I chose a name at random, and the book will be going to live with Ivy W. Congratulations!

Tomorrow, finished Tinks! (I hope. Shouldn't have said anything. It'll all go wrong now.)

Posted by Stephanie at 2:23 PM

March 28, 2006

Dear Ann and Kay

I been sitting here for a good long time with your new book, in fact, as soon as it arrived, I assumed the position. It looks like this.


Your book, a cup of coffee (or seven) a sock in progress (or three) and several hours (or days) of my life that I will never get back and don't care about. It was worth it. I think it's appropriate that I get around to talking about this book on it's official birthday publication date. See that? There was a reason that the computer ate my post yesterday. (I'm almost over that.) I know everyone will want to send you their congratulations. I want you to know too, that your book shares it's Birthday with Joes' sister Katie, who is charming and beautiful and unbearably clever and living in Spain and she's so wonderful that you would hate her except for she's brilliantly, perfectly human and decent. It's an auspicious day. If your book does half as well as Katie does, you'll be thrilled to bits.

This book, with apologies to Forrest Gumps' mother, is like a box of chocolates. You can open it at any page and have no idea what you're going to get, but know it will be good. When I first got it I was so excited that I phoned a friend to tell them about it (I actually may have told everyone I know about it. I'm so proud of you two.) and I tried to explain what it was like. "Is it a book of patterns?" she asked. "Yes, well, no...well...not just patterns."
There are patterns. There are rugs and blankets and page after page of beautiful things.
Things like this..


and this...


and this...


and I know, my dear Ann and Kay..I know what people are going to think when they see the genius that is these simple, elegant patterns. (I know because I said it myself.) They are going to say "well now. A linen hand towel. Knitting on jean jackets. Log cabin blankie-o-rama. I could have thought of that." and it's true, but you know what? They didn't think of it. I didn't. You did. (That's because you understand that giving people tools, a lot of beautiful pictures and a decent shove is going to yield more beautiful knitting that any of us can dream of. ) The patterns may be simple, but they have a weird hoodoo, becoming even more engaging and inviting possibility the longer you look at them. Good for beginners, and a neat inspiration to the experienced.

The sections on knitting with your kids were slipped surreptitiously to my own daughters, and I have to tell you that Meg looked at that pinwheel garter stitch rug (which may be a shawl, knit in different yarn) and conceded (and I would remind you that she is 14 and you are not, and this means that very little you are capable of is acceptable to her on matters of principle) that it was (and I quote)..."Cool".

I told my friend on the phone that it wasn't just patterns, that it was... (Note to self: Consider reading your friends the very informative subtitle of the book that says the book has "Stories, Patterns, Advice, Opinions, Questions, Answers, jokes and Pictures. It will save you time.) it was, writing about knitting. "Oh" she said. "Like you do, essays and stories." "No" not like that. It's got patterns, but it's not really a pattern book. It's got stories, but it's not a book of essays, it tells you how to do stuff, but it's not a how-to' a box of chocolates. Something good every time, but no way to know what it's going to be. (Unless you're going to lick the bottoms off of all of the chocolates in the box and put back all the ones that aren't an orange creme, a trick my brother used to play when he was little.)

The book is charming, and I have to tell you that you two got me to cast on a dishcloth.


See, you wrote so eloquently about their usefulness and allure that I remembered that I like knitting the occasional square of cotton love. I was moved. That's right...moved, by the 450 words you wrote in their defense. People can say what they like. Washrags are cool (though mines a facecloth) and the three of us will take on anyone who says otherwise.

Like a box of fine chocolates, this book is an indulgence, (I may only feel that way only because Joe and earn our livings engaging in the arts and are therefore frequently set upon by a spontaneous and unpredictable income...well, that and I'm sort of cheap frugal) and is priced like one. It's not expensive by yarn standards, and not expensive considering that it's a very beautiful hardcover that would not be amiss on a coffee table...and certainly not expensive when you consider that it's an inspiring conversation and a lovely visit with the two authors. You guys did a good job. I love the book more each time I open it.

The good news is that I'm pretty darned sure that the book isn't going to humiliate you both so that you have to run away and change your names while you take up making only red bookends of plastic canvas, collecting small statues of dogs dressed as leprechauns and swearing that you've never knit a stitch in your lives. (That's really what you were afraid of...right?) Fear not.

