September 30, 2008

Just me and my pins

It is a dim and dreary day here in Toronto, really too dark to take excellent pictures, which is a shame, because I finished the Peacock Feathers shawl, and my relief is just about overwhelming, since the crawl to the finish line on this one was pretty brutal. At the end of the shawl there were 495 stitches on the needle. Purling back across the wrong side rows when you're not doing any patterning holds my attention about as well as watching tea steep, and then just when you're ready to congratulate yourself for sticking to the knitting and finishing the thing up... you've got the cast off.


495 stitches, all of which have to be gathered into groups of three, joined by crochet chains. Now, many of you know of my deep personal struggle with crochet. I do it when I have to, but the loop and hook path is not one that fits for me, and it shows in my work, and in my mood while I do it. This cast off sure is pretty, but while I was making all 165 of those little loops, the work moved with all the speed of a teenager's thoughts on separating your dedicates from towels in the laundry. I could have washed my entire kitchen floor with a toothbrush. I could have served a fried rice buffet with only tweezers as utensils. It. Was. Slow.


Hours, that took (and I made it worse by watching the news while I did it, and listening to politicians talk about the bailout may have actually made time move backwards. Has anybody else noticed that they aren't really saying anything?) but when I finally finished it was like being given a great present. It was one of those things that went on for so long that when you're finally finished you're almost surprised when it's finally over? Just when you've accepted that you're going to be doing a crochet cast off for the rest of your life and have resigned yourself to that being the total scope of your existence and not fighting it at all anymore... suddenly there are no more stitches on the needle and the work just sits there being all done.


I'm so happy I could eat it. It's finished, and this shawl is two things. Beautiful, and HUGE.
I have no idea where I'm going to block it...or where I'm going to find 165 pins for all those loops.
Maybe if I move the table...

I wonder what I should knit now? I need something to take on tour. I'm thinking more lace, although I'm also pretty interested in scarves right now, having noticed while I was in Europe that this whole accessory thing might be part of the reason that they all are wearing outfits and I am only wearing clothes. Maybe lace scarf? Suggestions?
I'll be upstairs with all my pins.

(PS. Many thanks to those of you who emailed Joe and I with congratulations. It is indeed two years today since we "formalized our arrangement" and it's still nothing short of wonderful, although he does have a disturbingly laissez faire attitude about where the dishes go in the cupboards, but today is hardly the day to dwell on that. Happy Anniversary Honey.)

Posted by Stephanie at 11:20 AM

September 28, 2008

Dear Mr. Harper

I am pretty sure that I am an ordinary Canadian. I've checked the Stats Can website, and other than the fact that Joe and I earn a little less than the national average and seem to have picked up an extra kid along the way, we're really, really ordinary.

This is why Sir, I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn that you had made a statement that the arts "don't resonate" with "ordinary Canadians". I had suspected, after your 45 million dollars in cuts to the arts, that they didn't resonate with you... but all ordinary Canadians? I listened as you lashed out at artists, claiming that we stand around at "rich galas" complaining that our subsidies aren't big enough, and I could hardly speak. Although Joe and I both work in the arts, we've never been to a gala (though I hear that your wife is honorary chair of the National Arts Centre Gala) and although we both pay taxes, we've never received a subsidy or a grant... so I'm really not quite sure what you're talking about.

Joe and I added up the number of people we know working in the arts. It was virtually everyone we know (with the exception of our friends who work in Health Care, but that's a debate for another day) and not a single one of them are as wealthy as you, although most of them pay more taxes. Sorry. That was cheap. I'm still mad about your tax breaks for the richest Canadians. I'll try to get a hold of myself and stick to the facts.

The fact is that last year your government invested 3.3 billion dollars in the arts, which would be shocking except for the fact that (as reported by ACTRA's national president Richard Hardacre) the arts returned the favour by providing 1.1 million jobs within cultural industries and contributed $86 billion to the GDP. To put that in context, Margaret Atwood noted that the arts industry employs roughly the same number of Canadians as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities - combined. I see you Sir, day after day after day, talking quite rightly about jobs lost in manufacturing and the industries named above and how our country needs to make financial investments in their businesses to create as many jobs as we can, and dude... you're absolutely right. Job loss in Canada is a huge thing and boy, should the leader of this country ever be trying to prevent any further loss any way he can... and Mr. Harper... that's what makes your cuts and your statements so darned confusing to me.

I've thought and thought about it, and I've come up with some possibilities for why you're doing what you're doing.

1. You are trying to lose the election, and throwing away the votes of 1.1 million "ordinary" taxpaying Canadians by trashing them, their integrity and their industry in public is just the beginning of your master plan. (In which case Sir, I can only say "AWESOME START.")

2. You had no idea that the Arts industry was an actual industry (I mean, not like cars or oil) or that it employed that many Canadians, and when you walked off stage after making your statement, you had to ask someone why your entire campaign staff was lying on the floor seizing in a pool of their own cold sweat.

3. You're still sort of scarred about that day in kindergarten when the teacher said that Bobby's fingerpainting was nice and didn't say anything about yours, and then on top of it he got the be the carrot in the school play when the teacher knew you wanted to be the carrot and would make a way better carrot than him and ever since then you just haven't been able to see what the big deal is with the whole art thing.

4. Maybe Gordon Pinsent has always sort of annoyed you and this is a revenge thing.

5. You made a strategic decision to say that. You sat down and decided that there were an awful lot of Canadians (a lot more than 1.1 million) who would really, really want to stick it to artists. You figured that there must be an awful lot of voters who don't read books, don't go to the movies, don't listen to CD's, don't dance or watch dance, don't read magazines or newspapers, don't listen to the radio and wouldn't touch the TV with a ten foot pole and therefore don't have the arts "resonate" in their lives.
(Well. That or you were hoping that there were a whole lot of Canadians who didn't know about the 1.1 million jobs/ $85 billion dollar industry thing or were hoping they were stupid enough to be tricked. Good luck with that.)

Some time ago, when I made a political comment in this space, someone said to me that if I were going to state my political position publicly - even if I did so without condemning the views of others, that I should expect to lose the support of people who didn't agree with me. They felt that if I said I wasn't a conservative (or a whatever), that I should expect to lose the readership of conservatives (or whatevers). This person maintained that simply not being on the same page politically was enough to justify not continuing to support me professionally. This is a position I was absolutely stunned to read and still don't understand. I feel that politics belong in public. That ones political positions are a reflection of ones moral and ethical concerns, and that as long as no-one is condemned for their views or insulted for their beliefs, that everyone wins when politics are discussed in the pubs, kitchens and blogs of the nation.

That's something I've kept in mind as I listened to your speeches throughout this campaign. I reflected on how your political positions were reflecting your ethics, and kept a clear head - listening to your positions and promises. I stuck to my position, which is that it is possible to disagree on matters of personal choice while still liking, respecting and enjoying the people with whom you debate or disagree, and I believe that it is unchecked politics, unexamined policy and an unconcerned nation that let politicians run amok and invites corruption of all forms. In short, Mr. Harper... I think that the cornerstone of all good politics is respect. Respect for positions that run counter to yours, respect for jobs that are not like yours, and in this case, respect for all Canadians.... especially as you ask for our votes.

I would submit, Mr. Harper, that suggesting to all of Canada that a particular 1.1 million Canadians who have helped to pay your salary for the last several years and whose money you would like the privilege of continuing to spend, are not "ordinary Canadians" is the absolute definition of disrespect.

Further to that, claiming that you represent "ordinary Canadians" (we'll overlook the number of galas you're at in a year) while the 1.1 million of us who are working in film, music, writing, dance... are not only excluded from your definition of "ordinary Canadians", but according to you "don't resonate" with the people who are.... Well. I think it was rude. Darned rude. The Canada that I thought I lived in doesn't have some Canadians who are worth the efforts of the Prime Minister, and some Canadians who are not. The sort of Canada I want to live in has always had a society based on respect, the respect we are supposed to show each other and the respect that leaders are especially expected - or maybe owed to give their constituents was entirely absent in your statement, and a leader who is that rude to his fellow Canadians, boldly and in public - isn't observing the cornerstone of civil and progressive politics... respect.

In light of that, and remembering that ones politics are a reflection of ones morals and ethics - I'm afraid that not only have you lost my vote (Oh, fine. You didn't have it anyway) but greater than that and with every cell that I posess... I humbly withdraw my respect for you as a leader, and submit that there's just got to be a lot of "ordinary Canadians" who feel the same way.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


(PS. I am going to consider it seriously hypocritical if you keep playing music at your events, hiring writers for your speeches and getting graphic designers to make those pamphlets that keep landing in my mailbox. If art doesn't resonate... they why are you using so much of it? Just saying.)

