For my exhibition in July 2019 I have decided to make a quilt. This is not a random idea – I have never made a quilt, so I will have to learn from scratch – it comes as a direct result of my research for my Contextual Studies essay on opportunities offered to prisoners to develop their skills. Quilt making has a history in UK prisons and one of the organisations involved in the occupation is “Fine Cell Work”.
Their mission statement reads:
Fine Cell Work’s mission is to train prisoners in creative, commercial craftwork so they re-enter society with the self-belief and independence to lead fulfilling and crime-free lives.
Our vision is to expand the role of commercial craftwork throughout the UK prison system in order to create training, employment and rehabilitation for greater numbers of offenders. We aim to become the country’s “go-to” site for needlework and soft furnishings, selling high quality, handmade British goods to the public and interior designers.
My main contention in my prison project is that the mass media presents a one-sided, rather negative view of UK prisons. My research has shown me that there are many prisons which offer prisoners a plethora of avenues for self-improvement and skills development opportunities which are very positive in terms of rehabilitation, and therapeutic.
Best-selling author Tracy Chevalier developed a project with prisoners in HMP Wandsworth on the theme of ‘sleep’. She wanted the prisoners to design and make a square each on the theme for a quilt “The sleep quilt”. On completion of the project, she wrote:
“ the project “became much more therapeutic than I’d thought – things came out, emotions came out. Sleep is quite contentious in prisons, and I hadn’t known that. But when we’re going to sleep, it’s often the time we think the most. For prisoners, things have gone wrong for them in their lives and that’s the time it comes out. That definitely came through in the quilt.”(1)
I don’t have the time to apply to work in a prison, nor do I have the skills to teach what I don’t know, so I am teaching myself quilt making skills and have designed a “Garden quilt”. Gardening is another of those therapeutic sessions available to inmates in prison to expand their skills which will help them find employment once they have spent their sentence.
I have been photographing in LandWorks, a centre in Dartington, Devon, where prisoners are sent on day release to work in the gardens, or learn pottery or woodwork in the workshops. I have been focusing on the plants because the title of my body of work is ‘One Year’ which carries the metaphor of change, development and regeneration best, in my opinion.
The plan for my quilt is to make a 1.5m x 2m quilt using the gardening images inspired by the rehabilitation and therapeutic work being carried out at LandWorks. Instead of printing them in colour, I am hoping to do 24 cyanotypes on cotton and then stitching them into a quilt which will be auctioned at the end of my exhibition. The money from the auction will go to a prison charity but I have not yet decided which one. Some of the quilts half the size of mine are selling for about £200 on the Fine Cell Work website, so I am hoping to make somewhere in that region from the auction.
This is my plan for my quilt so far:
Eager to try them out, I did 3 cyanotype prints:
The squares for the quilt will have white surrounding the image – the painting of the chemicals will be done more carefully than these were when I applied the chemicals to the paper.
My plan is now to buy some white cotton, cut it up into 30cm squares, cut a board template with a 22cm hole, paint the chemicals onto the cotton, let it dry & print some of the negatives onto each square.
Having asked on FB for ideas on what material to use, I had this reply from my former colleague, Sally Anderson who teaches textiles:
Sally Anderson Anna Goodchild I would use recycled denim, as it will fit with the blue, frays well to give interesting textures, links with work clothes used for gardening, and prisoners wear
too- and can be obtained cheaply from charity shops or from friends with old jeans. Also environmentally friendly(ish) as it is cotton, biodegradable and indigo dyed- gardening link, no heavy metals used in dye process. It is also hard wearing so works well
recycled. It often has interesting fade patterns as it is core dyed. It is traditionally stitched in contrasting colours gives scope for use of colour, and is also a nice stable non stretch fabric to work with.