This weekend, Yorkshire will play host to the Glastonbury of the crochet world. Grant Woodward gets a glimpse behind the scenes of a surprise success story.
“YOU won’t get a room in Skipton this weekend,” says Carole Rennison, beaming with pride as she takes a quick break from yarn bombing the local park. “They’ve all been booked out for weeks – well, months.”
If the genteel world of crocheting had a Glastonbury, then it would look a lot like Yarndale. The two-day event, which takes place in the North Yorkshire town this weekend, is set to draw thousands of exhibitors and visitors from all over the globe.
They are coming from the US, Australia, Asia and across Europe to descend on the town’s Auction Mart. Last year’s points of origin included Madagascar, Brazil and Taiwan – all of them sharing a love of all things crochet.
Set up three years ago by a band of locals who came up with the idea during a “knit and natter” group, Yarndale is fast becoming big business.
Carole and her four fellow founders have tapped into a rekindled fascination for yarn-based pursuits such as knitting and crocheting. And this corner of Yorkshire is reaping the benefits.
“With all the accommodation booked up, people are spreading out into the surrounding towns like Ilkley and Keighley and into the Dales,” she says. “They’re staying in the places along the train line, eating out in the restaurants. It’s fantastic for Skipton and the local area.”
Seven thousand of them came last year and similar numbers are expected this weekend. They will be guided to the show through the town’s park – which has been “yarn bombed” especially for the occasion.
“Yarn bombing traditionally happens in an urban environment,” says Lucy O’Regan, one of the show’s driving forces, explaining the quirky new phenomenon. “The original idea was to bring in a bit of colour and creativity to fairly drab places and brighten up everyday objects that people walk past without noticing. There’s no political statement behind it, it’s just a fun thing to do.”
In advance of Yarndale, Lucy and her fellow organisers have been hard at work stitching brightly coloured crocheted panels on to the lampposts in the local Aireville Park.
The idea, she says, is to encourage people to walk to Yarndale from the station and soak up the picturesque surroundings.
In truth, they all say they never thought their baby would get this big.
They had initially hoped for maybe a few dozen exhibitors with a couple of thousand coming along out of curiosity, but the event’s rocketing popularity – powered by social media and word of mouth – has taken them by surprise. Not that these well-drilled organisers seem particularly fazed by it.
To a woman they have all the hallmarks of a highly organised, well-drilled team – though the committee does have a token man in its midst in the shape of Carole’s husband Paul.
So what exactly inspired them to set it up in the first place?
“The five of us were all part of a local knit and natter group so it started as a very social group,” says Lucy.
“The idea was to bring something to Skipton that would celebrate our love of yarn – and the history of it here in the town, which has a strong textile heritage – and invite other people to celebrate with us.
“Yarn festivals are traditionally concentrated on knitting and with Yarndale we wanted to try and swing that to put more of an emphasis on crocheting, because it doesn’t get a huge amount of publicity.
“It took us 18 months to get the first Yarndale off the ground and a lot of hard work to spread the word. But yes, it’s been a fantastic success.”
Lucy – who runs online crochet blog Attic24 – puts that down to the current trend for all things crafty.
“There has been a big resurgence in interest in handmade crafts in general and yarn crafts in particular,” she says. “Knitting and crochet have had a real renaissance recently.
“We’ve all been knitting and crocheting all our lives as individuals but coming together and doing it socially is more of a recent thing.
“It’s been interesting seeing how everyone’s loved coming together to celebrate it and get inspired. Yarndale is all about inviting people to share their skills, to sit and knit and crochet together, the whole social side of it.
“We didn’t think it would ever be this big when we started out three years ago but word spread really quickly and before we knew it we had this large festival on our hands.”
The 195 exhibitors who will be packed into the Auction Mart are coming from all over the country. They represent every kind of textile skill and craft imaginable, from knitting and crocheting to spinning and weaving.
There will be demonstrations and the opportunity for committed crocheters and knitters to buy all manner of yarns and other goodies for their favourite hobby. (For those not in the know, they key difference between knitting and crocheting is that the former uses two needles and the latter just the one hook).
Welcoming visitors to the event will be a spectacular display of crocheted bunting that hangs across the rafters of the building.
Three years ago, ahead of the very first Yarndale, they put out a call for people to send in the multi-coloured triangles of yarn and were astonished to receive 6,500 of them. Strung together they measure just short of a mile in length.
Then there are the flowers. This year’s Yarndale features a charity project called Flowers for Memories. It’s the brainchild of Sheila Metcalfe, who wanted to do something in memory of a friend who died last year and suffered from severe memory loss.
So they put out an appeal for the yarny flowers and the international community of crocheters responded in amazing fashion. More than 5,000 of them flooded into Yorkshire from 22 countries including Pakistan, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the US. They’re a close-knit bunch, this lot.
“I’ve just been bowled over by the generosity of people,” says Sheila as she prepares giant boards of the intricate flowers for the big event.
“We have had such exquisite things sent to us – boxes of 20 absolutely wonderful ones and then you get a patisserie box and it’s just got one perfect rose in it, or a box of knitted lavender.
“A lot of people have made flowers to remember somebody, whether it be a family member or a friend. The letters are incredibly touching.”
After the weekend the flowers will be sold off to raise money for the Alzheimers Society charity.
All of this underlines just how big an event Yarndale has now become – and the impact it is having both locally and across the wider crocheting community.
“We have actually created an international festival,” says Lucy O’Regan as she starts work on yet another yarn bombed lamppost. “It’s something we’re all very proud of.”