26th August 2022

How long has it been since you stopped to consider how valuable your time with needle and thread is?

Some of you will do it consciously each time you stitch, but for us at Inspirations HQ, we must admit that it had been some time since we intentionally considered the benefits of stitching.

However, we recently stumbled across an article that changed that. 

The Guardian published a piece entitled ‘A Stitch in Time: The Benefits of Teaching Prisoners to Sew’. Well acquainted with the UK charity Fine Cell Work the article was referring to, we eagerly read on. The editorial went on to unpack the experience of Sebastian (not his real name) during his time in prison throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic first hit, and little was known about how the virus spread, additional restrictions were placed on the prisoners that kept them in their cells for at least 23 hours each day without access to any of the activities that had previously given them a sense of purpose and hope. 

Anticipating what might happen, Fine Cell Work went above and beyond their usual mandate, sending out more than 2,000 products to prisons before the first lockdown was implemented, enabling stitchers to work in their cells throughout this time.

'Having something to do with my hands, something to work on, something to take pride in – it really changed everything.'

Sebastian first encountered Fine Cell Work advertised on a poster that captured his interest immediately. Compared to the other activities on offer at the facility such as kitchen work and recycling, neither seemed as ‘exciting as threading bright wool through a slender eye and making something beautiful’.

Since completing a turkey Christmas decoration when he first picked up needle and thread, Sebastian was one of the many prisoners who were engaged to fulfill a 500-piece order of penguins that were commissioned by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust for their remote gift shop at Port Lockroy in Antarctica. The prisoners worked tirelessly for six weeks to complete the order and although the penguins were difficult to make at times, the sense of accomplishment they all felt was something they hadn’t expected. Sebastian went to on to explain that, ‘the idea of a thing that you’ve made crossing the world gives you such pride’.

Not only does Fine Cell Work engage prisoners in an activity that helps pass the long hours in prison, they’re also paid for their efforts in the hope the funds they save and the skills they learn will serve them well upon their release.

Perhaps though, it’s the profound impact the time with needle and thread has on the prisoners’ sense of wellbeing where the value of Fine Cell Work’s efforts is most felt, ‘You can escape into your stitching, Sebastian muses, because it transports you somewhere else. It gives you focus; it keeps you occupied; it stops you dwelling on things.’

Sebastian’s comments made us appreciate once again that stitching is more than just a hobby. Amongst many other benefits, it has the ability to provide a distraction from the everyday whilst also allowing us to experience a sense of accomplishment as we lay stitch after tiny stitch. And for that, we’re incredibly grateful.

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