The Incredible Knitting Adventures of Margaret Seaman

by Jayne Evans, Producer of the Norfolk Makers Festival.

The story of Margaret Seaman’s knitting genius and her charity fundraising is extraordinary by anyone’s standards. The unique and jaw dropping results of her creative vision, and thousands of hours of hard work, have brought her world wide fame and have raised more than £140,000 for good causes.

The great-great-grandmother, from Caister on Sea, enjoyed a private audience with the late Queen in the ballroom at Sandringham in 2021, was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Jubilee honours in 2022, and has been interviewed for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines around the globe. Her artwork has been exhibited around the UK and in Europe.

This is the full, epic tale of how one woman's adventure in textiles has delighted millions of people, benefited many charities, and elevated the status of knitting, proving that this traditional, hand-crafting skill is both an art form and a special kind of magic.

How It All Started

When Margaret’s husband, Fred, passed away, their daughter Tricia thought that taking up knitting again, with a local group in Great Yarmouth, would help with the grief and get Margaret out and about. Little did Tricia know that her mother possessed creative super-powers, and that these would lead to unimaginable adventures.

Margaret and her late husband, Fred.

From the beginning, Margaret's imagination, and ability to create unique patterns in her head, started pushing knitting boundaries. Not for Margaret the traditional charity knits, such as matinee jackets and bobbly hats. She raised money for a local hospice by displaying a knitted model of Fred's beloved koi carp pond and garden, and she created fairy-tale figures for an Enchanted Garden display, both shown at the Norfolk Makers Festival, at The Forum in 2016 and 2017.

Golden Memories of the Golden Mile

Elderly lady smiling in front of a knitted display
The Knitted Great Yarmouth brought back precious memories.

Margaret, who was at this point in her late 80s, was only just getting started. Her next textile portrayal of precious personal memories was the Knitted Great Yarmouth installation. This twelve-foot long table top display celebrated the seaside town's Golden Mile in its 1970s hey-day. This was the era when Margaret and Fred were bringing up their family and running several local sea-front businesses.

Elderly lady chatting to a smiling group of women
Sharing stories with a delighted Festival crowd.

The Knitted Great Yarmouth was the centre piece of the 2018 Norfolk Makers Festival, and the crowds loved chatting to Margaret about their childhood memories of the rides, amusements and shows on the pier. This was when the media first spotted the great story which is Margaret Seaman.

Making Headlines

ITN News carried a story on their national bulletins. ITV Anglia began what become a long and affectionate relationship with Margaret, and there were stories in national and regional newspapers around the UK. This all helped bring in many more thousands of pounds for the Yarmouth hospice.

ITN's Arts Editor, Nina Nannar, shines a national spotlight on Margaret

Margaret’s installation included an image of the young Bruce Forsyth, a sea-side star in the 70s. Bruce’s daughter saw the story on ITN news and wrote to Margaret, thanking her for bringing back memories of her late father. The first of many exciting ‘celebrity’ moments that lay ahead.

Nice to see you... didn't she do well?

A Right Royal Residence

Those of us who knew no better assumed Margaret's work had peaked. But within weeks she had started work on the now world-famous Knitted Sandringham. Margaret takes inspiration from subjects that move her heart. She is a huge fan of the royal family and the same generation as the late Queen Elizabeth.

The Knitted Sandringham in 2020. Still a work in progress.

The Knitted Sandringham went on public display, for the first time, at the Norfolk Makers Festival in early March 2020, initially as a work in progress. It was already a showstopper, even though the installation ‘only’ featured the main house and part of the surrounding gardens.

Chatting to people is one of Margaret's greatest pleasures.

This time Margaret was raising money for a local family whose young daughter needed life saving treatment abroad. People gave generously and the local and national press loved the story. Immediately after the Festival in Norwich, the Knitted Sandringham was transported to ITV’s studios in London, where Margaret appeared live with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.

On the This Morning sofa.

Lockdown Knitting

But the big story on ITV’s This Morning on that day was Covid 19 and concerns about its potential arrival in the UK. Within a week the unthinkable had happened. Covid was rampant and we were in lockdown. Margaret and her daughter were isolated in their bungalow near Great Yarmouth, not knowing how the pandemic would develop or when it would end.

