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November 29, 2023 by Richard Fernandez  

A new needlepointing program at San Quentin is offering residents a chance to express their creative side through the craft.

Prior to the needlepoint program beginning, incarcerated staff and librarians at the prison’s library wanted to start offering crafts for patrons. They wanted to create a space where residents could channel their energy into something positive and rewarding. Crafts such as needlepointing, which is similar to crocheting, allow one to find a sense of calm and accomplishment while developing a new skill. This can facilitate self-improvement and mental well-being.

The first crafting class at the library began several months ago with the creation of Mothers’ Day cards. Supplies, materials, patterns, and examples were made available to participants, and beautiful Mothers’ Day cards came to life and were mailed out. 

On Friday, July 14, the new needlepoint class began, providing more opportunities for creative expression and personal growth among the participants. 

Librarian Charlotte Sanders introduces new students to the technique by having them practice with a mesh doodle pad. They learn a continental stitch, and once they can handle this basic technique, their first project is to needlepoint a cover for an eyeglasses case, personalized with assorted colors of thread, names, or initials. 

“What’s nice about needlepoint is that it is very meditative, you can make your own design or copy patterns,” Sanders said. “You can listen to music, or even hold conversations while you do needlepoint. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience, yet it is much simpler than knitting, with a much lower learning curve. What’s rewarding is the finished product. Something you can keep or give away as a gift. Everything you stitch is handmade and personalized. I still have things from my grandmother.”

“It was resident and library worker Ronell Draper that spearheaded the idea of starting the craft classes, and funding support was made available by the Friends of the San Quentin Library, a recently formed nonprofit that supports the San Quentin Library,” Sanders said. 

Ronell “Rauch” Draper said, “I’ve been given the opportunity to work on the advisory board with the Friends of San Quentin Library, exploring the gift of books and all the possibilities they hold, but we also wanted to expand the library’s offerings with craft programing.” 

One historical figure who serves as an inspiration to many aspiring needlepointers is Mary, Queen of the Scots, who spent nearly two decades in captivity under the custody of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Despite her circumstances, Mary found solace in needlepointing and poured her creativity into creating stunning pieces during her imprisonment, some of which are displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

Many of the participants of the program find a deep connection with her story, realizing that art can be a powerful means of comfort and expression, even in the most challenging situations. 

Rosie Grier, a former NFL player, gained fame on the field and in his own time found an unexpected passion ― needlepointing. Grier even authored a book, “Rosie Grier’s Needlepoint for Men,” which encouraged many other men to embrace the craft. Grier’s story serves as a reminder that creativity has no boundaries and crafting can be embraced by everyone.

 Participants are grateful to the Friends of San Quentin Library for providing all of the supplies, which they can take back to their living quarters to continue working on their projects. The needlepointing program meets every Friday at 8:30 a.m. in the library and drop-ins are welcome. 

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