Sunday, 10 April 2016

Dementia Crafting

How did we get into dementia crafting?

As a craft group, we support charities that we choose as a group.  Mainly these are charities that help families and children. But we are always happy to diversify and are keen to learn new ideas and skills.

Some of our group members had a personal interest in crafting for  people with dementia and their families. Having tried a few of their own items in a care home they were personally involved with, they introduced the concept to the group and soon more members were researching and experimenting in this area too.

When we looked online and saw the cost of buying some of the commercially available dementia crafted items ... that's when our needles and hooks took off!  The costs of these commercially available items are not unreasonable, given the labour involved.  Everything has to be made with such care and attention to detail.  Knitted, crocheted or fabric items need to be sewn securely. Each crafted item, such as a lap blanket , has to have a variety of sensory activities to hold the owner's interest. (We used buttons, bells, balls, beads, ribbon and other activity ornaments, as well as varying the texture of the stitching or fabric.)  These are firmly attached to withstand the pull of exploring fingers over time. Everything has to be washable, of course.

Our main advantage over the commercial sites is that we don't have labour costs and we can often source our materials reasonably cheaply by recycling and also by using the donated yarn and materials we receive from time to time from people who hear about us. (People sometimes have unwanted materials from a relative or friend's stash that they ask us to put to good use.) Thus we can make items to donate, at no cost to the recipient.

Charity crafting is a friendly, sharing and global 'hobby' (aka addiction?) and the word goes round.

It is commonplace for our members' holidays to include trips to craft shops and also to charity shops in a hunt for attractive fabrics or yarns to 'rescue' for later up-cycling into an item to donate. On a trip to Ireland last year one of our members got talking to some lovely ladies in Galway who were immediately taken with the dementia crafting idea.  She gave them some blankets she had made whilst on holiday ...

...and since then they have taken them to "Alzheimer's Ireland" who have spread the idea to crafting groups, one of which has set themselves a goal of making 20 for a care home.  Super!

Who is using our items?

Recently we visited a local care home here in Edinburgh to see if they would be interested in trialling some of our dementia items.  They invited us in for a chat and two of our members went on behalf of our group, taking some of our items.

This is their account of their visits so far.

On our first visit  to The Elms Care Home in the Grange  we were greeted at the secure front door by a cheery carer and immediately directed to a pleasant seating area to meet the Karen, the Activity Coordinator.

Karen started by outlining some background about the home.  The Elms had moved from being a traditional care home with some dementia residents to being much more specialist.  They take some of the people most seriously affected by dementia to whom other care homes are unable to offer places. Residents can be referred directly from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.  The home is funded by the Church of Scotland.

We showed Karen some sensory lap blankets and sensory sleeves  crafted by members of  Craft Tea for Charity.

Karen had experience of sensory sleeves and whilst she was pleased to receive these, she was very excited by the concept of the sensory lap blanket.  She loved the idea that they would offer the sensory experience in conjunction with a cosy blanket.  Although the house is well heated, it has large rooms and some of the residents feel the cold. Karen liked the fact that the crocheted / knitted front was backed to add weight to the blanket.  She also mentioned that sensory cushions, made in a similar vein, are also welcomed by dementia patients and are something to cuddle. She took us for a tour of the house introducing us to some of the residents.  We left the lap blankets with Karen and asked for honest feedback once the residents had had the chance to use them.

The second time we arranged to visit The Elms, the appointment had been made at short notice so we were not sure whether the coordinator was expecting us.  However, we were greeted like VIPs and taken to a sitting room for coffee and biscuits.

Karen talked enthusiastically about the reception our lap blankets had had.  An article about the project had even been put in their Crossreach Magazine together with an appeal for knitted/crocheted squares which could be made to make the lap blankets.  She appeared with a pile of squares made from relatives who were delighted to be able to help in some way.

She explained further that a relative had recently made a donation to the home and so they planned to convert one of the lovely sitting rooms into a sensory room.  She took us to meet the Acting Manager who was meeting with a Sensory Room expert and they showed us a website of the type of items they were looking to equip the room with.  They are looking to develop regular themes in order to be able to make the room more dynamic e.g. seaside, forest.

We handed over the 4 sensory lap blankets members had made since our last visit.  Our group members had used their creativity and imagination to try to make innovative blankets that would appeal on a personal level to their recipients. Karen and the others were especially delighted with the shirt and tie blanket, knowing immediately who would benefit from this blanket – a gentleman, wheelchair bound, who had always taken pride in his appearance, always wanting to be dressed in suit and tie.

They also loved the blanket which had areas that looked like a flower garden.

We agreed to establish greater links between our group and the home.  Our group focus at the moment is our monthly overseas parcel to charities who help families and children (see our Facebook page for regular updates on these). We are however delighted to be able to help people closer to home too and to contribute in our own small way to helping people with dementia.

We left the home on a total high, feeling that our group could make a difference. 

A sample pattern for a sensory lap blanket has been made available to the group’s members.  If you are interested making one, you are warmly welcome to email us for a copy at

If you are interested in helping us, donating items or services or would just like further information on this or anything we do,  please feel free to contact us at
Our group aim is 'to craft for charity in a caring, co-operative social and ethical environment' .  We hope we can bring a little bit of sunshine into other people's lives.