Stitching stories of hope and beauty from prison

by Fine Cell Work in London, England, United Kingdom


raised so far

+ est. £1385.00 Gift Aid



Help us bring untold stories to light with a beautiful hardback book that celebrates 25 years of training prisoners in needlework skills.

by Fine Cell Work in London, England, United Kingdom

New stretch target

Any additional funds that we raise will help Fine Cell Work to support its ongoing work with prisoners.

Please help us raise the funds we need to produce a limited-edition book, 'Threads of Time: 25 Years of Fine Cell Work'. This project is the result of a partnership between writers’ association 26 and the charity Fine Cell Work.

For 25 years, Fine Cell Work has taught expert needlework skills to men and women in British prisons. Now, for the first time, this book tells the stories behind some of the charity's most significant stitched works, such as a quilt depicting life at HMP Wandsworth, designed and created by inmates of the prison.

The image below shows a rough visual of how the book will look.



This book is a story of rehabilitation through needlework. It explores how designers, contemporary artists and volunteers have worked with prisoners and helped them to gain new skills, rebuild their perception of themselves and create connections with the world beyond prison walls. It offers a remarkable insight into how prisoners have turned their lives around through the therapeutic power of needlework, teamwork and creativity.  

Since 1997, Fine Cell Work has provided highly-skilled, creative, paid work to more than 8,000 prisoners to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem. Working in 30 prisons across the UK, its aim is to enable prisoners to lead independent, crime-free lives.

By supporting this book, you will help spread the charity's message of hope and rehabilitation and ensure that this vital work continues. 


Authors Tracy Chevalier, Esther Freud, Louis de Bernières, Isabella Tree and more than 30 other writers are taking part in this unique collaboration of words, art, design and needlework to celebrate 25 years of prisoner rehabilitation programmes from Fine Cell Work. 

Each of the book’s richly illustrated 25 chapters will explore how a particular stitched work came into being and the different lives affected by the experience.



Support this book and you'll discover more about the skills and aspirations of the diverse prisoners who are involved in Fine Cell Work projects.

The vast majority of stitchers are complete beginners who gradually pick up needlework skills with the support of Fine Cell Work volunteers. After spending time learning these skills, many become highly-skilled stitchers who are entrusted with demanding, high-profile commissions.

Some prisoners stitch alone, while others work as part of a larger group. In the book, we hear how one stitcher, Ben, spends 200 hours embroidering a fabric version of a photograph by artist Idris Khan. In contrast, tables of ten stitchers work flat-out together to deliver a bulk order of 500 embroidered woollen penguins destined for a gift shop in Antarctica.

Prisoners have the chance to earn money through their involvement in Fine Cell Work. For many inmates, though, stitching offers a great deal more. It is an opportunity to find peace, to focus, to still the internal mental chatter. As one prisoner comments, you can't sew and be angry at the same time.

In this book, you'll hear the perspectives of current and ex-prisoners, including some for whom Fine Cell Work has provided a springboard into a new, crime-free life. 



Novelists, poets, journalists, playwrights and business writers have been tasked with telling the stories behind exemplary stitched works from the Fine Cell Work archive. Here are some of the writers and stories you'll find in the book.

  • Tracy Chevalier, author of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', is also a quilter and a Patron of Fine Cell Work. She writes a chapter on The Sleep Quilt (above), which she commissioned from the charity. Seventy prisoners in eight prisons took part in the project.
  • Esther Freud has written nine novels and a stage play, 'Stitchers', which is based on the life of Fine Cell Work Founder, Lady Anne Tree. Here, she writes about Little Geometrics, the first piece of needlework that prisoners are given to stitch. 
  • Louis de Bernières is the author of ten novels, including the international bestseller 'Captain Corelli’s Mandolin'. He writes about the 'Toby cushion', Fine Cell Work's first pet commission, which features his much-loved cat. 
  • Isabella Tree is an award-winning author whose latest book, 'Wilding - the Return of Nature to a British Farm', is published by Picador. She is a Patron of Fine Cell Work and the daughter of Lady Anne Tree, the charity’s founder. Isabella writes about a tablecloth covered in fantastical flower designs stitched by an ex-prisoner in a barrio of Bogotá.


  • Elise Valmorbida is an award-winning writer, indie film-producer and designer. Her most recent novel, 'The Madonna of the Mountains', is published internationally. Her chapter focuses on Odyssey in Quilting, which was designed by artist Ai Weiwei (above) and embroidered by 13 prisoners.
  • Rishi Dastidar is a copywriter and poet whose second book, 'Saffron Jack', is published by Nine Arches Press. Here, he writes a timeline of Fine Cell Work's 25 years and a specially commissioned poem: 'A twitch on the thread pulls us forward'.


Featured stitched projects include artworks designed by celebrated contemporary artists Ai Weiwei, Cornelia Parker and Idris Khan, as well as more intimate works such as kneelers for a private chapel, a royal wedding cushion, and children’s quilts made from their late father’s shirts.


The book showcases some of the charity’s most popular stitched products, including the prison calendar cushion (seen above) designed by A A Gill, the late writer and critic. He said that stitching is "like marking off the minutes; it corresponds to doing time".

