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Cover Story: The Disappearances

Posted 14th Aug 2017

The Disappearances, Emily Bain Murphy’s beautiful YA novel of love, loss and magic, is on shelves now.

For this very special book, Pushkin Children’s Editor-at-Large Sarah Odedina wanted a cover with a difference: ‘The texture and feel of a hand stitched cover seemed to me to be so in-keeping with the period feel of the book. I wanted something that looked like the character Aila might have done it – weaving in the mysteries of the story.’

Emily Bain Murphy, the author of The Disappearances said of the cover: ‘I absolutely adore the Pushkin Press cover of The Disappearances. It might just be my favorite cover to any book, ever–and I don’t think I’ll ever stop pinching myself.’

We caught up with cover designer Helen Crawford-White and her mum Jane Crawford-White, who hand-embroidered this stunning cover. Read on for insight into the design process, stitching a commissioned embroidery and teaming up with your mum on a work project.

What made you first think of hand-embroidering the cover of The Disappearances?

Helen: I actually can’t take full credit for that, Sarah Odedina who commissioned the cover, had some images of embroidery amongst her first briefing emails and so I jumped at the chance. It has been a dream to do a sewn cover for ages so I couldn’t believe my luck. I’m not sure anyone has ever had a more enthusiastic response from me. I just said: ‘Yes, we are totally doing this embroidered!’.

Aesthetically, its also the perfect fit, it’s set in the second world war and the cover needed to look classic and literary, but also accessible, as well as having a sort of melancholy beauty. I wanted the cover to have a naive, crafted look to it; so embroidery seemed like a great way to do that.

Emily Bain Murphy absolutely loves the jacket. How do you both feel about that?

Helen: Just completely thrilled! Doing a cover like this always has a slight element of risk to it because everyone has to fully commit to the idea before it’s executed and before seeing the final thing. It takes a little leap of faith on the publisher’s part. I knew my Mum would do a great job but I was a little nervous about how the fabric might translate into print. I wanted it to retain that tactile quality of real fabric and thread. So it’s just great when something comes off and looks as good as you had hoped.

Jane: I am really pleased Emily Bain Murphy likes the jacket. It was a relief when I first heard she loved it. She has written such a delightful story, I wanted to do it justice.

Can you tell us about the initial inspirations behind the cover design?

The book is one of those stories that’s full of such great imagery, so the elements of the composition came together very easily.
I watched a video of the author talking about the book and she said the initial inspiration for the story came from an image she had seen of someone holding magic in their hand and she imagined what that would be like. So I decided the overall composition of the cover should reflect this, so our design has a hand on the back with the magic and all the elements from the narrative flowing out like dust.

You will see from the sketch here that the final cover didn’t veer too far away from the initial idea:

The story centres around a town that is cursed so that every seven years something disappears. The stars have gone from the sky, people have lost their reflections and colour has disappeared. There’s a lot of magic in the story, plus plants, birds and their names and habits are also significant and used to set a theme of each chapter. There is also a book of plays, vials and pouches, and a jewelled ring, all of which are featured in the embroidery.

Not many people have probably noticed, it’s quite subtle, but the embroidery actually goes from white to full colour as you go from left to right. This was representative of the town losing its colour.

What was it like working with your mum on a project?

Helen: Very smooth going actually! She lives in Cambridge and I live in Brighton so there was lots of her holding up bits of fabric up to her laptop camera over Skype so I could check out some new stitched bit! I found the fabric and some nice metallic threads in Brighton so sent her a little package but she has the most amazing box of silk threads and an old sewing box of all her materials. I think she was a little nervous about it to begin with but I knew she would do a great job. She’s one of those people who grew up sewing, making clothes, designing things and can turn her hand to literally anything crafty or artistic (though she will deny this profusely). She taught me and my brother to sew when she taught us to read, I literally have little samplers we did when we were 5!

I think its been exciting for her to hear some of the great reactions from the author and from people on social media. She’s now like: ‘When can we do another project together?’ I will have to pitch a linocut cover next so she can get her teeth into that.
How long did the embroidery take? Was it fiddly work?
Jane: The planning, the practicing different stitches for their different effects and finding the right material took longer than the embroidery. There were several days making the most of daylight hours. However I really enjoyed doing the embroidery so for me it was time well spent.

Is this your first book jacket/commercial piece of embroidery?
Yes it is my first piece of commercial embroidery. It was so motivating to be making something that had a specific use, rather than making gifts. I would love to do more.

How long have you been embroidering for? How did you first learn?
Jane: I started embroidery as a child and learnt a lot from my mother. I like doing the whole range of practical and creative activities – sewing, dress-making, knitting and tapestry. I find it so relaxing and absorbing at the same time. Like-minded friends have shown me different things over the years – one never stops picking up tips.
Is it exciting to see your work on the jacket of a book?
Jane: Very exciting and a little daunting. There are many other expert embroiderers. This piece required the balance of retaining a simple and naive style but at the same time conveying recognisable items from the story. I hope I have achieved this balance.

Want a copy of your very own? Get The Disappearances now on the Pushkin Shop >