It all started out as something to kill time. Wendy Johnson was in Pensacola, Fla,, on a business trip in March 2002, and the rain would not stop. This was monsoon season in Florida, and Johnson needed something to do.
So she started a blog about her favorite subject: knitting.
“A lot of people call knitting the new yoga,” Johnson said. “The repetitive motion keeps your mind free to think about other things, so it has a zen-like quality.”
For the past four years, Johnson has updated her blog five days a week — Sunday evening to Thursday evening. The posts document her knitting, offer advice to the blog’s readers and star the antics of her cat, Lucy.
“My cat is very photogenic, and a lot of people log on just to see Lucy,” Johnson said. “She’s definitely got a fan club out there.”
Blogging became a creative release for Johnson, who has lived in Alexandria since 1992. The online forum was a way for her to put to use her English degree from George Mason University, where she graduated in 1980. It’s a great escape from her workaday job with the Department of Labor — allowing her to share her knowledge on the subject while commenting on life’s passing fancies.
“It’s a good place for me to document what I’ve done,” Johnson said. “But as you gain a readership, you tend to write for the readers.”
OVER THE YEARS, her blog became popular in knitting circles. Her witty style and her practical advice became a focal point for the knitting blogosphere, drawing an ever-increasing audience hungry for advice and camaraderie. As WendyKnits.net gained in popularity, it also attracted the attention of a literary agent who approached Johnson about the possibility of finding a publisher.
“My understanding is that it’s difficult to get an agent, so I was lucky,” Johnson said. “The book is a memoir of what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, but it also has tips and tricks and techniques.”
“Wendy Knits,” was published earlier this year by Plume Books, an imprint of Penguin. It includes 20 patterns, Johnson’s personal knitting history and a wealth of useful pointers. The book has an irreverent tone, offering offbeat advice on everything from casting on techniques to which equipment to use to finding more time in your day.
“Get your hair cut in a style that requires no blow-drying or styling — that gives you an extra ten minutes of knitting time per day,” Johnson writes in the book. “Have permanent eyeliner tattooed on — there are another couple of minutes saved.”
“Wendy Knits” has chapters about everything from the philosophy of knitting to luxury fibers. Interwoven between Johnson’s biographical asides and cat portraits are scores of step-by-step instructions on how to knit scarves, hats, socks, dishcloths, cell-phone cozies, fingerless mitts and sweaters.
“All knitting is essentially a combination of knit and purl and you build on those as you progress to cast on, bind off, increase, decrease and finally, follow patterns,” Johnson writes. “The first law of knitting: there are no laws to knitting.”
JOHNSON’S UPBEAT ATTITUDE and her playful way with words have attracted a dedicated readership for her blog. Her book carries this forward in an extended discussion about knitting while adding a slew of useful patterns for knitters who are looking for new projects.
“She’s one of the most popular bloggers in the knit blogging universe,” said Holly Daymude, a knitting instructor at Knit Happens on North Washington Street. “She’s definitely a celebrity.”
Daymude says that when Johnson announces that she will spend an afternoon in the Old Town store knitting, visitors will come from all over the country to see their favorite knitting star.
“She’s a wealth of information, she’s funny and she’s nice.” Daymude said. “We have a group of people who have affectionately called themselves ‘the irregulars,’ and they love Wendy.”