October 31, 2007

I swear I didn't touch it

Yesterday, apparently something went bang in the universe somewhere, and entirely unbeknownst to me this caused a rippling cascade of cosmic errors that - although entirely imperceptible to me... took the blog down and entirely corrupted my huge mysql (I don't know what that is) database. Indeed, oblivious to the problem at all, I went happily to yoga class. When I returned, I had a couple of emails (thank you, Christy and Janey) letting me know that all was not well in the land of comments. I sighed. I had a beer. I watched House. I waited for the forces that be (the forces that be would actually be Ken) to fix the thing. After all...I had done nothing to deserve a blog problem. I had bought lots of room, I didn't upgrade, I didn't touch the templates. (I am prohibited the template touching.) Yea, even though I am often perplexed, intrigued and made curious by the software that makes the blog go, I had not touched the software, nor clicked on any buttons in the software. Indeed, though it is my software, I had not so much as adjusted a setting, nor posted to the blog, nor even looked at the computer, in sooth, I had not even been in my home when the cascade of errors erupted.

This morning, the blog was still broken, in fact, things were worse, since the gush of server related faults had progressed to the point where not only could you guys not participate in the blog by commenting, but I couldn't participate by posting an entry, which seemed to be just as critical a portion of the process. Indeed, when I checked my email this morning, my server had sent me a lot of mail letting me know that it had deep concerns and failures related to its "hpptd, named, ftpd, exim, syslogd, imap and cpsrvd" thingies. I don't know what those are, but I had a feeling that they were the server equivalent of "pancreas, spleen and gallbladder" so I (still) did not touch anything but backed away from the screen and called Ken on the phone and told him "blog still broken. Make blog go?"
Ken, unfortunately was hampered from helping me by the presence of something he termed "a real job", and I realized that I was going to have to do the unthinkable. I was going to have to call technical support for the server.

This is how much sock you can knit while you talk to the very helpful Jason at tech support.


It was best for me to knit while he explained what is wrong, because I swear that didn't understand a single word he said. I pretended to say intelligent things while he "repaired the mt_entry table in the mysql database" and talked about "command line entries". Jason was boggled at the depth of the problems. He would find one thing that was broken that would lead to another thing that was broken that would lead to .....well. You get it. It's like when you call the plumber because the kitchen tap is leaking, and he tells you that the problem is the pipe, so he takes apart the pipe and discovers that it's actually the supply pipe behind the wall, and knocks out the wall, and finds out that the problem is really the larger inlet from the street and the next thing you know they are fixing your leaky tap with a backhoe and a team of guys tearing up the front garden.

Jason kept saying things like "Woah....what the...." and then whistling low and impressed at the breadth of exactly how screwed the whole thing was. (I do not find this comforting in a tech guy.) Every time he went "Holy cow...what happened to the....." I would knit a little faster. What does he mean "What happened" ? I called him to find out what happened. Is it broken? Is it expensive? Can it be fixed? I need a little feigned confidence from the tech guy....I'm drowning in a huge pool of tech-crap and the fact that he is impressed with how screwed I am is not at all comforting. I would knit, knit, knit...all while suppressing the urge to scream "MAKE BLOG GO!!!".

All through the process of fixing the thing, Jason quizzed me. What had I done to deserve this? Upgrade? Click on something? Install something? I had to have committed some crime to have created this conflagration of incredible craptitude. In a scene worthy of The Closer, Jason tried to divine the exact moment when I had committed some innocuous action, some click or stroke of the keyboard, seemingly anodyne - but in fact the seed of all that had come crashing down since then. I don't think he wanted to hold me responsible, but only to be released from the mystery that had consumed so much of our respective mornings.

"Think" pressed Jason, "What, exactly were you doing when the server failed."
I thought about it, retracing my evening steps, cataloguing all that I had done. Then I answered.

"Downward Dog."

"Pardon?" says Jason, surely guessing or even hoping, that this was some new application that I have been running on my computer that has corrupted everything.

"Downward Dog dude. I was at Yoga class."

"Hmmm......" says Jason, and I hear him still typing....

"You wouldn't expect that to be a problem for the server like this".

Exactly dude. Happy Hallowe'en.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:30 PM

Blog Broken

We've got a big glitch guys, bear with us.

This is a test.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:19 AM

October 29, 2007

Cold hands, warm heart

I had a very fiberish weekend, well in keeping with the time of year. The Great Canadian Furnace Wars are in full swing in the McPhee clan, and anything that involves wool is very welcome. Last year the ongoing battle to see who could go the longest without turning on the heat involved a great deal of confusion. My Uncle Tupper and his wife visited Ian, and since Susan isn't a McPhee, she compelled him to turn on his heat. Ian complied (he is nothing if not a good host) and provided heat for the duration of their visit, then turned it off again and outlasted me from that point.
(I say this means he lost, since managing outside influences is part of the Furnace Wars, and why you turned your furnace on is irrelevant. On is on. Dude lost.) Ian disagrees, and the lack of clarity surrounding who the victor was has only impelled both of us to do better this year.

Ken (who lives downstairs from my Mum) turned on their heat last week, thus disqualifying both of them. (We suspected that this would anger my mother, but it turned out that she had snuck it on briefly the week before) My sister Erin was unceremoniously turfed from the contest three days ago when the temperature outside fell to 0 degrees (32 Fahrenheit) and it was discovered by a mole (my daughter, who was babysitting) that she was using her fireplace to heat her home. Ian and I discussed it, and we were clear. That's heat. She's out.

Therefore, the two cheapskates virtuous contestants left in the match are Ian and me. In past years I have been held back from the full glory of my skills by the presence of small children, but now - they are young women and the fact that they carry McPhee DNA could not be more apparent. The girls discussed it the other night, and in addition to the financial and environmental rewards reaped by waiting, they also have embraced the glory of kicking their Uncle Ian's arse on this, and have broken out the sweaters, afghans, wool socks and hot water bottles to make it possible.
(I think that even if I wanted to turn on the heat now, I would be outvoted.) We are baking bread, we are making soup...and I - armed with the best defence possible (and regretting every woolly thing I have ever knit my brother, since he is not turning it against me) am playing with wool and planning to defend our position in the Furnace Wars with knitwear.
While I waited for the Sunrise Circle wool to dry (slower than expected, probably due to the low indoor temperatures and dampness) I really meant to work on the Rotating Rib socks, but a comment from Linda reminding me of these sent me scurrying to the stash and bookshelf.

I am an enormous fan of the book Selbuvotter, Biography of a Knitting Tradition, by the lovely Terri Shea, since it feeds a chronic low grade obsession with fancy mittens that flares up every once in a while. This beautiful book concerns itself with the handcoverings of the Norwegian Selbu folk tradition, and there's both mittens and gloves.
I let Amanda pick a pattern she thought was good (steering her off of the gloves) rounded up some Kroy in off-white and some seriously pretty Shelridge Farm handpainted sock yarn, and I went off to the races.


Looks good, yes?


