The Sleep Quilt book January 11, 2018 09:48

The Sleep Quilt is the subject of a beautiful new book with forewords by renowned author Tracy Chevalier (Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Last Runaway) and Fine Cell Work's Founding Director, Katy Emck. Purchase your copy today, or read on for a blog post written by Tracy back in 2014 when the idea for the quilt was first conceived.

"I began making quilts a few years ago as research for my recent novel The Last Runaway, but never did I imagine that it would lead me to be sitting with a bunch of guys, quilting together in Wandsworth Prison.

How did I get there? Serendipity. Someone at Fine Cell Work read The Last Runaway and invited me to come and speak to prisoners at Wandsworth about quilts. I found the experience enlightening and poignant.

At the same time, I was beginning to put together a quilt exhibition. Called Things We Do in Bed, the show explores quilts’ relationship to the bedroom, with each room focused on a different bed activity. In 2010 I saw the wonderful Wandsworth Prison quilt made for the V&A quilt exhibition, and it occurred to me now that a quilt commissioned from FCW would be a welcome addition to my show.

As a result, FCW members have made a Sleep Quilt, consisting of 63 squares designed by prisoners about their feelings on sleep. The blocks have been sewn together and the whole thing hand quilted. The day I went in to quilt, we sat together and “stitched in the ditch,” a style of quilting that follows the seams of the fabric. It was surreal. I belong to a quilt group that meets weekly, and sitting with the men sewing and chatting felt very much like sitting and sewing with my own group.

When I commissioned the Sleep Quilt, I hadn’t realised that sleep is such a contentious issue in prison. It is not an environment that encourages a good night’s sleep. It’s noisy and stuffy, the cells are small, the beds hard, and there are always lights on. Prisoners are often anxious, and lie in bed turning over thoughts about their lives. Several of the prisoners included statements along with their sleep squares expressing these anxieties. They make touching reading.

FCW volunteers have reported that the prisoners responded overwhelmingly positively to the experience of contributing to the Sleep Quilt. Not only did it give them an outlet to express themselves, it also gave many of them a chance to work collectively on a project, to cooperate and make aesthetic decisions together.

I’ve been thrilled to work with Fine Cell Work to produce such a meaningful quilt for all of us."

Buy your copy of The Sleep Quilt book here. (Please note this will take you to a trusted third party website)

All royalties from the book go to Fine Cell Work, allowing us to continue providing creative, paid needlework to prisoners as a means of rehabilitation. 

Design and Commissions Intern December 12, 2017 14:15

We are looking for a Design and Commissions Intern to join our friendly team on a short-term basis.

Location: Battersea, SW8
Working hours: ideally 3 days per week; 6 hours a day, for a 3 month period
Application deadline: Friday 12th January 2018 at 5pm
Salary: Voluntary basis; reasonable travel and lunch costs reimbursed


Fine Cell Work is going through an exciting time to grow revenue generated opportunities. This is a great opportunity for a creative, organised, details oriented person to gain valuable experience and hands-on knowledge of working in a dynamic and forward-looking charity.

Role overview

We are looking for an intern who will support the Design & Commissions Team in the administration, preparation and co-ordination necessary to deliver high quality bespoke projects to paying customers and expand the collection of hand made cushions and other products available to buy.

The role will incorporate completing specifications forms for new products and commissions, maintaining spreadsheets and writing instructions for stitchers. It will involve assisting the Design & Commissions team with the production of samples for new products eg. sourcing materials, arranging screen/digital printing. The role will include some computer artworking and conversion of designs into needlepoint charts. 

Tasks and responsibilities

  • Completing specifications forms for new products and commissions
  • Data entry to spreadsheets relating to new design planning and cost of sales
  • Writing instructions for new products and samples
  • Sourcing materials for commissions
  • Sending off samples to be screen/digital printed
  • Converting (basic) designs into needlepoint charts
  • Producing computer mock ups of new products
  • Other tasks to assist the team as required

Skills and Experience


  • A real interest in textiles and embroidery
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Proven experience with Microsoft Office and Adobe
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Ability to maintain and organise digital data and files
  • Good communication skills
  • Demonstrable co-ordination skills
  • An interest in the aims and ethos of Fine Cell Work.