(PPS - For the Non-Canadians who are thinking "huh?", Mr. Stephen Harper is our Prime Minister, and the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. During our last election he formed a minority government, winning 124 of 308 seats, and 36% of the popular vote, which means that roughly 2/3 of voting Canadians didn't vote for him or his party, and chose an option to the left. (There are no options to the right of Mr. Harper.) This is possible because we have a multi-party system. Mr. Harper and the other party Leaders, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois (a federal party that only runs in the enormous province of Quebec), Stéphane Dion of the Liberal Party, Jack Layton of the NDP and Elizabeth May of the Green Party (I'm leaving out others, but they don't hold seats in parliament) have been campaigning since The Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogued Parliament earlier this month (that's sort of like dissolving the current session so they can start fresh with a new government after the election) and calling an election for the 14th of October. (We do it fast.) In Canada, we don't have set dates for an election. We hold them whenever the party in power thinks it would be a good time or they run out of time (at least every five years) or whenever a government loses a confidence vote (which is essentially like getting fired.) We have no term limits - you can be Prime Minister for as long (William Lyon MacKenzie King served a total of 21 years as Prime Minister) or as little (Sir Charles Tupper was Prime Minister for 68 days) as the Canadian people allow you to serve.

Posted by Stephanie at 5:09 PM

Honk if you love That Laurie

It's That Laurie's birthday. If you don't know who That Laurie is, then you haven't been reading very long. That Laurie is a blogless wonder of a knitter, esteemed and clever to her very core, and the source of some of the very, very coolest guest posts ever written on this blog. That Laurie is a real source of knitterly genius in the world... and her name came about as a result of it. Laurie who? Laurie with the incredible shawl/sweater/roving/ yarn/socks.....
Oh right. THAT Laurie. Every time I see her she's wearing something incredible, or has something incredible to teach me or something incredible to show me. I invite you to take a minute today to peruse some of her genius (I have helpfully listed them for you so that you may revel freely in all that is That Laurie) and then dudes.....


Honk if you love That Laurie!

Feet Treat - in which we meet the wonder that is That Laurie's hand dyed, colour progression yarn.

The Wool House Presents: In which That Laurie begins to talk about how to dye colour progression roving.
The Wool House Presents Two: Combing and Dizzing. (See that? Until I met That Laurie, I thought dizzing was obscure.)
The Wool House Presents Three: To dye or not to dye
The Wool House Presents: Finale

Indigo Adventure: Part one - where That Laurie learns about indigo dying and so do we.
Indigo Part two
Mood Indigo: the third part.
Indigo Addendum: In which That Laurie answers questions and ties up loose ends.

She's Gone to Pieces: In which That Laurie starts thinking about stuff in bits.
Many Little Pieces
Piecework, part 3.

The Yokes on Me: In which That Laurie proves that it's good for us when she's obsessed.
The Rainbow Spiral: In which you wish you thought of that.
Yoking Around: or quiggling the spiral

That Laurie, I miss you!

(PS. There are six rows and the crochet cast off left on the shawl. I'm hysterical with joy.)

Posted by Stephanie at 10:10 AM

September 27, 2008

Slightly Handicapped

You know what's funny? I finally sewed the buttons on Hey Teach, (which has been finished since the 2nd of September and only needed buttons sewn on, which is really really pathetic, but sort of encapsulates the whole September I've been having - where it would only take a minute to really tie things up but you still can't properly tie things up because a thousand things need just one minute?) So I finally sew the buttons on, and I think "Well this is excellent, because it will give me a blog post, which is even more excellent because I don't think I can take another picture of the Peacock Feathers Shawl because even though it's really coming along, it still looks exactly the same as ever other picture I've taken of it... which is to say that it's a very pretty blob of laceweight yarn but not really showing progress, which I think is sort of the nature of shawls, that they're really blobby until suddenly they're not blobby, but in the blobby phase things are really unsatisfying from a photographic perspective, so boy is it great that Hey Teach is done so I don't have to take another blob picture." and then I think "Holy crap was that ever a really ungraceful run-on sentence" and then I thought "Oh double crap. My camera is in the mail between Oregon and here. (I sort of forgot it.)

Therefore, I got nothing. Can't take lace blob pictures, can't take Hey Teach pictures.... so I decided that today was a great day to start something I've been thinking about for a while. I've got all of these fantastic knitting books, I'm sure you do too... and I thought that I might start reviewing them. Actually, that's not accurate. Not really "reviewing" because I think that implies that I might trash one (and as an author, I feel like I can't do that to another author, no more than I could walk up to them at a party and slap them in the face. I know other people will do critical reviews, and that's cool, but I won't be one of them. Code of the knitting book author.) but talking about what's inside of the book so that maybe you would know more about if you're interested in it. I'm going to do this once in a while, and I'm going to call it "Other peoples books".

First up? A really interesting book that has been kicking around my office for a while. (Those are the books I'm starting with. Books that arrived in the house and haven't made it to a bookshelf. I think it's a good sign when six months after I got it it's still near my desk or on the bathroom shelf.) It's Meg Swansen and Joyce Williams Armenian Knitting. Hold on. I can take a crappy photo with the camera on my Macbook.


Obviously the writing on the actual book isn't reversed, it just looks that way because I used the macbook and I can't figure out how to flip it in Imageready. Now, to be really honest, there are some of you who aren't going to be very interested in this book. This is a niche book. This is a book for a specific sort of knitter. This book details the technique that was used in the knitted sweaters of the designer Elsa Schiaparelli - most famously the Bowknot sweater, (which is famous enough that I bet you've seen it somewhere) and gives patterns for about a dozen projects to knit using this technique to it's best advantage.

The interesting thing about that sweater, (knit for Schiaparelli by an Armenian knitter, and so hence the book title of "armenian knitting") is that it isn't intarsia. It's a sort of stranded knitting, even through the plain parts of the body and arms. Curiouser than that is the technique, which is really simple in a sort in that annoying-why-didn't-I-think-of-that way. It's knit using "trapping", which you've probably done a little of if you've done colourwork. It's the way that you catch up the yarn on the wrong side to avoid a long float of yarn in stranded knitting, doing your level best to avoid the colour peeking through on the right side. In fact, most of us avoid catching the yarn just to avoid the peeking. Great and long knitterly theories on how far a distance you can go without catching, how to avoid catching, what you can do if you have to catch and it does peek through on the right side and how long it took the knitter to get back out of therapy after there were peeks from catching on their sweater have been written. (Some by me.)

Clearly, these Armenian knitters weren't hung up on it, because the presiding theory of this technique is that the peeks through are design features. That they give the knitting another interesting dimension, and a wonderful consistency, since the foreground colour and the background colour are both carried throughout the project, "trapping" and catching the yarn regularly to avoid floats and create a unified fabric. As mentioned, this book has a group of patterns that use this to it's best advantage. My favourites are the Olive Branch sweater, with the tree up the back


and the branches dripping 'round the front....


and the supercharming Knit Purl Pullover, which has a picture of knit fabric on the front,


purl fabric on the back (of course) and garterstitch side panels. (So sorry about the crap pictures. Again, a reminder that the "tink" on that sweater is not "tink" but "knit" just I can't win a fight with image ready, although I bet that picture just answered a question a new knitter had out there about why we all keep talking about "tinking" back our work. Tink = knit backwards. Undo. Get it?)

Some of the most interesting patterns in this book to me are the ones where the colour held behind and trapped (to create the visible "peeks") changes throughout. There's the Lily Jacket, where there are three shifts of the colour, and it creates not just the lily design, but a wonderful shading of colour on the whole garment. Interesting idea, this trapping of colour - where it is used throughout, especially with the shifts of colour it reminds me of some of the principles of pointillism, or the thilll of the flecks in tweed yarns.

This is a simple book. There are about a dozen patterns, clear photos and illustrations demonstrating what Meg and Joyce have found to be the most efficient ways to trap, and as always from this pair, charming prose. There are other calling cards of Schoolhouse Press throughout -for example, in the fine tradition of Elizabeth Zimmermann, the garments appear in one size each. Where it is possible to up or downsize the pattern, a note may be made about the best place or manner to do so... and after much careful perusal, I believe that a knitter who was willing to think a little could easily make the modifications to most of the patterns to generate other sizes. (With some exceptions. A few of the patterns have designs that preclude simple up or downsizing - but may be possible to translate into other sizes using gauge alchemy.) If you are a knitter who usually needs a pattern that is much smaller or larger than a medium (and you don't know anybody who is a medium who you would love to knit a sweater for) and you are not a knitter who likes to think while you are knitting (fair enough. Some of us do it to turn our brains off for a bit) then you might have a hard time, not with the technique, which I truly believe could be mastered by anybody... but the patterns.

