Cover image for Sins and needles : a story of spiritual mending
Sins and needles : a story of spiritual mending
Materson, Ray, 1954-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002.
Physical Description:
214 pages : color illustrations ; 19 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NK9298.M38 A2 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Ray Materson wanted to be a priest when he grew up. He was an A student and sixth-grade class president. But in college Ray began drinking, which led to drug experimentation, which devolved to an addict's life of living fix to fix. Finally, petty acts of theft and the end of loans from friends led to carjacking with a toy gun and a sentence of twenty-five years behind bars.

One miserable day in prison, Ray remembered an image of his grandmother sitting on the porch with her embroidery. At about the same time, the University of Michigan was to play in the Rose Bowl. Improvising a needlework hoop, Ray made a maize-and-blue Michigan M so he could officially cheer his team to victory. Soon Ray was sewing small flags and emblems using threads pulled from socks for pieces commissioned by fellow inmates, who paid him with cigarettes. Over time his work became more intricate-miniature masterpieces that told stories from his past and illustrated his dreams for the future. In stitching his artwork, Ray found hope and salvation.

Enter Melanie, a woman who sees Ray's work in a local exhibition and writes him a fan letter. Ultimately she marries him while he's still in prison. With Melanie's encouragement and perseverance, Ray's artwork gains national attention and is a smash hit. To this day, his work is represented by the American Primitive Gallery in New York.

Illustrated with fifty pieces of Materson's artwork, Sins and Needles is the riveting story of Ray's journey-of how a broken man manages to put the pieces of his life together in a most unexpected way.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Ray Materson was, he says, "a good boy gone bad." He had been an A student, even class president once (in sixth grade), and had hoped to become a priest. But dysfunctional family life and an increasingly troubled, aimless adolescence led to alcohol and drug addiction, a failed marriage, petty crime, and a 25-year sentence for carjacking with a toy gun. He started turning around irrevocably, though, during the 1988 Christmas season. The University of Michigan was in the Rose Bowl, and to cheer the team on and bolster his sagging spirits, he stitched an M out of thread from his maize-and-blue socks. Soon he was embroidering flags and emblems for fellow inmates. As his work became more sophisticated, he got media attention. Other changes coincided. From prison, he corresponded with, met, and eventually married Melanie, a writer who proceeded to promote his needle-artwork and has helped him tell, compellingly and with winning simplicity, an inspiring and touching story of the transformative power of art and the resiliency of the human spirit. June Sawyers