Fondly, as ever,


PS. I happen to have an extra copy of Mason-Dixon Knitting, so I'm going to share the fun of owning it. I'd like to give it to somebody who's itching to own it but would have to save up. If that's you, send an email to me at stephanie AT yarnharlot DOT ca with the subject line "I'm broke" and I'll choose from among you. Good luck!

PS again...Kelli-the-new-wonder-publicist added Pittsburgh to the tour schedule.

Posted by Stephanie at 7:40 AM

March 27, 2006

It had to happen.

I wrote something great, put all the links in. Made it really beautiful and then, right out of the blue, Ecto crashed, taking the whole blog post with it.

I am furious. I have no right to be furious, because if I had been even a little bit smart I would have been hitting "save" from time to time and then, when the software decided to give me a little smack, I could have mocked it and it's attempt to thwart me. "Ha!" I would have exclaimed. I would have smirked smugly and taunted the laptop. I would have screeched "Nice try, you pixel driven ingrate of a pig-dog! You do not vex me today!" and made wild threats about unplugging it's power-supply and taking away the extra-fancy battery and seeing how it liked losing something without any warning...all this as I resurrected the post and made a little note on my white-board about the time that Ecto tried to get me and failed, because I was too smart. Score, Stephanie 1, Ecto NOTHING.
That's what I would have written.

If, you know. I was smart.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:24 PM

March 24, 2006

Now do it again

Tink sweater #1 is finished. (But unblocked)


Dudes, I am so happy. I admit that it still needs buttons. (I'm looking for little pewter ones like this, except I'd like to find them locally, just for the sake of speed. You know me. Instant gratification takes too long.) There's gotta be one or two of you observant enough to notice that in the pictures of this sweater from the other day there was lime green, even though there's none to be seen on the finished sweater. It's a knitters trick. I was enchanted by the lime and really wanted to use it, but thought it was such a bold colour that the Tinks mum might not feel the same way. (What? Doesn't everybody want lime green stripes on their traditional norwegian baby sweater?) I couldn't give it up though, so check out the inside.


I love that the sweater has a little surprise inside. The lime green is the facings that cover the raw edges of the cut steeks. This entertains me to absolutely no end. (Admittedly, I am easily entertained.)
I'd feel even more pleased with myself, except for the other twins sweater looks like this...


and the twins look like this. I need to knit faster. Much faster.

Book Review the first

This is Fiona's new book


Inspired Cable Knits: 20 creative designs for making sweaters and accessories. (You guys know that I always link to Amazon because it's easy and fast, but I'd encourage you to support your local independent bookseller or yarn shop, if you have one.)

I feel like I should post a bit of a disclaimer before I wax poetic about the brilliance of this book. Some of you will know that Fiona Ellis lives here in Toronto, and some of you will also know that she's also a friend of mine. I know that makes all of the wonderful things I'm about to say about her book sort of suspect, I mean... if a friend of mine had written a bad book, I'd be in a fine mess. I thought a lot about what exactly I would say if her book sucked. (I didn't really think that it would, what with Fiona having such a good track record with knitwear design, but you never know. She could have landed a psychotic editor or a nasty photographer. All things are possible. ) I lived in fear of this book arriving and me being in the position of having to say something about it and needing to be honest, because I wouldn't want a knitter to waste sacred yarn money on a bad book, but at the same time, not wanting to hurt Fiona's feelings. I imagined myself avoiding her calls and telling her that I forgot to review it when she finally pinned me down. You can only imagine my relief when the book appeared and was not only brilliant, but beautiful.

Check this.


Nice eh? It's a beautiful sweater called "Gathering Intentions" and it's pretty close to the top of my What I'll Knit Next list. The book is full of sweaters designed with inspiration drawn from the ideas of Change, Nature, Energy and Time. There's knitting resembling bark, sound waves, sand dunes, yoga poses....this sweater is based on the idea of an intention. The idea that you have that will eventually become an action. (Fiona writes about this more beautifully than I do.) Thus the sweater and the cables spring up from the intention...


This beautiful i-cord accent that leads the cables out into three dimensions. Beautiful. (I admit that when I knit this I'm likely going to leave off the i-cord at the wrists. I'm completely the dork who's going to have those dunked in a cup of coffee, dragged through the sink or slammed in a car door 10 minutes after I put it on. I'm like that. Perhaps you are more graceful.)

Fiona's a smart cookie too...(though that's likely been proven just by designing that...) the sweater comes in sizes that range from a 91.5cm/ 36 inch bust all the way to a 132cm / 52 inch bust. Something for everybody, which is grand, because this book is full of the classic, durable sweater shapes that look marvelous on most body types.

