Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Prisoners of Quilting

Three days ago, on December 23, a woman walked into a Virginia quilt store and stole a large pile of fabrics. The security cameras took a picture of her with a sizable bundle, here. She hasn't been caught, yet.

The article floored me. Who would rob their LQS? [local quilt shop?] Rather than taking things from them, we should all be lining up to give them money, because they are at the heart of quilting, and they struggle for survival with so many online fabric vendors.

Madame Burglar, if you happen to be reading this:

Return that fabric! Don’t try it again! Think of the consequences! If you're caught, there will be a tedious trial, and no matter how addicted to English paper pieced hexagons you might be, the courtroom judge probably won’t let you do it during the trial!  Not even with luscious modern fabrics

What’s more, the prison warden will almost certainly prohibit you from keeping your Featherweight in your cell!
[Dramatic enactment of the heartbreaking view from inside your prison cell.]

On the other hand, there have been many prison quilters.

For example, North Idaho Correctional Institution prisoner John Gout, a prolific and altruistic quilter. His quilts were made from prison jeans (blue) and jumpsuits (orange), for a serendipitous complementary color scheme.

Not only do colors on opposite sides of the color wheel make each other sizzle, but blue and orange also happen to be colors of nearby Boise State University. Below is a spectacular BSU quilt that Gout made.  It was autographed by the school's football players and auctioned to raise money for a Ronald McDonald house.

All Gout's prison quilts were made on a 1938 industrial Brother machine. The prison provided batting, and for backing, he used old twin sheets.

Here's the really good part: While serving time, he was permitted to quilt for two or three hours a day! (I'm jealous.)

By now, Gout's out of jail, having served a decade until 2011 for burglary (Unfortunately, the articles don't say what he initially stole). But he's apparently passed the craft to fellow Northern Idaho inmates, who now are also enthusiastically churning out charity quilts. It's win-win, for prisoners and charities. (Incidentally, you can donate fabric to help them out of the blue-and-orange rut. Find the phone number for donations at the bottom of this article.)

 Here are some more ways to obtain fabric that are more sensible than crime and punishment:
  • Scour Craig's lists for ads like these**. [**People selling massive fabric stashes.]
  • Sign up for your local Freecycle email list. Ask for fabric. People are constantly giving away and;/or searching for fabric on my area Freecycle. 
  • Stalk yard sales and thrift shops. Genius quilter Jimmy McBride, a non-prisoner who probably can afford new fabrics, makes a policy of using thrift shop fabrics anyway for his fantastic cosmic quilts.
One of Jimmy McBride's astronomical thrift shop garment quilts. See all his artwork  at
If at all possible, resolve to visit your LQS early in the New Year, and then, often. Pay happily. Thank them for existing. On the drive home, wave at the local jail as you fly by, go into your home,  lock yourself in your sewing room, turn on the Les Miz soundtrack, and stitch.

Finding the time to sew is a little more challenging. Contrary to the implications of this article, you don't have to be a prisoner to find time to quilt. You simply have to create prison conditions in your home. Inform your spouse and offspring that they may deliver hot meals thrice a day to your door, which you'll open only wide enough to import the tray. Plus an occasional chocolate snack.  Every four hours, you and the whole family should break for calisthenics in the yard. The longer your sentence, the happier you'll be.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, creative, quilty and above all, perfectly legal New Year.
[Update, 1/9/13: A sequel to this post can be found here.]


  1. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Cathy. You are a very good writer, great storyteller! You should be writing professionally, someplace. Since quilting is your passion, a national/int'l quilting magazine would be the perfect place for your columns.

    I know this issue is serious, but thanks for the entertainment!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Debbie. Stealing from LQS's is serious (probably serious mental illness), but I did have a bit of fun with it!

  3. Quilt shop thefts are common. A number of shows have also had theft issues. Sadly we are not safe from crime anywhere.

    1. It's true. Why anyone would steal from fabric stores or vendors at quilt shows I don't understand. Prison quilting project or no, it's deeply irrational.

  4. Great story, Cathy. Teaching people the satisfaction of working for a goal bigger than yourself is what makes life worthwhile--and the view from my potential prison cell was hilarious!

    Keep up the good work,

  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Linda! I definitely keep myself amused, so I'm even happier if I can amuse someone else!


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