If, on the other hand, you are a knitter who is interested in the history of knitting, interested in adding as many tools and to your knitterly toolbox as you can, interested in techniques the way that I am interested in my morning cup(s) of coffee ...or interested in supporting endeavours to record knitting history, technique and tools before the people who know this stuff are lost to us... then this book is going to be a charming addition to your bookshelf.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:48 AM

September 25, 2008

A Knitter Has Cast Off

Early this morning, at the grand age of 94, my Great Aunt Helen passed away. She had been declining for a few weeks, and finally went to sleep a few days ago, dying last night in the arms of my Uncle Don, her husband of 57 years.


I went to Helen and Don's every boxing day of my life, and when my kids were little, I spoke with Helen almost every day. She had a lot of sanity. Earlier this year, it became clear that Helen and Don could absolutely no longer live on their own, and they moved together to a nursing home that Helen never really got the hang of, and a few weeks ago she stopped eating and weakened very quickly. We all wondered if she'd found a way to leave the way or another, although Helen claimed that wasn't her plan. A lot of uncomfortable testing seemed like it would injure her for more than it was worth, and she wasn't in any pain, so I guess we'll never really know. I think it was three things. Old age, a broken heart at leaving her home, and a reluctance to stay and watch Don decline further than he had already.

The last time I saw her was a visit a few months ago, before she was transitioned from the temporary nursing home here in Toronto to the one she and Don have been at in Sudbury. It was obvious to me then that she was fragile, but Helen has been old my whole life, and I somehow thought that she and Don weren't playing by the same rules as the rest of humanity, and I realize now that some small part of me really did think that she might live forever.

I had hoped she would live long enough to see the essay about her in this last book... but maybe it's better this way. I'm trying not to feel very sad about it. It was a good life, a happy life and a very long life with a peaceful ending. What's breaking my heart is sadness for my Uncle Don, because I just don't know how you go on alone after almost 60 years in each others fine company.


I have no idea how you would do it.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:05 AM

September 23, 2008

You Know What Would Be Fun

Some of the greatest (and most interesting) things that have ever happened to me have been preceded by the thought "You know what would be fun?" It's how I ended up with Joe, how I got the kids, how I became a writer, why there's so much wool in the house, the Knitting Olympics, Socks in Central Park... you get the idea.

Turns out that the best thing that someone like me can do is make friends with other people who like to think of the same sorts of things, and get thinking together. Saturday I got on a plane, came clear across the country to here:


The Oregon Coast (Yeah. Sucks to be me) and worked and worked and worked (and sort of knit a lot) until we had the bones laid out, the space booked, the teachers talked to and the budget finessed (Ok. A lot of that was done before I got on the plane. Mostly because some of the other people involved are not just knitting fun visionaries, but people who actually think of things like "Wow. We're going to need a place to do this" or "Cool idea, but teachers have to be paid".) As of today, I'm pleased to announce that The Sock Summit (2009) (West. Assuming that we ever want to do this again when it's over) is actually going to get off the ground, totally come together and actually happen in a place that isn't just in the mind of me, Tina or Cat. (If you click on that link, you can get on the email list for people who would like more info.)

We're (going to try to) put all of the greatest sock thinkers, designers and teachers of our time together in one place, have them teach everybody everything they know... lectures, classes, presentations - tons of big fun too... like a real sock hop, a sock gallery and fashion show.... a huge marketplace with the best and most interesting of sock stuff...

In short. We're really excited. We think it's going to be really, really, really cool. (We've said that a lot these last couple of days.) We've also said that we think that with the pool of knowledge and planning we have going into this, that we have a chance to really make this an extraordinary event for Students, Teachers, Vendors, Guilds and other Sock people.

That's us. Sock people. Keepin' it going on. Thoughts?

Posted by Stephanie at 2:15 PM

September 21, 2008

Enter, stage left

Very busy weekend (I got on a plane again, more about that later) but wanted to take a moment to post the schedule for the upcoming book tour. It's short, it's sweet (it's with a different publisher - my previous book of essays was with Andrews McMeel, and so this one is too) and it's being set up by Kathy-the-publicist-that-I-haven't-mocked-with-a-title-yet, instead of your good friend and mine, Jayme-the-wonder-publicist, who is with Storey Publishing, so don't call her and ask her all sorts of stuff about the tour or the book because this time it's not her problem. (I imagine that right now Jayme is remembering all of the times that things got ugly on the road and all I had with me was a big problem, a poor attitude and her phone number, and thinking "Have a good time Kathy." ) I'll post this on the tour page as soon as I can.

San Francisco -- Saturday, October 4th, 3:00pm, Copperfield's Books, Montgomery Village, 2314 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, CA. 95404.

Seattle--Monday October 6th, 7:00pm, Third Place Books --Lake Forest Park, WA, 17171 Bothwell Way NE

(There's a break here while I attend SOAR. If you're going to be there too, there will be a booksigning there 7-9 on Friday evening with a whole whack of authors - not just me.)

Kansas City-- Monday October 13th, 7:00 Rainy Day Books, Event held at Unity Temple. 707 W 47th Street Kansas City, MO. Tickets are needed- call Rainy Day Books at (913) 384-3126 to get the details.

New York -- Tuesday, October 14th, 7:00 Barnes & Noble, Park Slope, 267 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY.

Boston -- Wednesday, October 15th, 7 pm , Hosted by Porter Square Books (With Common Cod Fiber Guild)

Event will be held at St. James' Episcopal Church 1991 Mass Ave. Cambridge, MA
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Seating will be first come first serve.
Tel: (617) 491-2220

Jacksonville, Florida - Thursday October 16th, 7 p.m. Mandarin Ramada Inn Conference Center, 3130 Hartley Road (I-295 and San Jose Boulevard) Hosted by KnitWitz

There will also be a signing at Rhinebeck, though not a talk - details to follow.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:26 AM

September 18, 2008

The way I used to like Joe Strummer

I spent the afternoon watching some guys install a new window in my dining room. My old window was really old... the last original window in the house (and the house is about 120 years old) and it was really a piece of junk. In the wintertime a wind blew through it even when it was closed, and people competed not to sit with their back to it. The ropes inside the frame had long ago turned to dust, and the lead counterweights had fallen down into the walls sometime before I got the house, leaving only the skeletal pulleys sitting aimlessly in the sides. This meant that until it's last paint job, if you wanted to to stay open you had to prop it with something, or it would slide shut with a terrifying bang at 3:00am when the humidity went down a little. Conversely, if you did manage to get it open and prop it open (and this was no small feat) then if the humidity happened to go up while it was open... then open it stayed. I remember engaging with it during a rainstorm and trying to close it with a hammer... to absolutely no avail. After its last paint job it retired from the opening business entirely - leaving an ever growing collection of flies petrifying inside it. It was junk - total junk, but it was our junk, and since Joe and I both earn an "artistic" (read - unreliable) income that doesn't allow for a whole lot of new windows, so we sealed it off with that weird plastic you shrink with a hair dryer and tried to make do it until we could afford it.

This years tax refund had a little more give in it than we were hoping for, and we ordered the new window, and me, who is usually reluctant to buy anything (I don't like to spend money. You just never know when more is coming) I gleefully paid for it - only thinking once about how many sweaters worth of cash it was costing. I was thinking about how usually, I really hate buying anything (except yarn - and even then I am a woman of some restraint) and how the last time I was happy to buy something that wasn't yarn it was a stove, and that's when it hit me.

I think I must be a grown up. All of a sudden I'm the sort of person who's happy about appliances and windows with high R-values and thrilled that there was "argon" between the panes (I don't even know what argon is, but I'm delighted to have it) and have had conversations about "property value" and how much energy it will save us this winter. I'm happy about these things the way I used to be happy about snow days or free candy. It was cemented when I phoned a friend after the window was installed and exclaimed things like " I got my new window and you won't believe what it does! IT OPENS! AND CLOSES! WHENEVER YOU WANT! ISN'T THAT COOL!"
Dudes. I'm a grown up.


Did I mention it came with argon?