No. It's an illusion. That is actually a pretty poor mitten for a bunch of reasons, and actually, we can speak of it in the past tense, since it has already met with a vicious ripping and been replaced with this:


I know it doesn't look much different, but it is. For starters, I decided the Kroy was too stiff and heavy compared to the Shelridge Farm stuff, then there is the fact that upon closer examination I was apparently only doing an "interpretation" of the chart for the cuff rather than the chart itself, which was an error I could have lived with except that it led to a further error (too many stitches) which I then compounded by doing another "interpretation" of the palm chart, which I also could have lived with except that it became obvious that it sort of looked like ass and wasn't going to come to a point evenly at the top. I knit on for a while trying to figure out if I cared....and by the time I worked out that I really cared a lot....I had the better part of a mitten. (A thousand curses on slow thinking. )

Samantha came out from under the wool blankets she was snuggling in long enough to help me rip it back to zero. I replaced the Kroy in off-white with Sisu in cloud white, followed the chart (what a concept) and now I'm much happier....


As I've slogged through though, I've realized that there may be a flaw in my plan to use wool as a secret weapon in the Furnace Wars. I think Ian can buy mittens faster than I can knit them.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:06 PM

October 26, 2007

I'm not as smart as I look

- and I'm not sure I look all that smart right now. As I am some sort of slacker, when knitting commenced on the Sunrise Circle Jacket and I discovered that the yarn is a thousand times better/cleaner/softer having been washed before the knitting, I set to work and washed and dried three skeins worth. Then I started knitting. I knit and knit and last night I finished the left front. (It has all worked out exactly right, thanks for asking.)


and then triumphantly began the right sleeve/ front. (This jacket is a master work of engineering, right smack out of the genius brain of Kate Gilbert. One knits the sleeve, and at the same time as you begin the decreases for the raglan, the front starts to grow out of the armpit.


By the time you have the raglan decreased away, Lo - a whole front (that does not need to be sewn on ) has sprung fully formed from your needles. The woman's brain is a wonder, but I digress.)


In any event, so charmed have I been that I neglected to consider that knitting uses up yarn, and only this afternoon when I fished into my bag for another ball and came up with air, did I remember that I had really intended to wash more of the yarn before this moment came. Damn.


I've washed another skein now, but it's raining and the dampness surely means that I won't be working on this tonight. Rather than be disappointed in my inability to plan (at some point I guess I need to accept that this is a personality trait rather than an accident) I have decided to accept that this is a wonderful opportunity to rehash the failed socks from yesterday. ... or maybe a hat. Oh...what about mittens? I love mittens, and there was this blanket I liked, and I was going to make a lace scarf, I also bought this great yarn at Rhinebeck, and there's that sweater for Christmas I was thinking about...where did that kit go? Never mind. The socks. (Or the mittens... Or the hat....)

Maybe I should put that yarn in the oven to dry before this gets out of hand. Ever feel like your own brain set you up?

Posted by Stephanie at 2:11 PM

October 25, 2007

A knitter has needs

Last night I went out to the Textile Museum for the launch of my buddy Fiona's new book, and after her clever talk I went up to her to get her to hold the sock (because, you know...that's what I do) and discovered that clearly my life has come right off the rails because I had forgotten to bring the travelling sock. This is rather stunning, since that poor pair of green socks has accompanied me everywhere that I go for the last 7 months, and all I can imagine is that my failure to bring it with me was some sort of subconscious expression of my desire to not travel for a while. Perhaps a conditioned response or something...like, maybe I've become Pavlov's knitter and I figure that if I don't have the travelling socks I won't have to travel. (I am a little simple at times.) In any case, I was forced to hand her some other knitting, and that's a very good thing, since she knit a little on it, which is more than what I have done.


The knitting in question is the Sunrise Circle Jacket, and while it was whipping along for a while there, it came off the rails where I had to follow line by line instructions and do that trickiest of things....Count.


It's not that I can't count (occasional evidence to the contrary) nor that I avoid counting (again, evidence notwithstanding) it's simply that I knit largely while I do other things, and when I am counting, I can't do other things. Now that I'm feeling better and I'm not just busy sniffing on a couch, the jacket hasn't made for the best company.

Therefore a new sock sprang into being, something that I could motor along on when it was too busy or dark to count.


(STR "Downpour" Rotating Rib pattern of my own reckoning.) Sadly, this sock is not long for this earth, as I have arsed up the heel rather spectacularly, made the leg too short, failed to rotate the rotating rib, and as it's circumference would suit a rather gouty elephant, it is clear now that the whole thing is worked on too many stitches. (I know it looks fine. That's the ribbing lying to you.) I have known this for some time, but a knitter has needs, and I needed something to knit, and even though I knew this sock was an abysmal example of the art, I just kept knitting. I've known it needed ripping with every stitch I've put on it, but I can't cast on in the dark or in fine company, and since that's where I was...


I just kept knitting. (Don't look at me like that. I can't be the only one.) Now it's hour of reckoning is here and there's nothing stopping me from ripping it back with all the wild abandon that the piece of knitting junk deserves. Rip-o-rama.
Kiss it goodbye. Adios amigo. Hasta la vista, baby, and don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

PS. As a public service announcement for the knitters of Ontario, I feel compelled to tell you that Susanna Hansson is coming to the Kitchener Waterloo Knitters Guild to do some workshops on Feb 2nd and 3rd. The Saturday is the Bohus workshop (youknowyouwanna) and Sunday is her two beaded classes (the knitting is beaded, not the classes) Susanna lives on the west Coast, so this is a rare and wondrous opportunity. (Plus she's my friend and very clever.) To get in on it contact the Guild.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:45 PM

October 24, 2007

He is getting smarter

Over the last few years, Joe has become a thousand times more competent in the home than he was when we started this whole crazy thing where sometimes I leave the house for a few days. When first he was left here with the girls, when I came back home the bunch of them would essentially be re-enacting scenes from The Lord of the Flies. We're not just talking about things like cups in the cupboard the wrong way or him abandoning decent nutrition, no, no....we're talking about big things. I almost dreaded coming home back then because I knew from experience that though I had been working my arse off out in the world to support this merry band, that when I walked through the door I would be walking into a completely disintegrated environment. The kids would be feral, the house trashed, laundry way behind, homework undone, no food in the house...everything sticky. We're not talking about the family not keeping my standards going, we're talking about them not keeping the minimum standards of the public health department going.

The only thing that kept me from killing Joe right where he stood each and every time I came back was my belief that he just needed practice, and because he said things like " I'm trying Steph, but I don't know how you do it. I can't work and do the housework and the laundry and the kids. I'm trying...but I just can't figure out how you're doing it." (I admit that there were times that I was secretly impressed and pleased that it took both Ken and Joe and the occasional pitch in of my sister and mother to replace me.) It also occurred to me that if he was a raving incompetent, that I had to be at least partly to blame. Spoiling him all these years somehow turned him into someone who couldn't see dirt and waited for the laundry fairy to bring him clean clothes.

Clearly, he needed opportunities, so I kept leaving...I kept expecting things to be better when I came back, I kept talking about how entirely crappy I thought trashing the house while I was gone was, and slowly, both Joe and the girls started getting it together. Don't get me wrong....this has taken years. YEARS, and I know for a fact that they were cleaning madly yesterday when I was on my way home... but who cares? The point is, it was done when I got here. I've been so proud of all of them for becoming so much more independent and capable. They are a very clever lot and I knew they had it in them. Especially Joe.

That's why I'm not very surprised that now that he has the household somewhat under control, that he has moved on to other challenges. His plan? Now that he feels a sense of ownership for the house, he has a plan to take over every inch of it for his own purposes. I thought maybe I was just being overly suspicious, but there's no denying it now. Joe is trying to convert our home into a recording studio, he's just doing it bit by bit. Every time I come back, Joe has taken something else over. First it was the whole basement. I didn't say much about that. Then a few months ago upon my return I discovered that we are now storing "patch bays" in the kitchen.


