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Introducing the "fiddle pinny"

Mothers’ Union member Joan Colwell explains how this simple activity quilt can be an incredible comfort for someone suffering with dementia

03 Jan 2015

I was at a charity event when I first heard the term ‘fiddle pinny’. I was talking to a lady who described to me a kind of activity quilt for people with dementia, and very kindly offered to send me details and a sample.

Soon after, I was speaking to an elderly gentleman in church one Sunday. He was struggling to care for his wife who was in the later stages of dementia and, he told me, was constantly ‘fiddling’ with the ribs of her jumpers and cardigans. This upset him greatly because, however hard he tried to keep her looking her usually neat self, her clothing was becoming worn and he knew that this was something which upset her. I told him about the quilts which I was hoping to make and he immediately requested one. Later he would tell me how much it helped his wife.

Inspired by this initial success, I made several quilts and showed them to members of local Mothers’ Union branches in Chester and my own church congregation. Once members understood what they were for and how relatively simple they are to make, word soon spread and the idea was taken up by members across the diocese. An email to one deanery leader from the manager of a local residential home, telling us what a wonderful resource the quilts were proving to be, was enough for me to realise that this was something more Mothers’ Union

members would undoubtedly like to take on board as a project. I took the idea to a Mothers’ Union conference in 2014 which provoked a lot of interest and, following on from that initial reaction, I have been contacted by members from all over the globe.


Since then, in Chester we have provided quilts to several local homes and have received lots of positive feedback from both staff and families. The quilts provide a comfort to those with dementia and, because we try to include pictures on them, can also help offer conversation starters. Each quilt has a zipped pocket and lots of other items – different types of fastenings (buttons, loops etc) and as many different textures (shiny, furry etc) as possible.

I have been told that other dioceses have begun making quilts and one hospital has asked that certain items be included on the quilts, because they are using them as a resource to assess patients with dementia.

Activity quilts are not suitable for everyone with dementia but for those who can use them, the positive results we have received have shown that they are needed and are gratefully received. I can never get enough quilts to satisfy the demand and am very grateful for the members who have supported this project – it is wonderful to see what lovely quilts people make and how well they are received.

The instructions for making the quilts are now featured on the Inspired pages  (see the members’ section). I only wish I had known about them sooner - I would have liked to have been able to make one for my own mother when she had dementia towards the end of her life. She would have loved it!

Joan CoIwell is a General Trustee for Mothers’ Union in Chester Diocese and works within the Action & Outreach Unit. She is married to Barrie, and has two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.