A 26 Case Study: Threads of Time with Fine Cell Work

– The Threads of Time editorial team: Elise Valmorbida, Fiona Thompson, Sue Evans and Wendy Sacks Jones.

26 projects come in all shapes and sizes. They can be quick fire or slow burn, short or long form, and run with or without a partner. Our collaboration with Fine Cell Work has been one of our most ambitious projects to date, here’s what it took.

Threads of Time is not a typical 26 project. Undertaken in partnership with prison stitching charity Fine Cell Work, it has resulted in a 144-page illustrated book with long-form copy, having had a lead-time of nearly three years. Unusually for 26, the project doesn’t have a website or online presence.

We’ve had our sights on FCW for a while to run a project to raise awareness of the charity and the therapeutic value of needlework in prison and post-release. It wasn’t until Elise Valmorbida shared a platform with FCW founding director Katy Emck in autumn 2018, as ‘Women of Liberty’ at the London department store, that a conversation got underway. The discussions kept going, with the 26 Board supporting a potential collaboration. Like the late AA Gill, we were sympathetic to what he called ‘hard men and soft furnishings’. There are women prisoners who stitch inside but the large majority of stitchers in UK prisons are male.

Here’s how things evolved: in May 2019, we have our first team meeting between 26 and FCW at the charity’s social enterprise workshop in Battersea, Fine Works Hub. We agree on a project: a beautiful illustrated hardback book to be published on the charity’s 25th anniversary in April 2022. The book will have 25 chapters with a 26th in the form of an introduction by Katy Emck. Each chapter will be about a product that is important to the charity’s story and linked to a timeline of FCW’s history. The products range from the best-selling ‘Little Geometrics’ cushions, made using starter kits by prisoners new to needlework; artist’s commissions such as ‘Odyssey in Quilting’ by Ai Weiwei, auctioned at Sotheby’s in early 2020; bespoke designs, including needlepoint anatomy chairs and Knole Chapel kneelers; to the HMP Wandsworth Quilt commissioned for an exhibition at the V&A in 2010.

Snippet extracts from Threads of Time
Snippet extracts from Threads of Time

Three years seems a long lead-time, but there is a lot to do – here’s a fast-forward tour of what the project entails:

  • Agree the products to be featured in the book and in what order.
  • Invite proposals from designers. Enter David Caines who agrees to work on the project for a discounted fee. We get a print cost estimate so we have a budget to aim for, and now work with David alongside Gomer Press in Wales.
  • Call for expressions of interest from writers: members of 26 and celebrated authors with links to FCW, including Tracy Chevalier, Louis de Bernières, Isabella Tree and Esther Freud. We are looking for chapter writers, snippet writers, editors and proofreaders. Richard Axtell keeps track of the applications. Enlist poet Rishi Dastidar to elaborate on the timeline and write a villanelle as a summary flourish. All contributors sign an agreement on confidentiality and intellectual property rights.
  • Brief the writers and send product images and contact information for interviews. Set out a schedule for first and final drafts. Send editors a style guide to aid consistency for when they come to work on individual chapters.
  • Plan the Crowdfunding campaign and tiered rewards on offer. Sue Wilcox keeps us focused on budgets. Our aim is to cover design and print costs and we are thrilled when we more than double our initial target. This means any additional funds go directly to supporting FCW.
  • Lockdown means our writers have to undertake research interviews by Zoom or over the phone instead of in person. FCW can’t get its volunteers into prisons. Any contact with prisoners has to be by written letter sent via FCW.
  • FCW organise product photography with help from us on permissions where externally sourced.
  • Final tier editing by the core team to ensure coherence and eliminate repetition, sharing the final draft with FCW for them to check for accuracy. Proofreading before sending to David. We are grateful to Ian Gollan for his keen eye.
  • Page layout design, checking and making final adjustments pre-press. The artwork files go to Gomer, the paper is pre-ordered and we all breathe a sigh of relief!
  • The books arrive, safely stowed at FCW until the publication date on 26 April. The comms and social media campaign kicks off in the run-up to the book launch. That’s happening now. With huge thanks to Maeve O’Sullivan and Jamie Delves.

Phew, did we really do all that! Another outcome of the project, as well as the book, is that we’ve become great friends with the team at FCW. We feel almost part of the charity and it’s been a wonderful experience because of that.

And…you can still pre-order the book here and continue to order copies after 26 April.

– The Threads of Time editorial team: Elise Valmorbida, Fiona Thompson, Sue Evans and Wendy Sacks Jones.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.