The next time, boxes turned up stacked neatly in a corner of my office. I went away another time and when I came back I discovered that four filing boxes of paperwork are permanently stacked by the family computer. Every time I leave, he claims some space that I have to work at reclaiming for the family. For example -


each time I come back these boxes are in the living room and I flip out. After loose my cool, he says he will move them and then it takes weeks to move them, and by the time they are finally moved I am so freakin' thrilled about the boxes being out of the living room that suddenly it doesn't seem so insane that we have patch bays in the kitchen. (Still.) I am so dim that it took me months to figure out that the boxes in the living room are all a ruse. Part of a complicated dance to distract me. He doesn't care about those boxes. I bet they are empty. They are there to distract me from the fact that he's installed a third computer, and this one is on the dining room table. I thought that he had played his ultimate card when I came home from SOAR to discover the computer set up in the living room next to the coffee table (so he could engineer tracks while sitting on the chesterfield watching James Bond movies.) I wigged out and he moved it back to the dining room. (See? Clever man. The dining room table was unacceptable until I had it in the living room. Now the dining room doesn't seem so bad. It is a delicate game we are playing over here.) I have known for some time that since Joe was gaining ground every time I left home that I needed a new strategy, but I didn't know how far he was willing to go until I came back last night and discovered his latest incursion.


This is our dining room....or at least...it used to be. It appears to be an office now...an office almost identical to the one he has in the basement. I am stunned. Obviously I need a counter-plan for some sort of retaliation. This is war, and I'm losing a lot of ground. This time he has got a whole room. I am both concerned and sort of impressed.

Bold move. Bold move indeed.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:21 PM

October 22, 2007

Rhinebeck Hangover

Naturally, as you will read all over, Rhinebeck was wonderful. Juno and I drove up Saturday morning, models of efficiency that we are, and were installed in the fairgrounds by lunchtime, giddy and thrilled. I could go on for hours and hours about the lovely things I saw, but the pictures really speak for themselves. One of the best things for me about Rhinebeck is not just the wool (though that is pretty damn good too) but the things and people that one gets to see there...

There were sheep. Many sheep.


Goats too.


Men in Kilts (This one is Mel)


This one is the charming David, who not only showed me a little leg, but where the beer was.


Cara is making a baby.


Ruth already did.


The prize winning Blue Faced Leicester fleece.


Kellee loves the sheep.


Brainy lady Alison and Rachel scored big time.


Jess threw a party.


Sarah had fun at the party.

So did a lot of people.

I watched a sheep to shawl competition.
I hugged Mamacate.

Pumpkins were chucked.

Ann wore a hat, while Kay pretended not to know her.


Clara took my picture.

Sheep herding dogs were for sale.


There was Yarn.


There were free range Canadians.

Laurie, Claudia and Sil are held in thrall.


Sheep were shorn.

But mostly?


Same time next year? Definitely.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:16 PM

October 20, 2007

One on the way

I survived last night, and even did so with relative good humour and happiness, undaunted by my head cold. There was 15 minutes in the car on the way there, when being driven by a what I have been told now was a "real Jersey driver" (I have never gone so fast in a motor vehicle in my life) while listening to him scream at his wife on a cell phone to tell him what exit to get off at that I a) considered telling him what exit he could get off at, so help me or B) thought that perhaps leaving the house had been a significant tactical error. By the time I made it to the bookstore I was so grateful to have been not killed in a fiery and explosive crash that my own personal mucous issues seemed entirely irrelevant.

There was also a 5 minute stretch while I was speaking where I know I must have looked vague and pale, clutching the podium and hoping that I should not faint, not because it is unhealthy to faint, but because I knew certainly that my collapse would be blogged from here to Thailand, complete with pictures. (Such is the nature of bloggers. They would certainly tend to my wilted and prone self, but they would take a picture first, perhaps even with a sock posed on my senseless form. ) Thankfully the moment passed with me still on my feet, a gift for which I will be eternally grateful.

Behold, the Knitters of New Jersey!




Okay, now pay attention, because these people are interesting but I have to write about them quickly, because Juno is standing at the door in her Rhinebeck clothes and I am unbathed and blogging.

This is Megan and Thaya, the cutest wee pixie pre-knitter.


Meet the young knitters, William, Hilja, Leah (she's the short one, the taller is her enabling mother Maggi) and my stalkers Leah and Briana, to whom I pointed out that if they really want to be good stalkers, they have got to stop getting one of their mum's to drive them. All the best stalkers have their own cars.





Heather is knitting her first sock


Sue knit a sock of shame. (Once again, only denial lets a knitter accomplish something that size and then actually ask her husband to try it on.)


Here's Melisa, saying hi to her Mum Mary in Caddagap Arkansas (they don't see each other enough)


The skein Mavens,


Washcloths, from Australia and Pennsylvania.



Amy's - Squared.


Dian, Carly and Maria, who met and knit together on the bus each day


Michael, proof here that he turned up and gave me beer as so directed by Tola


and finally, the revered and esteemed Judeth,


Who is donating that rare and venerable copy of the Principles of Knitting for a raffle so we may better raise money for Knitters Without Borders. More about that later, but know that she is a gem among knitters.

Now, wagons ho - for Rhinebeck beckons. I'm there today and tomorrow, today- shopping and enjoying, tomorrow signing (mostly all day) and speaking (at 1:00) in the Author tent, check your programs for how to find that. I'll be the one with the kleenex.

Posted by Stephanie at 8:23 AM

October 19, 2007

Reprising My Role

I made it. I won't say that flying with a head cold was fun, or pretty, but it's over and that's that. I drank tons of fluid and went with a high powered decongestant and while there was absolutely an uncomfortable element (especially on decent) it wasn't the nightmare I had imagined. The drugs had the primary effect of making me feel high as a freakin' kite, but the secondary effect of keeping the sneezing and coughing down so that I don't believe that I passed it along to anyone on route. (The guy next to me on the plane was leaned so far away from me into the aisle that he almost took a drink cart to the back of the head. I helped him by leaning into the window. Poor guy. I must have looked like typhoid Mary.) I credit drinking as much water and juice as I could with being the biggest help...I was practically sloshing, but I felt a thousand times better once I was seriously well hydrated.

Juno picked me up at the airport, which is good, since I think I was way too stoned on the cold stuff to have found her house otherwise. I'm considering it a personal triumph that I found the door to the aircraft. I know I must have been looking just fantastic, since pretty much all she said to me on the ride was "poor baby" and "you're a little pathetic". Pathetic indeed, since I rolled just about straight into bed and woke up this morning still ill, but better. I know now that I will live, and I must be feeling better, since today, I'm okay with that.
I've been ensconced on her couch today, with pillows and a big blankie, drinking juice and water and eating oatmeal and apples, napping and knitting. If a day like this can't brace me for this evenings gig at Borders in New Jersey, and a Rhinebeck weekend I don't know what can.

The Sunrise Circle Jacket is looking really good. (Although I have managed to take a picture that in no way conveys it's charms.)


