Andreja Brulc's Blog

Twiddlemuff: Knitting for Dementia

Posted in Craft, Projects by andrejabrulc on 21/05/2015

Have you ever heard of twiddlemuffs? Nor did I, until last Friday! Please read on, if interested.

As this week (17–23 May 2015) is the Dementia Awareness Week, I decided to have a go in making my first twiddlemuff in order to support a patient with dementia as part of the Forget-Me-Not project carried out by various NHS Foundation Trusts across the UK (for your local one see Dementia Action Alliance) asking knitters to contribute into. I am not a professional knitter but I use various craft techniques using yarn in the making of my illustrations and art projects. Knitting and crocheting reconnect me to the roots of my earlier female generations, so I am very grateful to my mum and grandmother who taught me all these ‘skills-for-life’ when I was a child, so that I am now able to make this contribution to a sad but beautiful project of LTC – Love, Tender and Care.


What are Twiddlemuffs?

According to Bradford Teaching Hospital (the link has the pattern & instructions), twiddlemuffs are knitted hand muffs using various left-over yarn and being decorated with interesting bits and bobs attached inside and out. ‘They have been designed and developed to provide simple stimulation for active hands, while promoting increased flexibility and brain stimulation.’ Furthermore, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital says that people with dementia ‘often have restless hands and like to have something to keep their hands occupied.’ The twiddlemuff ‘provides a wonderful source of visual, tactile and sensory stimulation and at the same time keeping hands snug and warm.’

Not only is, as recent studies have shown, the craft of knitting a therapy for depression – depression is one of the risk factors for developing dementia – but I also learn from Alzheimer’s Society that people with dementia remain involved in the community through knitting. As Adele Lacy, Dementia Support Worker, who runs Knit2gether group, says:

‘I thought of knitting because, even when people have forgotten everything else, it is an automatic skill which never goes. People might not be able to do a lot of things but knitting is something they can still remember and it is great for the members to see a finished product and think “I did that”.’


Dedication of my Twiddlemuff

To me, it is impossible to imagine all the harrowing emotions charged, both, from the prospective of the diagnosed patient seeing one’s own inner decay as the illness progresses and from the prospective of his or her family. I have recently watched Julianne Moore’s outstanding performance in Still Alice, playing a role of a linguistic professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The film is so emotionally powerful, shown through the eyes of someone, who faces ‘a harrowing challenge as this terminal degenerative neurological ailment slowly progresses to an inevitable conclusion’ that we, survivors of the afflicted, all dread.

Also, over the last few years I have witnessed how my very close friend of mine (and his family) was coping and was emotionally effected by his father’s Alzheimer’s, who was given a full care at home with all LTC from the onset of the diagnosis to his recent death. I, therefore, thought I would dedicate my twiddlemuff in the memory of my friend’s father. I only wished I had known about these twiddlemuffs earlier!

twiddlemuffe_before decorationThe Story in the Making of my Twiddlemuff

As an image creator, often working according to briefs, I enjoy opportunities where I can experiment without rational thinking! I love building up stories that take me to the unknown, as I am interested in how different stories, through recycling and collaging, come together to make a new narrative. For this kind of experimentation I keep various kinds of boxes containing ‘bits and bobs’ – a Wunderkammer of history when things get pulled out!

As my friend and his family could not stop giving all the LTC to his father right to the end, for which I admired them so much, I thought that the overall design for my twiddlemuff needed to express that. I added a cross-stitched ‘LTC’ on the inside right at the end, but the overall design, however, really began to develop from the red and white striped ribbon with hearts before the base was even finished. The ribbon came with a Christmas present – a home-made jar of pickled herring –, given to me by my Danish colleague in 2007, and made and beautifully wrapped by her mum. In addition to the hearts, the reds became the centre to the colour scheme – also, because I wanted to include the left-over wool in bright red that my mum used to knit a striped jumper for me, which I wore when I started school back in mid 70s! It is here used as a central stripe and also for stitched outlined hearts. Furthermore, although a flower motive – daisies, fuchsia and, needless to say, most importantly, a forget-me-not – is more appropriate for a female patient, my friend’s dad was a very keen gardener, so it does make sense after all to add a touch of beauty from nature. Last, as the act of knitting is paramount to this LTC cause – to knit for the patients and the patients to knit –, it is important to pass such skills to younger generations as knitting is ‘an automatic skill that never goes away’. As I taught my little niece a stocking stitch a few years ago and as the twiddlemuff is meant to be embellished with buttons among many other things, I added one button, which I had to remove from her first-communion dress by her order! Although she and buttons are not best friends, she found it rather amusing that her ‘unlikable’ friend found its prominent place in the middle of the big heart!

