Yorkshire's diligent knitters readying for battle to keep busy in isolation

Soldiers’ sweethearts were once advised to ‘knit for victory’ as a symbol of patriotism in times of war.

Jen Capewell, of Richmond, North Yorkshire, a volunteer knitter for the Georgian Theatre Royal, the UK's oldest working theatre. Image: James Hardisty

Now, faced with more free time than they’d perhaps anticipated, some of Yorkshire’s most diligent knitters are readying for battle once more.

In Mirfield a battalion is primed, creating ‘twiddlemuffs’ for dementia patients.

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And the country’s oldest working theatre, in Richmond, has been asked to bring forward its famous festive appeal, so that knitters can prepare pantomime hearts.

Jen Capewell, of Richmond, North Yorkshire, a volunteer knitter for the Georgian Theatre Royal, the UK's oldest working theatre. Image: James Hardisty

The results, say theatre manager and director Clare Allen, can only brighten the days in anticipation of being together once again. “This year will feel extra special,” she said.

In recent years, the theatre’s appeal for knitted trinkets has grown to become a community custom, with curious baubles submitted from around the globe.

Now, with its army of knitters keen to keep busy in confinement, they have seen a rise in requests to begin this year’s tradition a little early.

“We normally launch the appeal at the end of the summer so that people can start knitting as the nights draw in,” said Mrs Allen.

Jen Capewell, of Richmond, North Yorkshire, a volunteer knitter for the Georgian Theatre Royal, the UK's oldest working theatre. Image: James Hardisty

“But right now, as many of us are confined to our homes, does seem like an ideal time to get your needles out.

“It is wonderful to think that hopefully by the time panto comes around, the current situation will be behind us, and we will all be able to enjoy being together again.”

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Entrusted with their mission, volunteers are now setting to with their patterns with a variety of hand-crafted hearts.

Jen Capewell, of Richmond, North Yorkshire, a volunteer knitter for the Georgian Theatre Royal, the UK's oldest working theatre. Image: James Hardisty

Regular theatre knitter Jen Capewell has been road-testing some ideas ahead of this year's pantomime production of Beauty and the Beast.

“I have now knitted three hearts and also had some friends try out the pattern,” she said.

“It is quite easy to do and can be adapted as people wish. The hearts can be in all colours and made from different types of wool so it is an ideal project for using up odd bits of yarn.

“They can even be multi-coloured or stripy – just let your imagination go wild.”

Yorkshire’s communities are no stranger to knitting fervor, with Masham having famously come under fire for its bunting ahead of the Tour de France in 2014.

Having created 20,000 miniature jerseys to string between lamp posts, residents were told to take them down amid health and safety concerns should they get wet.

More recently, 40 volunteers lovingly recreated a map of Leeds as a woollen tribute to the city’s past.

'Twiddlemuffs'

Lottery winner Susan Crossland has launched a separate appeal, for knitted cuffs for dementia patients, as she isolates at home while caring for vulnerable family members.

“My own grandmother taught me to knit,” said grandmother Mrs Crossland, 56, who famously won £1.2m on the National Lottery in 2008.

“It’s like riding a bike, no matter how old you were when you learned to knit it comes right back.”

Mrs Crossland has until now been knitting hats for hospitals’ neonatal units, and earlier this year sent supplies of ‘joey pouches’ for kangaroos devastated by the Australian bushfires.

The cuffs, referred to as ‘twiddlemuffs’, can be brightly coloured and covered in buttons to bring a little joy, but it’s also a conscious effort in contribution.

“Now is the perfect time to get lots done,” she said.

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