  • Qualification in textiles and/or embroidery
  • Experience of working with volunteers

  • What we offer

    This is a great opportunity for a graduate to gain valuable and intensive design and commissions experience in the field, playing a key role in a dynamic and creative textiles enterprise with an international reputation. It is an exciting time for the charity as we have just moved into a new space and opened the Fine Cell Work Hub – working with ex prisoners in a workshop environment. We are working on a diverse range of high profile commissions and expanding our range of hand made products.  This is the first time this internship has been offered so the right candidate can really make it their own. We provide an induction and regular supervision and support sessions with your line manager to ensure you are getting the most out of your internship.

    How to apply

    Please send a CV and brief covering letter explaining why you think you would be suitable for this role and what benefit you would gain from it to writing REF: Design and Commissions Intern in the subject line.

    Tony's Story December 05, 2017 12:42 2 Comments

    "When I first met Louisa, the FCW volunteer, I told her that it had been a very long time since I’d put needle and thread to anything, but she patiently walked through a re-introduction. I went back to my cell with a kit for a pin cushion and a few small concerns: could I do it? Would I make a mess of it?
    After a few initial nerves and one or two false starts – tent stitch? Basket weave? What did she say? - I got the job done. When Louisa returned a few weeks later, I proudly handed over my bloated offering and received my next assignment. My journey had begun.
    Since then I have not looked back. I became FCW wing coordinator and received a Volunteering and Leadership Award that year, which was also unexpected and much appreciated. I continued in the role for a couple of years, completing an unusual artist's commission and plenty of other wonderful patterns and kits. I was concerned when I was re-categorised that I might not find FCW in the establishment to which I might be sent. However, when I arrived here I was pleased to spot the tell tale hardened fingertips and concentrated squint of a FCW stitcher and he soon put me on to the co-ordinator. One waiting list and 10 months later and I was back in the familiar swing of elephants, dogs, beetroots and tea cosies (not everyone gets to use that phrase!)
    It’s not just about the sewing and getting paid which some might suggest is the motivation – nor is it about filling sometimes long and arduous hours of free time, though that is true for some. No, what I find most gratifying about FCW is that my efforts are not judged in the light of my crimes, nor the fact that I am in prison, but rather on their own merits – the artistry, the attention to detail and the aesthetic pleasure they give to people. That truth and the knowledge of it is more valuable to me and more illustrative of a truly rehabilitative approach than many I have come across in the prison system. Thank you to FCW and all those members of the public who continue to support our endeavours. You show us what our work, and thereby we, are truly worth."

    A Tale of Two Needlepoints November 28, 2017 16:23 2 Comments

    “It’s quite daunting to start with. They have chains with great rings of keys. You open a door and close it behind you again, and then you open another door and close that one behind you again and again, until you reach the workshop”.

    Kitty Adam has been a part of the extended Fine Cell Work team for over five years. Initially a volunteer at a prison in the South East, more recently she has turned her hand to supporting the charity with events and sales.

    A skilled stitcher with a background in interior design – she ran her own company for 20 years – Kitty has now developed a small range of needlepoint Christmas decorations which are being stitched in prisons across the UK and sold through our online site. When asked about the inspiration behind her designs, Kitty had this to say;

    “Fine Cell Work encouraged me to do a bauble. We are given a lot of donated threads so it was nice to be able to involve more colours. With the snowman, I had made one myself which they saw and asked me to develop that.

    I come from a family of women who all do needlepoint. My designs are all tent stitch, sometimes with French knot detail. Each decoration takes 10-12 hours to stitch.

    They are lightweight and you can easily send them to family or friends as gifts. [Fine Cell Work] are building up a collection of decorations and sold over 700 last year.”

    Having volunteered across all aspects of Fine Cell Work – teaching, designing and selling – Kitty has a unique insight into what it is that resonates with stitchers and volunteers alike;

    “Prisoners have got so much time, that’s the key. It helps pass the time and you get praised for something that you have created and achieved. It helps prisoners reconnect with life, with ways they can improve and make the most of their time. It makes them philosophical.