The first sleeve is done, and I started the slightly tricky business of adding the front circle stitches at the same time as I start decreasing away the sleeve stitches. I started that part last night on the plane, but the cold drugs took their toll on my ability to count and I can't tell you of the multiple things I discovered wrong with it this morning when I was clean and sober. I ripped back the few rows I knit while I was out of it and took another run. Miraculously, when you aren't so stoned you can hardly see, the complexity of counting to five is increased remarkably. I've put the stitches for the front onto a circular needle I found on Juno's desk so you can see the odd shape it makes as it forms. Unbelievably, that small half circle ends up being the front of the jacket.


Now, if you'll forgive me, I'm off to start getting ready to leave. Given that that the cold stuff whacked me out so badly I couldn't knit straight, I don't think that it's a good idea to take it before a speaking engagement. (I know there are those among you who would like me to take it just for the entertainment value it would provide you...but you'll have to trust me, last night the border guard had to ask me for my passport three times before I connected that he was speaking to me, even though I had walked up to the wicket. Not a good thing. Way too stupid.)

While I feel quite a bit better today, I am well aware that I look dreadful. Any woman who looked the way that I do today would have the good sense to lock herself in a closet rather than go out anywhere, but today doesn't have that option. I will therefore be drug free, red nosed, slightly sneezey and attempting to reprise my continuing and accidental role as the worlds least attractive woman. Sniff. Good thing I have practice, or I might even feel badly about it.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:06 PM

October 18, 2007

Pass the drugs

Seriously, could this cold have worse timing? (Yes. Yes it could. Please forget I said that or the universe will accept it as a dare and send me another cold at a worst time, like a year when I am finishing a book the week before Christmas while caring for newborn twins or something.) I am truly miserable feeling today, which has me entirely thrilled.

To my way of thinking, if I feel this bad now, then obviously the cold is maxing out and I shall feel far better tomorrow when I am in New Jersey, and on the weekend for Rhinebeck. Timing is everything, and I am going to be very kind to myself today to try and get well enough to get on the plane this evening. At present, I have deep and serious concerns about what happens if someone who's head is "full" - to put it delicately, gets on a plane. Is it dangerous? Messy? Will the liquid in my head expand like the liquid in a water bottle? I keep thinking about the way that I saw a bag of chips puff up and expand when they pressurized the cabin a while ago and then doing some extrapolation and feeling the unmistakable stirrings of panic.

I'm taking myself down to the village in short order (if you see me, do not to speak to me. I am not fit for human contact beyond what is absolutely essential) and I am going to buy things I cannot live without.

1. A stinking boatload of pharmaceuticals to try and get myself to the airport. I am normally a very gentle user of these things and rely on natural means to support my health but dudes.....SCREW IT. I am going to embrace better living though chemistry and find a drug or ten that will leave me with the wits to identify my luggage while simultaneously avoiding the head explosion I feel certain will happen if I cannot reduce the amount of liquid present in my head. I am going to look for the words "non-drowsy" and "miracle cure" on the label. If I cannot find them, I may buy scotch.

2. Some buttons, because I am determined, dastardly cold or not, to have a Kauni Cardigan for Rhinebeck. I trimmed the steeks and wove in my ends.


It struck me, while I was concerning myself with these innards, that the inside of the sweater is possibly as beautiful as the outside.


When I return, buttons and drugs procured, I shall fill myself with as many cold medications as it is safe to put in me, and lie on the cool floor of the kitchen with my yarn as my pillow until it is time to go to the airport.
No problem. I can handle it. We're going to have fun. Party on.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:05 PM

October 17, 2007

In which I use the word commingled

I woke up this morning with a magnificent cold, but I am not bummed out, for it is two days until I go meet the knitters in New Jersey, and three sleeps until I walk among the forces of Rhinebeck. Wool heals. I feel this.

That's why, in the interest of healing my cold I am going to spend all day knitting and stash managing. If I didn't have a cold I would totally spend today cleaning and doing laundry. Totally. I'll need to start new socks since these are finished.


Monkey socks, Hazel Knits, Sailors Delight (currently sold out, but she's got a mailing list going on and is dyeing as fast as she can.) A portion of each sale of this colourway goes to Doctors Without Borders, and it's beautiful besides.


Modifications: I changed the top of the Monkey to a picot edge.

I read all the comments from yesterday, and the advice is overwhelmingly in accord. Wash the yarn first. Since I always do as I am told (stop that laughing) I'm washing it. A couple of people asked how I would wash the yarn if it was on the cone, so I thought I might explain before somebody tries that and blames me for the ensuing disaster. You can't wash yarn on the cone. (I feel sure that this is definite.) I went and got my niddy-noddy, and I put the cone on the floor and started reeling it off.


When I'm making my own skeins I always try to keep in mind that I don't want to make one bigger than I can eventually wind on my ball winder.


I tied it very carefully in 4 places. (There are instructions here on how to tie a skein.) I will leave to your imagination the absolutely gory consequences of attempting to wash a bunch of yarn if you haven't prevented tangles properly. I shudder to think of the sodden heap of hopelessly commingled yarn that would result, and you can trust me, it does result. Thus secured, I removed it from the niddy-noddy and pitched it into a sink full of very hot soapy water.


(I used dish soap. I don't think SOAK or Eucalan would do it.) I let it sit for a few minutes to become thoroughly wet, then swished and squeezed it for a little. (I am not worried about this yarn felting, but it might be a concern of mine with a different sort of yarn, so if you try this, don't forget to use your brain.) I pulled it out and squeezed as much water out as I could, repeated with rinse water, then rolled it up in a towel and stood on it to get more water out, then hung it outside to dry. I'd guess that the total time investment (especially if you do not take pictures
) is about 10 minutes per skein.


(It is tied to that chair pretty darn firmly, lest yee think I forget the squirrel.) I happened to toss a washed and dried and an unwashed skein on the ground while I was taking pictures of the one on the chair and looked down.


I was struck (again) by the incredible difference between the washed (left) and the unwashed (right.) You guys were right to insist on the washing. The clean wool looks so much more appealing, it's going to be way more pleasant to spend time with, which is good, since I've decided to go down a needle size. I was on the knitalong page for the Sunrise Circle Jacket, and saw a note from Kate Gilbert where she said that you want this fabric firm when knit, which, since I love this yarn so much I want to marry it, totally means I won't be using another yarn and also won't be getting gauge, which means I'm going to refigure the thing, which means.....

Well. That this yarn and I are likely going to be spending a lot of quality time together.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:44 PM

October 16, 2007

Good things come to those who wait

My new reward yarn is Valley Yarns English Tweed. I'd been seriously loving this limited quantity WEBS yarn since I was there and Steve and Kathy showed me samples of it, and when it showed up on their website and I was still obsessed with it, I decided that it would be my reward for finishing the book. I marked the page and kept a link to it in my bookmarks, and when the going got rough, and I wanted to knit instead of work, I would click over and give it a little virtual pat.

This colour is spmBrown, and I watched the quantities available change every day or two. 80lbs, 70lbs, 60lbs....58,46,42,39...and then, suddenly, one day five days before the book was done, there was 3. Three pounds of this yarn left in the world? Three pounds of my reward yarn? I was on the phone in minutes, and, having discovered that Kathy and Steve weren't in the store, impressed upon the lovely man who answered the phone that I needed him to move like lightning. That I needed him to go into the warehouse, find that yarn - whatever of it was left and get it out of there. Quickly, before it was purchased by anyone else. (I may have suggested that he run.) He did go really fast, and when he got there there wasn't even three pounds left there was about 2. (I would love to know which one of you scooped me while I was on the phone.) Which is totally ok, that's enough to make what I want to make, but dudes.....talk about a close call. I almost ordered a couple pounds of all of the other colours too, just to take the edge off, but then I got a hold of myself and realized I was just responding to a scarcity market. The yarn arrived yesterday and I started to play around with it.


