Casting off in Tynedaleleisure-tynedale
You’ve started so they’ll finish… as well as making blankets for refugees, a team of knitters based at Hexham Abbey will come to the rescue and complete that pattern you never got round to finishing
DURING World War Two, Ruth King recalls her mother knitting socks for British servicemen overseas. “She would knit sea boot socks for the Navy in oiled wool, khaki socks for the army and airforce blue socks for the RAF. She knitted throughout the war for the WVS, now the WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) and she taught me how to knit.”
Now Ruth is doing her bit by knitting blankets for the thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe that we witness on our television screens week by week. She belongs to Hexham Abbey Mothers’ Union knitting group, set up by Helen Armstrong five years ago.
“It’s horrendous what’s happening and I think projects like this are just so important. It’s the only way for people like us to become involved,” says Kate Steele, another knitter. Audrey Boldon agrees: “It’s heartbreaking when you see the children and it’s nice to feel you can do something to help.”
Hexham resident, Helen, estimates each blanket will take several hundred grams of wool but thankfully her knitters have quite a stash. “All our wool is gifted to us. We don’t have to buy any wool,” she says. “We get some nice yarn as well. All the needles we have are donated too. People take it into the parish office.”
Each member is knitting individual squares that will be sewn together to produce a patchwork, making it a real team effort and communal gift.
But the refugee blankets are just the latest in a series of two, three and four ply projects the ladies have stitched together. Their so-called rescue knitting scheme has proved popular with people bringing the industrious team their unfinished patterns to complete.
“Sometimes people just haven’t got time to finish a piece of knitting to deadline or perhaps they’ve taken on something a little too challenging,” says Helen. “For example someone had a baby coming into the family recently and had decided to make a Christening shawl. It was a complicated pattern and they found they couldn’t finish it so I took it to one of my indoor knitters (that’s a knitter who works at home, rather than coming into the Abbey) and said, ‘Would you like to finish this shawl?’ and she undertook to do it. It took her about three to four weeks and she was so pleased she made a donation to the Mothers’ Union.”
At the moment Helen is busy rescuing a child’s cardigan. “It was very complicated with pictures of little girls in dresses and skirts on it.”
Then there are the ‘fiddle pinnies’ that the group has just donated to Hexham residential home, Acomb Court’s Grace Unit for patients with dementia. These are perhaps more of a sewing project – small aprons with pockets, zips, buttons, ribbon and different textures – some knitted patches – sewn on to them.
The idea is that those patients who are agitated can play with the ribbon, button up the buttons and zip away to their hearts’ content. Carers say the elderly mentally ill patients find them calming.
Earlier this year the group presented a beautifully knitted Noah’s Ark complete with Noah and his wife and all of the animals – in duplicate of course – to the Tots’ Praise group. The ark, which even has a little drawbridge and a peace dove sitting on top of the roof with an olive branch in its bill, is kept in the children’s corner for the little ones to play with.
Ruth, who says she’s been knitting “since Adam was a lad” specialises in Fair Isle patterns and loves to make garments for the premature baby unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Occasionally the group holds sales of their wares at Hexham Market and their annual showpiece is at the Hexham Abbey Fair each December which this year will be held on Saturday 12th – a great spot for some Christmas shopping.
And Helen says she and her fellow crafters are always happy to teach new people to knit. So if you would like to learn, the knitting group offers a warm welcome the first Saturday in the month at 2pm in the Abbey’s parish centre. Meanwhile, if you have an unfinished jumper sitting in a knitting bag behind the settee, why not give it to Helen and her team? For a small donation, you could be wearing it by the end of next week.