Posted by Stephanie at 5:01 PM

September 17, 2008

Size doesn't matter

A little Q&A from the comments yesterday, on the bigness of my shawl and the problems and joys of same.
(Since someone will forget to scroll down and then ask me... this is about the Peacock Feathers Shawl - which I will apparently be knitting for a while yet.)

Michelle asks:

Why not just figure out how long you do want it and stop there?

Excellent question - and I would do this, if it made sense for the particular pattern. I've been short for a while now, so I'm used to knocking length out of all manner of knits to make them work (although the oversize look of the 80's did mean that I got a break for a while there. The sweater-dress phase was brilliant for those of us who are making sweater-dresses by accident all the time.) On this pattern however, the design is sort of a picture. A picture of a peacocks tail - so if I stop when I'm ready (which frankly, was sometime early yesterday afternoon) the peacocks tail will be oddly amputated. I suppose I could do a really shocking amount of work to take a whole bunch of stuff out of the middle and rejig the thing, but I've already knit the bulk of where I would do the work, and besides... this is art. The designer had a plan, and I somehow feel like whacking stuff out of it isn't like whacking a couple of cm off a sleeve. Changes to this would be changes to her art... and it's just so beautiful that I can't imagine a stitch different. I love this shawl. (Remind me I said that in a few days when I start complaining about it again.)

Anne says:

"As far as I'm concerned, this is yet another reason for there to be a rule made that all designers have their garments photographed on a REAL LIVE PERSON rather than a dress form. I can't tell how long the shawl is supposed to be from that photo; can anyone else? The tip could hit anywhere from below the hips to below the knees!"

Yeah, that was my initial response too, and then I remembered that the measurements are clearly printed on the front of the pattern in perfectly legible print in a language I read. (Allegedly.) My kneejerk reaction of HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL was immediately answered by the voice of reason in the back of my head (and boy do I ever resent the voice of reason when I'm trying to work up a proper froth of indignation) that said "Well, call me crazy but did you consider reading the measurements?" (Hate that voice.) I don't think I can pin that one on the designer - and I'm not sure it would solve the problem totally either, unless we could get them to tell us how big the real live person they had it modelled on was. Here's a line I would love to read on all knitting patterns (were I in charge of the world.) "This sweater is knit in the 38" size, and is here being modelled by a human who is 5'4" and has a 36" chest." Now that would be helpful.


And where are you going to block this behemoth?

Considering that there isn't a room big enough in my house without moving furniture to other rooms... I was thinking about the park. Maybe a picnic would be nice.

Kathy says:

I guess you're at that age where growing into it is probably out of the question, huh?

I live in hope.

Lizbon has more of a statement than a question.

"Give it to Juno. It should be just her size."

Huh. You wouldn't believe who else suggested that.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:55 PM

September 16, 2008

Not really converted

Last night I was showing off the Peacock Feathers shawl to Ken, and I was holding it up and spreading it out and doing all of those things that you do when you're knitting lace to try and convince other people that it is actually going to be really cool once you're finished and it's blocked, and I held it up along the line down the centre of it... stretching it out along that line, and Ken asked how much more I had to go.

"Well" I said, "there are 250 rows total, plus a crochet chain cast off, and I'm on row....(here I checked the chart and heaved a sigh that I hope conveyed how much more there is to go) row 171" and as I said that, I realized something. I was holding out that centre line a really good distance. Like... maybe 70cm, which is a pretty good distance for a shawl, except that I had half as much length again to knit - which would have this shawl coming in at a whopping 100cm, (that's a metre) or maybe even more, since a gentle stretch between my hands isn't the same as a proper blocking.

A shawl more than a metre long? For reference, I'm only about 150cm tall, and a good 25cm (at least) of that is my head and neck (over which I do not traditionally place a shawl) ... so this shawl is going to be really big on me. Super big. When something is turning out bigger than I thought it would, my first thought always turns to my old enemy... Gauge. (I capitalize it here to show it the respect it deserves.) I have a tendency to knit a little loosely, so I checked my Gauge. (I do not want to hear a word from anyone suggesting that I might have considered checking it before I started knitting. Knitters in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.) Gauge was fine. Gauge was perfect actually. Spot on. I was totally stumped. Why on earth was it coming out so big?


I don't want to talk about how long was before it occurred to me that maybe this was the intended size, and I should check the measurements on the pattern (which I was sure I had done - but I didn't remember reading that this was a big maybe I didn't.) I fetched the pattern from the living room, brought it into the kitchen and was about to read out to Ken that the shawl wasn't really that big- that it was 88" from tip to tip along the top, and 43" down that centre line... when I realized what had gone wrong.

I have no idea how big that is. I had read 88" and thought... well. I don't know what I thought. I guess I didn't think. I read the measurements aloud to Ken and he gave me the same glazed look. We opened conversion software on my laptop, and entered 43 inches, and pushed the button to convert it to centimetres. 110cm. This shawl was only 40cm (15") shorter than my height. We punched in 88 inches to find out the wingspan, and I exhaled in whoosh. 223 cm. (Almost 7 and a half feet.) 223 cm. How about that. The imperial measurements (which turn out to be really accurate) didn't even register on my brain as information.

Turns out I'm knitting a big shawl. A shawl that after blocking, may drag on the ground like a train behind me. Now I know why it's taking so long. Maybe it's not a shawl. Maybe it's.... A car cover, or a para-sail. Yeah. Maybe I'm knitting a shawl for the pick-up truck.

Arrgh. Maybe I could felt it.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:41 PM

September 15, 2008

It's all the scary part

Late Friday afternoon this arrived.


My brand new book of essays about knitting. Free Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot writes again. I wrote it.

It arrived late enough in the day that I had actually started thinking that it might not come until Monday, and that was fine with me. (I thought.) Then I wouldn't have to spend the weekend exhausting myself working though my own deeply personal process of accepting that a new book has been published. A new book means swinging alternately back and forth for a few days between total juvenile pride and glee in my accomplishment (I have been known to dance) and a consuming fear and loathing of sending it out into public.

Here's the thing. Being a writer is a scary job. Every part of it is scary. It is scary to try and say things so that people will understand you, knowing that if they don't understand you, or if your idea is genuinely stupid, you will have no opportunity to say more about it or correct their ideas, or help them understand what you really meant and that you're not actually the raving moron that they think you are based on the third sentence of paragraph six.

Once written, it is the book that has the relationship with the reader, not the writer, and it is the minute that I see that actual book... the finished thing - I realize that if I'm holding it in my hands, that more copies of this book are being sent to real people right this minute (and some of them even pre-ordered, and how terrible is that going to be when it sucks) and that from this moment forward - for the rest of my life- this book has made it absolutely certain that some people are going to stand around in yarn shops talking about how I'm a complete moron, I don't deserve to earn any money (even a fraction of a dollar per book), and that frankly they wish that I wasn't so full of myself that I thought I was special enough to write books at all. When I hold this book in my hands, that's what I know.. and since every person has a voice inside them, the voice of their supremely unsuccessful self (a 16 year old short- skinny-bad hair-braces low self-esteem self, in my case) saying that anyway, the fear catches, and coalesces into nausea and a certainty that this can't end well.

“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
– Groucho Marx

I finished this book in the woods. I finished it sitting alone in the dark winter, snow falling outside, fire crackling near the desk - and when I finished it I pushed back from the desk and went and opened a bottle of my favourite wine, and I poured a pretty big glass and went back and sat there and stared at the computer. I stared and I thought to myself that it was a pretty darn good book - maybe even excellent, and I felt overwhelming pride and the happiness that comes from doing a hard thing as well as you can. I toasted myself, and I may have cried a little.

"Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world."
--Tom Clancy

Holding it in my hands today, my trepidation stems from knowing that there is no possible way that every person who reads it (and oddly, some people who don't read it) will like it. There will be people who say that it's not good, and I will have to lie in bed at night and try and figure out if that's true. There will be people who love it, and as happy as I'll be to hear it, I'll have to lie in my bed and wonder if that's true too. There will be the people who misunderstand me... and I won't be there to correct them or mend my relationship with them. I'll have to accept that they don't know me, that the book isn't me, and that just because they hate and misunderstand the book doesn't mean that they hate me - that they don't even know me. This will be extra hard, since these people often don't say "I hated that book, it bored me to tears" but actually often say "Stephanie Pearl-McPhee? I hate her. She bores me to tears." You can see how that might take a little self talk to get through. I have to remember it's the book. It's the book. It's the book. They don't know me. They've never met me. It's the book. That's their opinion of the book(s).

