At the beginning we hauled a mountain of yarn and goodies over to Westminster and set up temporary shop at Yarnporium – London’s best loved festival of yarn and knitting.
This was our first ever real-world event and we had a fantastic time. We worked and chatted our socks off while the yarn-fondling masses came, saw and squished our woolly wares.
But the two days open to the public were just a small part of the show. I wanted to share a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes to prepare for such an event (and you’ll know why we’re not found at shows very often!).
For many (maybe most?) independent dyers, the show circuit is the lifeblood of the business. Shows are a great opportunity not just to meet existing customers face to face and reach new ones, but to network with other yarn professionals – the internet is perhaps secondary. For us it’s always been a little different. I have been managing websites since 1996, I opened my first online shop in 2002, and spent 20 years working in various disciplines within digital media. The web is my home. I have always considered It’s a Stitch Up to be an online business. That’s something I am very comfortable with and I hadn’t felt the need to take it offline.
That said, from working in online retail I know that if you can get a great product into people’s hands then it will sell itself – and that’s never more true than with yarn. Additionally, my experience as a user-researcher has also taught me the value of meeting customers in person and seeing their honest reactions. Besides, I am nosy and want to know what everyone’s knitting ;)
The show schedule is planned a long time in advance, so it’s the late 2018/early 2019 season we’re thinking about. We’ve been approached by organisers of several shows, but nothing that will work around my childcare commitments and travel options. I have not met the Yarnporium folks but the show is the perfect opportunity for us: It is a busy event, popular with fans of indie yarn, with a carefully curated list of vendors; it has a reputation for being well-organised (many shows don’t); and it’s in Central London, making it easy for me to transport myself and our stock. I decide that this is the only show we’ll apply for so I keep a close eye on the website.
Vendor applications are open! The closing date is 1 April but I don’t like having deadlines hanging over me, so I get my application done in a couple of days. I apply for the Indie Maker Spotlight area, which is the smallest-size booth, because I want to minimise the hardware I’ll need to buy to create a display. I put a lot of effort into doing a good application because I know how popular the show is, and that the organisers have probably never heard of It’s a Stitch Up. With so many independent dyers out there it’s hard to express in a few sentences makes us unique but I do my best. Hopefully it’s enough.
Wednesday 15 May
My yarn buddy, designer Therése Hedlund aka Brixton Purl, comes to the studio to help design shades for kits for her new shawl pattern Blend In, Stand Out. I mention that I should hear any day about Yarnporium, and ask if she’d like to help on the stand if we’re accepted. She says yes. It’s a great relief to have someone with yarn knowledge and fabulous patterns on board!
Wednesday 16 May
We are notified that we’ve been accepted!
I am so excited and although it’s six months away I start thinking about the display and what we will need. I thinking about what yarn to bring, and most crucially, what not to bring. Therése starts thinking about the designs and samples she will bring.
Lots of dyers manage to take a break in the ‘quiet season’ but this never seems to happen to me. Business was busier than expected and I was doing a lot of dyeing just to keep the website well stocked. I didn’t get to work on some of the other projects I had planned (website development, new patterns, collaborations and marketing ideas), but I did start building up a stock of the shades I knew we would want for Yarnporium. By the end of the summer I had about put aside 15-20KG yarn for Yarnporium, which is a great start.
I have chosen which yarn lines to bring: Favourite Sock with our signature shade range, Dynamite DK, Awesome Aran, Brilliance 4 Ply and little Brilliance Lace. That means leaving behind all of our chunky and super chunky, Fuzzy Lace and limited editions.
I start the formal planning for Yarnporium. I put together a spreadsheet with a sheet for each yarn line and a line for each shade, detailing how much of it I will aim to bring, current stock and most importantly, how much needs to be dyed. This gets turned into a task list (I use Trello for this and my recipes, which essentially form a dyeing Kanban board).
Early autumn is a very busy time generally as we also have to dye 24 new shades of mini-skeins for our Yarn Advent Calendar and we do weekly shop updates so that customers can get ready for peak knitting season. We also have our regular monthly yarn club to prepare. I work out that I need to spend on average 3.5 days a week in the studio dyeing in the run up to Yarnporium. I crack on and accept that I’ll have very little time for admin.
I now know the size of the booth we have been allocated and that we’re being supplied with a table so I can start thinking about exactly how our display will look. There are so many different approaches to the visual presentation of a stand which means a lot of options to consider.
I discounted many of the go-to solutions immediately. Aged wooden crates are popular for adding height to a display, and instant vintage character. But these would be at odds with our aesthetic, which reflects our local urban area more than the ‘heritage’ aspects of knitting. Metal grid-walls are ubiquitous at shows but aside from being impractical for us to transport (we will using a courier), feel like conventional retail fittings (because they are) and don’t have the character I was looking for.
The task of planning the display at this stage is made more difficult by not knowing where we will be situated or what we will have around us, so all of our fittings need to be very flexible. One thing I know for sure is that I want the stand to be absolutely overflowing with beautiful yarn – we will not be going for the minimal look, oh no. In order to do that I need a solution to add height. Much of our yarn is very bright so the display needs to let that be the focus – nice and open, neutral colours, no patterns or pastel colours.
