Learning to Quilt in Prison

In the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to honor Colleen “Koko”  Sutton, who was a petite powerhouse of optimism, energy, and inspiration. Koko founded the Coffee Creek Quilters (CCQ), a group of volunteers who teach quilting to the female inmates of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, a women’s prison in Wilsonville, Oregon.


       Colleen “Koko” Sutton
Founder of Coffee Creek Quilters
                 1932 -2009

Koko’s Vision
Koko’s vision was to utilize quilting as a way to teach patience, perseverance, and problem-solving as well as increase self-esteem. She started the program at the women’s prison in 2002 with 2 instructors and 12 students. Since then, there are usually 20 instructors covering four classes per week and 80 students who stay in the program for 12-18 months.

“Two for charity, one for myself, and all from the heart”
Each student makes two quilts for charity (about 40″ x 60″) and a larger one (about 60″ x 80″) for herself. Some students choose to keep the quilt to use on their bunk in the dormitories; the quilt adds a much desired burst of color and source of pride to their lives. A large number of students make their personal quilt to give to a loved one they miss or someone who has been supportive during their incarceration. Over the years, CCQ students have made several hundreds of charity quilts and personal quilts.

Teaching Quilting at the Prison
Prior to starting work at Connecting Threads, I taught quilting at the prison for six years. Class time felt like any quilt class in the community with women chatting while they cut and sewed. This supported the notion we were taught in volunteer training that 92% of the inmates are regular people who had made a mistake in their lives. I admired the women for their ability and determination to make lovely quilts despite barriers in their past and current lives.

Patterns for CCQ
Koko shared with me her goal of having a book of general quilting instructions and patterns developed for the use of the CCQ students. I wrote my first pattern the week I started teaching at the prison in April, 2005 and proceeded to design and write over 50 patterns for the students use. This provided me with wonderful teaching, designing, and writing experience that has proved useful for my work for CT. I still help pull fabric from the CCQ donated stash to make quilt kits for the students.

Ann-CCQ1  Ann-CCQ3
Ann-CCQ5    Ann-CCQ4

Quilting Changes Lives
I feel strongly – as do the instructors, students, and prison administration I think – that quilting and the CCQ program changes lives. I have many powerful memories of my time as a CCQ instructor. I still get goose bumps remembering the pride and joy on each woman’s face as she held up her first completed quilt top and everyone clapped and cheered for her.

Coffee Creek Quilters Make a Difference!
I encourage you to visit the  CCQ website to learn more about the program and read some comments by students who have made quilts and people who have received them.  The experience of teaching quilting in the prison and its impact on lives is best summarized in an amazing video by TheQuiltShow.com team for Alex Anderson and Ricky Tim’s show. Please take time to watch the video  – You may get goosebumps too!

As for Koko, our fun, caring and inspirational founder, we miss her, but know she must be in heaven organizing a quilting group among the angels!





  1. Shannon - May 8, 2014

    wow. bless you and all the others who do this fine work. what an empowering thing to do. the students will indeed learn a number of life skills along with producing their fabric works of art. do you have any photos of their work to share?

  2. Ann - May 8, 2014

    Shannon, if you go to the CCQ website (link above) you will see a row of quilts at top of the home page – which are all student quilts. Also, the large picture of a pink Ohio star quilt (one of my designs) is also a student quilt.

  3. Dawn - May 8, 2014

    This seriously warms my heart so much. It’s so lovely to know CCQ continues on even though Koko has passed. Shannon has it right, what you did and what CCQ continues to do is truly empowering to just read, let alone for these women.

  4. Bev - May 10, 2014

    Amazed & thrilled. This craft offers so much hope. I know I have to be able to create, touch the fabric & run the thread through my fingers. It allows these women to DREAM as I do. Wish I could have known Koko. So inspired.

  5. Jenna - May 12, 2014

    I love reading stories like these! Inspiring.