Let’s Talk About Scraps, Baby: Fidget Quilts for Dementia Patients

Flower Power Wraparound Pants
Gimme a (Deep) V!

A question I’m getting a lot in my your comments is, “What do you do with your scraps?”. While in the past, my scraps have become anything from pillow stuffing to sunglasses cases (because I have about a bajillion pairs, to other smaller items of clothing like scarves, this year they’re going to be used for something totally different.

My good friend Cole works with dementia patients, and he had a great idea!

He also wears really rad hats.
He also wears really rad hats.

The scraps from this year’s refashions are going to become fidget quilts for his patients.

Here’s a few examples of what fidget quilts look like.

quilt3

quilt2

quilt1

I didn’t even know what a fidget quilt was until Cole explained it to me.

As Alzheimer’s victims progress through the later stages of this terrible disease, the last sense they have that they can really respond to is touch. Their hands are restless and anxious, frequently tugging at their blankets or themselves. These quilts, with multiple textures, as well as objects to pull, zippers to zip, and other odds and ends to “fidget” with help to soothe their nerves and keep their hands occupied. This also makes it easier for their caregivers.

The quilts aren’t very big, just large enough to fit on a patient’s lap, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to make quite of few of these at the end of the year. Another nice thing about the scraps I’ll have is that many already have buttons and other interesting tactile notions still attached, which makes them perfect for this project.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how sad this project sounds, but I hope you don’t feel that way. Anything we can do to help make someone else’s life a little better has to be a positive & happy thing, doesn’t it?

Anyways…that’s what I’m doing with my scraps. :)

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146 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Scraps, Baby: Fidget Quilts for Dementia Patients

  1. I think Cole’s idea of ‘fidget quilts’ is a marvellous idea! My mother has Alzheimer’s but still likes to knit … lots and lots of squares for blankets …….. :)

  2. You’re wonderful. My grandmother had Alzheimers. Your pledge warms my heart and brings a joyful tear to my eye. Tell your friend Cole he has reminded me that there is light to be found even in the darkest of corners. Thank you

  3. I think this is a noble and very compassionate project. Thank you for sharing your intentions! I hope this inspires more to help with Alzheimer’s patients.

  4. You are so right! I’m sure these quilts will be so helpful and appreciated. Far from sounding sad this project is lovely. What a fabulous way to give scraps a meaningful new life. I love all of your refashions, but this project may be my favorite.

  5. What a great idea! Thank you for donating to your friend’s patients. My grandpa suffered from dementia and this is such a great idea to help patients suffering from this disease. You are the best. Have a great day! Jan

  6. Good for you. There are lots of worthy projects that sewers can do to help others. I was fortunate to join a group of ladies making burial gowns for stillborn babies. You would think it was morbid but as the frilly little gowns and bonnets were finished all we could think about was the comfort the bereaved parents might feel. Sewing and donating is a good thing.

      1. <3 Sending love to you. Internet strangers unite for the spread of hope, peace, love and joy :O) A little hug can go a long way.

    1. My parents lost a baby at 1 month of age. My mother was telling me the story of my dad coming out of the funeral home with the baby’s “personal effects”, including her little clothes. My dad didn’t realize that he needed to provide a burial outfit. My mom freaked out and cried, “what’s she wearing? Is my baby naked?” The funeral director came out and reassured my mother that they had swaddled her in soft cotton fabric. It’s just one of those things you don’t think about. So glad to hear this is being done!

  7. OMG! That is awesome! What a great idea. Praise to your friend Cole. It’s hard work dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.
    I love your refashions and this is a perfect compliment to it for using the scraps. Good Job!

  8. I’d be really interested to see how you progress with these as I wanted to make one for my grandmother but didn’t really know where to start

  9. I think that is a wonderful idea.
    Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that leaves the patients very disorientated, frustrated and anxious and any comfort that can be offered is fantastic!!

