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. 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."
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.