Newton Paisley x Fine Cell Work

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I had been an admirer of Fine Cell Work for many years, and it was the highlight of my first ever exhibition at Decorex, in 2016, when they approached me about designing some products for them. Fine Cell Work feels to me like the best of this industry – I love their ethos, how they form a community and change lives, and I was (and still am) star-struck about their fabulous designers. If you don’t know Fine Cell Work, they are a wonderful charity, founded 25 years ago, which works with prisoners and ex-prisoners. Through embroidery, they develop work skills, self-reliance, and they earn and save money so that when they leave prison, they are ready to set off on a good path.

I personally find that hand work, like knitting or embroidery, is very positive for my state of mind. Like Louisa May Alcott, I think busy hands are key for keeping your heart sweet and your head sane.

These first cushions I designed for FCW feature a beautifully embroidered ‘bouquet’ of ferns, in a gradient of luscious greens. (We took a lot of time to choose the greens for this project.) This fern is the Appalachian bog fern, Coryphopteris simulata, a rare, elegant fern found in the mountains of North America from my Carolina Tree of Life collection. It emits a sweet-smelling scent in its marshes of sphagnum moss, under the shade of cedar, spruce and larch. 


This project reminded me of the earliest days of my design career when I was a biologist, illustrating informally my field notes. Ferns and bracken were always great favourites for their gentle, repeating, almost fractal, forms. Such a meditative shape to dwell on and doodle. (Doodling is, of course, another form of hand work – keeping me sane on long sleepless nights of activity monitoring when I was studying bears.)

The experts at Fine Cell Work helped to translate my 2-D designs into 3-D embroidery – it was really interesting to get a glimpse into that process. In the end, the stitchers are using pretty complex stitches to bring out each intricate detail of the fern leaves. 

Appalachian mountain ferns
Ferns in the Appalachian mountains

I think a lot about what it means to be inside versus outside. I hope that the wildness of these ferns will bring happiness to the stitchers as well as the people who support Fine Cell Work by buying them. And I really look forward to developing more designs with Fine Cell Work in the future.

By the way, the cushions accompany my Carolina Tree of Life designs, both the Carolina Parakeets and Carolina Posies, available here in printed linen and wallpaper. You can purchase the embroidered cushions directly from Fine Cell Work.

Carolina Parakeet Forest Linen