The Prison Collection by Kit Kemp

Another thought-provoking extract from Design Thread, Kit Kemp’s third colorful and wholly inspiring book.

I am always championing crafts and beautiful handiwork – the touch of the artist’s or craftsman’s hand always enhances the story behind a piece. I regularly work with the charitable social enterprise Fine Cell Work, founded over 20 years ago by Lady Anne Tree with the aim of helping prisoners to develop new skills, earn money, and acquire the self-belief to stop offending. Skilled volunteers currently work with inmates in 32 British prisons, engaging with over 500 prisoners each year. My first design with them was ‘Heart of Oak’, a cushion reflecting our love of color and embroidery with a combination of French knots, stem and chain stiches on a luxuriously thick British boiled wool sourced from Savile Row.

The prisoners consistently produce lovely stitching and needlework, from simple cross-stitch designs to the most complicated embroideries. I have seen prisoners transformed by their work. It gives them a feeling of value and achievement; they are paid for what they do and are enormously proud of the objects they have made. Those I’ve met keep folders and copies of all their work. It is always so surprising to see the biggest and boldest of the men create the most intricate, fine pieces. It is awe inspiring.

I became a trustee of the organization, not because I wanted to sit in long meetings in a boardroom but because I thought I might be able to help them create new designs and color stories. We wanted to extend the appeal of Fine Cell Work to designers and interior decorators, so we have developed the range to include a headboard, footstool, breakfast tray, lampshade and mirror. We thought there were enough cushions around. Some of the pieces feature appliquéd folkloric creatures, embellished with whipped back-, feather-, buttonhole-, and coral stitches. An antique textile inspired the handstitched needlepoint we have enclosed in Perspex with sturdy handles to make a tray.

Our most recent cushion designs are inspired by the play of sunlight on fallen leaves in the rain. It is an upbeat, optimistic motif, echoing the wonderful relationship we have with the charity. The teams we work with are great fun and it is a genuine joy to be involved with such a positive group of people working against the odds and vagaries of prison life.

It is always so surprising to see the biggest and boldest of the men create the most intricate, fine pieces. It is awe inspiring.

Kit Kemp’s Design Thread is published by Hardie Grant with photography by Simon Brown. In the book, Kit shares the inspiration behind her creative process: whether it’s a house in the country or a city pied-a-terre, a hotel suite or beach bar, her unique eye for design shines through. Buy your copy here.

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019