Fine Cell Work describe themselves as “a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem”.
I first came across the organisation at the Selvedge Winter Fair last year, and was completely bowled over by the quality of the work that they produce. As a novice tapestry stitcher myself (one cross-stitch kit under my belt, plus a few self-designed bargello cushions) I was incredibly impressed by the fineness and evenness of the needlepoint pieces, and know just how difficult this is to achieve. As most of the prisoners who enroll in the Fine Cell Work workshops have never even sewn before, never mind embroidered or done needlepoint, the standards that are demanded of them, and that they achieve, are even more remarkable.
The Clint Eastwood cushion above really has to be seen to be believed – it’s immaculately executed with the tiniest of stitches, and there’s so much subtle shading it looks just like a photograph.
The prisoners are paid for their work, which is then sold around the world. The collection includes cushions, quilts and bags in both traditional and contemporary designs by the likes of Daisy De Villeneuve, Emily Peacock and Karen Nicol amongst many others. Work is also commissioned; some items are for interior design projects, whilst others are heritage pieces for organisations such as the V&A, English Heritage, Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Jerwood Foundation.
Fine Cell Work say:
“Craftwork in prison can help prisoners discover a more constructive and reflective side to themselves. They can learn new skills and help support their families with the money they earn. Fine Cell Work aims to broaden horizons beyond the prison walls, helping inmates to make a contribution by connecting them to wider society and giving them a brighter outlook on their future”.
At the Fine Cell Work pop up shop that I visited just before Christmas, I watched a video they’d produced about their work, and it was both moving and inspiring to witness the many and varied benefits the prisoners experience as a result of their involvement in these projects. Apart from the practical skills that they learn, for many it’s also about discovering creative talents they didn’t know they possessed, or that had never previously been nurtured or encouraged. You can read some of their stories on the website, but here’s just one:
“I got involved because I thought Fine Cell sounded like a place where I could learn a few new skills which I could use when I’m released – giving me new options for possible employment. I like the people – they’re a great team; focused, hard-working, and quiet, although we do have the odd chuckle. Working in the workshop, for me, has had a positive effect. I suffer from several mental illnesses including bi-polar. The workshop keeps me busy and focused and gives me an outflow for any issues or negativity I may be experiencing, via the work I do.”
Images: Fine Cell Work