If the world of yarn has a language of its own it’s one which is being learned by more and more people.Knitting is ‘in’ again, as evidenced by its growing fashionability among celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Katy Perry, all of them fans of ‘extreme knitting.’Closer to home, Harrogate woman Fiona Burks has just won a major UK award only a year-and-a-half after she first opened the doors of Yarn Etc.Fiona, 47, who took over what was The Wool Shop on Knaresborough Road when the previous owner retired, says the revival of this traditional skill is not only of practical benefit, it also creates a sense of community amid the strains of modern life.In fact, the rise of the modern knitter often sees people who were complete strangers when they first came into her shop becoming firm friends.She said: “I love my shop. I would sleep there, too, if I could. It’s not just about making money, it’s about getting people crafting and resting and it’s about the customers who have become friends. “Knitting and crochet is certainly coming back in to fashion big style. “I think we are all feeling the need to make things and not just get constantly fixated with technology. “There has also been a massive development in the benefits of knitting and crochet in regards to mental health.“There is a lot of laughter in the shop - and cake obviously.”
How Fiona went from horticulture to an award-winning knitting shopA garden designer and horticulturalist by profession, originally, Fiona came late to the joys of yarn and the success of her independent venture was by no means guaranteed.But huge amounts of hard work allied to a friendly and outgoing nature paid off when Yarn Etc won the prize for third Best Independent Yarn Store in the North of England recently in the British Knitting and Crochet Awards.Fiona said: “I was astounded and overwhelmed at the award. I’d been 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.”Perhaps the biggest contributor to the shop’s rapid success has been one of Fiona’s simplest innovations - a large chalkboard in the shop which announces the yarn-related classes and meetings held regularly upstairs.It’s an idea Fiona transplanted to her own business after many years working at her parents’ Brookside Nurseries garden centre.She said: “The notice board has been really successful and it was planned from right at the very beginning even before I had the shop. We used to have a board at the Garden Centre and it really worked there.“The classes are an integral part of the shop. So many people are wanting to learn yarn based skills right now and it was really important to me to create a space which fostered and inspired people to be creative.“I couldn’t obviously do any of this without my brilliant team of tutors and staff who really make the whole concept work.”
The secrets of knitting and yarnRunning the shop has been a learning experience in more ways than one for Fiona, who lives on Jennyfield with her partner John and daughter Chloe.She may dismiss her own efforts at knitting but Fiona is now yarn-literate herself.She knows all about ‘double knit weight yarns’ proclaims her favourite type of yarn is something called Three Bears Cotton Affection and says her favourite colour is turquoise, the same as her shop.And, by the way, thickness does matter - super chunky is really quick to knit up, it turns out, while finer yarn requires needles as small as one millimetre.She said: “I have to confess that I only learned to knit properly 20 months ago as it’s a necessity for running the shop because I need to be able to give advice as well as sell yarn and patterns.“I find crochet easier but do remember when first start to learn crochet I did feel like I didn’t have enough hands to wrestle the yarn into submission with. “Learning magic loop can be tricky but once mastered can revolutionise your work. “Getting your head round using circular knitting needles can take a while, too, but again, once the skill is mastered everyone raves about it.”The classes at Yarn Etc are run by experts and the end result is happy knitters and crocheters who can create their own cosy socks or baby clothes or children’s toys, something Fiona herself is busy beavering away with herself.
More than 'gin-soaked middle aged women squishing yarn'But there are more benefits to the classes than merely better techniques or the ability to knit their own Christmas presents. Fiona said: “I enjoy hearing their stories and helping them overcome not just their knitting problems, but personal ones too, through knitting groups. “We run knit and natter groups and it’s wonderful to watch these people who were complete strangers when they first arrived become firm friends over time.”Her husband, she says, may dismiss the shop tongue in his cheek as being “full of gin-soaked middle aged women squishing yarn” but it’s clear the comeback of yarn is more than simply nostalgia for a time of 'waste not want not' or the latesr offshoot of the 'keep calm, carry on' philosophy.Fiona talks like someone who has found a new personal passion to add to her love of horticulture.“It’s all about the feel of the yarn, the softness of it and the texture then and the colours and infinite colour combinations that are possible. Its amazing how different colours together just work and speak to you“The most enjoyable parts of crochet are seeing things grow from effectively just yarn being knotted round a hook! Its like magic.”As for what extreme knitting is, that sadly remains a mystery to this particular writer.