‘The beauty of the designs, the ability of the prisoners, the mission of the charity – it’s a really well thought out initiative, we’re so proud of our affiliation,’
says founder, Liz Downing, of Blithfield’s long-standing partnership with Fine Cell Work, a rehabilitation charity and social enterprise which teaches prisoners and ex-prisoners to make beautiful handmade products.
Established in 1997, by Lady Anne Tree, in their own words, Fine Cell Work exists to ‘[help] prisoners and ex-prisoners to rebuild meaningful, independent, crime-free lives. We do this by engaging them in paid, purposeful, professional, creative activity.’ Blithfield launched their first collection in collaboration with the organisation in 2015.
Here, Liz discusses their cherished partnership and the creative process which goes into the designs…
Tell us about the origins of the collaboration?
‘I went to Decorex back in 2012/13 and saw their work and vision and I was full of enthusiasm for the whole project. I thought, this is something I want to be involved in. A charity which makes beautiful things for our home and also helps to rehabilitate prisoners, teaching them skills and making those skills feel valued, which promotes a sense of self worth and provides an opportunity to make money. It’s a perfect mission for us.’
How did you create the first collection?
‘I said to FCW, ‘we want to work with you’! Creatively, we worked with Melissa Wyndham and Kit Kemp, both brilliant designers and inspiring women who were very involved with the charity. Initially we thought we’d do tapestry, but Kit suggested taking our prints and adding coloured embroidery. We took several designs – Rossmore, Pineapple, Stratford and now the most popular design is Oakleaves – then picked out aspects of the print with different stitches and different colours to make the designs pop.’
How does the process of creating the pieces work?
‘It’s time consuming! Once a sample is created and approved, FCW creates a kit for each stitcher including the cut-to-size cushion and threads – they’re allowed some free rein, which I love. The pieces are worked on in the stitchers cells and when the embroidery is complete, it comes out to be inspected, then back in to be finished with piping and backing. Every piece is labelled with the prison it was created in and the name of the stitcher, it’s so important to know that their work is valued.’
How has the collection developed?
‘The original collection is ongoing and we’ve added to it, it turns out our cushions are some of the bestsellers. We work closely with the head of creative at FCW and Kit to choose the prints and colours. The full collection is available on the Fine Cell Work website. And alongside the main collection, Kit works on bespoke pieces.’
Tell us about the bespoke pieces?
‘Customers can commission something they want – for example, Kit created the most beautiful headboard. Pieces like that can be made to order. It takes time, like all beautiful craftsmanship.’
Where are the pieces available?
‘They sell them on their website and we talk about them as much as we can – we’re very devoted to each other. Each year we give our partners their Christmas ornaments – this year we have created our own which will also be available to buy. And for next year we have designed an extra special ornament…’