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Network Norfolk

Norfolk gran's stitch in time mission of love 

French-born grandmother, Anna Bayles, may be nudging ninety but she has no intention of retiring from helping to clothe under-privileged youngsters from Africa and East Anglia. Sandie Shirley reports.

Anna has been honing her stitching and knitting skills for over 75 years and now they are used almost daily for an extraordinary mission of love. Despite a busy domestic schedule and caring for her blind husband she brings joy and warmth to hundreds of youngsters with her pretty and bright creations.
“God has given me such a wonderful gift to use,” says Anna who is also a co-ordinator for Christian Hope International which distributes hand-knitted clothing to children’s homes and community outreach projects in Eastern Europe.
“For birthdays and mother’s day my family often give me material which they  know I prefer to chocolate and flowers, enabling me to sew more children’s clothes but I am always asking God to help me in what I do and I am mindful to thank him regularly for the energy and enthusiasm I have,” says Anna. 
The 89-year-old pensioner learnt to sew and knit while growing up in rural France, 35 miles from Paris.  She was one of the youngest of 18 siblings and step-siblings when her mother married a man with eight children.  She followed in her mother’s thrifty footsteps to ease the family budget with her make-do, mend and sew philosophy when she was taught to sew by a nun friend who also nurtured her Christian faith that grew with daily church attendance before school. 
Anna’s needlework was further helped at regular sewing classes held at the family farm. “Although we were too poor to afford the fees I was allowed to join the sessions for nothing since my mother let the room to the sewing tutor,” says the member of Wymondham Catholic Church.
Anna’s skills became a blessing when war broke out and the Germans moved in, terrorising her quiet neighbourhood a few years later she recalls. “We lost everything, including our freedom when I was about 15 and we were forced to evacuate for four months. On our return, our home had been bombed and looted. During the evacuation I helped my mother who did needlework for neighbours in exchange for a loaf of bread or some eggs,” says Anna.
AnnaBayles451After she married and moved to her husband’s native Norfolk she sewed clothes for her family including the couple’s four adopted children, Martine, Philippe, Monique and Jean-Pierre
Three years ago the talents of the former French teacher birthed a passionate mission when she heard a stirring report about poor African orphans and Aids children during a church meeting. Now some of the couple’s pension buys bargain wool and material including duvet sets and curtains which together with fabric donations are turned into garments for Ugandan girls and boys and street children in Tanzania.
“When the sun goes down in Africa it can be quite cold so I also spend every evening knitting jumpers to keep the children warm,” says Anna.  The garments are collected regularly by friends who deliver them personally to the children.
“I always involve my husband, telling him about each garment. Although he cannot see, he gives each item a stamp of approval as he feels the fabric and tests the elastic for size.”

Pictured above is Anna Bayles, sewing and with some of the dresses she has made.

Article printed from at 20:57 on 15 August 2020