Dementia Twiddle Mat

Twiddle Mat Dementia

Some of you will know I have an aunt with dementia. She’s the centre of my universe and I love finding beautiful gifts for her; as her illness has progressed, this has understandably become more of a challenge. I had a brainwave at Christmas and hacked my Classic Men’s T Shirt Pattern to fit her, making this from beautiful Liberty cotton jersey…but a few months on, I was now having to think of another idea for her birthday.

As you will see with many people with dementia, she fiddles a lot. Her big favourite is twisting the buttons off her cardigans, or playing with bag straps. I’ve made lots of little bags like my Lunch Tote for her, which she puts her book and mobile phone in but generally you’ll find her playing with the bag straps.

Twiddle mats are just that, small lap mats/blankets, sometimes patchwork, with lots of sensory things to touch. Some people might have zips, buttons or different feeling fabrics to touch, as well as all sorts of bias, ruffles and anything else they can fiddle with to keep their hands busy.

The beautiful swatch book Gutermann sent to me when I was selecting fabric for my latest collaboration with them was ideal for this patchwork mat. I was selecting just one fabric to work with but I had swatch after swatch of beautiful cotton to choose from, and I selected 12 for the fiddle mat, plus two more for my straps.

I began by making the straps – if you’re not sure how to do this, you can find out how in my Tote Bag tutorial. You’ll need to do this first to be able to add yours to the relevant pieces of patchwork when you sew them together. I used a longer strap (with a button at the end) and a loop for variety.

I would recommend laying out your patchwork pieces. This helped me make sure I didn’t make a mistake. After sewing my patchwork pieces together, I set to work adding the buttons. For a twiddle mat, you’d be best to use a heavy duty thread and sew the buttons on well!

I then cut my backing (I used brushed cotton as it’s a very tactile fabric) and lay this on top of my patchwork, right sides of the fabric facing each other. Once pinned in place, I sewed round leaving a 4 inch gap in the centre of one of the sides to allow me to turn the mat the right way. After teasing out the corners to a point and giving the mat a quick press, I top stitched all around the edge. As well as giving a lovely finish it also secures the opening as once you’ve tucked in your fabric, you can’t tell where it was once sewn!

It’s been well used ever since I gave it to her – it makes me so happy to see her being comforted by it when she’s got restless hands.

If you’re feeling a bit sentimental reading this, you might also like my Baby Patchwork Comforter made from their tiny baby clothes.

4 thoughts on “Dementia Twiddle Mat

  1. Deborah Mckenzie says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts but haven’t commented until now. This one struck a particular chord with me; what a loving, thoughtful present. My grandmother began to develop dementia when I was eleven and came to live with us until her death six years later. Your observation about the importance of tactile stimulation rings so true, even though many years have passed since I was a child. My gran used to especially like a cushion I’d sewn for her at school, which bore a heart motif, formed by buttons ‘borrowed’ from my mother’s button jar.
    I don’t regret a single day I spent with my grandmother, despite her illness. It’s so moving to hear how your love is continuing to maintain your aunt’s quality of life. My very best regards to you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JaneyB says:

    This is such a lovely idea. My father had dementia and passed away at the age of 86 in January. Interestingly he didn’t really have restless hands but I know that this is a common symptom. His favourite activity was singing so we did a lot of that! Your aunt is very fortunate to have such a creative and loving niece. x

    Liked by 1 person

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