Friday 23 March 2018

A stitch in time: thousands view quilts crafted by prisoners

Merli Hallik visits the International Quilt Festival of Ireland held at NUI, Galway
Merli Hallik visits the International Quilt Festival of Ireland held at NUI, Galway
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

A GROUP of hardened criminals have found their softer sides – making quilts for an international exhibition.

The group of inmates from Limerick Prison made intricate quilts which were displayed at the International Quilt Festival of Ireland, which had more than 1,000 pieces on display.

The prison pieces, which depicted everything from a hoodie wearing man with a gun shot wound to the chest, to two peacocks with interlocking heads, were kept under guard throughout the three day festival, with visitors warned that pictures were forbidden.

"The pieces are remarkable, but we know nothing about the quilters. We don't even know their names.

"The reaction has been amazing. We've had people leave in tears while others feel uplifted by the pieces," said festival organiser Jim West.

Up to 6,000 visitors attended the festival which Mr West estimates will bring €1.3m into the local economy.

Visitors also got to enjoy intricate pieces by master quilters. The pieces took over a year to complete in some cases and contained thousands of individual beads all hand attached.

One piece, Tree of Life, which depicted a stain glass image of a tree, cost close to $60,000 but has made $150,000 in prize money at quilting festivals.

"When we talk about a quilting festival people think of something you throw on a bed but these are masterful pieces of art," added Mr West.

Another display at the festival was a quilt rescued in the 1920s from a house in Galway's Prospect Hill which was set alight by the Black and Tans.

Quilters from the US, Australia, Canada and Europe all travelled to take part in the festival.

ICA Bootcamp mentor Josephine Helly praised the talent of those taking part and urged more young Irish to take up the skill.

"We were always afraid that skills like this were dying out in Ireland but we have some lovely quilts by children. That kind of interest is brilliant," she said.

Irish Independent

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