Try Quilting: A therapeutic activity for memory care

It’s winter here in western Pennsylvania… finally! The rain has been replaced by snow and the chill is in the air. Time to look for projects to be tackled inside. One project that we have been exploring on the memory care unit is quilt making. We have made quilts of paper and of the traditional fabric. These are not difficult or elaborate pieces – merely squares pieced together and tied with thread or yarn. Their ‘cure’ is in their simplicity.

Memory care residents chose blocks and discussed how to arrange them. The handled the fabric, decided which blocks to use, and instructed the facilitator in laying them out. They wanted to use the pink and purple blocks and this was the final layout.

But, I’ve never done that before…

You may say, I’ve never quilted before and neither has my loved one. That doesn’t mean you can’t try! You will gain so much together. The cutting and piecing of fabric is a sensory treat! Touching fabrics of varying textures and weights, using scissors to cut the fabric, laying the squares into a pleasing design, tying the strings to hold the blanket together, and listening to music or talking together… all of these activities engage the senses and promote quality of life for your loved one.

In the ‘old’ days, sewing quilts or ‘haps’ was a necessity. One couldn’t simply run to the store to buy a new blanket when winter approached. Instead, the ladies of yesteryear would cut squares from worn or too-small clothing and sew together blankets for beds and couches. They were not always the most attractive pieces, but they kept the recipients warm! Your loved one may have made one of these or may have watched a beloved grandmother cut pieces and arrange them into a blanket. They may have even quilted beautiful patterns themselves!

It’s all in the process…

So, how to? This does not have to be an expensive project, but it does take time! This could take months, which is a blessing! In this fast-paced world, you have the opportunity to slow down with your loved one and savor the experience yourself!

The ongoing process answers the three human needs : something to love (you and the project), something to do (Make that quilt!), and something to look forward to (routine – write the days/times you will work on it together). This process is also the very definition of a meaningful pastime! Together, you are making something useful. You two may even decide to give your handmade treasures away – another form of ‘therapy.’

Another lap quilt. Squares are 5 x 5. Notice the use of different patterns in the middle. The fabric for these lap quilts is recycled scrubs from professional care workers.

How To Make a Fabric Lap Quilt.

I started to write out the directions for making a quilt and quickly realized that I prefer to use YouTube videos! Maybe you do, too! I found this super wonderful easy video that explains the whole process! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_a2bN7NqoR0&t=498s Professor Pincushion has wonderful, free sewing videos! I’m a big fan.

In the video, she speaks of buying fabrics. You will want to buy the backing and the batting (I prefer synthetic batting over the cotton!), however it might be fun to go through old clothes and recycle them! My cousin makes beautiful knotted quilts from clothing of loved ones who have passed. These special gifts bring back memories of the person through the preferences of what they wore. Cotton blend fabrics work best, though my grandmother used to make them with all sorts of scrap fabric.

She also mentions buying the special quilting rulers, mats, and rotary cutters. (I prefer Fiskars. Check them out on Amazon or Joanne Fabrics.) Though these are a blessing if you are planning on doing the cutting and are in a rush, it could be more therapeutic for your loved one to do the cutting with fabric shears. Safety first, however, so you be the judge as to whether your loved one can still handle them!

If your loved one is capable of cutting, you can trace the blocks on the fabric and allow them to cut them out. Simply make a template from a piece of cardboard. As with any project, please remember that it is the process that’s important, not the finished project! Though it’s nice to have a ‘perfect’ item to give to someone, the key to helping someone with dementia is to enjoy yourselves. Slow down… it doesn’t have to be done yesterday! Enjoy the process and help them to enjoy it, too!

I hope you will try this project! Soon I will introduce a paper quilt project! Also fun, cheap, sensory, and easy!

If you’ve tried this, I’d love to hear from you! Please comment!