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ray Materson, a good student who wanted to be a priest when he grew up, began doing drugs in college and got into trouble with the law. He was sent to jail for a car-jacking (in which he used a toy gun), and while there, learned how to embroider. Sewing with the threads of unraveled socks, Materson made intricate works that depicted everything from his favorite football team to the confinement he felt in prison. Along with his wife, Melanie Materson, he tells the story of how he found hope and salvation through art in Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending. The book includes illustrations of 50 pieces of Materson's needlework. (Sept. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1. The House on York Road The big, east-facing front porch was trellised on its southern side. In the summer, small pink roses reached out in all directions, from the lush, black earth to the eave of the roof. Grandma Hattie would regularly sit in a rocking chair in the shade of the trellis and work her embroidery. A compact woman with a hunched back and a nose like a hawk's beak, she had spent most of her life in Brooklyn, but she'd come to live with us after the death of my uncle Eddie, who had always looked after her. She was almost eighty at the time, and Dad insisted that she move in with us. It was an arrangement that caused my mother a good deal of apprehension, and it seemed that my grandmother was less than delighted with the social and geographic change. But Dad was a man who felt deep familial obligation, so Grandma Hattie-with her housecoats, gaudy jewelry, dentures, sewing basket, and out-of-place Brooklyn accent-had become a member of the family. I was eight years old when we moved into the large, four-bedroom house on the corner of York Road and Meadowbrook Drive in Parma Heights, Ohio. It was the summer of 1962, and we'd left Grand Rapids, Michigan, because my father had taken a transfer from his employer, an insurance company. Our new house was beautiful, with rich woodwork and beveled-glass windows. On sunny days these windows projected slow-moving rainbows across the floors and walls. Dad, Mom, Grandma Hattie, my sister, Barbara, and I enjoyed a shared fantasy that there were little pots of gold at the end of each rainbow. It took a little time for me to fully adjust to the move to Parma Heights, but I fell in love with the expansive backyard and the pear trees out front-and I enjoyed meeting the other kids who lived in the neighborhood. It was during my four and a half years on York Road that I learned to play baseball, developed an appreciation for the theater, and earned a measure of popularity among my peers. My best friend was Mike Sforzo, who lived two doors up the road from us. His older sister, Darlene, was a high-school classmate of my sister's at Nazareth Academy, a Catholic girls school, and that's how I'd come to know him. A year older than I, Mike excelled at sports: baseball, football, and boccie. I never matched his athletic abilities, but that never lessened my love of sports, especially baseball. In the suburbs of Cleveland, most of the other neighborhood kids claimed the Indians as their favorite team. But I delighted in rooting for the New York Yankees. They were the team to be reckoned with, and their star players-Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, and Roger Maris-were my heroes. I read about them in the Plain Dealer, listened to their games on a rocket-shaped red, crystal-receiver radio, and watched their televised games against the Indians with intense concentration. Once, when I was about ten years old, my sister won tickets to a Yankees-Indians game in an academic competition. Our whole family (except Grandma Hattie) attended the game at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. At one point in the game-which the Yankees won-the Mick came within ten or twelve rows of our seats when he ran to catch a foul ball that was dropping near the stands. I felt sure he'd seen me. Perhaps it was the nanvetT of childhood, or maybe it had something to do with being raised as a Roman Catholic, but a sense of security enveloped me during my childhood. I knew I had a guardian angel always looking over my shoulder, as the nuns at Holy Family School had assured me. When it came to truth, God was the only higher authority than the priests and nuns at Holy Family. I started school there in the third grade. The class was large and well disciplined. Boys wore gray slacks, white shirts, and string ties that were clasped at the neck with a Holy Family medallion. Girls wore gray plaid jumpers, white blouses, knee socks, and saddle shoes. If we wanted to stand out, we knew it had to be for our actions. The uniforms contributed to the general sense of order and discipline. School started each morning with Mass. We would meet in our classrooms, and after the roll was called, we'd walk single file, girls followed by boys, to the church on the opposite side of the parking lot and playground. Talking or straying out of line was strictly forbidden, because-as Father Benechek often said-God created an orderly universe, and he expects nothing less from his children, the crown of his creation. Holy Family Church was a big, unostentatious, red-brick structure attached to the school's gymnasium and auditorium. The interior was modestly ornate, with statues of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, as well as the Holy Family. Each of us was expected to remain silent while considering our uniqueness, our sinful nature, and the saving grace of Christ the Redeemer. I loved all of it, and I envied the older boys who were fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the altar alongside the priest. But I was painfully aware that I couldn't begin training as an altar boy until I was in the sixth grade. Or so I thought. In November of my third-grade year, I was selected to play the role of a traveling priest in a Christmas play. The story line involved a pioneer family stranded in their log cabin during a snowstorm, unable to attend the traditional midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. My character-lost, hungry, and suffering from frostbite and exposure-stumbled upon the cabin by fortunate accident and was nursed back to health just in time to hold the midnight Eucharist celebration. I believed Sister Mary Theresa when she told us it was a true story about answered prayers. Thus it was that I celebrated my first Mass at the age of eight-and as a priest, no less! The experience was so rich and spiritually invigorating that I couldn't let go of it. So, in the priestly vestments that my mother had sewn for me out of old satin curtains, I began frequently celebrating Mass at home in my bedroom. I flattened and shaped pieces of white bread to form my make-believe Eucharist hosts. And, with the meticulous assistance of my sister-who would've been proud to have her brother become a priest someday-I constructed all the mandatory accoutrements, from the altar to candlesticks and a chalice. I conducted the services for a hand-me-down teddy bear and a stuffed panda-neither of whom accepted Communion. Excerpted from Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending by Ray Materson, Melanie Materson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.