Sew fine

I’m amazed to discover yet more artists using needle and thread as their illustration medium. Recently, we gazed at the fabric work of Adrienne Yorinks, and Anna Grossnickle Hines; then the 3D fabric collages of Salley Mavor.

Check out these book covers, designed and embroidered by Jillian Tamaki.

"Black Beauty," cover illustration by Jillian Tamaki

front cover of "Black Beauty"

full cover of "Black Beauty"

(left-to-right) back flap / back cover / spine / front cover / front flap

Hmm. I wonder if there will be any white type within the front flap’s horse-tail?

Inspired by the burgeoning Etsy-oriented handcrafting movement, Viking Penguin is launching a classic literary series called Penguin Threads. Jillian was commissioned by art director Paul Buckley to provide the design and illustration for three covers. Each piece started initially as a line sketch that, in turn, was sewn as embroidery.

Each cover was printed to include raised embossing of all stitching,  resulting in a tactile book package that feels hand-made.

front cover for "The Secret Garden"

front cover for "The Secret Garden"

“]full cover from "The Secret Garden"

(left-to-right) back flap / back cover / spine / front cover / front flap

The cover illustrations wrap around the entire book, extending to the French flaps (extensions of the paperback cover that fold inside the book). All three titles will be released in the fall of 2011.

front cover for "Emma"

front cover for "Emma"

“]full cover from "Emma"

(left-to-right) back flap / back cover / spine / front cover / front flap

I had been familiar with Jillian’s beautiful illustrations from the YA graphic novel, Skim (story by her cousin, Mariko Tamaki), winner of a 2008 New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award.

cover and samples from "Skim"

Recently, she produced the covers for two notable middle grade novels, Heart of a Samurai (2011 Newbery Honor), and Half-World.

'Heart of a Samarai' and 'Half-World' covers

Since Jillian sketched her drawings before applying embroidery to them, it’s no surprise that how no matter what medium she uses, it still appears to come from the same confident hand.

Jillian at work

Jillian at work

Jillian Tamaki:

“…What a dream project. When I first did my Monster Quilt (see below), I said I wouldn’t take commissions in embroidery… unless Penguin called me for a Penguin Classics cover. Sometimes you get what you wish for (times three)…

[On creating her Monster Quilt, which was started last October] …It was pleasant to work in an unfamiliar medium with some real inherent limitations.  And, oddly enough, it was kind of nice to produce something that must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.  STILL!  How to get a great photo of embroidered quilts… ?!  It’s tough! If you have experience on such matters, let me know…”

The Monster Quilt

Jillian Tamaki's Monster Quilt

I think Jillian would enjoy comparing notes on photographing textile and other 3D works with Salley Mavor 🙂

Visit Jillian’s blog here:

Her illustration website is here:


6 responses to “Sew fine

  1. I love these! The artwork is refreshingly unique yet the handcrafting feels timeless. Thrilling! Thanks for spreading the word and work, Joy.

    • Hi Richard! Great to see you! Yes, I agree. I love seeing the application of a stylish drawing transposed into a seemingly incongruous medium, like embroidery, of all things. It enters a whole new dimension. Quirky layered upon quirky made timeless. And isn’t that hairdo on “Emma” priceless?

  2. These are simply spectacular! I particularly love the BLACK BEAUTY cover.

  3. Absolutely gorgeous. I love this trend of using thread and cloth for book illustrations. It gives it such a distinctive look and I have a tremendous respect for such talent.

    • Hi Suzanne! What I especially love is the way this approach underscores the beauty of hand-made works. And how the book production process takes it still a step further by creating dies (metal engraving stamp plates) to embed the raised embossing onto the covers.

      Since these are eternal literary works, there will inevitably be reprintings of each book. With its unique cover treatment, the dies (a one-time expense) become a good investment towards the longevity of these editions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s