If sweaters aren't your bag, or you're new to cables and are feeling like cabling your way through a sleeve cap might not be the place to start, there's wonderful, simple pieces to begin with. A hat and scarf set, a wrap (the wrap is a thing of wonder), a yoga bag, pillows...even a wee baby sweater to cut your teeth on. There's sweaters for men too, often woefully neglected in knit-design.

My only complaint was also mentioned by Susan C. yesterday in the comments. It's that the patterns call for specific amounts of specific yarns (easy to get, very accessible yarns) but don't list the specific amount of yardage required for each sweater. (So it says 5 skeins of yarn X, vs 750 yards.) Now if you're like me, the odds that you're going to knit all of these sweaters in the yarn that Fiona suggests (even though her suggestions are very good) is about zip. I'm going to go stash diving, or pick something on sale, or substitute a yarn that comes in colours more to my taste, whatever my taste is that moment. This means that I have to do a little homework to find out the yardage. Google the yarn she suggests, find the yardage per ball...multiply. (That sounds like math. I hate math.) Still, it's a problem easily solved in about 2 minutes, so I don't see it as a barrier. Especially when the charts are like this.


Nice eh? Clear, big, easy to read. Perfect. (If you are anti-chart, I don't understand you at all, but Fiona does. Each chart is accompanied by written out row by row instruction so you can pick your preference.) Also in the book is really nice instructions on how to work cables, short rows, place markers, make increases. One stop shopping.

This sweater (I believe I may eventually knit everything from this book) calls my name while I sleep.


I imagine myself very elegant in this, and in my dreams, it makes me look very tall and thin while lending my frizzy bedraggled curls a celtic flair. The sweater is just that good.

I really think that this book is a classic work, and deserves to be on pretty much every knitters bookshelf if they like cables, are thinking about liking cables or sometimes think about cables a little bit. It's downright inspiring. (That might have something to do with the title.)

I ran out of time to do Ann and Kay's book today, but I'll get there, don't worry.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:07 PM

March 23, 2006

Random Thursday

I know I usually do random Wednesdays, but I lost track of the days of the week again am being really random by doing Thursday.

1. As many of you would know already, Mr. Etherknitter (Husband of our lovely Etherknitter) was involved in a dreadful ski accident a little while ago. He's ok now, though stranded abed, and today is his birthday. If you are so inclined, you can inundate him by dropping off a comment here. I bet it would cheer them both.

2. I finished the new socks...and I think that they are the perfect antidote to the drab greyness of Toronto this time of year.


These are Grumperina's famous Jaywalker pattern (I had to do it at least once) knit from Vesper Sock Yarn in the "Crew" colourway, modeled by Meg, who'd like to point out how well she thinks they go with her new shoes.


You may use your imagination to guess what else her spectacularly 14 year old fashion sense will allow her to wear. Some days I'd like to get back the button she had when she was three that said "I dressed myself today".

As reported by so many, the pattern is tons of fun, though the patterning on the leg is sort of inelastic, so if I were knitting them for anyone without really slender legs and feet I would have gone up a size, regardless of foot length. It should also be noted that I didn't have the pattern with me when the time came for the toes, so I did my own thing.

3. That Laurie left a comment yesterday, and she makes some darned good points.

First, what everyone else has said about the math involved here -- you have calculated to your own detriment AND not counted the considerable labor of washing and carding -- also part of spinning (as is PLYING, come to think of it!).

Second, you have also written 2-3 (4?) books in this period of time -- blame it on book tours and making us happy.

Third -- and this one is key -- you need to start knitting the sweater! Nothing inspires power spinning so much as the need for more yarn when the sweater is underway. The knitting creates the love of the yarn which begats more yarn.

The one problem with your readers' advice about the vest is that I bet you are planning to DESIGN your Joe's Gansey, possibly using Beth Reinsel-Brown's delightful book? Even so, you could start.

After all, your working gauge in gansey knitting MIGHT mean you need less yarn.

You can always count on That Laurie for some clear thinking.

First, Yeah. I didn't add the washing, carding and plying time, though it's true...those add considerable time to the effort. I think I probably spend as much time washing and carding as I do spinning, which is mostly due to my own obsessive techniques for those activities.

Second, yeah. Right Laurie. (This is why I love Laurie, she's always willing to supply me with a decent rationalization) It's because of the books and the tour. Uh-huh. I'll take the heat on this one. It'll because it turns out that THINKING about spinning gansey wool while you knit, isn't the same as sitting at the wheel SPINNING gansey wool and it turns out that I can't make yarn with the power of my mind and I'm actually going to have to commit to working on it if I want to start making progress.