“From my close observation of writers...they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
--Isaac Asimov

Then there are the people who just aren't going to like my writing.. and that's totally fair. I don't enjoy Dostoevsky's writing, and clearly there a lot of people who disagree with me. I don't take that too personally (except late at night. I never read reviews after 11pm.) Just because my sister doesn't like orange and I do, doesn't mean that orange is a bad colour, ya know? I find a way to love those people anyway. Then there are the people who have expectations I really can't meet - no matter how hard I try. I still remember lying on my bed with a cool cloth on my forehead the day that I read a review of one of my books that said that it "wasn't as funny as it could have been" and that the reader "only laughed out loud once or twice per chapter." I lay there, in the dark with a cool cloth, resisting the urge to write back and say "Do you have any idea how hard it is to make someone laugh out loud once with your writing, never mind once or twice per chapter? How funny do I have to be lady- because that's pretty damned funny" and realizing, as I lay there in the dark, that I really had to let go.

"Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger."
--Franklin Jones

Then there are the people who tell me I'm brilliant, who write reviews that make me glow with pride. (The reviews I show my mother.) People who line up at signings and say the most incredible things to me, compliment me, bring me yarn (I love those people) tell me I'm just so funny, and such a good writer and how much they just really, really love it, and lying in bed in the dark, I realize that as much as I really, really don't want to.... I have to let that go too. That those people don't really know me either. That if I can't accept (and I really- really need not to) that you can hate me based on my writing, that you can't truly love me based on it either. That neither one is really true... that almost everyone, whether they claim to love or hat me, is talking about the book. This thing that for better or for worse, is a thing separate from me, and then that's hugely painful too, because really, the essays in this book came from me, and are deeply personal, and they were made by me and from me... but in the end just aren't me... but are my work, and I can take responsibility for it and enjoy doing it well, but I can't take it as a personal endorsement either way - just a much appreciated and needed professional one. Every person who comes to a signing moves something in me, and it's my job to make sure it doesn't puff me up any more than the criticism rips me up.

"To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
--Elbert Hubbard

I held that book on Friday, and I realized that it wasn't just a book I wrote (although the thrill of that NEVER, ever gets old) It's the beginning of a journey that will lead me somewhere. I'm about to get back on being critiqued, analysed, discussed, condemned and praised, and that this is simply part of being a writer. There is absolutely no way to write a book (no matter how silly or mundane) that avoids it. It is impossible to write a book that doesn't open you up to all of the wonderful things and the hurtful things and the incredible things. It is impossible to do this scary job and say "I would only like the good parts please. I don't have the self-esteem for the rest. Thanks so much." I held that book on Friday and I thought "You twit", and then I thought about the only real reason to write a book.

Every once in a while, I meet or hear from someone other than the people who read my book and love it (though I love those people, and really need them for balance) or people who read my book and hated it (and I try to love those people - and remember that I need them for balance) but someone who for some reason found a connection with the book. Someone who tells me that they read something I wrote that clarified something in them, something that moved them, something that made them laugh out loud, or something that helped them feel a sense of belonging, taught them something, or helped them somehow make a small movement in their life, and they come to me and say " I wanted you to know that your book meant something to me" and in that moment, were it appropriate, I could leap across the table and kiss them full on the mouth... because what those people are really saying, no matter how they say it, is "I heard you"... and I can't tell you how good that feels. In that moment, there isn't any better job in the whole world.


So here we go again. This is my new book. I hope you like it. I do.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:12 PM

September 12, 2008

The positives of negativity

When I was taking art in school, I had this teacher who was entirely and totally hung up on Negative Space. She was also totally hung up on what she believed to be the ugly vicious truth about cheese (hint: Google "rennet") was entirely obsessed with pointillism, and knew a really disturbing amount about which famous artists had what sexually transmitted diseases. For me, this has resulted in guilt around cheddar, an interest in Maximilien Luce, an overwhelming fear of syphilis and the knowledge that what makes lace so interesting to knit is almost entirely negative space.

This teacher, for months and months, had us draw not the subjects of our work, but the space around and between them. It's an interesting trick. Let's say that you're trying to draw a face. In your head, you have all of these ideas about what faces look like. You know that eyes go at the top, that noses go in the middle and mouths at the bottom... right? No. I drew this for you.


See that? Eyes in the middle. Check it out on a real person. (We will not include all of my hair to avoid throwing off the average. )


The first time someone showed me that, I can't tell you how surprised I was. (And how much better my face drawing got, and how quickly.) Noses and mouths in thirds below that. When you are trying to draw the positive elements of your subject, all of this stuff that you think you know that you actually don't know (like that eyes are in the middle of your face) influences the way that you draw, and you might not draw as well, considering that you're fighting a battle with what you're seeing (eyes middle) and what your brain knows (eyes top). Drawing the negative space in a face... the space around the eyes, nose and mouth, lets your brain give its presumptions a rest. You might have some really specific ideas about where eyes go.. but I bet you've never spent a lot of time internalizing what the space around your eyes looks like. We just don't look at it- we're human. We focus on the present objects - not the space around and between them. Drawing the negative space lets you draw more accurately sometimes, because your presumptions don't leap up and guide you.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking ... this is a knitting blog. Please stop talking about drawing and your art teacher because frankly, the drawing part is boring and that teacher sounds like she shouldn't have been around young minds.. but stay with me. Knitting lace is like drawing negative space.


I'm knitting the positive. The present "subject". The yarn and my stitches are making a thing... and that thing is what you see here. Very nice, pretty colours, looks soft and clever - but it's not breathtaking, not gripping, not something that you'd be missing sleep to work on. (I may have stayed up a little late last night doing that just one more row thing) Looking at the positive, this is pretty ordinary, but if you look at the negative.. the space between and around the stitches....


Knitting lace is all about negative space. When I knit it, I feel like I am just putting yarn around important and select parts of air, and when I look at it that way, it knocks me senseless.

(This is the Peacock Feathers Shawl, from Fiddlesticks Knitting (best charts in the world) yarn is Midnight Rainbow, from Perchance to Knit.)

Posted by Stephanie at 2:13 PM

September 10, 2008

London Calling

Sunday was my last day in London, and it was just about the first day that I felt human and well rested when I woke up. (The irony of finally getting the better of the jetlag the day before I incurred it again wasn't lost on me.) I drank tea in my hotel room - my hotel room had a kettle and teacups rather than coffeemaker and mugs, examined my map, and finally decided that I would just wing it. Just let it happen. I would get on the bus, and I would just... go. Wherever the bus went, that's where I would go. I put £50 in my pocket, armed myself with a sock to knit and an apple to eat, and bravely went forward. What happened for the rest of the day, I'm not even sure how to describe. I wandered, I had good luck... I had strange happenstance and lonely moments. I had so much, that I'm not even sure that I can give you a blow by blow of every moment, so full was that day. I've struggled with how to write about it for two days... (though not really yesterday, when I was so jetlagged that I scarcely worried about personal hygiene) and I've decided you'll have to live with highlights. That day was mine, and there are parts of it that I'm just keeping.

Highlight One:

I attended St. Paul's Cathedral for the Sung Eucharist. Many of you will know that I often say that I am a godless heathen, which is to mean that I do not keep with any particular church, and that I am (gasp) an atheist. This doesn't mean, however, that I don't respect or enjoy religion in general, and as a matter of fact, there is a very great deal I find my personal moral code has in common with much of organized faith, particularly when it comes to the basic rules that almost all faiths.... and all good people, have in common. (It is the interpretation of those rules that defeats me. Stuff like "Thou shalt not kill" or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"being interpreted as "Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to think that the other person isn't really a person because of your own rules" or " do unto others as you would have them do unto you unless you think that simply being a human isn't a good enough reason to receive human rights" is a problem for me. I would have been invited to no parties at all during the Crusades.) I loved the sermon (topic involved how being a good Christian must include being an environmentalist, should you respect the work of God at all) and was profoundly moved by almost all of the sentiment. When I was offered a sign of peace, and made that same sign to others, and the organ swelled and the choir sang, I was filled with an enormous feeling... A respect for the monumental force that is human faith. Although I don't place my faith in a supreme being whom I believe to be sentient, I am faithful. I have faith in the goodness of people. Faith in the love I have for my friends and family, faith in the love they have for me. I have faith that people will almost always do the right thing, especially if they are not hungry or poor or homeless, or worried about becoming hungry or poor or homeless. I have faith that most poor human behaviour is driven by ignorance, not cruelty. I have a mountain of faith, and that was what I had in common with everyone else in that church. Faith. Different sorts of it, but faith nonetheless, and it was a very human and binding experience.

