#WoolWorks at The Edinburgh Yarn Festival
The Edinburgh Yarn Festival takes place every March and is dedicated to showcasing the very best hand knitting yarns from small, niche and specialist producers.
A firm fixture in the discerning knitters calendar, EYF has established a reputation as the place to go if you want to catch community stars such as Kate Davies and Ysolda Teague or buy rare yarn from top indie producers such as Daughter of a Shepherd. The show attracts 5,000 visitors and for the first time we’re going to be one of them!
We caught up with event organisers Jo Kelly and Mica Koehlmos to find out a bit more about the shows origins and to get the scoop on who to look out for amongst the 100 exhibitors showing this year.
Hi both thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day for a quick yarn!
Please tell us about the EYF, how and why it came about and what you love about the show…
The idea of EYF was born in 2012 by three knitting friends to bring some of our favourite vendors of the UK knitting industry to Scotland.
There was no such event up here (and very few in the UK in general) and even yarn shops were few and far between. We felt left out. We yearned for a vibrant and colourful event like Knitnation in London 2011 (a one-off event) At that time knitting had already become much more than a hobby for of us – we were obsessed! That’s what made us organize our first event in 2013.
After EYF 2013 we realised that there was a much bigger desire for a highly specialised knitting event that we had thought.
Jo has a background in teaching and I spent 16 years working in the IT sector and between us we had the skills to put together the yarn event of our dreams. Fast forward four years and we now spend most of the year planning, and it dominates our lives. We love everything about it though and will keep EYF going as long as people continue to love it!
Can you tell us a bit more about the EYF community?
EYF is all about the knitters! When we held our first event in 2013, we were overwhelmed by the response and it was then that we discovered how much yarn-lovers longed to connect with each other. Many friendships are formed online and sealed in person at an event like EYF.
The atmosphere created when knitters meet is extraordinarily friendly and warm. A lot of people who’ve never met before strike up conversations about the garments and accessories they wear.
Yarns are compared and items are closely examined and admired. There’s a lot of “touchy-feelyness” that wouldn’t be appropriate in any other context!
The Podcast Lounge we integrate each year into the large café area is unique to our event and it’s a place that is buzzing with wool-loving podcasters and fans from around the world. There’s a programme of activities and sessions throughout the weekend [downloadable here] and listeners have the chance to meet each other and their favourite podcasters.
Wool Tribe, our annual event magazine is another way of connecting with our audience. We truly believe that wool brings us together, hence the name. Far from being a traditional event brochure, it’s a knitting magazine with a little EYF flavour.
We especially commission patterns for each edition, but that’s where the outsourcing stops. We create content, deal with photo-shoot direction and styling, tech-edit all patterns (with exception of crochet!) and work on graphic design and layout before we deliver it to our local printer.
As well as being a great souvenir for visitors, it gives knitters from around the world, who can’t make it, a little way to participate in EYF. The publication helps us keep going with EYF – it’s on sale here.
What are the trends you see coming through in the hand-knitting world?
In the wider wool industry we’ve noticed an increased interest in wool that’s traceable back to a farm or a particular breed of sheep and we also admire the colourful skeins of wool produced by indie hand-dyers such as Eden Cottage Yarns, Dandelion Yarns and The Wool Kitchen – what else have you picked up on?
Apart from that, we see a real increase in designers creating their own yarns (often with help of the same mills). Kate Davies and Ysolda Teague are just a few examples of the very prominent designers choosing to create a product that matches their preferences for their own designs perfectly.
Overall knitters have a real desire now to buy unique products with provenance.
Mass-produced acrylic yarns don’t really feature at EYF, it’s not our market.
Do you see a lot of new knitters coming to the show? Is the trend for hand-weaving and the modern maker movement something that draws new visitors?
At this point, most of our visitors are seasoned knitters. Our teaching programme offers specialist techniques and advanced classes, rather than “Learn to knit” workshops.
Our event is so popular with that particular audience that we haven’t considered widening what we offer to brand-new yarn lovers yet. We very much see that as a vital role of the local yarn store!
What’s your take on the re-emergence and popularity of hand crafts?
There’s definitely been a resurgence of crafts over the last few years. We both returned to knitting in our 30’s after rediscovering it through the online community Ravelry (which plays a huge role in many knitters’ lives). The same seems to be happening with sewing in particular, something both Jo and I also enjoy. It’s great to see that the emerging opportunities are predominantly taken up by smart women to create their own businesses.
What do you think your audience loves about wool?
Oh – there are sooo many things. It’s a sustainable, hardwearing, comes in such huge variety and it keeps users warm in more than one way – wool connects people who love it in a very unique way.
We love talking about the selection or yarn and pattern combinations and then get social making something that will actually be worn.
Making a garment with high quality wool is a joy!
You describe EYF as ‘Every knitter’s dream department store for the weekend’ what’s in your store guide for this year’s show?
We have very tight criteria when it comes to selecting exhibitors and as a result we have an incredibly high standard across the list (ca. 100 exhibitors!). This year we have made an extra effort though to bring in a lot of businesses with fantastic stories and products with provenance.
The full exhibitor list is available here
Is there anyone coming this year that you’ve not met before? Who are you personally excited about seeing?
We look forward seeing them all! Many of them are returning for a third or even fourth year and they have become friends. The exhibitor check-in has become a lovely re-union event!
One of the greatest pleasures is being able to see all the woolly glory before the doors open to the public. It’s a bit like Christmas! Walking round the floor of the Marketplace on the evening before opening gives us such a feeling of pride.
With 48hrs in Edinburgh what (apart from spend a full day at EYF!) would you recommend visitors take a look at?
We wrote an article for our 2016 Wool Tribe magazine with four interesting routes off the beaten track featuring three of our favourite things – Coffee, Cake and Crafts! Some of our top spots would have to include:
Stockbridge, an area where you can find Bon Papillon, an art gallery and cafe on Howe Street selling delicious homebaked scones, handily its on the same street as McAree Brothers – a yarn store where you can pick up Rowan Yarns and more.
Another favourite spot is around Broughton Street where the Royal Botanic Gardens, Concrete Wardrobe (a small store specialising in Scottish design-led craft) and coffee shop Fortitude will keep you busy for a few hours.
Old Town is where you’ll find the famous Dovecot Gallery, a weaving studio, gallery and cafe with a small shop that sells carefully curated gifts. [Editors note – Dovecot is one of our favourite places in Scotland – do take a look if in Edinburgh!]
Lastly Tollcross and Bruntsfield is the area to find both great fabric at MyBear Paw and more tea at Pekoe Tea and cake at Falko – which can be walked off on a stroll back to the city centre on a route which gives great views of the castle.
Are plans for 2018 already underway?
Oh yes! We are always looking ahead to the next year, but planning will start in earnest the week after EYF. We are constantly looking to improve EYF for returning visitors and we’ll look forward to surprising you next year with a few top-secret plans currently underway! In the meantime you can enquire about exhibiting at next year’s show here.
Advance tickets for the EYF have now sold out but tickets will be available on the door. See website for full details on the show here. We’ll look forward to see you there!