At age four, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee learned how to read. So her grandmother said: “If you can do something as hard as read, you can do something as simple as knit.”

So the older woman taught the toddler and Pearl-McPhee, who’s now 40, was hooked. “I loved it instantly and completely and I’ve been knitting ever since.”

But the Torontonian never thought she could make a living off her passion. Her grandmother worked as a professional knitter, but it didn’t pay well and the practice had fallen out of fashion by the time Pearl-McPhee grew up.

She studied illustration at Ryerson and then worked as a freelance writer. Then she had kids and become a lactation consultant and a doula. She was working in Toronto hospitals with new moms when SARS hit in 2003. Hospitals began limiting access and suddenly she could not see potential clients.

She went to bed one night saying to herself: “Think, think. What are you good at? What can you do?” Her answer: Knitting and writing.

She got up the next morning and wrote to a literary agent. She started writing proposals and in just a few months had two book deals. Both At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much and Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter came out in 2005, and she’s now published six books. Pearl-McPhee also writes a blog (which won Best Blog from the Canadian Blog Awards in 2008) called Yarn Harlot and does frequent speaking engagements.

First thing almost every morning, Pearl-McPhee deals with her considerable e-mail inbox and blogs. She then knits for a few hours (“So I have something to blog about. I sit around knitting, waiting for something funny to happen to me.”) In the afternoons, she writes. She spins on Tuesdays (she has a few wheels) and buys wool when she’s out at her Wednesday night knitting group and a local yarn shop.

In every gap in her day — when she’s thinking while writing, while her three teens are doing homework, when she’s on the phone — she knits. She even knits while reading e-mail and uses the needle to tap at her keyboard.

Her house is nearly overrun by yarn and ongoing projects.

“Five years ago, that made me messy, now it makes me really focused on my career,” she says. She knits so much, she says it’s become part of her personality. One of her daughters knits too. The rest of the clan? “I have a very warm family,” she says.
“You can pick them out of a crowd, they’re the wooly ones.”

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