Me ‘n’ The Yarn Harlot in Philly!

So I finally got to see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee!

You have to understand I’ve been reading this woman’s blog for over two years and have been trying to get to see her for almost as long. Each time she has come to the area it has been a more-than-an-hour’s drive away and something has come up (impending visitors that I have failed to prepare for, illness and daunting rush hour traffic…). This time, however, she was going to be in downtown Philly, which is eminently doable (after all, I used to do it every day).

One of K’s coworkers had outed herself as a knitter just a few days earlier, so I sent her a pattern and an invitation to join me. We arranged to meet at the Free Library and take our cell phones, since there was a shocking lack of details on the Philadelphia Festival of the Book’s website. (I’m noticing this trend more and more recently. Websites exist for many more products/events/organizations than ever before, but a lot of the sites fail to tell you anything you need to know unless you already work in their marketing department and know all about their product/event/organization. Use the grandmother test: could your grandmother find out what she needs to know from your webpage? No? Rewrite or redesign it!)


I was quite impressed that I actually managed to get to the library at 11, an hour before the speech, as planned. Of course, I suddenly realised that I didn’t have a copy of her book. There were tents and vendors all around the library, so I stomped up and down streets, looking for a booth that would sell me her book, but all the booths seemed to be for small publishers, none of them the Yarn Harlot’s. Eventually I backtracked to the information booth (yes, I know…) and found out that they were selling the speakers’ books inside the lobby of the library. Now a mere 10 minutes late for meeting Jen, I popped in and bought a book, then headed down to the auditorium to see if she was there.

It was then that I remembered that we had only met once before, and I had not much of a clue what she looked like. Ah.

I checked my cell phone. Somehow, in all the running around I had missed a call. Of course, there in the basement of the library there was no signal, so I puffed back up the stairs and out to the front steps. As I went out through the ‘out’ turnstile, I saw someone coming in the ‘in’ turnstile who looked a little familiar. Could it be her? Well, I’d better check my message anyway. The message was from Jen saying she was on her way. I returned the call and her signal broke up, because, as it turns out, she was inside the library. I trecked back in and…yes, it was the familiar-looking girl I had seen coming in!

We should have arranged to carry red skeins of yarn or something. Only that would have meant we’d have ended up talking to lots of other people, because everyone was carrying yarn and needles.

We went back to the auditorium and found ourselves a couple of seats in the middle of the second row. In front of me was a small boy, maybe 9, sitting next to his mum and knitting away on his black square of something. He was good too. I thought about asking him if I could get his picture and ask his name, but my natural reticence kicked in (bad blogger!). I reckoned that Stephanie would definitely get a pic of him for her blog if he hung around afterwards. (She’s partial to a young knitter. Young and male? Double points).

People started chatting to each other. Of course, Jen and I were chatting up a storm, not having had the chance before, and I didn’t do as much knit-fraternising as I might have, but I saw some lovely shawls and socks. (Tried to get the lady next to us to spill the beans on her yarn as it had lovely thick self-striping stripes of reds and blues and earthy greens, but all she was willing to divulge was that it was ‘supposed to have jojoba in it!’. Well, that might help — insert web search here — it could have been this). But again I was ridiculously shy with the camera, and again, there was all that talking to do.

People were milling around and occasionally standing up to model shawls (choruses of ‘oooo!’), when a woman in the row in front of me suddenly came scurrying back to her seat and squeaked,

“She’s here! I just saw her!” and then giggled like a school girl as everyone in the auditorium laughed along with her.

“I haven’t been around knitting geeks before,” said Jen, the scientist and sci-fi fan, “but the vibe is very familiar…”

After what seemed like no time at all, the Free Library dude got up on stage and introduced our lady of the yarn. She peeked her head out from behind the curtain as if to make sure that there was someone out there and that she was really in the right place, and then she came on stage to whoops and cheers.

They had told her she had less time than usual to talk, so she made a show of taking a very quick audience/travelling sock picture, tripping over her yarn and generally being endearingly klutzy, as if to set us at our ease.

And then she proceeded to make us laugh for an hour. But she wasn’t just being silly. She was being smart. Extremely smart and extremely well-researched and I think she ought to be on every talk show going (I did mean to email Marti Moss-Coane and see if we could get her on Radio Times, but I forgot).

After we had all wiped the tears of laughter from our faces we headed upstairs to the lobby where there was already a line extending all the way down the very long hallway for the signing.

We probably waited for about 40 minutes, but with all the gabbing it flew by (thanks to Jen for staying and letting me talk at her, even though she didn’t have a book to have signed.)

When I finally got to the front of the line, having turned down Jen’s offer to take a picture of me with Stephanie (self conscious, much?), I fully intended to snap a picture of Steph at her signing table, but got all confused by getting my book out and rooting around in my bag for the beer I had brought her. I know this was just a quick stop, but I reckoned she still might appreciate a local beer (it was Yeungling, brewed hereabouts, more or less). Then I gave her my book and, while she was signing it, put the beer on the table, and said,
“I brought you something that’s known around here as Vitamin Y.”
Her sidekick laughed and then Stephanie looked up and roared when she saw what I was talking about (wish I could take credit for the joke, but I can’t).

I think I managed to say thanks before I started edging away. I didn’t really have much to offer, in the way of small talk, or at least I hadn’t prepared anything. I could have shown her my non-Sock-Wars-sock. I could have had a picture taken with her and the travelling sock, like the girl before me, and she would totally have done it. But what I really wanted to do was sit down in a pub somewhere and just hang out. So instead, I edged away (I have such a horror of being An Inconvenience to anyone!). She was so nice though. She was still chatting even as I edged.

So it’s all true, what everyone says: that she is funny and nice and makes everyone feel like a buddy even if you only throw a bottle of beer at her and scuttle away grinning like a fool.

Afterwards, on the way home, thinking about her contention that knitters make advertisers cry because we are seriously busting the demographics, I stopped at a traffic light. Three or four people crossed the road in front of me. Among them was one young woman, dressed in pink, carrying a pretty pink bag with her. She looked a little familiar. Then I laughed because I knew something no-one else on that street would ever have guessed. Inside that pretty pink bag there was knitting.

Yup, we’re everywhere and we look just like you!

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