Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Seventy-Five-Dollar Hot Pad

< The first completed hot pad made by the Sewing Group on the Memory Care unit, led by me.

The group of about six ladies sorted, folded, and cut the fabric; 

I sewed the pieces together on the sewing machine.

You can't clearly see that the pattern on the brown cloth is owls. You also can't clearly see here how crooked the seams are. My auntie taught me how to sew on a machine forty years ago, and I haven't done it since. Plus I didn't have pins so I sewed it up freehand. *

But here's the thing: as a sewing project, this may be a disaster, but as something people with dementia made, it's a triumph, and I'm really, really pleased and proud of the group (including me).

They don't seem to care about the finished product––it's too removed in time, too many steps away from the beginning, and when I showed them, they said polite things like, "That's so cute!"

I hear this response to all sorts of things, some entirely not cute.
In fact, I gather our brains store such polite murmurings in the same part that stores swear words and racial slurs, separate from other verbal communication, and Alzheimer's doesn't kill off these automatic responses until very late in the game.

I am curious––and a little worried––what family members will think. Some of the group could have made a perfect hot pad in five minutes, a few years ago. 
Will their families see this out-of-whack object as a sad sign of decline?
Or, as I hope, will they see it as a hopeful sign of ongoing engagement with life,
of "a wholehearted participation in the present" * *

I took the hot pad home to photograph it, and on the way out of the building I showed it to the receptionist. 

"I love it!" she said. "You should sell them as a fundraiser."

"Thanks," I said, " I thought about that, but this one took two weeks to make..."

"Oh, yeah," she said, ". . . so it's a seventy-five dollar hot pad."


I'll get faster, and I'll get pins, and the next ones will be better. Maybe I can get the price down to twenty-five dollars.
In the meantime, the group can give crooked hot pads to their families, starting with the daughter who gave us her sewing machine.
* Full disclosure: I didn't even use a pattern, I just made it up as we went along. Also, the owl fabric is polyester that I think might very well melt if you picked up something hot with it. 

This item is strictly "for decorative use only."

But! I just found a very simple pattern I will follow starting this coming week: Quick & Easy Hot Pad Tutorial.
* * " a wholehearted participation in the present"

Does it seem like I'm insisting the family members stop grieving? I hope not: that's not at all how I feel! 
I hate suggestions to "just celebrate what your loved one can do."
No! I'm all for raging and screaming against this horror.
And sadness is an honorable emotion with a noble pedigree that modern Americans seem to want to wipe out. Bad idea.

But I do hope the activities I lead will bring relief, not cruel reminders. I hope the hot pad project may represent people enjoying handling fabric (over and over and over again)--experiencing the colors, the textures, the scent even, of cloth. 

When I say, as I have before, that the enjoyment of the moment (over and over and over again) looks to me like a Zen state, I'm very aware I'm talking as an outsider. These aren't people I knew before, so I don't know or feel personal loss over how they've changed.  

I was glad to read a similar observation from an insider, therefore, in Rebecca Solnit's essay "Mirrors" about her mother's dementia (in The Faraway Nearby, Viking, 2013, p. 224). 

Solnit and her mother had had a contentious relationship:
"Finally, the war ended. She [Solnit's mother] forgot the stories that fueled her wrath, and when they were gone, everything was different. ...When I was in my thirties and things with her were at their worst, I'd considered never seeing her again.... ...In this late era, well down the road labeled Alzheimer's, my mother lit up at the sight of me.
... It wasn't just that she was more pleasant for me to be around; she seemed to be more pleasant for herself. She had achieved something of the state people strive for through spiritual practice: a lack of attachment to the past and future and a wholehearted participation in the present. It had come as part of a catastrophic terminal illness, not a devotional pursuit, but it came."


The Crow said...

Gurlfren! I have some cotton canvas-like fabric, plus some thin batting, and some cotton scraps I could send you that will be perfect for hot pads - or small quilted item like place mats. Shall I send them?

Frex said...

CROW: Oh, wow,perfect!!! Yes, do send them, that'd be great,
and in thanks, we can make a new-and-improved kind of hot pad for you!

[This is Fresca of course--I think I'm signed in as Frex.]

The Crow said...

PS: some extra sewing (can't find the right word, dammit!) stuff, like pins, tape measures, et cetera. (NOTIONS! That's the word; notions.)

Just say the word and I'll send the package this week. I'll make sure everything is freshly laundered, ironed, and folded...well, not folded, since that is something your folks enjoy. (Me, I love to iron wrinkles away and polish metal objects. There - something to look forward to someday, something to remember how to do.)

Old denim, too, which also makes good hot pad backing. (I think I may have mentioned to you before that I am trying to change my rat-pack ways by giving away my overburdened stashes of stuff?)

The Crow said...

Okay, then!

Frex said...

Bless you, Crow!

And, for the idea of ironing too.
We do have an iron.
The residence worries about dangerous things, but the people who can use scissors can surely use an iron too, and I bet they'd LOVE it: very satisfying, and isn't the smell of hot cotton sort of wonderful?
I like it, anyway.

Frex said...

Also, I'm glad to help with unburdening you of clutter. Really, I totally get the need/desire to unclutter:
I have taken some odds and ends of my own into work too, to put it to good use AND to get it out of my little apt.

Zhoen said...

They can wrap them at christmas and birthdays and give them to each other. Over and over. Recycling. Every day a birthday.

Fresca said...

ZHOEN: Presents... that's an idea. I wonder if people would like to win prizes, for instance, when we play games...

Zhoen said...

Always nice to win!