I met Helen Winnicott through Stitches and Hos, a monthly knit night I set up in 2007. Helen came along by accident with a friend. I clearly remember watching Helen knitting socks on DPN’s on one of her first visits. She made it look effortless. We hit it off and I asked Helen to help me with a commission I had for Bullring Birmingham. Helen brought her daughter, Lilith (Lil), who had also been attending knit nights, for moral support. Lil had just finished her degree in Costume Design and helped with the installation of the final commission.
Helen, Lil and I then met Venetia (V) whilst working on K2TOG, a participatory knit graffiti project I created as part of the Cultural Olympiad for London 2012. I had secured a pop up shop in a shopping centre in Birmingham that acted as a central hub for the project.
l-r Venetia Headlam, Helen Winnicott, Sara Fowles and Lilith Winnicott
Venetia came to visit, as she knew someone who was working on the project from when she worked at Stitch Perfect, a now defunct independent yarn store. With these kinds of credentials I asked V if she would like to work with us on future projects. Luckily the answer was yes!
Stitches and Hos now had a core group that worked on several projects together including a window display competition (We came second). We talked endlessly about wanting to open an independent yarn shop. We had seen a couple of independent yarn shops open in Birmingham and then unfortunately close. Our shop would be full of all our favourite dyers, our own space that we could host knit nights, workshops and trunk shows and create fantastic window displays. We talked about it so much that eventually it seemed like a good idea to try and get it off the ground.
Whilst Lil and V had to take a back seat for personal reasons, Helen and I agreed that we would meet at my house every Thursday to work on setting up a shop. We wrote a business plan, conducted market research and trawled the city for potential shop units. Our initial enthusiasm saw us through the first few months, however after nearly 6 months of trying to find suitable premises we began to realise that it wasn’t going to be possible.
So what next? We had spent nearly 6 months trying to open a shop and put a lot of work into trying to make it happen. It seemed criminal to let all our work go to waste but what could we use it for? I came up with the idea of a yarn festival. It seemed like a good idea and we could use most of the work and research we had done for the shop to inform the festival. I also had over a decades worth of experience working at music and film festivals and putting together my own projects and events.
I talked the idea over with Helen initially and she agreed it was a good idea. We then had a meeting with all four of us to discuss the idea further. We knew from the start that we wanted our festival to be different from other festivals. The fact that our team spans different backgrounds, upbringings and ages, helps us achieve this as we all have different perspectives, opinions and views.
And so, Yarningham was born. Yarningham has continued to grow and evolve with the help of family and friends, some of whom have been willing to help out in return for cake!