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JOCELYNN BROWN

Handmade: Knitted and crocheted twiddle muffs keep hands busy

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Melanie Bieganski never quite understood why her mother, who suffered with Alzeheimer's disease, "would play with little pieces of ribbon for hours."

Then one day, while looking online for projects her charity group could make, she came across something called a "twiddle muff," a kind of therapeutic toy designed to help keep restless or fidgety hands of someone, who doesn't have sensory perception, busy. It can provide a calming effect. She then understood her mother's need to fiddle with the narrow strips of fabric. 

Melanie Bieganski demonstrates a pair of Twiddlemuffs at the Westfield Activiies Center, in Trenton, January 27, 2020.  Twiddlemuffs are a knitted hand cover that provide a distraction or calming effect for people with mental disabilities.

"They're for people with sensory issues -- dementia or a child, or anybody, with autism," said Bieganski. They're also known to be utilized by persons with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, otherwise known as ADHD.

She said, so far, they're not very popular in this country. In fact, while searching online, she came across Facebook groups in England and Finland, before finding one here in the U.S. 

So, to help spread the idea about how the textured muffs might benefit someone with a sensory disorder, she and about 12 members of her group of 21 or so crafters, "unofficially" calling themselves Kibitz and Knits, meet every Monday from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. to knit and crochet twiddle muffs at the Westfield Activities Center, 2700 Westfield, in Trenton.

"I give them directions on how to make them, and it's up to them to use different yarns and (yarn) textures," said the Trenton resident, who, along with one other member, securely stitches on interesting bits and pieces to each of the muffs.

"I usually decorate the muffs with the 'twiddles' -- all sorts of things, buttons, beads, yarns, ribbons -- and I make things out of crochet to attach to them. I also like putting a little toy or stress ball inside the muffs."

Melanie Bieganski and the Kibitz and Knits knitting club make Twiddlemuffs at the Westfield Activiies Center, in Trenton, January 27, 2020.  Twiddlemuffs are a knitted hand cover that provide a distraction or calming effect for people with mental disabilities.

She gets some of her ideas for embellishments by looking on Pinterest. "When they (fellow members) give me the muffs, it takes maybe two or three days to do the decorating. Sometimes they sit for a while until they speak to me and tell me what they want to be," she chuckled. 

In the past five years, the women have made and donated roughly 50 twiddle muffs. "We've given them to assisted living homes, a couple nursing homes, group homes, and some to individuals who've requested them," said Bieganski.

Last year, they donated six to Applewood Nursing Center in Woodhaven. "The twiddle muffs provide comfort for our guests who have dementia. People with dementia are often restless, fidgety and anxious," said Nancy Zammitt, director of Social Services at Applewood Nursing Center. "The twiddle muffs are designed to provide a stimulation activity for their restless hands. We appreciate the wonderful donation of these muffs we received from Kibitz and Knits."

The yarn they use to make the muffs is donated, except what members use from their personal stash. And, sometimes they receive monetary donations to help purchase more yarn. Only acrylic yarns are used because a lot of people are sensitive to wool fibers.

Melanie Bieganski displays Twiddlemuffs at the Westfield Activiies Center, in Trenton, January 27, 2020.  Twiddlemuffs are a knitted hand cover that provide a distraction or calming effect for people with mental disabilities.

"The people who've received them love them," said Bieganski, "but it's kind of hard to get the word out to people to let them know what they are. We've even put 10 muffs up in the library. One of our members made a little display and included a write-up about them, but we didn't get much response, other than a phone call from a lady. She was sending them to an aunt out-of-state who had Alzeheimer's. I've even tried contacting an Alzeheimer's caregivers support group and never heard a word back. They're free if someone wants one to try out. They're for children through seniors. I just made a Mickey Mouse themed one for a child with Down syndrome, who has some sensory problems." 

Kibitz and Knits members make various other items for charity, including scarves, shawls, hats, lap blankets and mittens, and anyone is welcome to join. "It's a walk-in group," said Bieganski. "You can stop in any time. It's all free, and there aren't any dues. And, just because it's in a senior building, you don't have to be a senior, and you don't have to be a Trenton resident." 

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

 Contact Kibitz and Knits at (734) 675-0063. Ask for Carol Garrison, senior citizen coordinator at the Westfield Activities Center, 2700 Westfield, Trenton.