Things I Learned from Knitting: …whether I wanted to or not by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is a master storyteller. Her mind is always working, observing, recording, making connections, remembering things that most of us notice and then quickly forget—and then recounting them at the perfect moment.

She’s also a very good writer who comments on the foibles of human nature through knitting-tinted glasses. And she does so with the ease of a seasoned humorist.

A genre of “knitting humor” didn’t really exist in the publishing world until her first book, At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much. Since then she has been as prolific in her writing as she has in her knitting, both of which are chronicled regularly in her blog, The Yarn Harlot.

Under the Covers

In this pocket-sized book, Stephanie presents observations about 45 life lessons that she has learned from knitting. Some are brief two-paragraph pieces, and others are several pages, each is best savored separately like a box of chocolates.

Stephanie artfully dips her toes into all sorts of subjects, from parenting and patience to swatching, collecting yarn, and suffering for fashion (she refused to believe this was necessary until one summer day when she found herself sweating under the weight of a heavy wool sweater she wanted to show off to her LYS).

Stephanie even boldly attempts to talk about the issue of yarn snobbery, something sure to evoke flames in any online discussion. Rather than dictate what is good and what is bad, she sits right in the middle of the grey area, acknowledging that most of us will see a time when we really can’t afford something better and have to knit with what we can. But in the end, she ventures, “I am just glad to have finally learned that I didn’t get the sweater or the stroganoff I expected not because I am an incompetent and everyone else is more skilled than I am, but because sometimes, if you start with crap, that is what you will end up with.”

Some of the lessons may be immediately obvious, others may be a little more circuitous (the story about the man in Cuba who breeds patio-sized cows, for example), but at the right moment she always winds back to an entirely fitting knitting context, leaving us to nod in agreement or understanding.

A Great Unifier

Stephanie is extremely witty in her writing—but she is also very smart (who else would spend the first six pages of her book trying to explain cognitive psychology?) as well as skilled in the art of bringing together all sorts of people under a common umbrella of knittership.

Throughout this book and all those before it, Stephanie invites us to laugh at our own knitterly foibles as she points out—and laughs at—her own and those she observes around her. If there’s mockery to be found, it’s almost always aimed at herself, not others.

I sometimes wonder if Stephanie’s sublime gift as a storyteller, and her penchant for putting herself in the middle of the story, have led some to see her more as a beloved fictional character than as a humble and fallible fellow knitter. Regardless, people will want to read this book to find out what their favorite knitting character is doing now—but they will also take great pleasure in identifying themselves among the supporting cast.

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