This is yarn that comes on a cone, and coned yarn is not like yarn that comes on skeins or in balls. Coned yarn is at the very least, quite compressed, and usually (I am only saying usually because I hate saying "always", somebody "usually" points out an exception to the rule) still contains the oil from spinning. Commercial mills move fibre a lot faster than we spinners do, and a little very light oil is sprayed on the fibre to reduce static and help things move along. The yarn is spun, then plied, then wound onto cones. Yarn that you and I would usually get then has another step, it's skeined off and washed. Coned yarn has a lot of advantages (like being one long length...no knots, and being generally less expensive) but one of the things you need to know is that what you see is not going to be what you get. The oil needs washing out, and when you do that, the yarn fluffs up. It's a pretty big change. The worlds "big" and "change" when applied to yarn should give you a chill and feel very significant to you, since we are speaking of something that can mess up gauge. Therefore, I've washed some to sort of get a feel for what this yarn is really like.


On the left, the unwashed yarn right off the cone, on the right, same stuff after a bath. I used nice hot water and dish soap, rinsed carefully (being careful not to agitate....I don't want to felt it.) Can you see the big difference? This yarn in it's unwashed state is sort of firm and rough, but after a quick bath it's very soft and pretty.


I think that there is even a very slight difference in the colour.

I'm planning to knit a sweater out of this (this one) and unfortunately, this is one of those times when gauge matters. Since this yarn experienced big change when I washed it (and having been burned by this game before) I decided to knit a swatch, measure my gauge, wash the swatch and remeasure gauge. (Close your mouth, you'll catch flies. I know it's surprising, but I'm anti swatch, not stupid. I want to wear this sweater, and I want it to fit.)

Here's the swatch before.


After it's bath:


Big difference. Huge, actually. Want to see them side by side?


Yeah, me too, but I can't figure out how to do it. I just seriously lost a debate with software. Whoa. Bon is seriously clever and just landed this bad boy in my inbox. In any case, the point is that washing it really changes it. The swatch was knit on 4.5mm needles and in the top picture, has a gauge of 19.5 stitches to 10 cm and looks open and gappy like it was knit on needles too big for it. After it's bath, it has expanded, gotten bigger and now has a gauge of 18 stitches to 10cm (which is exactly what I wanted) and all those holes are filled in and the whole thing really fluffed up. Can you imagine the consequences of basing your gauge decisions on that swatch without a wash? Ayup. Big problem.

Now that I've determined that this yarn on these needles gives me the gauge I want - eventually, if not right away, I can go ahead and knit the sweater, knowing that when I give the thing a good bath after knitting, I'll suddenly and miraculously have the thing I want.

I know some knitters wash up the yarn before knitting it, but the disadvantage would be that I would have to wait for yarn to dry before starting...and I don't know if I'm really capable of delaying gratification like that.
Does anyone know of an advantage either way?

Posted by Stephanie at 3:04 PM

October 15, 2007


I'm back from SOAR, and I had a spectacular time. Here are some things that I learned.

1. I took two classes a day, talked fibre and spinning morning noon and night and avoided sleep because I might have missed something, or someone. The mentors are fantastic, the attendees incredible and the whole thing a pivotal experience. (I expressed that I was tired, and Phreadde told me to sleep after SOAR. She's a genius, but very dangerous.) Putting that much in your brain that fast while maintaining an active social calendar while there is so exhausting that I am surprised that this event does not have a mortality rate. (I actually suggested that perhaps it did and the other spinners were just stripping the bodies of fibre and rolling them into the lake.)


2. Denny was one of the SOAR scholarship recipients this year, and she was a freakin' rock star. Rachel H, Juno, Julia and I arrived on Thursday, with Rachel H. and I worried about our little Denny and how she was faring on her first time away alone. She'd gone for the whole week and we were concerned that she might be lonely. We arrived and anxiously sought her out only to discover that she owned Soar. Owned it. Witness her brainchild "Stupid Yarn Tricks".
This is Abby.


This is Denny.


Abby is spinning (or maybe plying...) over a balcony above Denny. (Fine yarn is on the spindle. Abby needs to keep it spinning all the way down, or the twist will come out and disaster will ensue.) Denny is catching it in her arms....


Then in her teeth. (I swear this must be seen to be believed.


I took this picture lying on the ground at Denny's feet.) Stupid yarn trick number two. Denny had a sweater that needed to be unravelled (bad gauge) and skeined for washing. She positioned Abby and I back to back about 6 metres apart (20 feet)

and had us extend our arms.


Then she took her knitting off the needles, and started running. She did one lap,
then passed it off to a bystander,


they did a lap, and passed it off to someone else,


and someone else.


In this manner, the sweater was unravelled in minutes. The occasional runner hurried too fast and missed the hands of Abby or I, but I am sure that Abby would agree that repeated near strangulation was a small price to pay for how hysterically funny it was. When the largest skein was completed and the sweater unravelled, Abby and I experienced a moment of simpatico genius and did "eggbeaters" to twist and coil the skein.


Forgive the blurriness. The photographer was laughing too hard for accurate camera operation.

(It was funny. Nauseating, since you have no idea how many times you need to twist a skein that size to get it to fold back on itself...but funny.)

3. This is Dan.


It is very important to correctly identify Fiberguy Dan at SOAR. Dan is married to Phreadde, and Dan is responsible for the honoured practice of "swilling" which is to say "drinking really bad wine until the very wee hours of the morning".


It is dangerous, and all contact with Dan should be accomplished with your wits about you, lest you fall victim.
(Rachel and I escaped largely unscathed. The same cannot be said of our room-mates.) Memorize now what he looks like so that he can't ever sneak up on you at one of these things. (Swill tip from Dan: If you think the swill isn't good....it's not cold enough.)

4. I know very, very little about spinning. I improved my long draw and learned double drafting from Maggie Casey (she is a goddess walking the earth as a woman), Margaret Stove (!!!) showed me the true path to understanding lace, Judith MacKenzie-McCuin taught me....well, a hundred things, but I think she was aiming for the totally new-to-me concept of wet finishing, and a lovely lady named Joan Sheridan Hoover taught me a very great deal about my wheel. Those were just the classes. There is so much about this to learn.
I swear I might have learned something just from standing near Sara Lamb.
The depth and breadth of what people know that I do not is incredible. I learned more at SOAR in a two minute conversation over dinner than I did in the whole last year I have been spinning in my living room.

5. When I realized I knew nothing, I was not sad. I was thrilled, excited and stunned. This learning curve is going to be long and exciting. I just have to stay away from the swilling if I want to survive.

PS. My reward yarn came this morning.

Posted by Stephanie at 5:12 PM

October 10, 2007

Transformation, Reddo

Blocking is a wondrous example of knitting magic. All knitting has magic, to be sure, since all of knitting is transformation, turning one thing into another, but the magic of knitting is slow magic, and you need a little commitment to see it clearly. Now, blocking lace is obvious and fast. You can transform something in just a few hours. I started with the Mystery stole looking finished, but ratty.


This is the case with much of lace knitting and can be discouraging to the beginner who thinks their lace is sucking...which it is, but that's normal. It all comes out in the wash.


