Olathe & Southwest Joco

These quilters ‘fidget’ to help those with dementia

Caroline Summers and Dee Robinson discuss how Robinson made butterfly wings stand up on one of the quilt squares with fabric stiffener.
Caroline Summers and Dee Robinson discuss how Robinson made butterfly wings stand up on one of the quilt squares with fabric stiffener. Special to The Olathe News

What began as a creative community for a group of women from The Gardens at Creekside senior living has become a community service. They’ve have found a calling in making special quilts for the residents of the memory care unit at Villa St. Francis in Olathe.

Initially, the six women — Betty Sanderson, Doris Teubert, Caroline Summers, Dee Robinson, Margaret Tannahill and Betty Nye — just wanted to form a social group around their love of quilting. Just before the first meeting, however, Sanderson discovered YouTube and with it, endless online quilting tutorials.

One of those tutorials focused on fidget quilts. The idea behind fidget quilts is that extra objects — buttons, zippers, bells — attached to each quilted square can be a good way to provide some stimulation and focus for people with dementia.

“Fidget quilts are one item (along with) busy boards, busy aprons and rummage boxes (that can keep) the person doing an activity that they find fairly engaging and safe,” said Christine Kovach, director of research at Ovation Communities in Milwaukee. “It gives them something purposeful to do.”

Though there hasn’t been much formal research on this topic, Kovach said there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports using items such as fidget quilts to help comfort and engage people with dementia.

When Sanderson brought the idea to the group, they embraced the creative challenge. After obtaining a list of senior living communities with memory care units in the area, they called up Villa St. Francis and proposed their idea.

Fellow residents at The Gardens at Creekside donated fabric and money to help the Fidget Quilters get going on their project. In the first couple of months, they made 18 lap-sized fidget quilts and delivered them to Villa St. Francis.

The women meet every other week to discuss their ideas and progress. They do all the actual quilting on their own in their apartments.

“We all got to the place where we wanted something to do for someone else. It’s making us feel better,” said Sanderson, who lost two sisters to Alzheimer’s disease.

Although there is a market for these quilts, the Fidget Quilters aren’t interested in building a business.

“We get all kinds of people who want to buy them. We will not sell them. We will give them away,” Teubert said.

Each quilter brings her own talents to the group. All of the women piece together the blocks, then a few of them assemble those blocks into a quilt, with the batting that makes them fluffy.

Robinson doesn’t care for the assembly part but makes her contribution with artistic designs for the blocks. One recent quilt of hers featured a butterfly pattern with additional wings she’d cut out and made rigid with fabric stiffener so they would stick out and provide a tactile sensation to the quilt’s owner.

“When I look at the fabric, I always feel like it kind of talks to you a little bit to tell you what to do with it,” Robinson said.

Next on their list is making quilts for all the remaining residents of the memory care unit and then moving on to make large quilted bibs for those who need them at the same place.

Although they initially thought they’d move on to another beneficiary after making the first round of quilts, now the quilters think they’ll be sticking with Villa St. Francis for a while.

“I’m not sure if we adopted them or they adopted us,” Teubert said.