An event on Buckingham Palace Road last Thursday was an affirmation once again to me of the value of craft in our society and it's power to create social change, well being and self worth.
I felt very lucky to get a place at this month's Craftivist Collective's monthly meeting, which on this occasion was limited to 20 places as Craftivist Collective's driving force Sarah Corbett had scored a talk with Fine Cell Work at their cosy cushion filled offices.
Fine Cell is a charity and social enterprise which trains and pays men and women in prison to do professional needlework. The work they produce sells internationally. Recently they were commissioned by the V+A museum to produce a quilt for the amazing 'British Quilts 1700 - 2010' exhibition.
The talk was very insightful and surrounded by the prisoner's exquisitely fine and detailed needlepoint cushions, piled high ready for orders (for the Tate Modern, English Heritage..) was even more inspiring.
Fine Cell was founded in the 1980's by social reformer Lady Anne Tree (born 6 November 1927 and died this month 9 August) Last Saturday The Guardian wrote an article about this exceptional and determined lady who used her standing and energy to drive parliamentary changes in prisoner's rights and abilities to earn a small wage whilst in prison. She was an advocate of crafting in prisons as a constructive way forward to achieve this. In the article she is quoted
"Sewing could not only provide a small nest egg to ease prisoners lives on release, it also has a spiritual quality - you can retreat into sewing, you can block out the noise. It is meditative, a way of thinking, of taking stock. so it's not just about the money. it's the feeling of self worth that is vital"
The talk revealed how a high proportion of the prisoners that Fine Cell Work with are ex-forces and live with mental health difficulties. Fine Cell Work's training and projects offer them an opportunity to reflect on their lives and make a worthwhile contribution.
We learnt more about our favorite quilt from the V+A exhibition - 'The HMP Wandsworth Quilt' which was created by a total of 52 prisoners who contributed designs, ideas, drawings and embroidered samples over 3 years. Assisted by 9 Fine Cell Work volunteers - women trained by the Royal School of Needlework or members of The Embroiders Guild who are highly respected and appreciated by the prisoners for giving their time and knowledge to them.
The prisoners were determined to make the base design of the patchwork the architectural footprint of the Wandsworth prison itself. The quilt is an authentic portrayal of 21st century prison life, with the prisoners stories, emotions and hopes stitched into the layers of fabric.
Thank You Fine Cell Work for the work that you do. I was touched by this quote by Jeffry Marcus (HMP Wandsworth) in your literature "You're rejected by society and you have to reflect on what you've done, and then let go, then you need something in place that you can actually get self worth back. With the quilting you go can go inside yourself, start creating things and feeling that you can belong to society"
Now for a shameless plug! Fabrications will be proud to be a stockist (in about a month's time!) of Fine Cell Works witty 'SWAG' bags and also 'The HMP Wandsworth Quilt' postcards.