A little introduction

It’s been pointed out to us that not many people know much about the people who run Yarningham.  So here’s a little introduction.

Sara Fowles and Helen Winnicott, Co-Founders of Yarningham asked each other some questions to help you find out more.  Here are our answers.

Who are you?

SF:      I’m Sara Fowles and I am Co-Founder of Stitches and Hos and Yarningham Festival.

HW:    Helen Winnicott, knitter for many years, collector of yarn, mother of 9 and grandmother of 4.

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Sara Fowles (left) and Helen Winnicott (right), Co-Founders of Yarningham Festival

What is your role at Yarningham?

SF:      General dogsbody and Co-Founder. Helen and I split the majority of the work equally, I mostly look after the admin, finances and exhibitors.

HW:    Co-Founder with Sara – we meet once a week and sit at Sara’s kitchen table, putting the show together.

What is Yarningham?

SF:      Yarningham is a 2-day yarn festival that was started in 2016.

HW:    Yarningham is Birmingham’s yarn and fibre festival.

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Helen and Sara pose as Yarningham mascots Boris and Donald

How did Yarningham start?

SF:      Yarningham was kind of the second prize. Initially Helen and I wanted to set up a yarn shop. When we realised that we didn’t have enough money for a shop, a yarn festival was the next best idea.

All of the research work that we had done about setting up a yarn shop really helped when setting up Yarningham. We also had a list of things that we knew we wanted to do differently to other festivals.

HW:    Sara has a lot of experience working with festivals, so we thought why not put on a yarn festival?

Why did you start Yarningham?

SF:      I just couldn’t find the yarn festival that I wanted to go to or a yarn festival that I could get to easily and inexpensively. There are lots of great yarn festivals out there but some of them are inaccessible by public transport or are located far away from where I live in Birmingham.

There was also little choice near me of the things I wanted to buy. We deliberately set out to try and ensure that Yarningham was different from other yarn festivals, by trying to make a festival that reflected our values, passions and experiences.

Our aim was also to create a yarn festival that was as inclusive and accessible as possible. That means practical things like choosing a fully accessible venue, which is easy to access on public transport. Or ensuring that our application process is as transparent as possible.

HW:    When we started the show, there were no other yarn events in the West Midlands. Most of the other festivals in the country could only be accessed by car, which wasn’t an option for us.

We wanted to offer a fantastic variety of yarn and high quality workshops to the people of Birmingham and beyond. We also wanted to share our experiences of knitting and crochet and love of all things yarn.

There are four of us on the team – myself, Sara, Venetia & Lilith – and, between us, we have a really wide range of skills from different backgrounds.

It was (and is) very important to us that the show was for everyone in the community. We are very proud to display Ysolda’s rainbow sheep on our website and print materials, in support of the LGBTQ community.

What’s the best (and worst) thing about running a yarn festival?

SF:      For me it’s the same answer for both questions. The best thing about running a yarn festival is being able to create something just as we want it. The worst thing about running a yarn festival is that we HAVE to create something so that it’s how we want it.

HW:    We have met some lovely people – dyers, tutors and visitors to the show. It is wonderful to see the joy that people have on learning a new skill or finding that perfect skein of yarn or meeting friends they’ve only known online before.

Dealing with the demands of a large audience can be testing, but most people are lovely.  It’s very stressful, especially as the show gets closer.

Moving forward, we are reaching out to local groups and sections of the community to involve them in the show. Birmingham has a very rich and diverse culture and it has been important to us from the start to try and reflect it in the festival.

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