Highlight Two. (Click to embiggen stuff)


Architecture and statuary. Love it. Enough said.

Highlight Three.


Standing at the Tower of London and thinking about Anne Boleyn actually being imprisoned and executed there.
(I have recently read The Other Boleyn Girl.)

Highlight Four:


More stone stuff, randomly found and devoured like treasures. (As Ken said "London certainly does not lack for "big and old". )

Highlight Five:


My previously unknown superpower for finding marching bands instinctively. (This is lucky, considering that I love parades and anything at all the has anything to do with one.)

Highlight six:


Walking in Chinatown, lunching in Soho.

Highlight Seven:


Randomly being found by a knitter and blog reader as I watched The Tour of Britain.


Hi Jennifer! (I asked her how she reckognized me, and she hedged. I asked her if it was the hair, and she said "I'm not going to tell you what you already know.) I loved the look of the people nearby as they clearly thought she was absolutely nuts when she asked me to hold her sock for a picture, then the way that they just about dropped dead when I produced a sock from my bag and asked for the same. I love messing with non-knitters.

There was more, so much more.. but I can't tell you all of it. You'll have to go see for yourself. London is an incredible place.



I totally knit on the plane all the way home. No problem.

PPS: Ignore that wine. It is a very long flight.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:31 PM

September 8, 2008

The more things stay the same

Sorry for the delay in getting this report of events up.. .I was sorting through it yesterday morning, when suddenly I got a hold of myself and realized that I was spending my last day in London (and my only really "free" day blogging. I immediately snapped my laptop shut and left the hotel room. I love you guys... but there's just no way you win in an arm wrestle with London. Now I'm getting Saturday up today (waiting to go to the airport) and I'll write up yesterday while I'm in the airport waiting for my flight, and then I'll be caught up in real time. (Ditching the blog yesterday was totally worth it.)

For all of my astonishment over the last few days, as I stagger through London working and looking (and trying to get out of working so I can look) gasping with stupefaction at how different everything is...Saturday I discovered what exactly is the same here. The same as it has been everywhere so far... The Knitters.
I was really freaked out Saturday, pacing around in a little curtained room off to the side, listening to the room fill and generally figuring what I had to change in my life to make sure this never happened again - that's a plan I always make, right before I walk on stage... and this time I think I was totally extra flipped out because people had paid to see me, and somehow even though they hadn't paid me- that was making me feel an extra burden of responsibility to them and to Gerard and Craig and the publisher -everybody who did have a stake in it, and the whole thing was making me feel ill. I was just about at the peak of my breakdown, when out of nowhere - in bounds a fast moving beautiful woman with an Irish accent, the smilingest eyes I've ever seen (I mean it. I dare you not to think that all is contained in her is happiness, adventure and intellect the minute that you look into them) and she scoops me up in this big hug. (Two - actually - I've got one to give to Rachel H.) ...


and she's Celtic Memory Jo (which I should have suspected, having seen her on her blog, and enjoyed a peripheral, albeit vague cross continent relationship, but memory always fails me while I'm scared.) who has simply (and thankfully) muscled her way backstage saying "Oh, they'd have trouble keeping me out"... and somehow, that just broke the ice on the thing. Once I saw her and understood that really, the audience was just more Jo - and knitters like Jo, knitters that I really already knew on some level... I reverted to my normal (reasonably manageable level of abject horror, and decided to go out there. It was a moment that I'll owe Jo thanks for as long as I live - and likely Rachel too.. since I suspect that she's the one that harnessed that. Behold. (Some of - because there are way, way more than a lot.) The knitters of the London (and The rest of Engand, and Belgium, and Ireland, and Scotland, and France, and Germany, and The Netherlands, and Italy.. and ... well. They were from all over.)




Other than a microphone incident (which scared the snot out of me in a tremendous feedback thing - heck of a start really) it was great. I did what I do, which was fine, and they knitters did what they do... which was spectacular. There were some babies, and you know how I like me the babies, this is Ella and her Seth, and Jennie and Marianne (Click to embiggen small knitters) and a very enthusiastic young knitter.. Catriona, 10 years old.


There was the First Sock Brigade: Charlie (who is making a baby to go in those socks) Saira, Sarah, Helen, Bec, Erin, Suzi, Sarah, Mandie, Lynn (double qualifying with both a first toe up and a first top down), Gabrielle, Kayla, and Jenny.


I met Jenny, who brought a photo of her knitting daughter who couldn't come


That's Jenny, showing off her first sock (and first baby Theo).

Jane turned up bearing socks made of yarn she won in one of the KWB draws...


Speaking of KWB, Natalie from the Yarn Yard turned up..


you should pop over to her site and see what she was up to on behalf of MSF UK. (Aug 20 entry). She's a nice lady, I tell you that. Jeni from Fyberspates had one long sock....


The other leg was bare.

There were knitters bearing washcloths. (I don't care what some people have to say about the washcloth. I believe it can be a vehicle for the highest form of art.) This is Liz and Ann, Michelle, Diane, Claudia, Alex and Sophia,


and Alex also had a little knitted Dalek.


(What? It's London. There practically HAD to be one.)
Anna double qualified with a pair of first socks - and a washcloth.


She was also wearing a Hey Teach, and hers had buttons and everything.
This is Kat (sorry, she's less blurry in real life) and I laughed because after about 30 minutes at iknit day, she'd resorted to pinning a note to herself to head off inquires.


It reads "YES. It's Kauni"

This is David and Alison, and David was one of the best sports ever.


That day was his 37th birthday, and Alison, overwhelmed with the thrill of Iknit day, had bought her tickets really fast, without thinking about the date at all - and David, who happens to be a non-knitter, found himself celebrating his birthday amongst knitters and a lot of yarn.



The Dutch Knitters, a force to be reckoned with... all three wearing the finest examples of lace and littering iknit day with Stroop Wafels (which happen to be very yummy.) There was a ton more to this day, not the least of which was what looked like awesome workshops and shopping - and I have regrets that I missed that. I had interviews right up until it was time for me to talk, and then I talked, and then I signed until all the yarn was packed up and put away, so I missed all the shopping, and didn't get to meet the fabulous Sasha Kagan or Jane Sowerby, or Erika Knight... but such are the perils of tours, and really, it was a ton of fun to see what other people were buying and admire their scores and imagine what was there to be had - and if I had to choose between meeting knitters and shopping for yarn....
I'll take the knitters.

Posted by Stephanie at 6:47 AM

September 6, 2008

The slower way

I am, after all, here to work. That's what I thought to myself yesterday with two days of working, not poking around London ahead of me. I had to remind myself, because I might be rather taken with this business of wandering the city, and although I failed in my mission to go to a pub last night (the jetlag got me. I made one pathetic attempt to find Laura when I came in around seven- discovered her already out, and then promptly knit two rows on my shawl and fell asleep. Party animal.) I had decided yesterday, should it not rain, that I might be ready for a coffee in a cafe alone. (I'm a work in progress.) Instead, I found myself sighing over my breakfast, reminding myself that I am here to work, and resolving to be cheerful about it. Turns out I should have been way more positive, because my day was really, really great - despite the work. (Is it possible that everything is fun if you're in London? I think so.)

First up, meet the London publicist in the lobby for tea and go over the plan. I have many interviews scheduled this day (along with one the day of arrival, and I can't even remember what I said on that one.) There are knitting magazines, then a lunch with the UK distributor and publisher, and then three back-to-back BBC interviews (one of them Live, how terrifying.) First though, we will troupe over to the hall where I'll be speaking, find Gerard and Craig from iknit, and do sound check and get the lay of the land. The day, Claire-the-UK-publicist assures me... will be fun and easy. Somehow, it turns out that she is right - though mostly about the fun, rather than the easy. First up...this is the space I'll be speaking in today. Lindley Hall. I don't mind telling you that when I saw it, some element of me said "Well. I won't be doing that."


I broke it to Gerard and Craig. I don't think they believed me.


From there it was lunch (gone to lunch in a London cab, very neat. Four seats facing each other.) right next to the opera house, and then off to the interviews, all of which were charming, if harrowing. (I admit a special fondness for the interview with Laura from Let's Knit. She's a knitter, and I always get on better with knitters. I held her sock. We understood each other.) After all of the interviews, I found myself in St. Marylebone (assuring Claire that I would be entirely fine if she left me there) within striking distance of The Button Queen - but after 5, when they close. (A thousand curses. My last chance to have buttons for Hey Teach for today... thwarted.) I was briefly sad - and then made the most of it by walking back to my hotel in near Vincent Square, rather than grabbing a cab. It was definitely the slower way, but by far the better one. With my map clutched in my hands, I went down Regent Street, across Oxford... past hundreds of fancy shops.


