Making cushions for people with dementia

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On 23 June I was lucky enough to be involved in the end of project conference or, more accurately, celebration for the Tangible Memories project at the University of Bristol.  Most big projects which are funded by the big, official research councils, which are Government funding bodies, insist on a big day at the end when you tell the world about what you have been doing and how it will change the world.  This project was run by Helen Manchester, who works in the Graduate School of Education at Bristol, and her lovely team, Pete and Seana.
The aim of the project is to design technology, or uses for existing technology to make life easier for older people.  The idea is create opportunities for conversations between the residents in care homes, their carers, their relatives and each other, and to work with people with advanced dementia on memory projects.  The memory work also helps older people to overcome feelings of unworthiness and being invisible.
I got involved via Bristol Quilters, when Helen asked me if I could round up a posse to make some cushions to hold small speakers so that people could listen to music and have the sensation of a soft cushion.  This is the cushion in use:
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The quilters, of course, rose to the occasion magnificently, making prototypes, and on the day, showing people a variety of techniques to personalise their cushions.
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I found myself needing to rustle up three cushions before the day with very little time as I had had a fantastic weekend with my Danish family and hadn’t had an opportunity to make anything.  I had a flash of inspiration and came up with a no-sew cushion, which I think I must have seen in a magazine somewhere.  So, I glued on the pocket for the technology with a hot-glue gun, and then wrapped the pad in a vintage silk scarf which I knotted on the front.  They look surprisingly good.  I had been saving the scarves to make a shower curtain, and they had brilliant seventies designs and were mostly pure silk and so they looked rather sumptuous.  I thought you could probably use a favourite scarf of the person you were making it for, and you could change it according to the season.  I might hunt out some more and make some for myself.  They are surprisingly cheap and easy to come by.
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One of the exercises we did on the day was to think about the sort of care home we would like to have ourselves.  It’s quite hard to think about this, but it did make me think what I would want.  One of the themes of the day was loss – which objects do you choose to take with you and which do you choose to leave behind?  Out of all this, I realised the importance of stash, space and studio.  I would hate to have to leave my collections of things behind: fabric, beads, books, sketchbooks, sewing machines, art materials, dolls, pens…  I like having the contacts and the networks I have – my personal space in which I can make things with a certain ease.  I also love having a dedicated space to do my work in – especially since the big clear-up.  I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all this to sit round watching endless game shows on the tv.
So, I enjoyed watching everyone pile in for the making session, and I really loved playing with the technology, including the virtual reality headsets, but a main and unexpected outcome for me was realising what I have and what I would miss.
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