Quilts with heart: Patuxent Institute for Women's Circle of Friends gives back
03/31/2011
Howard Magazine

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Inge Stocklin reflects back and says with a chuckle, "I always wanted to teach women to quilt in prison. ... I don't know why."

And for more than a decade that's what she's done -- coaching inmates at the Patuxent Institute for Women, a correctional facility in Jessup, through the weekly Circle of Friends quilting group.

Now in its 12th year, the program has been a success for the inmates as well as the charities that benefit from their work, Stocklin says, based on feedback she receives from the participants.

"The women are all very enthusiastic to quilt," shares Stocklin, who has been a quilter for more than 30 years. "It gives them a sense of being able to focus on something else. We enjoy spending our time with the women."

Since its inception, the group has made 685 quilts and donated them to charities chosen by the inmates, including the House of Ruth in Washington, D.C., Villa Maria in Timonium, Sarah's House at Fort Meade, Grassroots in Howard County, and the Pediatric AIDS Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Last year's 113 quilts were donated to St. Ann's home for mothers and babies in Hyattsville and St. Vincent Center for abused children in the Baltimore area.

Serendipity

After closing shop at her Quilt Studio in Ellicott City many years ago, Stocklin says she wanted to remain involved with quilts by appraising, restoring and washing them from her home in Fulton.

Serendipitous as it sounds, one of the Patuxent Institute's administrators asked Stocklin to help restore her quilt.

"I mentioned to her my interest in working with women at the institute, and she suggested I submit a proposal, and I was amazed at how quickly things happened," adds Stocklin.

Seed money for the program came from individual donors, with some monies donated by the Faithful Circle Quilters in Columbia. Along with a one-time donation from the prison, the program has been supported by fabric and supply donations from local quilting guilds and Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, Stocklin says. Since last year, the batting has been paid for by the prison.

The decision to donate quilts to charities was established at the get-go, when the prison warden made clear to Stocklin that the inmates could not keep what they made.

Circle of Friends meets for two hours every Friday in the prison with about 12 chosen inmates and six volunteers. Along with Stocklin, Sandy McDonald -- who's been on board since the group's inception -- helps lead the volunteer quilters program at the institute.

New quilters start out by using "cheater cloth" -- a printed fabric that looks like patchwork stitched to a backing with batting in the middle. "This is called sandwiching the quilt, and stitching it together is called quilting," Stocklin adds.

Ideas and inspiration for quilts are drawn from a collection of donated books and magazines.

'Sense of satisfaction'

Every year, the inmates are asked to share what Stocklin calls a "statement" about their participation.

Last year's statements included one that read, "It allows me to give back to the community that I've taken from in the past" and another that read, "When I first started six years ago, I was disappointed that I couldn't make quilts for myself or my family. Now I feel a great sense of satisfaction from putting my heart into a quilt that I know will go to someone who really needs it."

The women's dedication and willingness to learn a new craft is apparent, according to Stocklin, who says none of the participants knew how to quilt prior to the program. Some had never even threaded a needle.

Nevertheless, two quilts produced through the program won ribbons at the 2010 Howard County Fair.

In addition to the county fair, the quilts are displayed at Howard County's Central Library and, in previous years, at Faith Circle Quilters shows, the State House in Annapolis, the Celebration of the Arts in Maryland, Howard County Center for the Arts and the National Quilting Association in Ellicott City.

Stocklin and her group of volunteers accept donations of fabric, supplies and money for the Circle of Friends.

Send donations to Stocklin's attention at P.O. Box 243, Fulton, MD 20759. E-mail ingestocklin@verizon.net.