Three years ago when we were in the early stages of organising the very first Yarndale festival, the team had a brain storming session to decide exactly what type of event we wanted to bring to our rural Yorkshire town. Yarn, obviously, but what else? Some words kept coming up time and again, words like Community, Inspiration, Celebration, Creativity. We wanted Yarndale to be more than just a yarn-filled retail experience (although it does make for an exceedingly fab shopping weekend it has to be said).
Although I love working with yarn and crochet, I've realised in recent times that what makes me really, really happy is the way I can help to inspire creativity in others. And it's that creativity, inspiration and sense of community that I personally wanted Yarndale to be about. Hence the 2013 bunting and the 2014 mandalas - it was all about bringing people together via crochet to celebrate yarn and colour, to enable each one of us to be a part of something really big and beautiful and visually inspirational.
So one day at the start of the summer when Sheila began to talk about crocheting some flowers to raise funds for the Alzheimers Society, I suddenly thought - yes! I can help Sheila to make her ideas a reality! I felt so inspired by her enthusiasm and her vision, and I thought the Flowers for Memories project would be a great way for us to celebrate yarn and creativity at Yarndale whilst at the same time raising money and awareness for a very good cause.
Having been through the bunting and mandala madness experience, I had a fair idea that Sheila probably wouldn't be receiving just a scant handful of flowers. I had an inkling that this call-out for yarny flora would result in a whole meadow blooming on our doorstep. I began to visualise how we would display them, what a whole crochet flower meadow would look like. And I said to Sheila - we need to colour-order the blooms. Not necessarily a rainbow as such, but the display should definitely follow some sort of colour order to create maximum impact.
The above picture shows Sheila photographing the first flowers that arrived in July. We are both part of the knit and natter group where the Yarndale idea originated, and this Summer we got to meet up in the town's museum/gallery each week, becoming a living part of the exhibition (yes, really!)
Now I want to show you something.......
....the above picture shows the flowers as Sheila laid them out for her photograph....
....and here are the exact same flowers, rearranged by me.
Go on - scroll back up and look again, look at one image and then the next....the same flowers, but what a difference it makes to order them!!
See? Do you begin to see my vision??
Day after day the flowers came, arriving from all over the world. I would collect up all the packages and take them to my studio so that each Friday, Sheila and I could open them and make a note of where the flowers had come from and who had made them. There were so many beautiful cards and letters too, memories and stories of love and loss, the devastating effects of those lost to dementia. It was quite emotional at times, but beautiful too. The flowers are soooooooo beautiful!
Two weeks before Yarndale, we were looking at seven large bags full of flowers.
One week before Yarndale, we spent five hours in my studio sorting the flowers by colour and counting them.
Sheila had received just over 5,000 flowers, made by more than 400 makers, from 23 countries around the world.
On the Monday before Yarndale, Sheila and I began the lengthy process of creating the display. We bought some hessian fabric and began to pin the flowers, arranging them in dense formation according to their colour.
The hessian panels measure 6ft x 5ft and contain hundreds of flowers pinned by two pairs of hard working hands.
By the end of that first day, we had worked solidly for seven hours and had completed 1.5 panels. Only 3.5 to go.....
On the second day, we had Carole helping us with the pinning and with three of us working and chatting we made really great progress. That afternoon we were able to move everything out of my small studio space and up to the auction mart where we could spread out a bit and listen to the amazing sound of the auctioneer conducting a massive sheep sale while we pinned away in the room next door. It was fabulous to listen to the auction, but to see the pens full of hundreds of real live sheep just days before Yarndale was kind of wonderful and terrifying all at once!
On the third day, we went to collect some large display boards that we had been able to borrow from a nearby village hall. Up until then we had been working on the fabric horizontally - I have to tell you it was a very nerve racking experience lifting those panels up for the first time to see if they would look OK and if all the flowers would actually stay in place! But oh-my-goodness - when we stood back and got our first glimpse of what we had created it was truly breathtaking. We cheered! In the above picture you can see Sheila working on the final bit of the display, it was just the best feeling when we finished all that pinning.
I'm sure many of you have already seen the finished display, either at Yarndale itself, or via the many, many photos that have been popping up all over social media. But I'm sure you won't mind if I share some more photos?
Feast your eyes....................................
We created five panels in total, each one measuring 6ft x 5ft.
The scale of the whole display was just incredible, almost too much to take in really.
But there was plenty of space to get right up close to the panels and take in the beauty of the individual flowers and all that wonderful, glorious, yarny colour.
This is my favourite section, I pinned this particular bit from white, through greens and aquas to blues and had such an amazing time immersing myself in all that colour. It was like making a work of art, it was so much fun!
The most popular flower colour was pink, in all it's many forms. The strong, deep pinks we grouped with the reds, and the rest sat next to the blues and merged with the mauves and purples.
This display of colour and creativity was everything I had imagined and a whole lot more besides.
It's hard to find the words to describe - I look at these pictures and I just want to say wow. WOW!!
Visitors to Yarndale absolutely loved what we had created and the display was an incredibly popular part of the festival. And rightly so - how can you not be bowled over by this sight?!
The original idea had been to sell the flowers to raise money for the Alzheimers Society. But in the end, nobody really wanted to break up the display, it just seemed like such a shame. So Sheila decided to listen to the thousands of visitors who begged her to keep the display intact, and instead she asked for a small donation to be made in exchange for the opportunity to take photographs. This kept everyone happy (most especially Sheila who had been really fretting about how exactly to go about selling the flowers).
The total sum raised during the two days was a truly spectacular £1811.80, which has been donated directly to the Alzheimers Society.
Sheila herself is completely thrilled with the whole thing, I don't think she's come down from her rainbow cloud yet! She is now investigating ways to exhibit them at other places to raise even more money, honestly, there is no stopping this amazing lady. We love that this will be an ongoing project doing lots of good for charity as well as celebrating the talent and creativity of the yarny community.
Sheila would like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everybody who made and sent flowers for this projec. And thank you also to everyone who donated money during the Yarndale weekend, you have made us all very happy up here in Yarndale Land.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
EDIT TO ADD ::
I have already replied to many of you via email after reading though the comments here, I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding - totally my fault as I really didn't explain things properly.
It was Sheila's decision to keep the display intact during the Yarndale weekend, the decision was made in direct response to overwhelming public opinion at the time. She is already investigating ways of exhibiting the flowers at other venues to raise even more funds for the Alzheimers Society, but ultimately the original idea to sell the flowers still stands. The flowers will still be offered for sale, this has not changed. But she feels she would like to try and raise as much money and awareness as she can from exhibiting them for a while longer before selling them.
Sheila is in the process of setting up a Facebook page dedicated to Flowers for Memories so that she can keep everyone up to date on progress. She has kept all the letters and cards received and has compiled them into a Memory Book which also contains a full list of every single person who made flowers, along with where they are in the world. She is doing an amazing job of maximising the potential of this project, but please remember this is a lady in her 70's and this will be an ongoing charity project for many months to come.
I also want to make it clear that the "Flowers for Memories" project is Sheila's thing, she is now the custodian of the flowers and all decisions relating to what happens to them are hers. This is not an Attic24 thing or a Yarndale thing, we have just really enjoyed helping Sheila in her fund raising quest. Thanks again to everyone who has contributed, it is honestly very very much appreciated.