I begin the search for suitable fittings, and find some great-looking stacking black open wire shelves from IKEA (intended as shoe racks). Unfortunately they are out of stock until mid October – eek! I also spot some grey felt boxes and trays. I love the texture of felt, it’s obviously right for yarn but also has a modern edge. I order a few samples to try out.
It’s important to me to keep a steady flow of new yarn in the online shop for those people who can’t come to Yarnporium, but we keep selling out of popular colours like ‘ZX‘ which are tricky to dye – it’s a difficult balance. Sweater season is approaching, and a few large orders can make a big dent in stock. I try to have sweater quantities available whenever we do updates, but for my own sanity I decide to limit the next few weekly updates to just a few skeins of each colour, otherwise we may not have sweater quantities for Yarnporium!
Therése sends me a new pattern she’s been working on (Brockwell Park), it’s a lovely triangular shawl with what I like to think of as a dot matrix lace pattern. It’s due to launch a few days before Yarnporium so it seems like a good idea to bring a sample with us in an It’s a Stitch Up yarn. Therése’s sample is in a speckled colourway so it would be nice to show how it would look in a different style of yarn, I thought the variegation in ‘Tsunami‘ would accentuate the angular shape of the shawl beautifully, but it turns out that I have run out (another one for the dyeing list), so I cast on in ‘ZX’, which I have been itching to use for ages but it generally sells out before I get the chance.
The little flashes of rainbow collide in such an pretty way! Definitely the right choice. I just hope I can finish it in time.
Therése is back at the studio this week to discuss pattern samples for Yarnporium so I can make sure we have suitable/similar shades available. I amend the spreadsheet accordingly. While she’s there I rope her into helping with the advent dyeing!
My display boxes have arrived so I make a mock-up of our stand on the spare bed. I need to figure out exactly what will fit and how it should be arranged.
In the process of doing this I realise there are some must-have shades missing from my list, like ‘Dancing in the Dark‘, so I add yet more yarn to the spreadsheet and dyeing schedule.
One of the types of felt boxes are absolutely perfect so I order more. Still no shelves though!
This week is our last weekly update before Yarnporium. I begin removing stock from the website. Dyeing is flat-out but going well and on schedule, despite me continuing to add shades to my spreadsheet.
Therése and I chat again. She kindly offers to knit some sock samples, we settle on ‘Reaction’ and ‘Brixton Purple’ shades for those.
In my display plan I have a space set aside space for Therése’s patterns. She mentions that we also need somewhere for mini-skeins – WHAT? I had forgotten all about mini-skeins! Of course they should come to Yarnporium. I add those to the spreadsheet.
At last! The shelves I want are in stock. It’s too late to get them delivered so I get the bus to IKEA and carry them home in a giant blue bag, annoying my fellow passengers considerably. I also pick up some extra giant blue bags because I’ll need them for transporting yarn.
I also managed to get out to The Knitting & Stitching Show, which served as not just a bit of a break, but further inspiration for the stand.
A steady stream of colours emerge from the studio and every day the stock count increases and the to-do list gets a little smaller.
This week the admin finally caught up with me and I had to spend a lot of time choosing and ordering the remaining equipment, testing the new card payment machine and getting the inventory data its system. There was also a plethora of print materials to design and order: new business cards; slips about caring for neon yarns (they have specific care instructions); flyers explaining our no-Nylon policy (because it’s important to us); oh, and a banner with our logo on because we didn’t have anything like that to show who we are.
I don’t like writing copy and typesetting in a hurry for obvious reasons, but thankfully everything came back looking great and typo-free (as far as I’ve noticed so far).
Advent dyeing was almost complete but I learned that Canada’s postal service was about to go on strike, and this had big implications for getting the Advent Calendar to our Canadian customers. I had to redouble my efforts and get the first advent boxes shipped before the end of the month to have any hope of them arriving before 1 December. Luckily the shades were looking absolutely beautiful and all of the hand-made extras had arrived.
Inspired by one of the shades I’d created for the advent calendar, I decided to go to the studio for one final day of dyeing to create a new shade for Yarnporium.
By this point the weather had turned pretty cold so the unheated studio was not the nicest place to be, and, after weeks of intensive dyeing my hands were sore and I was tired of being on my feet. It was worth it though, ‘What’s Your Poison?‘ was the result.
With over 60 shades dyed, there were a few days for final preparations. I ordered blackboards for price lists to go on top of my shelves, and black card for smaller labels next to the yarn. I got neon chalk markers with which to make the signs and had great fun re-learning hand-lettering.
Less fun but all-important was packing the yarn into numbered bags and logging each batch’s packed location on a spreadsheet so it could be easily located during the event. Each shade’s desired location on the stand was also recorded on another spreadsheet which was the display plan – exhibitors in the Indie Maker Spotlight are allocated just two hours to set up before the doors open at 10am, so organisation is key!
It’s also time to make up some yarn dyeing kits for the show.
It’s the night before Yarnporium and I finally cast off my Brockwell Park shawl. There’s no time for blocking so I give it an aggressive iron and hope for the best. Then off to bed.
The big day. My alarm goes off at 6am but I had been awake since 4am because of my poor teething toddler. I don’t feel great, but my cab arrives right on time at 7am and gets me to Westminster Hall just before 8am, where Therése is already waiting and helps me unload the six big IKEA bags and two boxes.
From this point on our fastidious preparation rewards us with a smooth set-up and even time for a coffee and pastry before the doors open to the public. And we’re ready.