  10. I’m not sure what you mean when you say the project sounds ‘sad’ – do you mean ‘Emotionally draining sad’? Unfortunately, as medical science progresses and enables our bodies to live longer than we should (strictly speaking), more and more people suffer the degradation of mental faculty. My maternal grandmother ended up in a nursing home with advanced dementia (before the bed sores and infections sent her into organ failure, but that is another matter entirely). I don’t know a single person whose family hasn’t experienced one or more members suffering Dementia. I know someone else whose mother is in the early stages, and her personality has changed so much: She’s become EVIL – really nasty, spiteful and vindictive. She can’t comprehend the situation she’s in, so she blurts out the most inappropriate things when they are out in public and starts screaming irrationally over stuff that happened years ago. She was never a particularly nice woman to start with, but she loved her family and was devoted to her husband – he now has to deal with her getting violent towards him, shrieking at him and throwing things. He won’t put her in a home until she is no longer continent (he would never be able to manage the physical work involved in caring for someone incontinent and potentially bed bound).

    I think this project IS a little sad, because it’s sad that these people have lost so much of their personality and individuality, but I think it is a perfect way to squeeze as much good out of thrifting as possible – not only are you contributing to a charitable cause in buying the garment in the first place, but instead of wasting parts you cut off, you are upcycling them into ANOTHER charitable endeavour. Sounds like a worthy use of time, effort and resources to me.

    1. Ooh, yes, please! Seconding/thirding this. I have scraps that are too cute/interesting to toss but they don’t have any real purpose right now. I’d never heard of fidget quilts until this post.

      Jillian, you rock at being a human.

      1. Jillian I have made these for a local nursing home.I’m presently making ALS, but would love to take a break from ALS quilts and help you out… PO BOX info sounds great, along with your friends organizations guide lines.

        1. Yes! I’m not a great seamstress, but this seems like a great project to learn on since it doesn’t look like it has to be aesthetically perfect :) I would LOVE to join in on this if you make it a group project! I think that’s a great idea!

  11. These are a great idea! But I’m going to make some for my male teenage clients with ADHD to use during group. I think they might help them stay focused and give them something to do with their hands. They might work to calm kids when they get riled up too. Thanks for blogging about these!

  12. What a fab idea! I may do something similar with my scraps! My autistic son has a similar thing in the form of a “quiet book”.

  13. I suspect these kinds of quilts would be useful for toddlers and little kids who have to sit through their older sib’s concerts, church, etc. Great idea!

  14. I am so going to do this with my scraps! My boys also have little toys and things they don’t play with anymore that I could use as well. I just searched “Alzheimer’s Activity Mat” and found a free pdf pattern. Thanks for the awesome idea, J! :)

  15. Great idea!
    My mom has Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration. She was a quilter until she couldn’t see well enough. I think she would like one if these. I’m going to search her stash for stuff to make one!

  16. My mother died with alzheimers. She remembered the bad parts of her life till the end. I wonder if there is a way to incorporate some thing from their home to help make it more meaningful and comforting for each one. I hope you will post any info you figure out about making quilts. Like you I know almost nothing. Sew on…

  17. For those of you who can’t quilt but still want to make one of these projects here is my suggestion: While you’re at the thrift/resale store look for the placemats that were quilted and were edged with bias tape. You can then add pockets and whatever else with your scraps. Also, look for remnant pieces of already quilted material at Jo-Anns or whatever fabric you have. Hope my suggestions are helpful!

    1. THIS. :) Everything anyone needs for this project can be found at thrift stores, they’re amazing in their wealth!!!

      1. I agree with you Nanabobana that just about everything we need we can find at the thrift store. I think if we have an open mind and consider things that are quilted but a smidge outside the box that can easily be altered is what some people need to be able to contribute.

    2. This is a really helpful hint Tambra. Not just for people who feel intimidated about quilting, but for people who lack time to do a “from scratch” quilt. LOVE your idea. It is genius!

  18. Just a tip, I wouldn’t put buttons on the quilts. I know it sounds weird, but I’m a nurse and the first thing I would think if I saw them trying to pull the buttons off is “That is a swallowing hazard!” I worked in a neuro ward of a hospital and many of my patients would try to eat inedible objects. And pretty buttons may look like candy or pills to these patients. Other wise, what a great idea! I actually donate my scraps to an assisted living facility to be used in their crafting room. I’m never going to get around to using them anyways.

