(Posted Nov. 19, 2015)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
With blunt-nosed scissors, fabric scraps, and donated sewing machines, offenders at Madison Correctional Institution (MaCI) are making colorful, creative contributions to society.
Established in March, the quilting class is one of the prison’s newest offerings designed to prepare offenders for reintegration into life after incarceration. Leading the way is Liz Lassel, a London resident who volunteers as the program’s instructor.
Lassel worked for the Ohio Department of Corrections for 23 years before retiring as a chief financial officer. She also is a member of the London Visual Arts Guild. Through her connections, she helped fellow guild member, Harry Croghan, start art classes at MaCI. She tagged along as an assistant and early this year mentioned to prison staff that she was a quilter.
“The inmates voiced an interest in a quilting program, so I decided to go for it,” she said.
Lassel spends two to two-and-a-half hours once a week guiding six offenders through lessons on measuring, cutting, piecing, stitching, and designing what she encourages them to think of as textile art. They then have use of the sewing room throughout the week to work on projects. Everything they create is or will be donated to charitable causes.
To start, the offenders made pocketed bags that fit on walkers for nursing home clients in London and West Jefferson. They made clothing protectors, some of which were de-livered to the Alzheimer’s day care unit at the Madison County Senior Center. They also crocheted torn plastic shopping bags into mats to place under sleeping bags for the homeless.
Next came quilting. Lassel first showed her students how to make a basic quilt pattern featuring five-inch squares, nine rows across and nine rows down. The offenders call these “81 quilts” for their 81 squares.
“I have a core group who’ve been in the program long enough that they’ve upped their skill level,” Lassel said. “They joke that any new students should have to make at least three ‘81 quilts’ with scraps before they’re allowed to cut into fresh yardage.”
The offenders in the program have a goal of making 100 lap throw quilts by Christmas, all of which will be donated to children and the elderly in Madison County. They have already finished over 80 quilts.
Some of their creations were on display Nov. 5-6 at Synchronicity of London, a new business Lassel co-owns with some Arts Guild members. The show was designed as a thank-you to the groups that have donated materials to the quilting program: the Arts Guild, the Madison County Senior Center quilters, Happy Hour Needle Club, 20th Century Club, and St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Visitors to the show voted on their favorite pieces. The top 10 will be on display at Synchronicity of London, 9 E. High St., during London’s Old Fashioned Christmas the night of Nov. 30.
“I’ve shown the offenders the comments people left (at the thank-you show). They need to see that I’m not lying when I tell them they do a good job,” Lassel said.
Among the comments were: “Lots of wonderful talent in this group;” “Any child would love this;” and “Amazed by the creativity and quality of the work.”
The students in Lassel’s core group have matured enough in their sewing and quilting abilities to work on their own with minimal guidance. So, Lassel is preparing to take on three to six new students.
As for what the offenders get out of the program, Lassel said, “Some guys want to do this for veterans. Some want to do it for kids. Some don’t care (who it’s for); it just makes their time go by quickly.”
As for what she gets out of it, Lassel said, “When I watch someone create something beautiful with scissors like these (holding up the blunt-nose scissors) and whatever fabric comes through the door, I get inspired and revved up to work on my own projects at home.”
Lassel welcomes donations of fabric and plastic shopping bags for use in the program. Items can be dropped off at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 380 Keny Blvd., London, or Studio 7, 7 E. High St., London. Or donors can call Lassel at (614) 769-3986 to arrange a pick-up.