Margaret knits for ten hours a day, at least.

The best thing to do was knit. And knit. And knit. Margaret used the lockdown months to finish the Knitted Sandringham, by creating a model of the royals' church, the ballroom and all the gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, she also ‘threw together’ the NHS Knittingale, a woolly cross section of a busy hospital under a giant, textile rainbow, as a tribute to the NHS and all it’s workers.

The NHS Knittingale. Credit: Eastern Daily Press

NHS Tribute

ITN and ITV Anglia, once restrictions were eased, made a bee line for her bungalow and filmed her through an open window, keeping everyone safe but sharing Margaret’s achievements with a world hungry for happy news. See ITV Anglia's full report from May 2020.

ITVAnglia's Rob Setchell interviewing Margaret at a safe distance.

This is when things really got interesting! As people gradually came out of lockdown, masked and careful, Margaret showed the finished Knitted Sandringham and NHS Knittingale at The Forum, in Norwich. There was more TV, radio, newspaper and magazine coverage, in the UK, the US, Europe and Japan.

Woman standing in front of knitted Sandringham
Out of lockdown. Sandringham at The Forum.

Shortly after this flurry of attention Margaret, Tricia and friends were overjoyed when the real Sandringham Estate, in North Norfolk, invited Norfolk’s Queen of Knitting, to show her woolly royal residence in the Sandringham ballroom for the whole of the summer.

Margaret setting up in Sandringham ballroom.

A Dream Come True

Cut to Margaret, now 92 years old, quietly setting up her display in the grand ballroom. Sandringham was closed to the public that day. The morning sun was falling in shafts through the huge windows, the buzz of bees in the flowerbeds, and of distant lawn mowers, could be heard through the open doors.

Margaret was bent over, rummaging through a box of knitted shrubs, when she spotted a pair of feet  that definitely didn’t belong to her daughter, Tricia. Margaret looked up. And there, standing next to her and smiling, was the woman who she had loved and respected all her long life. Her Majesty the Queen.

For the next fifteen minutes the late Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Seaman, from Great Yarmouth, walked around the Knitted Sandringham chatting about the artwork, Sandringham’s gardens and sharing memories. Two remarkable women, both in their 90s, enjoying each other’s company, out of the gaze of everyone except a member of Sandringham staff and a speechless Tricia.

Margaret's royal visit made headlines but she remained tight lipped!

National News

In all the press coverage that followed, Margaret never divulged the details of her private meeting with the Queen. Zoe Ball quizzed her on Radio 2’s Breakfast Show. It was a private conversation, said Margaret. Emma Barnett tried on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. It was a private conversation, repeated Margaret. They all tried. They all failed. It was Margaret’s special moment shared only with her Queen. Margaret says it was the highlight of her life.   

For the rest of the summer of 2021 Margaret and Tricia became a fixture at Sandringham delighting thousands of visitors from across the globe, eager to chat to Margaret and to post bank notes in the charity buckets. Altogether the Knitted Sandringham raised £30,000 which was shared with the three big NHS hospitals in Norfolk.

Margaret teaching managers from Norfolk's hospitals how to knit!

Off To France

The Knitted Sandringham was packed up at Sandringham at the end of the summer of 2021 and loaded straight onto a van heading for Dover. It was on its way to Nantes, in France, to be the centre piece of textile event Pour L'Amour du Fil. Margaret, Tricia, and their friend Jan, followed on.

Waiting for the Eurostar with Jan.

Throughout her knitting adventures Margaret has been helped by Tricia and Jan, who tackle the fiddly bits that Margaret's arthritic hands can’t quite manage. Both ladies can take credit for the fine work on the tree branches and shrubs, and for the tiny, knitted people who bring the installations to life.

On The Award Circuit

Also in 2021, Margaret’s story was featured in a book called ‘One Hundred Reasons to Hope’, created by the family of Captain Tom, the elderly gentleman who walked circuits of his garden to raise money for the NHS.

Margaret at the launch of Captain Tom's book.

The public voted for Margaret to be ITV Anglia’s finalist in ITV’s Pride of Britain. At the ceremony in London Margaret shared hugs and kisses with Peter Andre and Rod Stewart, and she was reacquainted with Phil and Holly.