I started blocking by gently immersing my lace in a warm bath with Soak. I'm a big fan of this wash, and though I usually use the Aquae scent, but I got some of the Sweet Sheep's signature scent at the Knitters fair, and I really like it. (Be careful with that link to the Sweet Sheep. It's a dangerous one.) I left it in there for about 15 minutes, long enough that it was good and wet, all through. I lifted it out (supporting it all round) and put it on a towel, pressing gently to get lots of water out. Then I laid a clean white towel out on the bed and got my new blocking wires and pins.

My new blocking wires (the Dressing wire kit developed by Myrna Stahman and sold by Handworks) are so much better than my old blocking wires that I feel sort of stupid now for how deeply I have loved the old blocking wires. It's like I've always thought that instant pudding was good and someone just gave me crème brûlée. My old wires were serviceable, and I respect them for that, they certainly did get the job done, but these ones just do it more .... elegantly. These wires come in a kit with three gauges, heavy, medium and fine, and two lengths, which I thought was totally excessive, but it turns out that I really love it. I used the heavy wires for the sides.



I used the medium gauge shorter wires to shape the point at one end..


I used the fine gauge wires to shape all the parts with curves.


See how I have the points pinned out? If I had been thinking I would have used the flexible fine gauge wires like this:


But alas, my own intelligence eluded me. Pinned out and pretty, I waited for it to dry. (This doesn't take long with a laceweight, but still, you don't want to unpin anything even slightly damp, so I waited more.)
Unpinned, it is gloriously, wondrously, finished.



Mystery Stole 3 - "Swan Lake" by Melanie Gibbons.

Lane Borgosesia Cashwool (I used about half a skein), cheap glass seed beads, silver lined.

3mm needles.


Modifications: Only one, I used more beads than Melanie suggested. I love the beads. Can't get enough. I want to put beads on everything now.


They give the whole thing a sort of weight that makes it drape like a dream.


Blocking. It's magic.

Random Wednesday Stuff:
1. I am going to be at Rhinebeck on the Saturday (thanks for asking) but not in an official sort of way, just a shopping and petting sheep sort of way.
2. I did work on the gansey wool yesterday. I got all the clean and dry fleece through the drum carder, which gave me six big, fluffy batts:


and I spun all of that, and it made this much.


Clearly, since I am making three ply, there is much work left to be done.
3. Buttonholes better, no picture.
4. Reward yarn still not arrived, though Kathy from Webs confirmed yesterday that it left her on the 25th. This means that it is somewhere sitting at the border, no doubt. (Blast the border. I don't think they give a crap about wool.) I leave for SOAR in Michigan in the morning, and I seriously, seriously wanted it to come by then - it's tons of knitting time in the car. (The irony of course, will be that I will likely pass my yarn at the border.) Keep your fingers crossed that it will arrive today.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:53 AM

October 9, 2007

Finishing and finishing

I just wrote this big huge post about how it was that the Kauni is driving me insane because I am knitting the whole thing twice, in increments and whammo....my blogging software quit and took the entry with it and now...I am re-writing the post about re-knitting. (Damn it all. I hate pathetic fallacy.) Perhaps it is just going to be that sort of day. Fine. Fine. Fine. I have a chocolate drawer. I know how to cope.

Back to the sweater. I love this sweater and I think it's going to be a treat when I'm done, whenever that is. I can't seem to knit it in a straight line. All parts are taking two tries. Cast on, don't get gauge, rip out and cast on again. Knit for a while, discover that you cast on the wrong number because you tried to get sassy with the sizing, cast on again. Knit for a while, miss a pattern row, rip back and re-knit. Decide a sleeve is too tight, rip back and re knit. It's batty, and it's simply not improving. Remember the last time I showed you a picture of the Kauni and proudly proclaimed how my strategy to get the sleeves the same colours had worked?


Yeah. Look closely. Duh. (This is what happens when one is cocky.) Ripped a cuff, added a repeat, re-knit the ribbing.


Next up, neckband. Picked up the stitches, knit the neckband, realized I hadn't picked up the right number and who cares anyway because what was I thinking when I picked up that stitch dipping all the way down into the pattern?


Ripped it back, re-knit. Much better.


Cut the front steeks (luckily, there's only one way to get that done) and picked up the stitches for the button bands. Knit the button bands, realized that I hadn't picked up enough stitches and the thing was pulling in. Ripped back the button bands, re-knit them like the knitter of experience that I am.


Turned my attention to the other button band (on which I picked up the right number, since the pain from the first button band was painfully fresh)


and proceeded to knit seven of the worst looking buttonholes in the history of humanity.


What are those? Is that any sort of elegant way to put a hole in a piece of knitting? They all suck that badly, though not at all consistantly.


I have miraculously found a way to make seven different, yet equally horrific buttonholes. If I were another sort of woman than these buttonholes would be the first against the wall when the revolution came. As it is, I am going to dig up Sweaters From Camp and see if Meg Swansen can pull my arse out of the fire again. I do believe there is some discussion of how to do a buttonhole in corrugated ribbing in there somewhere. Before I do that however, I am going to spend a little quality time with my drum carder and the clean wool for Joe's Gansey. It's Tuesday during a finishing phase, I can scarcely ignore it.

PS. Jayme-the-wonder-publicist (who did get her socks and was photographed enjoying them at the office by a co-worker - see her holding my book? Once a publicist.....always a publicist.)


is, despite the bribe pictured above, going to phone me up and shriek (I got an email this morning in ALL CAPS) if I don't remember to tell you that I am speaking at the Borders in Marlton, New Jersey on Friday the 19th of October (that's the Friday before Rhinebeck) at 7:00 in the evening. (Please follow the link and RSVP if you are coming. ) Then, I'm doing the big author signing thing at Rhinebeck on the Sunday at 10: 00, when there will be me and Alison, Heather, Ann and Kay, Clara, Sharon, Kristin, Judith and Carol all be signing our books.
After that I'll be speaking at 1:00, in Jayme's continuing mission to have me give this speech to New Yorkers until they are so sick of it and me that they start spitting in my coffee. (Why, I ask you, can she not be obsessed with having me speak to
Mel?) Never mind. We'll have a grand time. How can we not? It's freakin' Rhinebeck - and, the featured breed is the Blue Faced Leicester. I love those guys.

PPS The Mystery Stole is blocking.

PPPS. I really hope my reward yarn comes today.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:21 AM

October 8, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I think this year I seriously hit it with the sauce. We celebrated yesterday (today is for cleaning. What a downer.) and this disappeared fast.

Home- made Cranberry Sauce.


454g fresh, whole cranberries. (That's maybe....3 or 4 cups? I don't think it's a precision thing. Two small packages or one big one.)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp orange rind.

Bring to a boil and cook (somewhat attentively) until the berries are mushy and have gone to bits. (About 10 minutes) The whole thing turns a bit pink and foamy at this point, but have faith. Turned out and cooled, it looks like this.



