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Dozens of people benefit from nimble-fingered, stress-busting Red Deer crocheter

Shirley Gerus has donated more than 100 crocheted items, including ‘twiddle muffs’
Shirley Gerus, of Red Deer, crochets items such as ‘twiddle muffs’ to donate to people who have Alzheimer’s, autism and otherwise have high anxiety. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Shirley Gerus’s nimble fingers and creativity have helped more than 100 people relieve stress and anxiety over the years.

Whenever Gerus sits down to watch TV, she begins to crochet. She’s made everything from baby blankets to purses, teddy bears and toys to “twiddle muffs” for people with anxiety, including those with Alzheimer’s and autism.

Gerus spends an average of 10 hours on each item. Most of the time she doesn’t know the people who benefit from her efforts. She’s donated most of her works to various charitable organizations over the years.

Now Pam Copeland, recreational director for Revera Aspen Ridge in Red Deer where Gerus lives, is distributing her crocheted items to people who need them most — this includes residents in the memory care wing of Aspen Ridge.

Gerus invents patterns from her imagination containing nubs, ridges other tactile elements. One of her fish-shaped muffs has dimensional gills and scales with beads on them, as well as an open mouth with a spiral tongue.

People can handle these sensory elements to ease their anxieties — instead of pulling at their own skin or buttons, which sometimes happens when people have dementia, said Copeland.

She’s immensely impressed with the quality of Gerus’s work and her generosity. “It’s a kindness to give to other people in need… When I see the smiles on people’s faces after I’ve given these out for Shirley, it is very heartening,” added Copeland.

Gerus, 79, has been crocheting for strangers ever since she retired from her bank job in Calgary in 1999. At one time, she belonged to The Yarn Burners group, which sold crocheted items to benefit homeless programs in Calgary.

The Winnipeg native taught herself how to do this traditional handiwork after giving up smoking in the 1980s. Finding crocheting instructions at a K-Mart store, she bought some yarn, and learned various stitches. Now it’s so second-nature that Gerus rarely needs a commercial pattern.

“I can’t watch TV if I’m not doing something else,” she admitted. “This calms me and helps me maintain my sanity.”

2022 was a difficult year for Gerus — her husband, Joseph, died last February, after years of ill health. Gerus moved to Red Deer to be closer to their daughter, who lives in Bentley.

She believes crocheting also provided her with therapy, helping her deal with grief and a new community.

As anxiety becomes more prevalent in society, Gerus hopes to inspire others to consider crocheting twiddle muffs and other tactile objects to help people relieve anxiety. She noted that knitting and crocheting are already taking off in popularity, especially among young people.

While Gerus doesn’t take commissions — “It takes all the fun out of it” — she noted ready-made twiddle muffs can also be found on Etsy and other online sites that feature hand-crafted goods.

Copeland noted one doesn’t have to have a health condition to benefit from these stress-relievers. She gave one of Gerus’s creations to her daughter, a 911 dispatcher who sometimes has very stressful days.

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