Does she think he's sexy?

Another special moment was receiving an Oldie of the Year award from Giles Brandreth’s Oldie Magazine. Margaret joined Barry Humphreys and the then Duchess of Cornwall at a celebrity lunch in London. Norfolk’s champion knitter was getting used to the high life.  

Another brush with royalty!

In the months that followed, as the UK geared up for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Margaret was top box office. She was filmed for Darcey Bussell’s Royal Road Trip, and for Grayson Perry’s Art Club.

Darcy Bussell filming with Margaret at The Forum.

The Knitted Sandringham was viewed by Princess Anne at the Royal Norfolk Show in June 2022, where it continued to raise money for Norfolk's Hospitals.

Another royal admirer.

At the end of 2022 the Knitted Sandringham was set up at the Midlands Art Centre, in Birmingham, as the centre piece for the Grayson Perry Art Club exhibition, which was extended until the end of June 2023, due to popular demand.

Grayson Perry (check jacket) lunches with Margaret and Tricia.

Just before Christmas 2022 Margaret was awarded a British Empire Medal, by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, for her services to her community and charity.

Margaret with Norfolk's Lord Lieutenant, Lady Dannatt, and other dignitaries.

Surely it was time for Margaret to put her feet up? Well, actually, she did for a while. The Queen’s death was deeply upsetting for Margaret, and she wasn’t sure how to pay tribute. Margaret ended up doing what she does best. She focused her emotions and her memories - her creative superpowers - and she knitted Buckingham Palace for the Norfolk Makers Festival in March 2023.

Woman standing in front of knitted Buckingham Palace
Margaret at Norfolk Makers Festival 2023.

Once again Margaret demonstrated her ability to study architectural forms, fashion a frame from polystyrene blocks, then knit and crochet, without a written pattern, a reproduction of a famous landmark. Her landmarks are instantly recognisable and remarkably accurate in scale and detail.  

Margaret is a great-great grandmother. She is the head of a huge family, and she adores children. Her Buckingham Palace is being used to raise money to establish a new children’s hospital in Cambridge, to serve the East of England. It wowed the crowds at the Makers Festival, and featured live on BBC Breakfast, as part of the big build up to the Coronation of King Charles III. 

Another live appearance, on BBC Breakfast.

Margaret was ideal for pre-Coronation press stories. She made a centre spread in a Coronation issue of the Daily Mirror, encouraging people to knit a royal tea cosy.

Great-great-grandmother is a centre page spread.

Take a closer look at Margaret's patriotic nail varnish!

Patriotic nail varnish for Coronation celebrations.

Just days before the Coronation weekend, Margaret and Tricia attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, to mark the award of her BEM. There, Margaret chatted to Queen Camilla again, who remembered her from the Oldie lunch.

Margaret and Tricia attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

This was an ‘out of this world’ experience for Margaret, who refused to use a wheelchair at the event, despite the acute pain in her knees and hips, not to mention the arthritis in her hands. She is on the waiting list for joint replacements and, despite the discomfort, says she will not stop moving and will not stop knitting.

Waving the flag at their Yarmouth beach hut.

Margaret takes every opportunity to raise money for her chosen charities. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, she can be found at her beach hut on Great Yarmouth sea front, selling patriotic knitted beach huts and other small woolly items.

And there's more!

The Knitted Buckingham Palace was displayed at the Royal Norfolk Show, at the end of June 2023, and the NHS Knittingale spent the second half of the year at National Trust museum in Nottinghamshire, where it formed part of a celebration of NHS history.

And as a grand finale, Margaret displayed all of her installations in one place, at the 2024 Norfolk Makers Festival, where, in cash donations alone, she raised more than £10,000 for the new children's hospital, at Addenbrookes.

This is an incredible tale of an amazing woman, whose energy and determination belies her age and her physical frailty. She has challenged all those who would dismiss an old lady and her charity knitting as not worth much attention.

Tricia with her amazing mother. What an adventure!

'Norfolk's Queen of Knitting' has delighted and inspired countless people around the world and changed so many lives for the better. My dear friend has demonstrated that you are never too old to start something new and small acts of faith and kindness can make the world a better place.

Jayne Evans

Producer, Norfolk Makers Festival