Story Quilt



For an article from the Cortez Journal on the use of the story quilt in Hospice and a Nursing Home from our local newspaper, the Cortez Journal, click here.

How to make your own and uses for the "story quilts"

Please read the newspaper article first. The following paragraphs will both fill in information gaps and add more details. In the article, the observations about working with elders that were attributed to me were actually quotes from Kim McDonnell the Activities Director at Vista Grande Inn Skilled Care Facility. She has over 20 years of experience working with elders and was a joyful collaborator on this project. Thanks Kim!

The "quilt" is actually a soft piece of light colored back ground material, such as a white terry cloth towel, that is topped with moveable pieces of felt cutouts made from thrift shop sweaters etc.. This landscape makes a delightful tool for stimulating memories and telling stories. The towel background can be laid out on a table ortied around a pillow for use in a chair or in bed. The texture of terry cloth allows the felted pieces to stay in place yet be easily picked up and moved. The "quilt" is enjoyed by young and old alike. For example, it could make a fun game for when little ones visiting a grandparent. The quilt set rolls up for easy storage or transport.

This project is sometimes being used by a local hospice worker as an aid to communication when a new person has entered an assisted living facility. A nursing home is using it for sparking stories and memories amongst all the population. Those who enjoy it don't necessarily deal with memory problems; it's just fun.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not make the quilt with a piece of board. Boards can be pulled or knocked off tables and squash toes etc.. Everything soft and light is the way to go.

A lovely support organization is the "Alzheimer's Café". "The Alzheimer's Cafe' is a monthly celebration for people affected by Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, their caregivers, supporters, friends, and families." ( The founder's name Jytte is pronounced Yo-tee.
Making sets of The Story Quilt could be a lovely volunteer project for young people to donate to nursing homes, Hospice groups, and schools. The Story Quilt could be used to tell Bible stories, folk tales, family stories, as well as helping with communication of needs as mentioned in the newspaper article.

Materials: Old, real wool sweaters (some synthetic in the blend works), wool coats, cotton sweaters (more floppy but especially useful if your friend is allergic to wool), leather coats, a full sized white or cream terry cloth bath towel for background, "Tacky" brand glue whichWal-mart and other craft stores carry, also fabric prints with animals, farm scenes, or tractors etc. can be used.

We want our sweaters to both shrink and thicken, that is turn into felt so that they are easier to handle and hold a recognizable shape when we cut them up. Soak your sweaters in hot water with mild soap or shampoo such as they have in natural food's stores. Don't use the heavily advertised wool wash products as they can be very harsh. Some dyes run so separate colors if that's a concern. Don't wash leather. With silk material, gently wash in cold water, only soak for 5 minutes.

Soak wool items for 30 minutes then wash with the maximum agitation in hot water with a cold water rinse and the highest setting for spin drying. Add a splash of cheap distilled white vinegar to a rinse. The PH of the vinegar helps to release the soap from the wool and helps the wool repel dirt later. You could also add some diluted hair conditioner to the final rinse if you wanted softer wool. When the wool is damp it's easiest to cut out the seams and neck from the sweaters or wool coats. Dry on your highest heat in the dryer. Your wool is now felted and ready to be turned into animals, lakes, stars, 47 Chevy trucks, or whatever you like.

For making your cutout shapes you can trace around cookie cutters. Cutout shapes from magazines might move too much while being traced to give a clean shape. Try using the very thin plastic cutting matt's that can be found in the cooking or picnic sections of grocery stores for making template shapes. You could also use one layer of the heavy plastic from a freezer weight ziplock bag. Lay the plastic over a shape you like in a book, a family photo, or a toy. Use a felt tip marker to trace the outline, cut out the shape then lay your template on top of the felted material and trace onto the fabric and cut. For adding things like eyes, etc., draw the details on with a felt tip marker. Generally avoid adding scratchy items or beads etc. that could get pulled off and eaten or get lost in bedding and scratch fragile skin.

Cotton sweaters will not shrink and thicken as much as the wool sweaters will and wool coats are often thinner than sweaters. For these materials as well as cotton or silk etc. it helps to glue your cutouts onto separate pieces of thick, terry cloth towels. We want the shapes to have bulk so that they are easy to pick up and move.Glue your cutout on top of a piece of towel that's in a contrasting color. You don't have to make your under layer an exact cutout of the top. For example, a flower shape could be glued onto an oval of towel material.

You can also layer fabrics to get an effect. Take a look at the big tree in the solo Story Quilt picture. At the top there is a circular background of orange and blue from a cotton sweater. This was glued on top of a circle of cotton towel. Glued on top of the orange and blue are tree branches from a striped grey and medium grey sweater. The black roots may have been glued onto the mid-grey. The pink peaches are loose as is the reddish squirrel that's down by the roots. There are birds in the trees as well. The mountains made of old blue jeans have fleece clouds glued on. All the other pieces are movable.

With any brain damage, vision can be affected. A common affect is a problem with "depth of field". For example, people who appear to see normally can have trouble making out a white towel on a white bedspread. So, it's important to have the background material plain and light; no little flower prints etc.

Also, don't use a lot of shapes at once on your story quilt. You can keep some pieces to the side and see how it goes.

Blessings on you all and prayers that this project is of joyful use,
Phyllis Hollenbeck