Gail England fell in love with knitting at just eight years old when she pestered her mother to teach her how to cast on.
Now the determined 60 year old has knitted through cancer to create hundreds of adorable tiny hats and intricately patterned blankets to help keep seriously ill newborn babies warm.
Remarkably, Gail – who even knits through her chemotherapy treatment and has been spotted surrounded by wool in her hospital bed – has been blind since birth.
Gail, who lives in Newtown with her partner David who is also blind, uses an abacus to follow the delicate patterns and keep track of the rows, but has made so many of the tiny hats and beautiful blankets she admits she’s simply lost count.
“I've got lots of needles, a big bag full of them,” said Gail, who laughed as she described how her wool had got tangled in machinery during her chemotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which she says is now at a curative stage.
Nurses and fundraising staff were delighted when she dropped off bags brimming with the miniature garments at the Neonatal Unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital on Tuesday.
Gail, who was a premature baby herself and was just 2lbs when she was born, lost her sight due to high levels of oxygen following her birth, but she hasn't let her disability get in her way of her love of knitting – she has even been sent a thank-you card by TV funnyman Paul O’Grady after knitting more than 50 hats for underprivileged children in South Africa.
“I even took my knitting to the Christmas party,” said Gail, who is a member of a craft club for visually impaired people run by community champion Beryl Duggan, who have made and sent cards to soldiers serving in Afghanistan and even knitted blankets for guide dogs.
“Beryl just said to me that she heard they wanted some baby hats.
“It started off we were doing them for Paul O’Grady’s appeal, I got a letter and a picture of him with Buster.
“I have all my treatment here. I take all my knitting to the oncology unit, they know it is for the baby unit.”
Beryl, whose son Chris was born blind due to retinitis pigmentosa, set up the craft group six years ago.
Now the group, which meets at Hoole United Reformed Church, has 18 members – the oldest is 92.
“Gail does all the knitting, she can count the rows and feel it. She uses an abacus so she can count the rows,” said Beryl, who said the crocheting and finishing off of the blankets is done by Pauline Worthington.
“You can usually adapt things, it just takes a bit of thought. She has done marvels with these.”
Beryl, who works as an usher at Chester Crown Court, was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2013, for setting up a helpline and fundraising for the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society, which funds research into inherited diseases which cause blindness.
About 3,000 babies are born at the Countess every single year, 800 of them are cared for in the unit, which cares for babies born premature, or with infections, heart problems or congenial abnormalities.
“We have a few groups of ladies who knit things for the babies. We are really lucky, we don’t have to purchase anything really,” said neonatal manager Eirian Powell, who met Gail and Beryl and was delighted with the beautiful blankets.
“We try to do something for the families who are struggling. We put some of the hats and blankets in a parcel for them to take home.
“It is very uplifting for the parents. They are something to make the day shine.”