Elinor Rush, in her role as fibre artist in Loughborough Public School, shows grade one and two students a completed version of the Sensory Blankets she is currently helping them make. Also known as “Fidget Quilts”, these colourful, textural items have been found to calm and occupy people who have Alzheimers or other forms of dementia. The small quilts incorporate a lot of things to distract and occupy an anxious, often confused and restless person: they include a variety of surface textures, soft fringes, bright colours, big buttons in buttonholes, large beads on a ribbon, and even a zipper.
It’s an ambitious sewing project for children so young, but Rush has ensured success by doing much of the prep work beforehand, so each child can finish a square by practising a recently-learned skill such as sewing on a button or a small heart, cutting a fringe, or threading beads. In the week before, Rush gave the children small needle ‘books’ with their own needles, and taught needle-threading, knotting and simple stitching. Each child stitched their initial, cut from bright felt, onto the book cover, and sewed a button onto one of the fabric pages.
Rush will assemble the children's completed squares into small six-square quilts, a size that will fit comfortably across a person’s lap. In another week, the children will go by bus to Fairmount Home, where they will meet the people to whom they are giving the quilts. The children have been delighted to know that they can help someone else with their sewing.
Throughout the project, the theme has been “resilience”; helping seniors cope with the changes they are facing, and learning, themselves, to master new sewing skills that will improve with practice, and may prove useful in their own lives.