Inmates take pride in embroidery

Kathy Aney / East Oregonian /


Published Jan 27, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

PENDLETON — The Oregon Legislature and the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution are 250 miles apart, but a tiny piece of cloth links them — a little Oregon flag with the state seal embroidered on one side and a beaver on the other.

Inmates stitched the miniature flags. When the Legislature convened last week for the 2013 session, lawmakers found them planted in one corner of their desks inside chambers of leather and polished wood.

Four inmates crafted the flags inside the cavernous and decidedly less posh EOCI garment factory in Pendleton, at the request of Senate President Peter Courtney. Previous flags had displayed only the seal, even though statute describes a beaver on the flipside. Courtney decided to present legislators in the Senate and House with accurate flags that he purchased himself.

The four guys who work in the embroidery shop added Courtney’s order to the queue. The team stays busy embroidering clothing, bags, patches, hats and other items for state, federal and nonprofit agencies such as schools, National Guard units, police departments and even the Pendleton Round-Up.

These aren’t four guys sitting around with needle, embroidery thread and thimbles. Their methods are decidedly higher-octane, involving high-speed, commercial multi-head machines and enough power to satisfy Tim “The Toolman” Taylor.

Leroy Savelesky, a member of the embroidery squad, eyed one of the machines closely on a recent morning in an area awash with fluorescent light. The thrumming machine had six heads, multiple bobbins, tension adjusters and six dozen needles embroidering dozens of Department of Corrections patches for officers’ uniforms.

A red light appeared over one of the heads, indicating a broken thread. Savelesky, sporting a pony tail and a tool belt, threaded the needle and restarted the machine.

Each order goes first to the team’s digitizer, Jeff Haney, who creates a design. Haney designed the flag and shrank the seal and beaver to fit. Because the flag has embroidery on both sides, the flag is folded over on itself. Haney didn’t seem taxed, though the flag was his first back-to-back (two-sided) embroidery order.

“We can do about any customized work,” he said, rubbing his goatee. “Our quality is really good. We take a lot of pride in what we do.”