  19. Excellent idea!! Is there contact info as to where something like this could be sent….I would love to be a part of this type of thing

    Thanks so much!
    Jeanna

    1. My uncle was in a facility that specialized in care for dementia patients. Look around in your area for these or call your local hospitals that might have geriatric wards. We call them ‘Senior Behavioral Health’ units in my area. :)

  20. Genius!! I quilt/sew and hang on to tons of scraps. This will be a great use for them. This is the opposite of a sad post, rather it’s one of finding a way to bring comfort to those who desperately need it. My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s and my father-in-law is currently suffering through it as well. Thank you!

  21. Such a sweet idea! It makes me want to cry as it reminds me of my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Thank you and your friend for doing this!

  22. So, here’s a thought for those who don’t quilt, but want to make some of these up. It seems to me that these don’t need to actually be quilted from layers of fabric with batting between. In fact, a light weight fidget “blanket” might be preferred to a quilt and would be easier to wash. Just take a nice textured fabric backing–flannel, fleece, corduroy, even a terry cloth towel. Then use a glue stick to attach bright scraps of other textured fabrics with buttons, zippers, or whatever. Use a tight, wide zig-zag stitch to appliqué around the edges of the scraps. (This is a good way to use up odds and ends of leftover colors of thread.) You could use some of the fancy decorative stitches that your machine has, but you never get to use, to add more colors and textures. Add some of your leftover bits of ribbons, rick-rack, pom-poms, etc. (I’m thinking of several appliqués that I’ve removed from some garments that I’ve used for refashions. I have one great sequined jack-o-lantern that is begging to be put to use!) Hem the edge of the blanket or add a binding. You can use up more scraps for the binding. The colors don’t have to be the same on each side. If these are going to a nursing home, you might also sew on a plain light colored patch on the back where the staff can write the patient’s name with a laundry marker.

  23. This is a wonderful idea for dementia patients. Especially those who are bed or chair bound. I’d love to see some of yours when you do them. Maybe it would inspure us all to do the same for charities and hospitals in our local areas.

  24. As my grandmother has been living with Alzheimer’s for almost two years now, I cannot express how much your post touched my heart today. It’s people like you that are making this world just a little bit brighter for people suffering from this debilitating disease and for people like me who were starting to doubt the ability of complete strangers to be kind to another. Thank you, Jillian! This is by far my favorite of your posts yet. :)

  25. I got the idea to make a Therapy Quilt for my niece from a fidget blanket I saw on Pinterest. My 26 year old niece was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last February, as if that wasn’t enough, she also has Paraneoplastic Syndrome which can accompany a cancer. It leaves patients with paralysis and numbness. Thankfully, her cancer is gone,but the effects of PNS still linger. I made the quilt for her to practice activities of daily life and included things such as zippers, buttons, snaps, and laces. I used a quilted pillowcase I found at Walmart and just rummaged thru my sewing notions for all of the other supplies.
    Her therapist loved it and wants me to make him one for his patients!

  26. Todays article reminded me of my grandfather who had Alzheimer’s disease. He would sit in the chair and hold a stuffed bunny. He loved that bunny and would pet it all day long. I didn’t understand why back then but now I do. Thank you.

  27. You have my mind racing with putting together a project and uniting others to make these – looks fun to create and would feel great to give to others. Thanks for an idea I hadn’t heard of.

  28. My mom had Alzheimer’s and I remember the fidgeting. I wish I had known I could have made something like this for her. I don’t think this is sad at all, it’s very positive and shows what a big heart you have.
    Bliss in Mexico

  29. This is beautiful. My mother and I are both avid crafters/sewists, and her father has been descending into Alzheimer’s for the past few years. I think I might have to raid our respective stashes and see if I can whip up a few of these for him and other folks in the facility where he currently lives. Such a great idea!

  30. I love this idea! Until this landed in my inbox, I had never heard of these either. I always have lots of scraps and leftovers…. I think you just gave me a new mission.

