Yarn: reigniting our storytelling traditions

My hands are shaking. My heart is racing. My lips are trembling. My head is spinning.

The storyteller pauses to catch her breath. Silence floods the room. The larger than life clock ticks, echoing the heartbeats of all in the space.

I am an alcoholic. 

I’ve been sober for nine years and this is exactly how I remember waking up on the bathroom floor after one of my more sobering recovery episodes.

Now standing here, in front of you, I feel the same.

A sample from one of six stories told at Yarn: Stories Spun in Brisbane at the Institute of Modern Art, Fortitude Valley last month. The theme was “Outside your Comfort Zone.”

The storytellers spoke about topics universally experienced but individually felt.

One woman spoke of the challenges of accepting her mother’s imminent death and the journey to the point where she held her mother’s hand while she died beside her.

We also heard about one lady’s experiences with managing anger and from another on what it is like to live with Aspergers as a child, bearing the responsibility of wanting to fit in then coming to the realisation, as an adult, that being different isn’t really so bad.

Not all the stories were deep or sad. Some were humourous. For example we also heard how it is possible to be stuck in a coat hanger and soil oneself in church on the same day.

The rawness of emotion emanating from the speakers sent tingles up our arms and instantly dissolved any barriers or judgements between tellers and audience.

Many of the speakers just barely held back tears and this only served to make them more lovable. Their nerves were palpable, their fear recyclable and their stories bridges into our own.

It was an incredible experience of the power of human vulnerability and how good it is to relish in and celebrate what makes us so imperfect as well.

Walking away from the most recent Yarn event I held a profound sensation of hope and connection, from knowing that there are so many fellow humans experiencing the same challenges, the same fears and overcoming them.



Yarn: Stories Spun in Brisbane is now two years old. Jess Miller and Charist Holt started it based on their love of The Moth, a storytelling event that started in New York. They saw a model that worked and developed the idea for a Brisbane setting. Jess and Charis both moved away from Brisbane in 2013 and so the running of Yarn was entrusted to Ryan Sim and Kate Zahnleiter

Kate says the main purpose of Yarn is to share stories, hear stories, and connect through story.

“Each person is essentially a collection of short stories and with each event we simply aim to bring people together to share honest and often very relatable personal experiences. The response has been amazing – I’m often being approached by people telling me how moved or inspired they were by a story they heard.”


Each event has its own theme, sometimes set and sometimes chosen based on the time and place Yarn is held.

The most recent event was held alongside an exhibition by Stuart Ringhold, who explores themes of embarrassment and personal boundaries in his work thus the theme, “Outside your Comfort Zone,” was fitting.

The organisers approach most of the tellers themselves, either people they know or who have been recommended. A lot of tellers come from the Brisbane writing community although people from all walks of life are encouraged.

Yarn team member Kaitlyn Plyley has run a few storytelling workshops to give people an idea of what makes a good story and a number of these participants have gone on to tell a story at Yarn.

Why storytelling then?

“There seems to have been a global rise in the art of oral storytelling over the past few years, and now Brisbane has embraced it as well. So much communication these days is done online or via text, without actually needing to speak to another person. There’s something very powerful about getting up on stage in front of a room full of strangers and sharing something personal. I think it’s this very raw, human element which has drawn so many people in – it’s an interesting way to get an insight into somebody else’s life,” Kate says.

Indeed this was my experience on the night. Get along to the next Yarn to see for yourself.

Find out more about the Brisbane storytelling community and upcoming events on the Yarn Facebook Page.





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