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All Wound Up

Spinning Tales

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All Wound Up

All Wound Up by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

Andrews McMeel Publishing.

I don't read the Yarn Harlot's blog all that often, but every time I read one of her books I wonder why I don't make it part of my routine.

I read her books in great gulps, proving to myself that I have a lot more time to read than I think I do (particularly if I read instead of knitting, or, say, doing chores during "Sesame Street").

All the Time in the World

That's ironic because one running theme of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin is about the concept of time, particularly how people who don't knit waste a lot of time -- sitting in offices, on trains and in front of the television, for example -- yet often say they don't have time to knit.

It's also about the time that goes into a thing of great beauty and how that time is ridiculously undervalued in our society (case in point: a $60 discount-store crocheted tablecloth in a world where it's not possible to create crochet with a machine.

It's about the time needed to heal when everything falls apart -- the time that can fix things that even knitting cannot.

Pearl-McPhee calls herself a writer of "knitting humour books," but it seems as her career goes on the books become less funny. Maybe I just notice it more now, or maybe life is less funny than it used to be, not just for her but for a lot of us.

Knitting Mishaps and Other Hijinks

That's not to say this book isn't funny: there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, as well as times you'll grown with recognition and probably a few times when you'll think, "well, at least I'm not that bad."

Readers will be tickled by stories relating to Pearl-McPhee's difficulties leaving the house: "I have nothing to wear that makes me look like a grown-up who can be trusted," she writes. "(It has been suggested to me that this may be related to my belief that putting on my one bra is really only for special occasions, but I still find it difficult to believe that controlling your breasts is the secret to being taken seriously)."

She writes about the difficulties of following patterns, whether they seem to be requiring actions and stitch counts that aren't actually possible given the pattern thus far, or whether they're beautifully written and just need to be read in order to be followed. At one point she considers calling Nancy Bush after days of casting on and repeatedly ripping out the same few rows of a shawl pattern she hadn't read properly.

There's the tale of her successful effort to knit eight socks in eight days because she's "a procrastinating idiot," a feat she thought was pretty great until she learned that "a good hand knitter" in the 1600s could knit 12 stockings (much longer than our modern socks) in a week.

She explores the vagaries of gauge, "the problem child of mathematics" because it should always work out that the same knitter gets the same gauge using the same yarn, needles and stitch pattern, but it just doesn't work out that way.

"Doing a gauge swatch will give you valuable information (probably), but it might also lie like a rug," she says, but she explains (through math, sort of) why that's the case and we shouldn't worry about it so much.

There are stories here of lost mittens, fat sweaters (thanks to that gauge thing again), unfinished sweaters, battles over yarn storage in a house with five people and two closets, and an exploration of why it can sometimes be just too painful to knit.

Not All Knitting

There are essays here, too, that don't have a lot to do with knitting, such as the tale of woe regarding the installation of her new washing machine. There's a story about her husband getting his truck stuck in the snow, and a tale of childhood mischief that resulted in Pearl-McPhee sending all three of her kids to be at 2 in the afternoon.

There's a lot to love about this collection of essays, and it has the same sort of charm I find in all of Pearl-McPhee's books. As you read her writing -- whether on her blog or on these pages -- you feel like she is with you, like you're sharing that pint at knit night, with her in her going out pants (and matching brown shirt) working on a sweater or a sock and going on about her latest fiber-related exploits.

Reading the stories of other knitters makes us feel more connected to the wider community of craft and helps us remember that it is a small, wooly world out there. I can never get enough of that, and I hope other readers (and the writers of knitting essays and memoirs, and the people who publish them!) feel the same.

Publisher's website

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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