As patients with dementia love hearing stories being told, I decided at the end to add a pocket in order to carry a note with all these amusing anecdotes in the making of his or her new twiddlemuff! Of course, I shall omit my friend’s dad’s story. R.I.P.

twiddlemuffe_after decoration


Graphic Design and UK General Elections 2015

Posted in Graphic Design by andrejabrulc on 09/05/2015

As the first time voter (originally from Slovenia) in the UK General Elections 2015, I cannot resist but summarise my ‘lasting’ impressions of ‘the unique’ experience at the polling station into 5 points from the point of view of my profession as a graphic designer: ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN, TYPE, PAPER & PENCIL. The below may all seem normal to you but it somehow does not to someone with different experiences and expectations!


As soon as the polling stations opened across the United Kingdom last Thursday, my Facebook feeds began to flood with images (due to copyright please see images directly from The Huffington Post) showing ARCHITECTURAL choices for these settings, which express, on the one hand, a positive aspect of UK’s uniqueness and eccentricity that has managed to grip on traditions for so many decades despite the globalised vision of the political elite at Westminster (let me remind you of the secret TTIP pact as discussed by Lee Williams of The Independent and why we should be scared of), while, on the other hand, The Huffington Post shows how rundown the Middle England actually still is well into the 21st century! It does not come to my surprise, really, as the examples of these settings show, at least to me as an outsider, that not much has really changed for ‘an ordinary’ British citizen since the time of Margaret Thatcher when I visited UK for the first time at a teenager back in 1986. The power and money are still centered on London and nothing will ever change unless British people are ready to do so! But who wants the change when the comfort of ‘our loos’ is just what we want it! The country – and London, for that matter – was in mid-80s so rundown in all aspects of life it gave me a real culture shock! It was so messy but I loved it for multiculturalism! Back to the point of last Thursday, even Slovenia, with 1/3 of UK GDP is ‘better off’ when it comes down to the architectural setting chosen for the election day! I wonder how many affordable accommodations will come out at the end of the 5 year period of the currently elected government! I do hope for some more comfortable settings for our polling stations, though, rather than portaloos, pliz!


The ‘grabby’ ballot PAPER you were given looked worse than a primary school print out! Fair enough, we were told – as soon as the figures from the exit poll came out and froze the drink in our hands before it reached our mouths – that the weight of the paper was especially chosen as light so that volunteers did not strain their backs when carrying ballot boxes to the counting people. Thank you, volunteers, what a great job you did, very much appreciated. And thank you local councils/constituencies to think about people’s backs! So more important now since ‘the majority’ of British people won’t be able to afford a private health care to treat our backs!


The ballot paper was so poorly DESIGNED that even a pre-school kid would have done a better job of it on his/her parents’ computer! The kid would have wanted to add some colour to identify parties with as most people do so; he/she would have made the text bolder so that partially sighted people could see it better; and certainly, he/she would not have positioned the text so crookedly that on my sample it almost fell of the page! Bad design! The design is so paramount to get the right message across whatever it may be – if I am not mistaken, the last USA election, bringing Bush Junior back in power, had a flawed design that effected many voters across the States!


You had to put an ‘X’ SYMBOL as the choice of your vote. Correct me if I am mistaken, the ‘X’ goes back to times when people could not write and used the ‘X’ as a form of signature. Hence, again to an outsider, to put the ‘X’ on a ballot paper – in a country with 99.7% literacy rate – in the 21st century is so patronising! More to the point, how many people who, like myself, have become British citizens at some point in their lives understand the symbol as YES! Let’s not discuss the symbol in relation to exams or homework and so on, where the symbol means as a WRONG answer, but in this instance, contrary to Britain, in many, if not most, cultures an X simply means a NO, full stop! I assume that these people have learnt their lesson by now! I would have put a TICK, had I not been warned about it just before I left home. Would my tick count? Probably not.


The last point and what was really surprising, and please tell me if that is normal, I was given a PENCIL to make my ‘loving’ X hoping for better Britain! A pencil about 3 cms (1 inch) long! I know our local governments are on a tight budget but … Well, here is definitely something to think about. I was simply shocked when I was given the pencil! Over the years I had to work hard on learning ‘to trust’ (trustworthiness was not at the top of agenda when growing up back in ex-Yugoslavia) or ‘to accept everything is being said to be true’ but, at my age, I am not naive enough to accept the general assumption that the ‘X cannot be rubbed out’! Thumps down!

To sum up, going to a polling station seems to have been a form of entertainment for ‘many people’, a kind of ‘political tourism’ (please read ‘many people’ as those who swing between parties depending on ‘the direction of the wind’)! I really really ask myself how ‘many of these people’ really understood what policies they were voting for. Have they read manifestoes of all the parties and compared them? I know they were boring, too many promises, but still … Have they thought at all about what kind of consequences each party can have long-term on their lives, their children, their parents? It is not only about a 5 year term but many years to come! Was the election for them, for British people, or the elected few at Westminster? Tax on beer became lower at the last budget session but it is bound to go up at the next but what about the rest? Based on ‘X’ system, and to end with another typographical symbol, the answer to all my questions, in my opinion, is probably a big ‘0’!


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