  31. That is such a great idea! I have a ton of random bits and bobs from thrifted clothing, I will definitely look into either making the quilts to donate, or donating the scraps to an org that makes them!

  32. Awesome! You are a special girl with a great heart – fidget quilt, who knew? Such a creative, resourceful idea and how perfect for your type of scraps. Sounds like a perfect match! Luv the things you do!

  33. I started quilting last year and a fidget quilt as one of the first things I made.You can see it on my blog sewsewknitknitsew under the title “The quilting bug – it’s contagious”. There are lots of ideas on the Internet. Well done Jillian on bringing this to a wider audience.

  34. As a home health care RN for many years, I saw this fidgeting, anxious behavior often in Memory Care units. I think these quilts would have been a great benefit for some of my dementia patients. I often saw these patients fiddling with their hair, faces, clothing and blankets. I recently saw several people on a group called Art Abandonment making and abandoning fidget quilts in Nursing Homes. Try this link for some examples,
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/ArtAbandonment/
    Thanks for doing what ya’ do, Jillian!

  35. My grandma and my dad both had Alzheimer’s. I think it’s both brilliant and thoughtful to make these. I’d like to give it a try. Maybe I can make one for myself and my siblings as well. That sounds horrifying, I know, but realistically, at least one of the of the four of us will wind up with it.

  36. I too had never heard of fidget quilts until this post. Thank you. It is my hope to make some to donate to my local Alzheimer’s society, or extended care facility. I also read the comments and will keep some of the great suggestions in mind.

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful idea. I hope that when you make your first quilt you will share the process with us.

  37. This post made me cry, Jillian. Thank you for keeping it real. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and she wandered. She would circle the care facility turning out the lights. So at least the staff would know where to find her, just follow the darkness. I love the idea of the fidget quilts and can see the benefit of calming the mind. Keep up the excellent writing and reporting of events in the world that touch us all.

  38. What a lovely blog entry. Thank you so much for sharing. Jillian you really are such a neat gal. Please do more blogs about ideas like this for reusing materials so they get another life as well as helping out people that have had so much taken from them and being of value to the world! Keep being amazing!!!!!!

  39. These tactile quilts are also a wonderful way to introduce toddlers to tying bows and buttoning buttons. Using zippers and ties are very elementary but children still need to practice these things as well. Wonderful!!!

  40. Thank you for the “reminder”. I was vaguely aware of these quilts but needed this post to kick me into action. I reimagine garments into handbags and have lots of pockets, plackets and zippers left over that can go into making these quilts. I can’t wait to put my leftovers to good use!

  41. Looking for more information on fidget quilts I quickly found a post about a quilt being rejected because of choking hazards: buttons and so forth that could be pulled off and swallowed (just like things for small children.) Responders agreed that it was very important to check with the home you are planning to donate to in advance. The quilts often have to be hot water washable in commercial machines. Clearly this isn’t the case everywhere but it’s worth finding out in advance.

    1. Good point! I’ll definitely be consulting with Cole and the rest of his staff to make sure the quilts are safe and allowed.

  42. You ROCK! What a great idea and one that will be most appreciated by many… including everyone who is reading this blog! Kudos and way to be an inspiration.

  43. What a wonderful idea – thank you Jillian and Cole for bringing this idea to the forefront. Just look at how many comments so far – that’s how quickly you’ve spread the word in a few hours.

    I’d echo Reg Green, above, to check with the facility you plan to donate to. It would be a shame to make these and have them unusable due to unintentional hazards.

  44. I adore your blog in general and often check in to see what you are up to… I don’t comment much but this post left me with a little extra (okay a lot extra) love in my heart and soul. I am so happy that Cole shared this idea with you and that you turned around to spread that love with all of us!

    What an amazingly human way to use up those scraps and little bits of what-nots that we sewers and crafters tend to hoard. Seriously, SERIOUSLY heart-warmingly amazing. As another lady here commented, this is also a lovely way to teach/help children learn. I can only imagine the comfort and relaxing that a blanket like this could bring to not only the patient, but the care giver. Miles of love in such a small, humble blanket, sewn with love , humility and imagination.