    It’s a reciprocal feeling that you get. Every one of the volunteers is passionate about what they do. If you start working with people who have never stitched, it is a pleasure to see how much progress they make. [I love] seeing people admire the work and then coming back to buy.”

    View the full range of Christmas decorations here 

    Pop in to our pop-up! November 17, 2017 17:58

    Our pop-up shop on Pimlico Road is open now with an exclusive in-store sale until April! Pop along and browse our beautiful range cushions, quilts and giftware which have all been handmade in British prisons.

    41 Pimlico Road
    SW1W 8NE

    The shop is open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5:30pm. For enquiries, please contact the main office on 020 7931 9998. 

    Image credit: All Set Concierge

    The Sleep Quilt - a kickstarter campaign October 17, 2017 16:50

    Best-selling author Tracy Chevalier began making quilts as research for her novel The Last Runaway.  She soon became a committed quilter, and it was not long before she found out about Fine Cell Work. When curating ‘Things We Do in Bed’, a quilt exhibition for Danson House in south London, she soon realised that here was an opportunity to commission a unique work of art from the prisoners trained by Fine Cell Work – the Sleep Quilt. This beautiful quilt comprises of 63 individually stitched squares, carefully pieced together to help tell the story of Sleep as told by our stitchers.

    Our exciting news is that the Sleep Quilt has gone full-circle and is now the subject of a book itself! And we are looking to the great British public to help be a part of the team who gets the book to publication by supporting our kickstarter campaign, a crowdfunding initiative whereby your donations will help to bring this beautiful book alive, just in time for Christmas. 

    Festive Fairs - Dates for the diary October 13, 2017 10:00

    It's (almost) the most wonderful time of year! We have lots coming up over the festive season, so take a look below to find out when Fine Cell Work will be popping up near you.

    Spirit of Christmas - 30 October - 5 November, Kensington Olympia, London

    We are the official charity partner for this year's Spirit of Christmas, and we can't wait! With 750 incredible stalls all under one roof, there is no better place to start your Christmas shopping. Why not enjoy a glass of mulled wine whilst you're at it? Book your tickets today, and be sure to pop by our stand (GH88) on the Gallery level.

    Asthma UK Christmas Fair - 27 - 28 November, The Hurlingham Club, London

    A selection of our beautifully hand-stitched products will be on sale alongside 90 other unique stallholders, with a wonderful range of jewellery and accessories, gourmet foods, toys and fashion on offer. Enjoying shopping with the knowledge that you are supporting two great charities at the same time, what better excuse do you need? Buy your tickets today

    Exhibition & Sale - 30 November, Sage Gateshead, Gateshead Quays


    For one day only, we're setting up shop in the North East as Fine Cell Work takes over the Barbour Room at the iconic Sage Gateshead. Browse our full range of cushions, quilts and giftware, hear first hand from our local volunteers what it is like to work in prison, and pick up Christmas gifts for all the family.

    Fine Cell Work Christmas Fair - 8 December, St Peter's Church, Notting Hill

    We wrap up our Christmas calendar with our annual festive fair in the heart of Notting Hill. Alongside our bestsellers and firm favourites, we will have some exclusive sneak peaks on brand new designs - this is one event you won't want to miss this Winter. 

    For more information on any of the events above, get in touch with

    How stitching has changed Mr S. October 05, 2017 00:00 2 Comments


    “I’ve been a member of FCW for just over 8 years now and it has been the best experience ever, I never knew how to stitch before and now I can’t go a day without doing some stitch work.

    Before FCW I was a self-harmer with mental health problems and I didn’t care about anybody or anything, at times I didn’t even care about ever getting out then came along this group of ladies who wanted to help make a difference and I wanted to try something new. Once I got started I never wanted to stop, I loved it and loved getting letters back from people who had bought my work cause it showed it was all worthwhile.

    I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for FCW and the 4 special ladies who give their time up every week to help us.

    Because of FCW it has been over 6 years since I self-harmed, I have no mental health problems now and it has made me a better person, to the point where I may be out early 2017, I’m finally going to settle down and get married and make my partner proud of me for once as well as my family.

