Casting off to a career in yarns

Fiona Burks in her  harrogate shop Yarns Etc.  Picture Tony Johnson.
Fiona Burks in her harrogate shop Yarns Etc. Picture Tony Johnson.
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Fiona Burks’ business has just been named in the top three of yarn shops in the North of England. Catherine Scott meets her.

When garden designer Fiona Burks local wool shop looked set to close she decided on a change of career – despite not being able to knit.

“I was always a crocheter,” explains Fiona, 47, from Harrogate.

“I used the Wool Shop on Knaresbrough Road, but then the owner said she was retiring and was going to close it. I thought it was a shame to lose a shop like that and so I made her an offer.

“Later that day I did think ‘What have I done?’ And then thought I’d better learn how to knit.”

She went on holiday with her mum , a keen knitter, and told he she wanted to learn how to knit a pair of socks.

“Everyone thought I was crazy as socks are one of the hardest things to knit but I thought if I learn how to knit them I can pretty much knit most things.”

And she did a good job. Less than 18 month after her career change, her business, Yarn Etc in Harrogate, has been named in the top three yarn shop in the North of England.

“I was astounded and overwhelmed that after only opening the shop 18 months ago I’ve received such wonderful recognition.

“I was nominated alongside some great yarn shops and I am quite in awe of them all, so it was somewhat of a shock to be voted alongside them. But it’s great to help bring back yarn shops to Yorkshire which has long been famous as a centre for textiles and excellence in textile.”

Fiona, who’s parents owned Brookside Nurseries in Harrogate, spent the first 20 years of her working life in an insurance office.

“I think I rebelled a bit at the thought of just going straight to work in the family business when I left school at 16,” recalls Fiona,

“But after 20 years working in an insurance office I’d had enough and so went to work with my parents and it was then I decided to train in horticulture and garden design.”

Fiona says she had always been creative but saw it as more of a hobby than a business.

“I did night school lessons in all sorts of things including furniture restoration and silver smithing, but I did it for me rather than as a possible career.”

Then about six years ago Fiona decided she wanted to learn how to crochet.

“One of the staff at the garden centre showed me how to crochet. I started with granny square and then progressed.

“I found a number of groups on Facebook and this opened up a whole new community to me. I find it really relaxing, you can’t worry about anything else when you are concentrating on crocheting.”

Fiona also says she loves maths, which is a surprising asset when it comes to crocheting and knitting.

“It is all about counting,” she says. “I think that is one of the reasons I love it so much. I was always good at maths when I was at school.”

When she took over The Wool Shop Fiona had big plans for the business, which meant a lot more than just selling yarn.

“I wanted to create a type of community hub and also offer day and night classes where people could learn new skills and also meet new people.”

Yarn Etc classes have proved very successful with everything from Beginners Crochet course to more specialist classes, even including Christmas decorations.

On the day I visit the shop is like an Aladin’s cave of brightly coloured yarns in a rainbow of colours.

A group of ladies are sitting round the large central table, knitting, crocheting, drinking tea and chatting.

The Knitter Natter group used to meet in an upstairs room but when one of their number broke their leg they needed a new venue and Fiona obliged.

“They are a great group of ladies and so knowledgeable,” says Fiona.

“I am still pretty new to knitting and if someone comes in with a query I can answer one of the ladies can usually help.”

She is also helped by her mum and a former colleague from the insurance business.

As well as all manner of yarns many sources from across Yorkshire, there are a vast array of knitting needles.

“I tend to knit on circular needles because there are no seams,” explains Fiona. “But there is a huge choice compared to a few years ago. There are wooden, bamboo, aluminium, stainless steel and many more and they come in all sizes.”

Fiona puts a lot of her success down to the internet and social media sites such as Facebook, keeping a traditional craft afloat using the latest technology.

“The demographic of knitters and crocheters has changed a lot and you really do need to embrace social media,” she says,

“There are lots of bloggers out there and with a number of high profile celebrities admitting they are knitters the entire image is changing.”

Fiona reckons the average age of people attending her classes is between 30 and 40 years old – although they have one knitter who is just 12.

And her customers come from all over the world.

“We have people coming from America, Australia and New Zealand to buy wool. You can buy online but people really do like to see the colours and feel the quality of the yarn,” says Fiona.

“There are other shops like mine but town only tend to have one wool shop and I think it is really important that we do our best to see them survive.”

To contact Yarn Etc drop in at 17 Knaresborough Road, Harrogate, telephone 01423 885565 or visit www.facebook.com/yarnetc/