Social, artistic, and fine motor skills, as well as sewing machine maintenance, are a few of the skills gained by men at Tongariro Prison participating in a quilting programme.

Three of the donated quilts.

Once a week for an hour, three volunteers teach quilting to men in Huatu Unit, who work on their projects during other times when they are able to access the classroom.

Using donated sewing machines, fabrics and threads, and with financial assistance from Taupo Lakeland Lions and Taupo Quiltmakers for other resources, finished quilts are donated to needy seniors in the community.

Principal Adviser Rehabilitation and Learning Cynthia Elllis says, “The men participating in the programme range in age from 20 to around 70 years and 2020 will be the third year the programme has been operating at Tongariro Prison. Five quilts were donated in 2018 and it’s great that the total has doubled to 10 in 2019.”

Some of the quilts require hand work or embroidery and others are machine sewn. “Some paihere like the slower repetitive skills while others want to produce things at a faster rate. The great thing with quilting is that it can cater for different personalities and skill levels,” says Volunteer Lynley. “Part of the volunteer role is to help steer the men towards quilt making styles that most appeal to them. Some like set patterns, while other like the artistic and exploration element. Others like the mathematical challenge and working out the patterns and material shapes.”

Lynley says the volunteers use opportunities to praise and encourage positive attitudes from the men as they achieve success in their quilting endeavours. The quilt-making process encourages positive social interaction with other participants as the men work together on their projects.

“One paihere used what he had learned to create a wall hanging with symbols depicting his journey towards rehabilitation. His wall hanging acknowledged where he had come from, what new things he had learnt about himself, and things that he could use to focus on if he felt old influences were trying to take a hold again,” says Lynley. This was a project suggested by the prison Chaplain and later formed part of his parole presentation.

Another paihere initially found it difficult to accept anything but perfect work. He got better as he began to learn that it was “about progress, not perfection” and that each quilt was an opportunity to learn new things while taking pride in those skills already mastered. Lynley says a lot of the language used in the quilt making process can be applied to general life skills.