    The volunteers never get enough praise for the wonderful job they do and no matter where I end up I will never forget FCW, the volunteers and the chance they gave me. Thank you so very much for the chanceyous give me, for all of your patience and hard work, its because of yous that I’m the person I am today and I’ve seen you change so many men’s lives. Yous will always be part of my journey and I’m so glad I joined your group. I will continue to work hard for yous for these last few months and will always do my best. Once again thank you for everything yous are 4 special people who will never be forgotten.”

    - Mr. S

    Volunteer with us! October 01, 2017 12:00

    We are currently looking for volunteers in the below areas.

    At our shop…
    Our pop-up on Pimlico Road is not your typical charity shop, overrun with bric-a-brac and last years “must-have” silver puffa jacket. Our pop-up shop is styled with our best selling products in an exclusive part of town and relies on a network of volunteers to sell our products and help our customers with their purchases. We are always in need of more volunteers to help keep our doors open. If you have time to spare in the run-up to Christmas, please contact us.

    At an event…
    We host stands at a wide range of events throughout the year, and are constantly looking for support in running them. Coming up, we have the week long Spirit of Christmas fair at Kensington Olympia. Not only do we have stand, but as we are the charity partner of the year, we are also manning the events “Shop & Drop” service. If you would like to help out with either of these, please get in touch.

    Run your own event…
    Finding opportunities to sell our beautiful products is one of our biggest challenges – and this is where you could help! If you would like to host an event – at your home, at a local craft show or a Christmas fair then we’d love to hear from you. Contact to discuss.

    Become a mentor…
    Our Open the Gate project supports stitchers back into employment upon their release from prison. Through accredited training and careful mentoring, we want to empower our apprentices to live crime-free lives. Could you mentor an ex-prisoner and help them find work and manage their income? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with

    Help us grow our Turkey Farm…
    Every Tuesday morning our office is filled with an amazing team of volunteers who help to prepare kits to send to volunteers to take into prison and distribute to our stitchers. Famous for the way they put together our Turkey Christmas Decoration kits, they need your help. If you are London based, a keen stitcher, can cut fabric or know your way around a needlepoint chart – get in touch!

    For all our volunteering opportunities, please contact

    20 years of Fine Cell Work September 01, 2017 16:51

    "There were a fair number of raised eyebrows back in 1997 when I described my new job selling prisoners’ embroidery, in Lady Anne Tree’s bold words, 'to top shops'. A sweet and rather lunatic idea, you could see them thinking. A close friend cited some benevolent Colombian project which had accumulated unsalable stock.

    In fact, peoples’ assumption back then that Fine Cell Work would be an amateurish and short-lived affair shows how times have changed. Ethical craft businesses now abound across the world. Many of them are hugely successful and there are now a host of umbrella organizations to support them. Lady Anne Tree and her founder trustee Robert Oakeshott were visionaries. Optimistic, humanistic, unmaterialistic yet commercially savvy, they thought Fine Cell Work could make money for prisoners and itself, and that it could bring purpose and beauty to these impoverished places.

    Which is not to say the beginnings of Fine Cell Work were not amateurish and that we did not accumulate stock… my Bloomsbury bedsit bath was host to overflowing binbags of tapestry wools, and guests in Lady Anne Tree’s Chelsea house complained of the eye-wateringly bright needlepoint cushions which flooded her spare room bed and floor. I can still see Lady Anne in her armchair, walled-in by bags of cushions which filled after our annual sale down the road in Chelsea Town Hall. She really couldn’t move and I could only see her hand waving above the bags. But she was very cheery and supportive. For we had made £3,000!!!!

    Opening a Fine Cell Work package 20 years ago held the same mix of excitement and sorrow as it does today. There is the burst of prison-corridor smell as the brown paper splits open and the squares of dense, intense stitching unroll - each piece so individual and so frail – not yet pressed and plumped into the finished item but still creased by the hands that made it in such a small, cramped space. There is also delight, as unanticipated embellishments, or completely new objects (an embroidered hat, or book cover, or even a poem) tumble out.