(PS. The most Canadian song? It was Hockey Night in Canada, and my winner (chosen at random from among the correct answers) was Anne-Marie in Seattle. That qualified for double points, so I chose another at random and came up with Claire. I'll be mailing them both off some sock yarn. )

Posted by Stephanie at 1:34 PM

October 5, 2007

More finishing

Amanda's high school commencement was last night. She's already gone onto college (where she is doing very well and is quite happy, thanks for asking) and I had a hard time convincing her to go to the formal ceremony at all. She had stuff to do and wasn't tremendously into the whole public thing. I insisted. I told her that after all these years of homework and alarm clocks, projects and coming up with bristol board or muffins on short order, that frankly, I didn't give a crap if she wanted to go or was fulfilled by the experience. I wanted the experience, and I think (having done a pretty good job of the homework/ clock/ projects/ bristol board/ muffin thing) that I deserved it. After all of that, a mother wants to see her kid stand up there, get the diploma, smile and have their picture taken.
I told her that I consider it the least that I am owed for my contribution.


She went. (There's a good girl.) She got her diploma. She earned a music award, and I got my moment.
These milestones are significant, I told Joe last night. Standing up there means something really important. Not just that she has the minimum required education...not just that she accomplished something that was difficult, but because that night changes what is possible in her life. Amanda can (and likely will - she's young) screw up a fantastical number of things, but I feel like as the girls get older they hit these milestones that make you heave great sighs of relief. Your daughter turns 16? Awesome. No matter what, she can never be a 15 year old mother. 17? Wicked. She can never be a 16 year old addict. 18? The police can never bring her home charged under the young offenders act.....
After last night, we hit a big one.


Amanda can never be a high school dropout. Score.

For the record, though I didn't get much done, (I'm just at the beginning of clue 7) I did only work on the Mystery Stole last night. Finally, some time ago I tried to explain to my American friends what the most iconic Canadian song was. I tried to tell them, that we all know this song, and they mocked me, and worse, I don't think they believed me. For them, I have procured proof, when I whipped out my digital camera and recorded what Amanda's school band was playing last night.

There you go. The song we can all hum up here. I'll draw a name from among those who get it right and mail some sock yarn. Double points if an American wins.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:12 PM

October 4, 2007

The thing is

The thing is, that when I made this bold statement, this promise to myself that I would only work on finishing things until my "reward yarn" arrived in the mail, that I sort of thought that it would arrive that day. Sticking to finishing was no biggie when I thought it was a four hour commitment. Two days later, I'm flagging a little bit, and the reward yarn is still not here. Turns out that this business of sticking to what's already underway is harder than it looks. The stash is calling to me, and I am tempted. Clearly, I need to strengthen my commitment.
Therefore, I Stephanie, do solemnly swear that I am going to finish this Mystery stole before I start (or otherwise take up with) anything else.


There's really no excuse not to. The Mystery Stole enterprise had seven clues, each consisting of a chart of about the same size, and I made great time on the first five before I wandered off. Since then it has languished entirely, and for no good reason. I'm halfway through the sixth chart, and that means that there is only one and a half charts left...and that's a reasonable amount of knitting that I should be able to freakin' stick to.


The yarn is lovely, the pattern endearing, the beads simply enchanting. All I need to do is plunk myself down with some sort of knitterly blinders on and do. It. So I will. I'm going to work on this, and only this, and nothing else until it's done. Even (and this might be hard...) even if my reward yarn arrives before I am done.

(Stop that laughing. I can so do it.)

Posted by Stephanie at 2:43 PM

October 3, 2007

Theme of the week

Or maybe the theme for a little while, is "finishing".

I ordered some reward yarn from Webs, but it has not yet arrived, and after playing with the idea of a new sweater (or ten) the other day, I have now decided that until said reward yarn arrives, I shall finish things. I finished the bohus a long time ago, but it never properly got its photoshoot. This last trip to Seattle I met up with my bohus enabler and good friend, Susanna Hansson and she played photographer for me.


(Why we both have wet hair, I do not recall.)

I knit my Bohus in February, and it was an uplifting way to spend the dreariest part of the Canadian winter. My kit was "Guld" (which those of you with even the slightest translation instincts will guess is "gold") and it was a pleasure and then some to have the knitting equivalent of a golden sunrise on my needles every day. I loved everything about this sweater. I love how it looks,


I even love how it fits.



I did a pack of modifications to this sweater. I knit it in the round, once I got past the armholes and shaping. (Bohus are traditionally knit flat and sewn up.) I knit hems at the sleeves and waist to replace the traditional ribbing, which I sincerely feel is the least flattering idea ever had. I don't know about you, but the last thing I need is for someone to shape knitwear so that it clings tightly to my belly and arse.
Finally, I added waist shaping.


Since Bohus are knit top down and I was working in the round, it made it a very simple matter to put it on and add shaping on the fly. I love this sweater and I can't wait to get another one on the needles. Despite the small gauge (and I won't kid ya. The gauge is very small.) this sweater flew by.

This sweater also flew by, although considering the gauge that it's knit at...I'd be disappointed if it hadn't.
Finished: The Fleece Artist Garter Stitch Jacket. (I got mine here)


This fits like a dream, looks fantastic, came together quickly, is warm and pretty and done just in time for fall.
The leaves are turning here in Toronto, and I imagine myself wandering High Park in this.


It's hard to tell from the pictures, but it's got some subtle shaping achieved by changing needle sizes. I had my doubts, but it works. I've closed it with a pretty pin that Kathleen made me.


It matches perfectly. This sweater was a fun, easy knit, with one exception. The combination of mohair and mohair boucle means this knit only goes in one direction. I picked up and knit the first sleeve and felt I hadn't picked up enough stitches and the sleeve pulled in at the top. I picked up more on the second sleeve, liked that a lot better and attempted to pull back the first sleeve for a do over.


Nope. The knitting was essentially welded together. No way would the mohair come apart from itself. I ended up cutting off the sleeve, unpicking the leftover bits and trying again. Much success on the second go-round, and I'm lucky I had enough yarn. If I use these yarns again (and I think I will, I've got my eye on this one. Also this one. Actually, I may be on a bit of a Fleece Artist Jag right now.) then I would be sure and call it quits on a mistake as soon as I suspected it, instead of adopting a wait and see approach. As much as I don't mind them, this yarn doesn't care for do-overs.

Next up on the finishing list...Mystery Stole 3. I'm mid "clue 5" and the whole shebang only goes to "clue 7". I'm going to reclaim the living room (I misplaced it during the last few weeks of the book writing process) and then see what can be done. I think I'm suddenly fond of finishing things.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:02 PM

October 2, 2007

And She's Back

The book is done.

It is on my editor's desk and she has not yet phoned me to tell me that it is the worst example of writing humanity has every produced, which is a relief to me, but shouldn't be. Up until recently I had always thought there was a sort of a safety net in writing. That publishers wouldn't publish anything really terrible that a writer produced, for fear of embarrassing themselves or injuring their professional reputation. Then I read a bad book, probably not the first one I've read, but it was the first time that I read a bad book that it occurred to me that bad manuscripts get published all the time (well, not all the time...but more often than you would hope) and that I, as a writer, cannot attempt to avoid humiliation by counting on my publisher to reject a bad book, and instead, I really needed to write well and critically and I have been frightened to death ever since.

A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

A book is offering yourself up for a public mocking. The author will endure valid (and invalid) criticism about their work, and will have to take to heart that the things that other people say about what they have written. Authors struggle with hearing that criticism and wondering if they really wrote badly...or simply not to their critics taste. There are tons of people who find work that is critically acclaimed rather weary...writing well (or even brilliantly) will absolutely not spare you painful commentary. (The worst is the commentary for things you are not in charge of...like covers, paper, fonts or even titles. I prefer to get slagged for the stuff I can actually have some power over.) Knowing this criticism is absolutely inevitable, should be rather freeing...but it's not, at least not for me.

