A Fiddle Quilt is made to stimulate and soothe those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, who often have restless hands. It’s not uncommon for them to pluck at their sheets, rub their hands together or pull their fingers to pass the time. Also known as a Fidget Quilt or Adult Activity Mat, a lap-sized Fiddle Quilt provides an excellent way to give fretful hands “something to do” while also providing visual and tactile stimulation and establishing an interest in something tangible. A Fiddle Quilt can also give carers a bit of a respite from constant supervision, as well as presenting people with something to talk about when they visit.
The beauty of making a Fiddle Quilt is that it can be as simple or intricate as you wish, and still be appreciated by the receiver. Forget complex patterns, matching seams or tiny stitches, and instead, let your imagination run riot to create a piece that will give pleasure and a sensory experience to someone who desperately needs it.
Use highly contrasting fabrics to achieve visual interest either in colour or pattern. Interestingly, colors in the blue-violet range all look the same to dementia patients—their retinas have more receptors to see shades of red, so choose red, orange and bright pink fabrics to attract their attention. However, keep in mind that others (such as Barney who loves blue and yellow) may not wish to have a dazzling pink quilt, or may prefer calmer colours so in fact, the range of colour combinations is endless. However, do utilise fabrics that have various textures such as rough denim, towelling, nubbly silk, soft fake fur or smooth satin, keeping in mind that they need to be washable. Samples and pieces from workshops are useful additions to the range of materials that can be incorporated into a Fiddle Quilt.
Themed fabrics that will trigger memories or happy thoughts are desirable as they may help the patients remember a forgotten part of their lives. Photo transfers of family, friends, pets, etc. can also be a thoughtful addition. If the recipient was a quilter or crafter, try to include some of these elements to bring back pleasant recollections. Add texture with rickrack, pompoms, net, braid, ribbons, lace, straw, embroidered handkerchiefs, and/or pockets, collars and cuffs from used clothing. Sew these flat, gathered or just along one edge so the other edge is left hanging.
Securely stitch tactile elements to the surface such as large buttons, strings of beads, charms, bells, keys, keychains, metal rings and buckles, keeping in mind that these items should not be sharp or easily detached.
I made this quilt for Barney who was a pianist and still loves music. I hid a piano under a zippered flap so he would have to pull on the zipper to open it and see it. In the other photos you can see images of horses (as he loved horse racing) and football.
His wife Barbara told me that he loved silky things, so I made a little handkerchief out of Chinese silk and put it in the denim pocket of an old pair of jeans (attached to the quilt with a snap so he can't lose it). I also added a builders' level (hanging from the jeans loop), a beaded necklace (sewn over the horse fabric), a little beaded lizard for texture and a stretchy man that he can pull. Barbara told me his favourite colours are blue and yellow so I used that as a theme too.
In these photos you can see some details that can be used on your quilts. Above, on the left is a piece of rubbery shelf liner that feels really good to touch, followed by a little donkey on a ribbon to help him pull the zipper. Next is a flower that I made in a Stuart Hillard workshop that provides texture. There are also some beads on elastic for him to pull. I embroidered his name in stem stitch so he can rub his fingers over the raised letters. If you are making a Fiddle Quilt for a specific person, do add their name to the quilt.
This is the whole quilt. It measures about 25" wide x 15" high. This is a very easy size to work with and it fits perfectly on Barney's lap.
Here are Barney and Barbara having a good look at the quilt. I was thrilled that he wanted to see every single bit of it.
Notice that the fabric for the back of the quilt is corduroy. This feels good and also means it won't slip off Barney's lap easily. Other fabrics to use are flannel, fleece and velvet. In addition, simple quilting is advisable so the layers can’t be tugged apart. An important element of a Fiddle Quilt is that it should be washable in hot water and dried in a dryer, especially if made for use in a public institution.
I was honoured to be asked to be the patron of a new charity called Fiddle Fingers Quilts, run by Judy Harris and Karen Perry. Here is a link to the website:
and here is their Facebook page - do like it so you can be updated on workshops and ideas for making your own Fiddle Quilts:
Those living in Scotland can contact Ann Hill: www.annhillquilter.co.uk
When dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease robs a beloved person of their mind and memories, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness. These feelings can be somewhat alleviated by channeling your creativity into making a Fiddle Quilt.
I had a lovely time on Tuesday evening, giving a lecture to the Regents Park Decorative Arts Society. Thanks to all my quilting friends who turned up and were so supportive!
During the lecture, I took everyone on a brief expedition into the quilt world that I love so much. I told them:
and their modern equivalents
This was a really fun talk to put together and I had loads of help from art quilters all over the world, as well as Jonathan Holstein and Christopher Wilson-Tate, who supplied images of antique quilts. I'm very happy to give this brand new talk again, so do contact me if you are interested!