    Alongside this, there was and is the grandeur and heritage of the institutions supporting Fine Cell Work with donations, commissions, advice. The Livery Halls with their sweeping staircases, their cabinets of silverware, their drapes, their medallions and their ancient rituals. Hampton Court, home to the Royal School of Needlework and the Embroiderers Guild back then, whose workroom seemed to be in an ancient tower flooded with bright light and the contemplative silence of a convent as the needles flashed in and out of some exceedingly fine fabric. Dover Castle, which we filled with 50 embroidered cushions when English Heritage refurbished it in 2009, with its vast, stony halls and powerful defensive structure bringing echoes of prison – for it had served as a prison in years gone by, like so many other castles.

    Increasingly, the sad and narrow world of prison seemed connected to worlds of wealth and privilege. The job of Fine Cell Work, it seemed, was to connect our prison stitchers with the wider world, and to help the wider world understand their humanity and their potential for good. As one of the Dover Castle embroiderers said,

     “I took on this commission because it gave me a feeling of giving a positive contribution that would be enjoyed by many people; a sense of leaving a heritage of my own in some small way.”

     “Leaving a heritage…” Isn’t that what we all want to do? But wasn’t it also extraordinary that people so excluded, vilified and segregated could make a lasting contribution to the legacy which humanity takes care to cherish and preserve.

    It began to dawn on me that Fine Cell Work was keeping alive, perhaps even reviving, a powerful tradition. I learned that Mary Queen of Scots had embroidered furiously while she was imprisoned at Loch Leven, Bolton and Tutbury castles. And that English embroidery in its heyday in the 12th century had been a luxury commodity used to win diplomatic favours from the likes of Donald Trump. Most of all, I learned what embroidery meant to men and women in prison, how it could feed and nourish minds and hearts starved of purpose and love.

    “It opens up another world, one that in many ways is long-forgotten. It is reinventing the craftsmanship of yesteryear. Then there is the pride and usefulness in seeing something of beauty come together, and the thought that my and my friends’ cell work will bring pleasure, now and hopefully long into the future, to the recipient. It allows us to once again do and start something new and be useful.”

    Over and over again, the prisoners said they liked doing Fine Cell Work because it was “FOR CHARITY.” The sense that they were giving something back seemed to outweigh Fine Cell Work’s efforts to bring them commercial benefit! Over and over again they used the word “LOVE” about their work.

    “I put many hours of love and concentration into the commission. As I saw it grow I became more and more excited. It was never far from my mind at all times. I puzzled, imagined different colours, stitches. All in all I am proud of this piece. The appreciation I got from everyone is the value of this hard work for me.”                              

    In fact, for many, leaving prison was hard because it meant they had to leave their embroidery behind….                                                                

    “It was a wonderful to do all that work. I am feeling very sad to leave you but that is life. I love this kind of work and I think when you do something with love it is better in the end. At this moment I am dreaming of embroidery...”

    It was these prisoners, the ones who time and time again expressed their desire to continue stitching and to build on the craft they had learned with us inside, who urged us to think about how they could use their skills on release. These prisoners’ talent, drive and determination, which had so often been completely undiscovered till now, urged us to take seriously the question of waste. If we did not seek to support hem to use their skills on release, the talent and skills they had learned could all go to waste. Why not help them on release?

    It feels fitting that, 20 years since this fragile, unlikely enterprise began, we are poised to move to new premises with a workshop where we can continue training and supporting our Fine Cell Workers when they leave prison. It feels fitting that our “graduates” are finding their way into upholstery, costume-making and soft furnishings work. And it feels fitting that the prisoners doing Fine Cell Work, whose commissions have been sold to the V&A, to English Heritage, and to top designers, have the chance to contribute to the beauty of the world, and to surmount the crimes and the personal difficulties which brought them to prison in the first place.

    Our hope is that 20 years from now, craftwork from British prisons will be a fully established and chronicled route to rehabilitation, and that prisons in other parts of the world will copy and build on what we have learned."

    By Dr Katy Emck OBE, Founding Director, Fine Cell Work