From Stitching the Pitch to Stitching Stars – Alzheimer Scotland’s Quilter in Residence understands the many threads that bind us.

Ann Hill has been Alzheimer Scotland’s Quilter in Residence for 14 years. She is Immediate Past Co-ordinator of the Scottish Branch of the Quilters Guild for the British Isles and was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2020 and invited to the King and Queens Coronation at Westminster Abbey in 2023. She spearheaded the ‘Quilted Hugs’ project during Covid, using quilts to keep people connected in the darkest days of the pandemic and she has quilts hanging in both the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments. However, she is best known for raising awareness of dementia. Ann is calling on quilters and all other crafters to take part in Alzheimer Scotland’s Stitching Stars challenge this March. Be sponsored to quilt, crochet, knit or sew a star-themed project over the month and you’ll be raising vital funds for people with dementia and those who care for them across Scotland.

Ann’s journey began in the early 2000s when she volunteered in care homes in Dumfries & Galloway, working with families of residents to create memory quilts celebrating the person’s life and the things they loved. Ann was new to dementia but learned quickly through making the quilts:

"The second quilt I made for someone in a care home was called ‘Forgetting Piece by Piece’ because that’s what I thought dementia was – people being loved but having dementia and forgetting that love. After years of quilting for - and with -people with dementia, listening to all their different experiences, I realised that there was so much more to it than that. There was life and new stories to live. It changed my perception of dementia eventually leading to me becoming Alzheimer Scotland’s Quilter in Residence. The last quilt I made for that project was called ‘Changing Minds’ to show everything I had discovered about living with dementia through making the memory quilts.”

This was the ‘Yes we can, together’ project, where Memory Quilts are a vital tool in helping families to share happy memories and have a talking point during visits to care homes. The quilts also helped to take away the fear that so many people have around dementia – not knowing the right thing to say.

“I’ve talked to over 400 groups – across the UK and overseas – about ‘Yes we can, together’. Lots of quilting groups, but church groups too, WI’s and Rotary Clubs, older people’s friendship groups and dementia support groups. I tell them to hold on to those bits of fabric that have a special meaning, like old shirts and baby clothes. That’s what we like to include in their Memory Quilts. They need to include the younger ones in the family too – this affects the whole family and everyone has a part to play. “

Ann Hill is taking part in Switching Stars

Ann has been passionate about quilting since her childhood in Shetland. She started sewing at eight years old, taught by her grandmother to make and mend as a matter of necessity.

“I used to sit and watch my grandmother and the woman next door, Auntie Kitty. I sat on both their knees because I couldn’t reach the peddles. They used to let me sew and it was a case of usually dishcloths or an old sheet had got a rip in it - if the sheet got worn then you tore it down the middle, joined the two ends together and hemmed the middles and it became a narrower sheet. Eventually I got a doll one Christmas and a pram, so with odd bits of cloth that were left we sewed a blanket. I remember it well because none of it matched and there was no binding in those days so it had raggy edges, but I remember that as being my first quilt, those four pieces of old fabric sewn onto a piece of towel.”

In 2013, Ann undertook her greatest quilting challenge, covering the pitch at Hampden Park to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer Scotland. A huge logistical feat that saw over 5,000 quilts sent from all over the world – the UK, Australia, Japan, USA, Canada and across Europe. On a scorching hot day in June, Ann and 150 volunteers covered the grass at Scotland’s national football stadium with stunning handmade quilts, some even signed by famous Scots such as Billy Connolly and Craig Brown. The sale of the quilts raised over £150,000.

“I had such a sense of achievement, looking out across the pitch and seeing all those quilts. Not everyone believed it could be done, but I did. I wanted to raise awareness of dementia, how it touched so many people. It was mainly quilts made in Scotland, but social media helped us reach quilters in so many countries. That day wasn’t just me. It was hundreds of volunteers, thousands of quilters and countless people who have a connection to dementia. Somebody’s mother, father, partner, grandparent. They were all in the quilts on that pitch.”

Ann is now a Trustee of Shambellie House in Dumfries, where as part of the Quilters of Shambellie House she runs quilting classes for carers of people with dementia. These days would not be possible without the assistance of a group of vulnerable young adults that are also supported by Shambellie House, who make refreshments and ensure sure the day feels like a real break for the carers who take part.

“We hold the classes in different places, and we can do them at different times – whatever they can manage. We encourage carers to come to Shambellie if they can though. Then they can have a day out, a tour of the house, a few hours of quilting and a lunch. They don’t need to have any quilting experience, we support them every step of the way to make their quilt project.  You can see the benefit they get from crafting. They can speak to other people in the same situation, people they’ve never met but who know what it’s like to be a carer. They have a chance to do something new, meet new people. Crafting is a wonderful thing for people to be part of, it binds us together in so many ways and makes us stronger.

Ann showcasing sewing work at Hampden