Third, Start knitting the sweater? This is an interesting idea. I am planning on designing the sweater myself, using this book and this one. My worry, and perhaps it is misguided, as so many of my worries that this yarn is being spun over such a long period of time that I'm concerned (guaranteed, actually) that the yarn I'm producing can't be consistent. I'm worried that I'll start knitting with the stuff I've already spun, and end up with sleeves two different sizes or something. My common sense tells me that if I were to knit the gansey from two alternating balls throughout (one old, one new, a couple of rows with each one) that maybe I could disguise the fact that I'm about as consistent with my spinning as Elizabeth Taylor is with her husbands.

Thoughts from experienced sweater -spinning knitters? Is there another way? Should I care?

4. I put the new tour page stuff up. There's some stops listed there, starting a staggering two weeks from today. There will be way more added as we welcome Kelli-the-new-wonder-publicist, who replaces Sarah in their attempts to move me around the world in a way that lets me see as much yarn as possible, meet all of my imaginary friends, go to yarn parties, er...publicize the book? Yeah. That's it. Who's coming?

5. Look what I got!

That's Mason-Dixon Knitting, from you know who, and Inspired Cable Knits, from Fiona Ellis. Both beautiful. Both to be reviewed. Likely tomorrow.

6. I washed fleece for the sweater even though it was Wednesday.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:03 PM

March 22, 2006

Send the stashweasels

I'm still here. Haven't killed any teenagers or bought a ticket to Belize. Thanks for the sympathy, support and reassurances that the do grow up and that I won't be left a shattered shell of a woman at the end of it. Turns out that I didn't feel nearly so doomed once I got sitting at the spinning wheel. For the gratification of the Gansey brigade, who seem to doubt that all of this washing, carding and spinning will ever add up to a sweater....


It turns out that I deserve every snide stashweasel comment Rams and her team have ever sent my way. This is the total effort thus far. (I would rather not discuss that I was so shocked by this that I trashed my own stash looking for the rest.)It's a mere seven (7) skeins of three ply yarn, about a dk weight, with each skein coming in at about 150m. That means that since I started this June 17th while ago, I've managed to turn out about 1050m of yarn. (In my defense it IS three ply, which means that I have spun three times that.) I estimate that it will take about 1800m to make a sweater for Joe, so I'll just nip off and lie in the road now. I did a little math to get the facts.

92 Tuesdays (Tuesdays are for spinning) have passed since I began.
I have 1050m of yarn.
1050 divided by 92 = 11.41

I am producing roughly (I'm going to round up here, not that it helps much) 11 1/2 metres of yarn per week. Considering that I need 800 more metres, I should be done in 69 weeks.

Hold me.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:50 PM

March 20, 2006

I always hated buttonbands.

It's not all sunshine and roses everyday at Chez Harlot, and yesterday (which should really have been a triumphant day, a brilliant return to all things adult and wage earning) I was felled by an uncharacteristic headache and the rigours of parenting teen daughters, neither or which has much to recommend it. I did the only thing I could do, I tried to keep my cool, I fussed with the tinks sweaters, and at some point the parallels between this phase of parenting and this phase of sweaters hit me.


I have decided that I liked being a mother better when I was in charge and everything was simple. Back when all I had to do to be quite sure I was doing it right was to nurse them, read them books and keep them from sticking forks into electrical sockets. Bonus points for going to the park and making homemade muffins with grated carrots in them. The rules were very clear.
Ditto the body of the sweaters...cast on the right number of stitches, check for gauge, follow the chart. Keep an eye out for glaring mistakes, fix them as best as you can and keep going. I'm not going to say that this phase of sweater and child were easy, (I'm glossing over the part where you do this on 2 hours of sleep or breathe your way through the 43rd tantrum of the day or run out of yarn mid sleeve. ) but both parenting and sweater knitting are, at this phase, about endurance and patience.

Then, suddenly...the whole thing changes. Suddenly, both knitting a sweater and parenting are a lot harder. Right out of the blue, without a word of warning (except perhaps the twisted screams of every single person who has ever parented a teenager since the dawn of time) Suddenly, this phase is about all kinds of scary, scary stuff. The finishing.


