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Fine Cell Work at The Quilt Museum

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Voices from The Inside

Voices from The Inside

A guest exhibition of quilts hand-stitched by prisoners trained by Fine Cell Work. 24th January to 9th May 2015, Bailey Gallery

Katy22/01/2015 17:48:57
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Hi everyone. I'm off to York tomorrow afternoon to see the quilts made by Fine Cell Work. I've seen some before, I'm really looking forward to it. I might be interviewing some of the organisers, and it struck me that some of you may have questions that you'd like to ask too. I'm writing up the quilts for the magazine, but if you have a question that you'd like to ask, let me know here, and if I can, I'll ask and bring you back the answer!

Carol B22/01/2015 18:34:16
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Hi Katy, can't think of a question but I hope you have a great time. Look forward to hearing what you think of it

Thimble x

Katy22/01/2015 18:53:34
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I'm really looking forward to it, I've not been to the museum for years, and this is preview evening so its exciting. I don't know how the interview part works, I'm really there to look at the quilts, but I got an email this afternoon telling me that the directors of Fine Cell Work are available to answer questions. I'll let you all know what was like next week!

Jayne22/01/2015 20:07:59
676 forum posts
118 photos


I've a couple of probably silly questions but here goes:

Do they do the needlework in their cells to pass the time?

or are they restricted because of the needles / scissors etc to only work when supervised?

I've often wondered about the practicalities since I saw an article about the FCW.


Jayne x

ps, I also meant to say have a nice day.


Edited By Jayne on 22/01/2015 20:08:47

Margaret S23/01/2015 09:43:01
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705 photos

I am sure that you will be amazed at the quality of the work Katy. Marjorie Coles is well known to quilters around here as she works with a group of prisoners at a local prison. I have met her two times. The last time she brought some prisoners' quilts that were on their way to London. It amazes me how much the men achieve considering the time, needle and scissor restrictions. I don't know if all the groups are the same but her group work with donated fabrics. She is coming to give my evening group a talk in April.

Enjoy your time at the exhibition.


Diane Ford23/01/2015 10:29:02
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60 photos

They do some great work. If anyone hasn't come across them before, their website is well worth having a look at.


Kay A23/01/2015 13:56:21
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Thanks for the link Diane, I hadn't heard of them. I absolutely adore the orange dodo cushion

Katy, I was wondering if they get the choice of the skills they will learn, whether it's embroidery, appliqué or patchwork? Do they get to design their own work or do they just follow the patterns given to them to sell on the website? And also does the price tag on these items really reflect the time & skill that has gone into the work? If you can buy a cushion kit for £30 less than a made one then at minimum wage that's less than 5 hours work. I appreciate that they are a charity, but they seem to me to be undervaluing, like so many, the value of handmade, yet one of their goals as a charity is to be self sustaining. Sorry if that sounds like a rant, but regardless of their circumstances & current abode they are still artists creating works of art!

Katy25/01/2015 19:31:03
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I had a lovely time, but it was exhausting, and I was a bit mentally drained yesterday. I left at 3pm and got home at 11.45, so it was a long evening, but the work was lovely, and there were so many people there! I didn't do any interviews, but I had a lovely long chat with one of the volunteers and an ex-inmate, and a short chat with the director of fine cell work so I think I can answer most of your questions

Jayne - yes, they do do needlework in their cells, but are hugely restricted as to what they can do, due to equipment allowed in the cell. They are allowed 2 needles, 10 pins, thread, a standard 15cm stationary ruler, and a pencil sharpener (to cut threads) but no scissors. This means they have to have cut out anything they need during the group supervised session, or be given pieces that have already been cut out by the volunteers/tutors.

Margaret - Marjorie was there, I think, but I couldn't work out who she was, as the room was bursting, and no-one had a name tag! It seemed that there are only 2 quilt groups in two prisons with Fine Cell work at the moment, although there are also groups doing upholstery and needlepoint.

KayKay - I think really, the choice depends on which prison has what facilities, and from what I can gather, the 'quilt' groups cover applique, embroidery and hand quilting really. There wasn't a lot of evidence of piecing really, I think most things were pieced by machine outside the prison, although there was an ex-inmate attending on Friday who had pieced the 'Sleep Quilt' for the 'Things We do in Bed' exhibition.

There wasn't any information about the needlepoint, which is the stuff they make from kits, I believe that they both design their own for themselves, and sew up the kits to sell the finished items. I know what you mean about the pricing, I assume the kits have a significant mark up on them, but even so, yes, the hours worked are not really covered by the price.

The quilts displayed in the exhibition were generally made to commission, or as part of a particular project, but there are examples of work for sale and personal quilts on the fine cell work website. The volunteer I spoke to had designed the most fantastic quilt based on an actual cell, at full size, the inmates came up with the idea, and made the quilt, but she designed it based on their descriptions. She wasn't able to see the actual cell though, so it was a wonderful collaboration where the inmates/sewers chose fabrics, and certainly had a lot of input in the design process. The ex-offender I spoke to designed the HMP Wandsworth quilt that was commissioned by the V&A for Quilts 1700-2010. He was really interesting. The Wandsworth quilt design is based on the layout of the buildings at Wandsworth, and his original design work was confiscated as the warden thought it was an escape plan.

One of the quilts displayed was 'Stella's quilt' an amazing navy wholecloth, quilted in navy thread, commissioned by Stella McCartney, it was beautiful, but impossible to photograph (actually, everything was difficult to photograph, as there were too many people in a small room) It was a beautiful quilt, but I really liked the cell quilt best, as it made you think.

I was really quite affected by it all, I found it quite difficult to think about things yesterday, the work was lovely, but talking to those who made it, made me very sad

Carol B26/01/2015 10:21:56
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Sounds like you had quite an experience. It was obviously worth going to as it left you with lots of thoughts and mixed emotions, much better than coming away and just saying - well it was very nice and that was it.

Irene B26/01/2015 11:44:05
4433 forum posts
405 photos


You had an amazing experience and thank you for your thoughts and feelings about it. I've seen the work of Fine Cell Work at the V&A a few years back.

Irene x rose

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