For reasons that I can't describe, I always think making a book everyone will love is just a matter of focus. As my deadline approaches, I work harder....even if the book is technically done. Editing. Revising. Putting things in a new order, rewriting paragraphs....or in the case of this book, Having my mother point out that I had desperately overused a word or two, and then having them be all that I could see on the page. There I was at 1am screaming "Do I only KNOW THREE WORDS! What is WRONG with me!" (It was a particularly low moment. It's fine now.) I keep scrabbling and working all the way down to the deadline because....well. I don't think a book ever really can be finished. You could always work on it forever....just like if you had agreed on a day to go into the public eye with your pants down you wouldn't ever really be ready for that either.

Writing is the flip side of sex, it's good only when it's over.
Hunter S. Thompson

In a way, the deadline is good...because it stops the madness. There's a finite end to how long you can sob at the table, how much coffee you can drink...how many times you can think about getting a better job. Come hell or high water, you have to stop on the deadline and hand it over...and one way or another, that day marks the release from whatever self imposed psychosis you've managed to come up with this time. At that point, no matter how insecure or worried you are, at that point you are done. You're finished. Forced to be finished. It's time for the book to go on to its next phase of production. It's both horrifying and, I must admit, one of the most profoundly satisfying feelings of relief I've ever experienced. At this point I love the book and I am horribly protective of it, as though it were a small child going off for the first time without me. I also love what my life will be for a few days before I go back to work.

A vacation. No book. No avoiding the book. No thinking about the book....no explaining about the book, no staying home or awake because of the book. Don't get me wrong, I love the book and I think it's good and I'm also a little sad to see it leave me and what we made together...but I still sort of want to say "Goodbye my little book. Good luck with the editors, I hope they aren't too rough with you. I will miss you horribly, and I promise I'll see you on the other side....
Also...My darling little manuscript?


Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:08 PM

October 1, 2007


This is a hijacking!

Everyone stay seated at your computers. Calm down, you over there in Oregon. It’s not what you think.

I, Presbytera, have hijacked the Yarn Harlot’s blog today for purely humanitarian reasons. As you know, our Stephanie has been carrying a weighty burden these many months, a burden made up of one extra-large Newfoundlander, three teenaged girls (enchanting, but teens nonetheless), a blog that must be fed regularly, a book deadline, a cat, an author tour, and – lest we forget – a grey handspun gansey.

It’s simply too much for one person, no matter how much she reminds us of a superhero. So here I am today, blogging for the first time ever, trying to help my friend.

Are you still here? Really? I’m flattered.

Other than being a “professional commenter” I do actually knit, so today I thought I’d share with you one of my guiding principles:

I don’t swatch.

I know. I know that it flies in the face of who-knows-how-many of years of knitting wisdom, and I know that many of you swear by swatches. (I also know what you’re thinking -- but I do knit more than scarves. I knit sweaters and socks and hats and lace and everything.)

The main reason I don’t swatch is because I have never, ever, had a swatch that told me the truth about what I was making, how the yarn would behave, or what size I would end up with. It just never worked as promised for me. So eventually, I stopped. And I’m much happier for it. (I swear a lot less, too.) For your entertainment today, here are a few of the ways I get around the issue:

1. I always make toe-up socks. It’s nice to use up all the yarn for one thing, partly because I admire efficiency and partly because I’m cheap. In terms of swatching, though, it eliminates most of the guesswork. When starting a toe-up sock, I begin with an 8 stitch by 8 row square. This is where I decide if I like the fabric my chosen needle size is making and change if I feel like it. (You could call it swatching, technically, I guess, but that tiny square takes all of five minutes and doesn’t get washed or measured or anything.) When you start at the toe, you pick up around the square and increase until the sock fits comfortably around the toes of the intended recipient’s foot, right? Well, since I make socks only for immediate family members, the foot in question is usually available for quick measurements. So I cruise along until the foot hits the ankle, and try it on again for the flap length. Once that’s on track, I’m done – I just knit on up the leg until the yarn runs out. Often I’ll do a 4x4 rib on the top of the foot and around the leg, so there’s not even a question of when to begin the ribbing. The added stretchiness fine-tunes the fit, as well. I’m not entirely careless about the process, though. I do make a note of how many stitches I’ve got around the foot, so my second sock bears more than a passing resemblance to its mate. With brutally obvious dye repeats, I even go so far as to find the same starting point for the second sock. (Sometimes it actually works, too!)


2. I usually knit sweaters top down, in the round. As with socks, throwing 40 stitches on the needles for the neck and doing a few rounds lets me see if I like the fabric or not. The beauty of a top down sweater, for me, is that you’re making a giant spiral that has specific fit points: Does it fit the shoulders from the neck to the underarm? No? Knit a few more 1-increase/1-plain rounds. Have you spun off the first sleeve? Is it looking baggy? Throw in a few more decreases. Is it long enough? Go a bit further. Same with the other sleeve, and the same with the body. Want a little shaping? Decrease at the sides or evenly around the waist. Like a cropped look? You’re done. Pick a nice edging and cast off. This works for cardigans or even Fair Isle, if you keep the sides in plain stockinet.


3. Hats – top down, of course! A nice rib (plain, or mixed with whatever fancy stitch you like) stretches a ton and can accommodate most normally-sized heads.


4. Lace: Lace is a bit of a different story. I love knitting lace, but only for a few rows at a time in the quiet of an empty (or sleeping) household. I’m a pretty fickle knitter with several WIPs at a time, so a lace project always takes me forever to complete. Since in general I prefer interesting/variegated yarn knit in simple stitch patterns, lace for me is a real commitment. I don’t really swatch for lace, but I do spend some time thinking about needle size and yarn properties. I might try a row or two of the edging to see what I like. I usually make some type of lace scarf or stole as a thank-you gift for someone who has been exceptionally generous to our family. (I recently showed an elderly lady the lace scarf I was making for her, and apologized for it not being completed. Unfortunately, I had to stop where I was and scramble two days later to add the edging so the scarf could be part of the outfit for her funeral.)


What all this means, though, is that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal. There are many, many reasons to swatch (see the appropriate chapters of Stephanie’s books) and I respect the information that a swatch can represent. I’m just too impatient and self-confident to worry about it. (In case you were wondering? It’s a potentially catastrophic combination in certain situations.)

Since I’m a visual/spatial person, the idea of “doing it until it looks right” is my general method for creative activities like knitting, cooking, and decorating. Modifying the directions is a given, which means being prepared for the consequences. Sometimes making it up as I go along works…


…and sometimes it doesn’t. (I don’t usually take pictures of the bizzare meals I’ve occasionally served my family, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

So don’t rush out and dump your swatches. I would hate to be responsible for any tears or cursing taking place beyond my own living room!

But here’s the thing. We’re all knitting on our own, but at the same time we’re all knitting together. Our online knitting community is so amazing – there are a million ways of doing things, and if we wish, we can see and discuss each one. But at the end of the day, I’m still alone in my living room, knitting without swatching. Nobody is doing it wrong. Nobody has to change. Nobody judges. And the most brilliant thing of all? When my husband asked me, “Are Stephanie and Rachel and Rams real friends, or internet friends?” I could answer truthfully,

“They’re REAL friends.”

Posted by Stephanie at 10:04 AM