John Gout, the Quilting Inmate
In the laundry room of the South Idaho Correctional Institution near Boise, inmate John Gout and Laundry Officer Michael O'Donnell display a quilt made by Gout as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House. Photo courtesy of the Idaho Department of Correction.
Anyone familiar with color knows that blue and orange are opposite one another on the color wheel and are, therefore, complementary. That’s a good thing, because blue and orange comprise a major portion of the color palette for quilter John Gout. Most of the fabric used in his quilts comes from “prison blues” (denim blue jeans) and bright orange offender transport jumpsuits. Gout is an inmate at the minimum-security South Idaho Correctional Institution (SICI) near Boise, where he’s serving a 10-year sentence for felony burglary.
He’s also a quilter. Several years ago, a prison official (who had attended a charity event where a blue jean quilt was auctioned off) suggested that making quilts might be something Gout could try as a means of serving the community. “I taught myself how to do it,” he says. “My first quilt was just eight-inch squares of denim.”
Gout knows his way around a sewing machine, having grown up selling them in his family’s sewing machine shop in Salt Lake City during the 1950s. He learned to sew by altering clothing for his sister, whose small stature made her a difficult fit. In prison, he perfected his sewing skills and learned to use a variety of machines, from straight stitch sewing machines to overlocking sergers.
Gout is the head tailor at SICI, where one of his main jobs is outfitting fellow inmates with denim jeans hemmed to size, since all new pants are issued the same length. He saves the scraps, and during the past couple of years he has used them to make over 30 quilts.
He also uses fabric from worn-out jeans and jumpsuits. “We have 650 inmates here at the prison and since each one of them has several pairs of jeans, I always have a ready supply of good material,” Gout says. “Mostly I use the back side of the pants leg, which doesn’t get so much wear.” The prison provides him batting, and for backing, he uses twin sheets. “All of my quilts are 99” x 66”—twin sheet size. I fold over the back to make the binding.”
The quilt tops are constructed using a 1938 Brother industrial single-needle sewing machine in the prison laundry room. “I work my regular eight hours, and then, I usually work on my quilts for two or three hours a day,” he says. “It occupies a lot of my time, and that’s a good thing when you’re in here.” After he completes a quilt top and adds the batting and backing, he uses an upholstery needle to tie it with yarn or embroidery floss.
All of his patterns are rendered in squares or rectangles and he plots the designs out on a piece of typing paper before starting to sew. Gout once created a pattern of a turkey inspired by a picture he saw in a Field and Stream magazine, and he has made a house quilt, an alphabet quilt, and even, a flower quilt.
All of his handiwork has been donated to local charities, schools, and service organizations for fundraisers. Many of the quilts have raised money for cancer research. A former laundry officer at the prison who was also a middle school wrestling coach, asked Gout to make quilts for each middle school in the Boise area with the school’s name and mascot in block letters. The quilts were raffled off to benefit the schools’ athletics programs.
Most recently, Gout made eight quilts that were given to Boise’s Ronald McDonald House. One of those features the words BSU BRONCOS, a tribute to Boise State University (whose colors just happen to be orange and blue). This quilt, autographed by school athletes, is to be auctioned off, while the other seven were given to families staying at the house.
“I love quilting. I guess you could say I’ve gotten addicted to it,” he says. “I’m happy to have an opportunity to create something to give back to the community. When I get out of prison in February 2011, I’m going to buy a sewing machine, get some material from a thrift store, and keep on quilting!”
Click here to return to top.
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here