I took a turn down Swallow Street, really no more than an alley, but filled with restaurants with real furniture out to sit on, chesterfields, chairs.


At the bottom of the street, starting onto Piccadilly, the promised rain appeared. First what Joe would call a drizzle.. just dampness hanging in the air. Then a light rain, and then the heavens opened and it poured with a violent wet sincerity. Everyone in London pulled an umbrella out of nowhere (where are they keeping them?) and their mushroom tops in all colours were everywhere, marching along. Me, I had my raincoat, but nothing more, so I ducked into a doorway to wait for the worst to pass, sharing my map (and terrible french) with a clutch of Parisian teenagers who had the same thought as I did. "Le Palais?" they asked me, gesturing in the general direction. "Oui" I said, and showed them the road to Buckingham Palace on my little map. They laughed then, and said "Vous êtes Canadien!"

"Oui" I said again... "how can you tell? Comment pouvez..." (my french failed me entirely there.) and they burst out laughing again. "Le bruit d'un canard" I think they said then, but for sure I caught the word "Canard".... for duck. Sigh. All I said was "oui" and they pegged my nationality. They fled, giggling and waving into the rain, and I stood there then in a doorway for Lloyds of London, and peered around at everything. I looked across the way and saw a grand building. Beautiful, with statues and carry on all over it, and big words inscribed metres tall across the top. Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.


And that's just what London is like. I wish I could take a picture of a feeling, because I can't convey to you what it's like for every moment to be like this, it isn't a good thing found here and there, long walks between sights...


It is a constant wonder and awe. You can tell the difference between me and Londoners because they aren't falling over cracks in the sidewalks as they read the tops of buildings and take pictures of everything they see. I wonder how long it takes to build immunity?


I kept on down the street, turning south (?) onto Queens Walk (?) and took the path along the backs of grand buildings, headed for St. James park, I thought.


I took breaks to peer down lanes and examine the architecture of grand houses, letting my curiosity have free rein.


I read the inscriptions on sculptures.... read signs...


At the end of the walk I looked around, and suddenly realized where I was.


Buckingham Palace, looking toward the big statue of Queen Victoria and the statues of Victory, Constancy and Courage.


Surrounding this are three gates, the gates of the Dominions- Australia, Africa and Canada. Naturally, I went to the Canada Gate. (I happen to think it is the best one, and I'm confident that I'm properly objective there.)


It inspires something in me, though I'm not sure what. Something that goes beyond knowing all the words to God Save the Queen, seeing her on our money and noting the presence of our Governor General. Seeing the Canada Gates invokes all the history of my fine country, and how much of it - our history, system of government, money and tradition all stem largely from this place.


I dodged traffic then, crossing to the front of the Palace, and peered up at the windows. My grandfather, Lt. Col. James Alexander McPhee, was the Queen's Press Agent in Canada, and he walked in this place, dined with the Queen, was knocked over by corgis. The flag was flying, so I know the Queen was home, but I didn't see her, but I stood there in the rain, thinking about all the times he reminded me of my manners, saying "Careful now, or you'll never be invited to the palace" and I remembered how as a little girl, I thought that was an entirely possible thing.


The rain reverted to a drizzle, and I walked along Buckingham Gate road,


taking pictures,


eavesdropping on conversations in at least 4 European languages - wondering if the £2 I had in my pocket was enough for a pint, and gradually making my way back to the hotel - thinking this all the way.


Every time I see something beautiful here, I think "Oh look. I've found the most charming thing in London", and then I take another step and find something more. This city is like a jewel box. It may only hold charms, and you might never see all of them.


I love it here.

Off now to speak at iknit. Nervous as all get out.

Posted by Stephanie at 6:42 AM

September 5, 2008

Adventure is my middle name

I'm a shy person. I know there are tons of you out there who won't believe me because I fake outgoing so well, or because I have a pretty congenial personality, but the truth is.. I'm tremendously shy, and not really brave to boot. If I'm travelling alone, this combination of shy and cowardly usually gets the better of me. I usually stick to the hotel rooms, nervous about venturing out, walking and eating alone. I worry about getting lost (turns out that fear is accurate and appropriate) and truth be told, things aren't as much fun alone as they are with other people. I'm forever seeing things and wanting to share them, and when it's just me, it's like things lack resonance or permanence. It's like they aren't really happening. Yesterday, this feeling was cemented by the profound exhaustion, but I was determined to see London (and to stay up until at least 8pm) and I have so little time to do it that I had all sorts of plans not to let my instinct to stay safe and alone come between me and and adventure.
Yesterday after I posted, I set myself a mission. I would buy buttons, that would take me into London (and keep me moving so I didn't fall asleep) and I would write about it so that it didn't seem so lonely.

I bought a map, a notebook and a great pen, googled the button store closest to me, wrote the address on the top of the first page of the notebook in firm block letters and left the safety of the hotel. (I put £20 in my pocket before I went, just in case I had to bail out and take a cab back.) I walked along the street (keeping left. I can be taught) passing Greycoat Hospital school as I went, past Georgian row houses, very narrow and tall with wrought iron all over them, window boxes spilling bright petunias over old brick. (I bet it costs a million pounds to live in a row house at Greycoat Place. Maybe two.) I walked along Victoria street, past a pub that looked nice - but getting a pint ran counter to my goal. (Plus, drinking a pint alone in a pub is too far a stretch for someone just practising being Captain Adventure.) I passed Westminster Abbey with tourists swarming the place.


I wish now I'd gone in for evensong, there has been music in the Abbey every day for more than a thousand years.
At Parliament Square I stopped and admired Big Ben... or what I believe is Big Ben, if it's not, don't shatter the moment for me. It was grand.


I walked more, coming up on Trafalgar Square again, and now it was busy, not the empty place it had been at 8:00 that morning. There were people everywhere, climbing the lions, draped over fountains, all laughing, taking pictures - even the pigeons had turned up. I'd noted them conspicuously absent that morning - I think it's part of why I didn't recognize it right away. I passed through the square, stopping to take a picture for a German couple on their honeymoon, and I walked right up The Strand, looking for Bedford Street, and stopping every so often to peer in shop windows, people watch and breathe. I found Bedford and wandered up and down, looking for my button shop... and eventually it dawned on me.


The button shop at 43 Bedford is now an organic coffee shop. (It looks very good, fair trade and all that, but they didn't have any buttons.) I heaved a sigh and did the only reasonable thing an Art History minor could do, were they in my place. I packed myself off the National Gallery and spend a glorious two hours knocking myself senseless with wonder. The things I saw. The things I stood near. In every room, something to tighten my chest with awe.

I saw Seurat's Bathers at Asnières, seeing for myself how he painted, a few dots here and there foreshadowing pointilism...Renoirs - at least four of them. I adored Van Gogh's Sunflowers...standing inches from the canvas and looking at the thick impasto treatment, texture and height I know I'd read about, but truly never understood. There are shades of yellow in that painting that I didn't ever think, when I thought yellow. I am changed forever. I breathed molecules in the same room as Da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, I saw chalk on paper works that make me understand that I've never really sketched anything.

Every room, something else to sit and wonder at. Every room, something I never thought would be as wonderful as it was. Dark Caravaggios, gauzy Turners that almost seem lit from within. Landscapes by Constable, Portraits by Van Eyck - although it turns out that the Arnolfini Portrait is much smaller than I thought. I wrote a whole essay on that, and I had no idea. It was wonderful. So wonderful that I actually asked a guard in the same room with Monet's irises if they thought they had a wonderful job. (They did.) I left the place (after contributing to Yoko Ono's new secret project #3) and walked through St. James Park on the way home... stopping to commune with some pigeons and ducks, to whom I spoke at some length about the heartbreak of my love for Albrecht Dürer.



It was wonderful, and a very great adventure, lack of buttons besides.

PS. I have to work all day, but should this uncharacteristic sense for adventure continue past 6pm, are there knitters to be found nearby?

PPS. I have now been to 4 places on the Monopoly Board. Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Pall Mall. This pleases me in a ridiculous way that makes me feel about six years old.