Another chapter tells the story of the quilt (below) depicting HMP Wandsworth, which was created by 52 prisoners and subsequently exhibited at the V&A.


In the book, you will hear about Clive, one of the stitchers of the HMP Wandsworth quilt. He drew up a design using an architectural plan of the prison, which he found in the library. The hexagon shape was perfect as a quilting motif. Unfortunately, Clive's design was confiscated for a short time. A prison guard thought he was planning his escape and deemed the drawing a security risk. 

Please pledge to support our book to hear more about Clive's story, along with the fascinating stories behind the other 24 Fine Cell Work featured projects.


'Threads of Time' is designed by London-based graphic designer and visual artist David Caines.  His design work includes projects for the 57th Venice Biennale, the National Trust and the Manchester International Festival. David also makes paintings and regularly exhibits his work. In 2015, he was shortlisted for the East London Painting Prize.1620405959_hope_2.png


'Threads of Time' is the latest creative initiative from award-winning not-for-profit 26, whose members take part in ‘crowd-writing’ projects, bringing together multiple writers to focus on themes, often with a social impact. Partners have included The V&A, Imperial War Museums, PEN International, The Foundling Museum and The Wildlife Trusts.

26 Board member and Threads of Time editor Elise Valmorbida, says, “This is not just about the exquisite objects that Fine Cell Work stitchers produce. Our writers have been inspired and moved to tell very human stories of loss, lockdown, creativity, purpose and hope. At 26, we believe in the power of words to change lives for the better. With 'Threads of Time', we are celebrating the remarkable achievements of a vital charity and giving voice to stories that need to be told. This is a chronicle of quietly radical transformation.”


For the first time, this book will gather together the stories behind Fine Cell Work's most notable projects, including behind-the-scenes images and pictures of private commissions that have never been publicly shared before. It will be a fitting celebration of 25 years of exceptional work.

All the writers are giving their work and time to the project free of charge. However, we do need to cover our design, printing, production and distribution costs.

That's why we need your help. 

Every penny that you donate to this project will go towards the production of 'Threads of Time'. If we surpass our target, any additional funds will go straight to Fine Cell Work to support its ongoing work with prisoners.


We are currently designing, collating, editing and proofing the book. It will be published in early Summer 2022.


1. One beautiful illustrated 'Threads of Time' hardback book.  £351618143988_book_covers.png

2. One copy of 'Threads of Time' book + a handstitched bookmark exclusively designed for this Crowdfunder, featuring the 'prison tally' motif seen on the book spine. £501620419561_new-bookmark-white-bg-diag.jpg

3. One copy of 'Threads of Time' book + Swag Purse. Our distinctive Swag Purse, designed by Karen Nicol, is the perfect way to carry your own swag around. £601619169036_black_&_yellow_swag_purses.jpg

4. One copy of 'Threads of Time' book + donation and delivery of one copy of 'Threads of Time' to a prison library. £1001619009644_book_and_key.jpg

5. One copy  of 'Threads of Time' book + one 14" Geometrics Cushion. Every needlepoint cushion is a complete one-off and marks a milestone in our stitchers' progress as it is the first large needlepoint item they are given to stitch. Feather cushion included. £1501619213427_geometrics_cushion.png

6. Two copies of 'Threads of Time' + two tickets to the book launch party in Summer 2022 + a unique hand-stitched limited-edition 'Hope is the Key' art cushion. £500

(Sample shown below: final version may differ slightly.)1620326202_fine-cell-work-hope-is-the-key-hand-embroidered-linen-cushion-blue-white-red_copy.jpeg

7. One copy of 'Threads of Time' + a full-day stitching workshop at Fine Cell Work's studio in London. Each workshop is for four participants, who will be taught to make a needlepoint footstool using a geometric design made by one of our prison stitchers. Each participant will be able to take home their completed footstool (RRP £180). £10001619168967_fine-cell-work-geometric-footstool-5.jpg

8. Lunch at a London restaurant with Tracy Chevalier, Esther Freud, Louis de Bernières or Isabella Tree + two copies of 'Threads of Time' + two tickets to the book launch party in Summer 2022 + two Swag Purses + two books donated to prison libraries + two Geometrics Cushions. £1,5001619716049_lunch.jpg


If you donate £35 instead of clicking on the reward to receive a copy of the book, Crowdfunder doesn't know that you want a book and therefore we don't know you want a book. To avoid the risk of that happening, please select a reward.


With every stitched product, you will also receive a swing tag that includes the name of the stitcher and a note on how you can write to them to thank them for their work. We do this with every product we sell, as part of our rehabilitation work with prisoners. When stitchers receive a message of thanks, it enhances their feelings of self-esteem and sense of connection to the world beyond the prison gates.


1618484230_thank_you_card.pngWe started working on the 'Threads of Time' project in late 2019. Since then, we have commissioned a brilliant group of writers who have written and submitted their chapters. David Caines has created a wonderfully elegant design for the book and we have gathered together a tantalising selection of Fine Cell Work rewards.

Everything is in place. We're ready to make this book happen. Now it's over to you. Thank you for supporting 'Threads of Time'. We are so grateful.


Fine Cell Work

190 - 192 Queenstown Road
SW8 3NR   

Registered Charity No. 1049095


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