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Whimsical Pillows Embroidered…by Convicts

From chain gangs to chain stitches, inmates trot out the hand-sewn swag.

Whimsical Pillows Embroidered…by Convicts

The showstoppers at the London Design Festival later this month won’t be National Treasure Tom Dixon or even French starchitect Jean Nouvel (who’s been wowing everyone with a très sexy lipstick-red pavilion). They’ll be, perhaps, a grifter in solitary and a safecracker doing five-to-10 in Cell Block C. Their swag? Embroidered pillows.

It’s the latest high-profile appearance from the improbable British charity Fine Cell Work, in which prisoners — 80 percent of whom are male — both learn and capitalize off the granny art of embroidery.

Inmates stitch patterns, from Union Jacks to portraits of Dirty Harry, then flog their wares to the public. Rehabilitation is the byword and small profit the incentive. It’s been a wildly successful program, with one-off commissions from hotels to English Heritage to the V&A. Fine Cell Work is underway in 26 prisons; each has a waiting list.

So during the London Design Festival, the sewing felons are organizing a special collection for Global Industry at The Dock, a shopping and exhibition space hosted by none other than Tom Dixon. They’ll have pillows with dainty butterflies (above) and whimsical mustaches that are just begging to be fluffed in an NYU dorm room (below) and an image of one of the prisons itself looking quaintly medieval (below).

They’ll also sell “swag bags” so you can make off with your hand-sewn goodies — after paying, of course.

For more info on Fine Cell Work at the London Design Festival, go here.

[Images courtesy of Fine Cell Work]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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