    PS…. You have a lot of wonderful comments already on this post… Enjoyed reading all of them! Keep doing what you are doing. A little love goes a long way!!!!

    xxoo

  45. Thanks for this post. Not only did it give me a great idea but, I learned a little something educational about the disease itself and how I can do my part. I’ll be spreading the word to my fellow crafters! Thanks again!

  46. This might be a great idea for children who fidget in a class. They could sit it in their laps. Instead of buttons and zippers. It would be more about the textures. I wish I would have had these when I was teaching special needs children.

  47. This isn’t sad–it’s very heart warming! I know that my mother-in-law pulled her own hair out, so just think if someone had given her one of these. I didn’t know about them at the time, so you’re not only making individual’s better with these gifts but you’re spreading the word so other people will know about this super helpful idea.

  48. Regarding the fidget quilts, what’s sad is that Alzheimers is a reality and it’s a terrible disease to watch anyone go thru. I think the fidget quilts are brilliant! Hopefully u will post an update with some you make.

  49. What a marvelous idea! You so inspired me that I have already written to our local Alzheimer’s chapter to see if they would like my help in rallying local sewers and quilters to create these items for donation in our community. Thanks a bunch!

  50. So many comments, so I don’t know if this has been mentioned before, but fidget blankets work great for autistic students and kids with Sensory Processing Disorder as well. Especially if they’re weighted. I’m making one for my son this week so he can focus better in class.

  51. This doesn’t sound sad at all. My mother-in-law, who recently passed away, had dementia. I wish I’d heard about this idea because she would have loved something like this.

  52. This post actually made me tear up, but not in a bad way. What a beautiful thing to use those scraps on. My grandmother passed away last April, and for the two months before she died, she experienced something similar to dementia. We don’t know exactly what was going on, but I think she would have liked something like this. So the tears are more of a “something I could have done but didn’t know about, but I can make some and donate them to the assisted living center where she stayed” kind of thing. Thank you and thank you to your friend for his compassion in working with these older folks. Alzheimer’s is awful.

  53. I always thought these would be good for anyone going through a stressful time also. Waiting in a waiting room while a loved one has surgery or for yourself before an important procedure. Children or even adults in the therapy sessions anyplace that nervous energy needs a focus

  54. I love this idea! I teach independent living skills to special ed teens, and while some of them might benefit from having a fidgit blanket of their own, I’m looking at this as a great community service project for the local nursing home and a great introduction to sewing project!

  55. That sounds like a beautiful idea, Jillian!!! What a great use of scraps. One mans garbage is another man’s treasure (or something like that!)

  56. I am a High School Sewing Teacher in New Zealand, this is such a great idea! I am going to get my students to make these from their samples rather than them sitting in a book never to be looked at again! They can practice all the skills they need and give back to the community!

  57. I don’t think it’s sad at all. You have a project. It makes other people happy (both patients and their caregivers) and uses “stuff” that otherwise would go to waste. Isn’t that the whole idea?

  58. What a wonderful idea! My mother-in-law is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. I would love to get something like this for her at some point.

  59. Sad, but true! Life is like that sometime. As a caregiver, I can see how these would help those with Alzheimer’s. I’ve been looking for a project to help & support something–I may have just found it!!! Thanks for sharing, Jill!!!

  60. Fantastic idea! My dad was recently diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (the 2nd most common dementia after Alzheimer’s) and he’s always fiddling with the phone, the remotes and his glasses causing all sorts of comic chaos. This would be a wonderful thing for him to have!

  61. These are wonderful. I worked in a nursing facility that would only buy a few of these for residents because they are expensive from retailers. I LOVE these! When making these keep in mind if they are in a facility that they will need to be washed from time to time and they use industrial washers. They are rough on them. Pockets, zippers, buttons, flaps, snaps, different textured material, and ribbons are all easily washable though. Clunky items or leather might suffer damage in a facility wash room. At home you might get lucky to spot clean. These are beautiful examples. Love the male themed one. Thanks for sharing!