Posted by Stephanie at 5:56 AM

September 4, 2008

Steady On

I am so tired that I'm wild. I had trouble sleeping on the plane (got on at 6:30pm Toronto time) since it was nowhere near bedtime. I tried, I really did, but there was nothing for it. It was dark all the way here though (as predicted yesterday, by knitters far smarter than I am) with sunset coming right after takeoff and sunrise coming just before we landed here at 6:30am. I sat up, knitting, watching bad movies, and for 30 glorious minutes as we headed out past Newfoundland and over the Northern Atlantic, watching a spectacular display of the Northern Lights play across the sky like an electric green and blue curtain blowing in a celestial wind. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, and that 30 minutes, peering out the little window into the dark was entirely worth being awake for, no matter how tired I am now. I assure you that the same cannot be said of the Sex and the City movie.

We landed, me peering out the window again, trying hard to see London through the clouds, and a very nice driver named Dave drove me from Heathrow to the part of London that I'm staying in, giving me tips and history lessons, showing me points of interest, helping me get oriented. He was great, and gave me the best tip I've had so far. (Actually, Ken gave it to me too... but I'd forgotten due to exhaustion.)

Be Very Careful Crossing The Street.

I am not kidding. You laugh when someone says it to you, but dudes, the cars here are totally not coming from the direction you think they are. You look in the direction you're used to looking, what would be oncoming traffic, were you home... see nothing, step off the curb and promptly find yourself in front of a double decker bus careening at you from out of nowhere. (Also, the British may be slightly mad drivers, but you didn't hear it from me.) I've been honked at sixteen times, and I am also pissing people off on the sidewalks. (Hint. That's opposite too.) I had just got the hang of crossing the street when I encountered a roundabout. I swear to you that the only reason I am writing this is because the good people of London have instructions written on the road to help you with the problem of crossing the street with cars coming from all directions, which totally makes me think that maybe they're just hard in general, and not just hard if you're really, really, really tired.


It is, at the time of this writing, about 9:00am here, and I'm in a cafe, drinking my 11th cup of coffee while I wait for the National Gallery to open. (I don't know if I'll go in.) There's no internet though. I'll hit post later, when I have a hotel room... because that's what I'm doing. Walking/drinking coffee/ seeing things until I have a hotel room. Check in isn't until 2pm, so I'm roaming the streets, getting lost, finding things and generally having a good time. It took me all of 4 minutes to get profoundly lost. Profoundly... but I just kept walking, thinking that sooner or later I would find something that would mean I wasn't lost anymore. While I was lost, I found Parliament (I think)


What I think might be the Horse Guard buildings - and a Guard wearing a FANTASTIC hat, all manner of things. The best part though, was a little while ago, when I was walking along, looking, not caring that I was lost, just trying to be here.. you know what I mean? I was, at this point, very seriously lost. I've got no bearings here, I've found the Thames, which should help but doesn't, because it's pretty twisty and I'm not sure how it fits into things anyway - though I was briefly relieved that I knew that it was the Thames, which is sort of one of the minimum English geography things everyone should know - and I am reasonably sure (I have just got to get a map) that I am on the West side of the river.


In any case, I was hugely lost, and just then starting to think about maybe asking someone where I was, when I saw Canada House and laughed. Trust me to be lost in another country and find my Embassy.


Then I saw a gorgeous fountain...


Then wonderful steps and Lions...Then I sat and looked at the monument that was there....and then it hit me.


I'm in Trafalgar Square!

I'm hoping that the fact that my first thought was "what a lovely place" instead of "Wow. An internationally recognizable famous landmark" can be chalked up to being up for 24 hours, not general stupidity, but I can't guarantee it. I saw Buckingham Palace later, and recognized that straightaway, so there's hope.
I'm trying to stay up until bedtime London time, but I don' t know if I'm going to make it. If you see me lying by the side of the street, sock clutched in my extended in the general direction of a landmark...please pour tea down me until I'm revived enough to tell you where my hotel is.

Posted by Stephanie at 5:28 AM

September 3, 2008

This time I have pants

I think I'm ready. I've walked through the things I need to do in London in my head, imagining each day and what I have to get done in it, and then putting things in my suitcase as the imaginary me needs them. (The imaginary me surprised me this morning by suggesting that we needed an extra large ziplock. I didn't ask questions. I just put it in there. Perhaps all will be revealed in the fullness of time.) I'm nervous, which is really more of a personality trait than anything else, and usually the nervous me also suggests putting things in the suitcase which are really just madness... like a first aid kit, lots of batteries and a dictionary. (I am unsure what literary emergency would be solved by the presence of my trusty Oxford Concise - but with a trio of rescue materials like that, I would imagine I would be in high demand should we end up doing a real life version of Lost.) I've pared it down to the minimum this time though- since this feels like an undertaking, and I don't want to be encumbered.

I also packed Hey Teach, which is totally finished, but buttonless, as I couldn't bring myself to put myself on my bike in the 30 degree heat (the weather turned again. It's scorching) and ride down to get them. Instead I've packed the thing up, with a vague plan to find buttons in London.


I've never been to London, but in my mind (admittedly shaped by my families strong royalist bent, a lot of Victorian novels and a recent review of Brideshead Revisited) London seems to me like the sort of city that would have button shops. Maybe even really funky button shops. (I am also looking forward to the chance to use the word "haberdashery" in public, and in context.) If I can get up the nerve and find the time, I'm going on a hunt.

Finishing the sweater meant that I needed something new for the plane, since the Josephine top is on straights, and straights on a plane (holy cow. I just imagined a whole movie) are sort of rude I think. They take up all manner of space and are unwieldy. I needed something on wee circulars, so that I could keep my knitting business to myself, but was small and light, even after 14 hours (there and back) of flying. I've been planning what was next for a while, so I wound up this.


Midnight Rainbow from Perchance to Knit, 50% silk, 50% wool laceweight, which has been in the stash for a couple of years now, always with it's destiny clear to me. Its got another name, which I'm sure will be a hint to you.
Should be an awesome flight - knitting all the way to a whole new place. I'm curious to know... If I leave here just before sunset, and I arrive there just after sunrise... will I ever be flying in the dark as the plane follows the sun?

Posted by Stephanie at 3:01 PM

September 2, 2008

A grinding halt

I spoke too soon about Hey Teach being done, since today, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to make any progress on it at all. This is probably because I am trying to do all of that knitting with the power of my mind, rather than by actually picking up the knitting.. which has a way better track record, in my experience.


The parts are done, but it needs seaming, neckband and buttonband and buttons... all of which suddenly don't seem possible while finishing the actual job that I get paid to do, packing for the trip tomorrow and of course, the rampant and mandatory celebration that the girls are all back in school. (All hail Samantha.. brand new minor niner.) I'm beginning to think that finishing this sweater before I go tomorrow is about as realistic as that clearly psycho recurring dream I have where the laundry is all caught up and there's nothing stuck to the kitchen counter. We'll see.

PS. I've been alerted that there's errata for the Baby Yours sweater - though we're not sure how it snuck in there, what with three of the worlds most obsessive perfectionists producing the thing, but there you have it. It's not too bad though. Where the sleeves are very obviously worked in the check pattern (as several pictures show) the pattern accidentally reads "cable" rather than "check" at one point. Common sense would definitely show you your true path, but just in case.... the sleeves are indeed in the check pattern, just as illustrated. Every copy that goes out from here on in will have an errata sheet inside and Tina will list it on the Blue Moon blog, and I'll add it to the Ravelry page, but if you already have yours, you might want to make a mental note not to spend hours trying to figure out why it says cable when it's obviously check. It's check.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:54 PM

September 1, 2008

A Proven Fact

I'm not really blogging, since it's a holiday and there's other stuff to do besides blogging.. stuff like dance in the street while throwing around dollar coins and candies in celebration of the fact that tomorrow is the first day of school, but I wanted to show you this.


This is a back, two fronts and 3/4 of a sleeve of Hey Teach...


and actually, when I finished both fronts, I decided I wanted the distance from ribbing to the beginning of the armscye shaping an inch longer and pulled both of them back to there and knit them again.....

and it's still almost done. It's still almost done, even though I sat on a patio and drank beer with Ken while knitting a sock, not a sweater... and it's still almost done even though we rode our bikes to the beer place and there was no knitting while bike riding. (Obviously. If I haven't figured it out by now, it can't be done.)


That sweater is almost finished despite the fact that I spent hours and hours on my paperwork... (It's done. Thanks for asking.) and despite the fact that I didn't really try really hard. That makes this the fastest sweater ever, maybe.
Zoom. Sort of makes me wish I'd remembered to buy buttons.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:51 PM