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Stephanie “Yarn Harlot” Pearl-McPhee

The knitting guru talks about the perks and drawbacks of being “knitter-famous”

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When Stephanie “Yarn Harlot” Pearl-McPhee takes the mic at a reading, the room often roars as if Eric Clapton had hit the stage. If you’re not a knitter, you won’t believe me. If you are, you cleared your calendar when New York Times bestselling author Pearl-McPhee announced that All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin would soon be published, just on the off chance she’d make it to Baltimore. And lucky you, she’s on her way.

All Wound Up is Pearl-McPhee’s third collection of essays. It might be the first, however, that contains a good deal of content about non-knitting life. Pieces like “Ode to a Washer: A Love Story in Three Parts” and “That Sort of Mother” channel a modern-day Canadian Erma Bombeck, as Pearl-McPhee finds the humor in laundry and parenting. In “October,” Pearl-McPhee waxes lyrical about appreciating what we have. These essays exquisitely capture the absurdities of life, no matter your hobby of choice.

But there is plenty in All Wound Up for Pearl-McPhee’s core audience, the tens of thousands who hit her blog on a daily basis. She writes about “converting useless time into clothing.” She pens a “Dear John” letter to a wrap cardigan she abandoned without finishing. She rails about what she’d like to say to non-knitters who ask foolish questions like, “You know you can buy socks at Walmart, right?”

While the essays are full of advice for knitters, All Wound Up isn’t a how-to or book of patterns. Some of the funniest bits have previously been on the blog, like “A Little Demoralizing,” which is about her husband Joe getting his truck stuck in his parents’ driveway. But that’s not a downside, since Pearl-McPhee has honed them to razor sharpness for publication. Plus, the hardback form makes it easier to shove these gems into other readers’ hands.

City Paper caught up with Pearl-McPhee by phone shortly before her book tour began.

City Paper: When your work first started to hit print [in 2004], it seemed like you had a new book out every few months. Then there was a three-year gap between your last title and All Wound Up. Why?

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee: I actually wrote two books in that interval. The first one didn’t make the cut. . . . I like to think of myself as a humorist and that book was not funny. It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t a funny book. So it’s in the drawer. This one got written instead. Right now I look at [the drawer book] and it reads incredibly dramatically. Even though every word in it is true, I feel like if I sent it to an editor, she would say it was hugely overwritten. You can’t have that much drama. Nobody would believe it. The uncle can have an incident but the mother-in-law can’t go to the hospital the same day. They would tell me that the plot was hopelessly contrived. But that was my life, man.

CP: Your writing voice is so strong that many readers feel like you are their best friend. What is it like to meet people you know nothing about but who feel as if they know you well?

SPM: The people who read the blog and I have an interesting relationship. It’s a little bit one-way. They know a lot more about me than I know about them. But really they only know what I would like to tell them. The relationship isn’t as intimate as we all think it is. I’m making choices. I’m cleaning the corner of the house that I pose the pictures in. . . . Usually, they tell me I’m much shorter than they expected.

CP: What has been the best part of, as you put it, being “really, really famous in some really small rooms”?

SPM: I feel like I have an automatic support network everywhere I go. . . .The worst part is that I’m never really by myself. It doesn’t happen very often because I am only knitter-famous, which is not the same as being actually famous. I have had moments—you know that moment where you think, “I need to buy tea but I’m dressed in my yoga pants. Should I go to the grocery store like this?” Then finally you think, Yes. Yes. I don’t need to get dressed to go to the grocery store. It’s on the corner. And you leave the house braless in yoga pants with a crappy old T-shirt on and bad hair and the minute I walk in somebody says, “Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.”

CP: Given that you are the knitting equivalent of a rock star, how do you prepare yourself for the bedlam of one of your book tours?

SPM: I’ve spent the last several weeks coming to the understanding that those two weeks are going to be an out-of-body experience where every day is filled with knitters and I just wander from city to city to city. . . . As strange as that experience is, it’s also pretty good, as long as you can let go of the sleep and food part. The knitter part is pretty amazing. . . . Everybody gets all of the yarn jokes and everybody makes yarn jokes. And if you say, “Does anyone have a darning needle?” you will always get one.

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