  62. omg…. I just love this idea. I am so glad you shared it for it surely is nothing I’d ever have thought on my own…. Liked the flower power pants, too!!

  63. This is not sad at all – it’s a great idea! Really glad that your “trash” will become someone else’s treasure.

  64. Jillian I love your blog! I’ve read all your posts and been following for over a year now. I think this is my favorite post yet! I am a nurse in Ontario and I’ve worked with such patients. These are brilliant! Once you’ve amassed a while bunch from your scraps at the end of the year they will make a wonderful Christmas donation! I hope other refashionistas out there decide to make these too! Also a good project for people/kids just learning how to sew! ;)

  65. What a wonderful way to use your scrap. I make quilts all the time. My young children have several each and I always have several quilts in progress at once. Intact I have been investigating the use of recycled jeans for quilts and other crafty projects. I don’t do much garment refashioning but over the Christmas break I turned a maxi dress I wasn’t wearing into a skirt and love it now and I turned some boot leg jeans into skinny jeans. I have been wondering what you do with all your ” new ” since you seem to have something different nearly every day? Thanks for the inspiration and keep it up Nicole – Australia.

  66. I have to say “Thank You!” As the daughter of two parents with Alzheimer’s, you cannot know just how much this means. My dad passed before he reached the latter stages of this awful disease, and my mom is still in the early stages. I do hope that when she gets to the final stage, that someone (I can’t sew, but love your blog) will make one for her. Thank you again, much love and God bless you!

  67. I want to hug you for this. My mom died of Alzheimer’s and I wish I had used my sewing and scraps for this. It was horrible to see and any distraction would have been so welcome! Bless you.

  68. What a great idea! I am a quilter (and wondered, too, about your scraps)… while I don’t have all the doodads and such, I may try to find some workable items from sale bins. I’m inspired. Or, if you are overflowing with scraps, I’d love to help – you could send some stuff to me and I can put
    some quilts together and mail back to you or to the organization you’re donating to.

  69. In think this is just about one of the best refashioniata ideas! How wonderful that you are not only giving your readers wonderful inspiration, but giving theses patients a truly compassionate gift!

  70. I’ve never heard of these but I think it’s a fantastic idea- please do a post(s) and show us what you have come up with!

  71. Oh this is – wow. I wish I had known about fidget quilts before my grandpa died. I don’t know, whether he would have liked it. Because he was always nonstop walking around. :)
    As I read your post, my eyes were full of tears. All those memories about my grandpa, like he was afflicted with this treacherous disease.

    That’s a great idea, you gonna make many people happier.

  72. A great post – I wish I had known about those quilts when my family would have needed one desperately.
    A reasonable addition to these quilts are removable apronstrings (buttonholes) as people suffering from dementia often get up and move around and thus can´t lose the quilt.

    Btw. I use larger scraps to make breast cancer heart pillows to donate (if so.is interested just google them)

  73. As soon as I reposted this, a friend of mine asked if I could make one for her mother. I felt incredibly honored and emotionally touched. I want to make it special, so I’m incorporating things from her childhood and career and am pulling out all my crafting skills so she’ll have something that she will enjoy. Thank you for clueing us in on this special project!

  74. Hi Jillian – one of my high school students has a brother on the autism spectrum. I showed her your pics of fiddle quilts as a potential soother for him, and she immediately texted her mother with the idea. Thank you so much for bringing this into the light.

  75. I’m an Outreach Director at an Upstate SC Assisted Living & Memory Care. I LOVE THESE! We’ve been thinking of doing these in aprons. Well done! Not a sad project at all. Anything to keep the mind active is a positive! Thank you~

  76. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. I think what you are doing is a wonderful, caring ministry. I can envision dementia patients with lap quilts full of discarded “80’s embellishments. See all that bling does have a purpose.

  77. I have never heard of fidget blankets before reading this post but I must say it is a wonderful idea. It is very beautiful and touching that you are going to take your scraps and make such a wonderful item for someone who could really benefit from them. Great job! Another idea is blankets for shelter animals.

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