I have told a couple of people in my life about twiddlemuffs. At first a lot laugh — and so I learned what the word could potentially mean — but when I get to explain it most people get it. Twiddlemuffs are basically muffs, i.e. handwarmers, but they have added things to twiddle with, such as laces, buttons, ribbons … Twiddlemuffs are great for people living with dementia, because it gives someone with limited mobility and cognitive abilities something to do. As the prevalence of fidget spinners shows, fiddling and fiedgeting can be a useful tool to relieve stress and help people relax.
While you can buy twiddlemuffs, many are made by volunteers all over the world (see for example this blog post by the Shrewsbury & Telford NHS Hospital Trust, this call by the Alzheimer Society or a pattern by the wonderful Knit for Peace organisation). Knitters and crafters throughout the world have gone and made colourful things for people living with dementia to enjoy. Let me be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I have made a couple myself and I am grateful to everyone who gives their time and their skill to help.
But there is a thing that irks me. Many of these are bright, colourful things. Full of innocent joys like coloured ribbons, buttons in the shape of ladybirds and pastel-coloured pompoms. While this might be perfect for some, I wonder if it fits all of us. I wonder if all of us are so innocent, so satisfied with the childish joys in life. I wonder if our personality, our wishes, our dreams and desires vanish so completely with this illness. This is not only true for twiddlemuffs, but this is a thought I have repeatedly about things designed for dementia. I wonder if we need to find a new language to make something that is cheerful, but grown-up, naughty, subversive, for those of us who chose to live our life this way.
In my series of naughty twiddlemuffs I have started to address this question. The three twiddle-muffs below work like all others, giving you things to play with and they will keep you warm. All have an inside and an outside, shown in the two pictures and could be worn either way. I leave it up to you to think about the image they present to the outside and the sensations they awoke on the inside. I know that these are not up to the necessities of dementia care, of washability and safety. They are not finished things, no solutions. But they ask questions about style, about desires, about guilty pleasures, about risks. They ask what we are familiar with and what we crave. I propose them as questions for us to explore our own feelings. How would we feel about our loved ones handling one of those? What about ourselves?
My grandmother kept one pair of black clothes entierly for funerals. Which might have been true for many of her generation. But times and changed and many of our parents, ourselves, have reclaimed the colour. From the punks to the suits of the business world and the little black dress of parties and events. Can we imagine them sawpping to pastels and ladybirds? Beyond its gothy appearance this twiddle muffs also poses a question about risk, about guilty pleasures. Do we present the spikes to the outside as a sign for others to keep a distance or do we turn them inside? Can we allow for people to endulge in potentially harmful sensations or do we have to protect them from all risks?
I really wish you could touch this as it is made from a mix of merino and silk yarns, soft and gentle. It poses the question of what it is that we crave to touch. It poses questions about desires and our own (dis)comfort of considering others as desired and desirable. Sexuality and dementia poses many ethical questions and concerns, can we allow for them to remain unaddressed?
I inherited my grandmothers sewing basket. She had cut of those straps from an old gartner belt and kept them in there. I admired this both from a thrift perspective and from a gendered perspective. It got me thinking about lingerie and the age-old question who we wear it for. Lace, silk, nylon might be materials out of reach now, but still cherished for their seductive nature. Hooking bras, fastening stockings might all be cherished movements, strangely remembered in this corner of our mind that holds on to the things we did everyday.
Like the colourful twiddlemuffs made by volunteers all over the world, these will not be for everyone. But maybe we should start thinking if they could be for someone?