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Residents of the Prison for Women, Kingston
Shell Quilt
around 1992

This minimally pieced embroidered quilt was made by a quilting group at the Prison for Women in Kingston. At the time, the donor Michael Gventer was head of Social Development at the prison, a “department that encouraged community contact and community development within the prison environment.” Gventer wanted to start a new evening program at the prison and sought ideas from the residents, who voted for a quilters’ group. Under the leadership of community volunteer quilters, the group lasted about ten years-an exceptional longevity for a prison program. As Gventer writes, “There were many obstacles to be overcome. Our budget did not provide for us to fund craft materials for this group. So we worked out a strategy. Half of the output of the group would be used to fund the group’s activities. Participants would be allowed to keep the other half of the production. This meant that they could make things to share with their families. The group would divide its time between making group projects and individual items. The group projects could be sold to staff, raffled, or sold at public events to raise money for the operation of the group.” Eventually, the group also made items for shelters and charities. Many of the participants were serving long sentences, so the group became “a very special santuary.”

Needlework and quilting groups have existed in other prisons for both men and women. The V&A recently acquired a quilted patchwork hanging completed in 2010 made by an all-male quilting group if HMP Wandworth, London.

This quilt is minimaly pieced. The main feature is a simple candlewick embroidered shell design in each square. Candlewicking is an old form of whitework embroidery (white thread on a white background), though modern examples do also use coloured thread alongside the traditional white. Candlewicking can involve a variety of stiches, but the most characteristic is a tufted stitch; motifs are usually drawn from nature, such as flowers, insects and shells.

 
Residents of the Prison for Women, Kingston
Shell Quilt
around 1992
Cotton
242.0 x 196.4 cm
Gift of Marilyn Birmingham and Matthew Gventer, 2013
Q13-001

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