All of a sudden you're doing things that are serious. Really serious. Cutting steeks. Signing permission slips to go to New York. Things that can't be taken back if you screw them up and misjudge. There's no fixing a sleeve steek you cut 3cm too long, and I don't know how I would forgive myself if my kid wound up in a dangerous place because I botched the situation. Suddenly, the practice of both activities is about nerve, judgment and enormous leaps of faith. A firm inner belief that your child is a decent person with some sense, and an equivalent belief that steeks don't unravel into a heap of crap when you take scissors to them.


Then, before you've recovered from the shock of it all, there's a new thing. The sweater/kid finishing is a different thing again. Now you're picking up stitches, knitting facings to cover raw edges, massaging a basically good sweater into a great sweater by working on the details.

This is not simple. You can't just haul off and knit a button band, any more than you can rip off an arbitrary curfew for your teen. Button bands need to be just so. Too long and they gape, too short and they pull inward. There's a finesse here. A really great sweater can be ruined with crappy finishing. Attention to detail is everything, and the insides matter as much as the outsides.


Same with the daughters. Too much freedom and they could wind up in a situation that they don't have the experience to manage. Too little freedom and I run the risk of not allowing them to gain more experience, or worse...I take a basically good kid and force them to behave badly to untie themselves from my wicked tight apron strings.

The word of the day, the word of everyday, is "negotiation". You can't just haul off and pick up the neckband. You need to read the gauge, you need to think things over. You need to decide how much each individual stitch matters and pace yourself. You can't get all hung up on one itty bitty stitch when the other 99 are perfect.
This part of the sweater isn't about endurance. It's about fussing.


In the end nothing is ever going to be absolutely 100% perfect. Not kids, not sweaters, not parents. You just do your level best with your goal in mind, the kind of thing you would like to end up with. There's no going back to the perfectly clear chart. No instructions good enough, and the time when you knew if everything was ok is gone. You're not going to know for sure if you were right about the button bands until the sweater comes off the needles and graduates from University and becomes an adult and makes great decisions, and until then you just can't take it personally when the sweater tells you that you're ruining it's life with your overbearing knitting and maybe, just maybe you should "chill out" while you finish the sweater and trust that the sweater doesn't really hate everything about you and all that you hold dear and that buying the sweater a cellphone so you can call it whenever you want and bug it while it's out doing absolutely nothing wrong while you worry that all of that time that you breastfed the sweater counted for absolutely nothing and hope, quietly and with as much dignity is left to you, that the sweater really doesn't think that you are a horrible person just because you won't let it date skanky skeins of polyester and break all of the rules that you set up just to avoid worrying about the sweater while you think about what you did when you were a teenager and hope that nobody has figured out any of that stuff and, and...

Sorry. I think I'll go spin now. No buttonbands.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:41 PM

March 17, 2006

A room of my own.

Except it's not really my own, and it's not really a room, and I've sort of finished it too late to keep me sane during the March Break, and it's not really finished since all the trim needs to be done....but let's put that aside.

There used to be this crappy mudporch off the back of my house. A really crappy dark room with a cement floor and mice condominiums built in the walls and there was this strange little 3/4 size door that led out to the side of the house and the backyard. It's actually the only way to the backyard. Anyone who saw it could testify that it was awful. It was where we kept tools and the recycling. In the meantime, I was trying to write books and think clearly (and get the kids and Joe to try not to interrupt me) with my office in ...well. ON the dining room table. I had to move my stuff every time we ate a meal there. One day, I got fed up with, I don't know what. Likely one of the kids, (I have a knack for directing hostility into home renovation) and my buddy Sinead and I went into the back room and ripped the crap out of it.


That's the corner that today looks like...


This! My office. Well. That 1.5m by 3m is my office. The rest is still storage space. Much better storage space, I grant you.


Want a tour?


I even put some stuff in the drawer.


It's still a backroom. It's still small and a little crappy, but it's mine.
It made me so happy I started a new sock.


Happy St. Patricks day. Pass the Guinness. I'll be in my office.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:10 PM

March 15, 2006

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 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.)

Posted by Stephanie at 3:34 PM

March 14, 2006

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.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:19 PM

March 13, 2006

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.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:52 PM

March 10, 2006

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 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.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:51 AM

March 8, 2006

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, 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.

Posted by Stephanie at 10:49 PM

March 7, 2006

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 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.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:41 PM

March 6, 2006

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.)

Posted by Stephanie at 5:01 PM

March 3, 2006

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.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:55 PM

March 2, 2006

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?

Posted by Stephanie at 1:54 PM