How a county-wide knitting challenge helped Nottinghamshire people living with dementia. 

The team behind the twiddlers

Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries is a community benefit society established by Nottinghamshire County Council in 2016. Its remit is to deliver a range of cultural and learning services, including running 60 libraries across Nottinghamshire.

In 2022, librarian Sarah Baker and a team at Inspire launched their 6th annual knitting challenge, ‘Twiddlers!’ which encouraged Nottinghamshire-based crafters to make ‘twiddle-muffs’. These woolly hand-warmers provide sensory stimulation or soothing comfort for people living with dementia, and by the end of the four-month campaign 764 twiddlers had been made and donated. Inspire then exhibited the pieces in Worksop Library Gallery before they were distributed by Dementia Action Nottingham & Nottinghamshire.

Sarah Baker said:

We called it a wonderful wall of wool, because that’s what it was. It was amazing!

Six years of craft engagement

Since 2017, Inspire has brought Nottinghamshire crafters together by inviting them to take part in annual charity knitting challenges. Over the years, the response from contributors has grown to involve the organisation’s 30 associated crafting groups as well as external groups and individual crafters. 

In 2017, over 6,000 knitted squares were donated to KasCare and Child Africa. In 2018, 1,300 puppets were made for Operation Christmas Child and 550 Worry Monsters made their way to Knit for Nowt in 2019. In 2020, Knit for Peace received 806 woolly hats and in 2021, over 2,000 tiny green Robin Hood hats were sent to The Innocent Big Knit. 

Growing the project

In the past two years, Inspire has welcomed a funder on board to grow the annual challenge and make more of the opportunity to bring people together through crafts. In 2022, the challenge was funded by ‘Your Health, Your Way’, Nottinghamshire’s new integrated wellbeing service. 

When Inspire began six years ago, the knitting challenge was designed and promoted in-house. Now with funding, Inspire has been able to commission a graphic designer to professionalise the look and feel of the challenge, including designing new logos, promotions and social media assets. 

They also commissioned knitwear designer Juliet Bernard to create basic and intermediate twiddler patterns, ‘how-to’ videos and associated workshops demonstrating techniques and ideas for embellishments, all free to access on a dedicated page on the Inspire website. 

“We really try to push it in all directions” - extending the project

With the benefit of funding, Sarah and the team worked hard to extend the benefits as much as possible to the local Nottinghamshire community. They gave a small amount of the funding to five craft shops in the county so that they could offer customers free goody bags filled with twiddler embellishments. This further promoted the project to shop customers as well as promoting the shops themselves to Inspire’s army of library-based craft groups. 

The new batch of professional instructional videos available on Inspire’ website gave local people the opportunity to try something new and perhaps learn a new skill. With the addition of in-person workshops and further opportunities to ‘have a go’ at Worksop Library’s ‘Fun Palaces’ event in October, Twiddlers! provided an opportunity to get people involved. They were particularly pleased to get young people engaged with crafts and steer them towards further opportunities to pursue new creative interests. 

Alongside all the advantages that funding brought to the project, the organisers recognised that there were benefits for the funder as well:

“It was our confidence in crafting, in the crafters out there in the community, year on year, that made us think ‘this could be more than just shining a light on our knitting groups, this could actually provide for a funder a sort of woolly poster for the work that they’re doing’.”

Sarah Baker