As a teenager twenty years ago, when I discovered knitting and my obsession steadily grew, the tiny, fusty old wool shop in my home town played a key part. It was an unwilling part, to tell the truth. As I entered the shop, which was narrow and stacked from floor to ceiling with yarn, a pair of tightly-permed, haughty ladies would look at me askance from their counter, clearly confused as to what this young, and, even worse, unconventional-looking person was doing in their shop.
Despite repeated visits they weren’t disposed to be friendly to me. I would do things that troubled them, such as buying small quantities of mismatched yarn that clearly weren’t enough to knit a jumper. Warily they took my money, and entrusted me with their purple mohair and novelty acrylic with obvious reluctance.
Me and my knitting circa 1992. I can’t imagine what their problem was!
However, the point is that despite the less-than-warm welcome, I loved my local yarn shop.
I went there to be surrounded by yarn and be inspired. I was continually amazed by all the different types of yarn available – so many textures and effects; so many possibilities. And if something desirable was in the bargain bin, well, as a student with no money, the opportunity was too good to miss. The excitement of spontaneous yarn purchase was exhilarating. Without this formative encounter with the wonders of yarn I might not have become the knitter I am today.
Twenty years on, knitting has changed hugely, and yarn shops on the whole are friendly, inclusive, welcoming places, even more inspiration-filled than they were back then, with so many more beautiful yarns to showcase. However, much like the rest of the UK high street, bricks-and-mortar yarn shops are having a tough time. Rates are high, footfall is low. Competition from veritable online giants with fewer overheads is taking its toll. And the UK’s weather this past year has not been knitting-friendly; a hot summer followed by a wet winter, with barely a frost, let alone a snowflake in sight.
Nice weather for ducks. Not so great for knitting shops.
In my day job on Let’s Knit I’ve heard steadily more frequent tales of closure and general doom and gloom, and things became particularly bad in the run up the Christmas. As a lover of yarn shops and an advocate of ‘shop local’ it troubled me to hear of the struggles shops were having. Much as buying online is convenient, I hated the thought of there being nowhere knitters could go to ‘smoosh’* yarn, to compare colours and generally wallow in fibre.
Then one day I had an idea.
As well as being a knitter, my teenage self was also a huge music fan, and record shops were another big part of my formative years. Having gone into decline – hardly surprising with the advent of downloads – bricks and mortar record shops are now experiencing something of a renaissance, and this is partly due to an initiative called Record Store Day. Started in the US, it’s an annual day when shops host a wide range of events – live appearances, signing sessions, limited edition releases – to entice people in, and remind them of what’s great about a record store. And with the backing of stars like Jack White it’s proved a roaring success, creating a healthy knock-on effect of renewed interest in stores that goes well beyond the designated day, and partly responsible for the surprising, sustained upturn in vinyl sales.
Image © The NME
I’d been aware of Record Store Day for a couple of years – we now celebrate it in the UK – and suddenly, a couple of months before Christmas it dawned on me – why don’t we do the same thing for yarn shops?!? They perform a very similar service, dealing in a product that can be readily bought online, but are able to offer advice, camaraderie and a host of other non-virtual experiences that enhance the transaction greatly – in fact you could argue even more so in the case of yarn shops as yarn is a tactile product (we’re back to smooshing again).
So, the idea was voiced, the wheels set in motion and now Yarn Shop Day 2014 is a reality!
Ramshambles in York is one of the stores taking part in Yarn Shop Day
If you’re in the UK and you love knitting make sure you put Saturday 3rd May in your diary. All sorts of exciting events are planned, from competitions and book launches to full on workshops in stores across the country. Updates on who’s involved will be posted regularly on the LK website here, but so far the ambassadors who’ve signed up to pledge their support include Erika Knight, Louisa Harding, Sarah Hatton, Sue Stratford, Jenny Watson, Jane Burns, Anniken Allis, Lauren O’Farrell, Sarah Hazell and Julie Ferguson to name but a few. I recently attended the Craft, Hobby, Stitch trade show at the Birmingham NEC and talked to many people in the industry about Yarn Shop Day and I can tell you, everyone from the biggest spinners to the smallest shops is incredibly excited about it.
So, if you believe in ‘shop local’ and you love yarn please help us make the 2014 campaign a success. Spread the word! Tell every UK knitter you know, and cajole your LYS into taking part. Help make 2014 the year of LOVE YOUR YARN SHOP!
* Smooshing: the act of squeezing yarn to experience its full yarny goodness