Penguin by Hand is a collection of six of some of Penguin’s best loved titles written by women in recent years, all with beautiful craft-inspired jackets. Designer Brenda Riddle explains the story behind creating the quilt that ended up as the cover of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, The Help.

Which aspects of The Help did you want to convey on the cover of the book?

There were so many visual aspects of the book that I wanted convey. For me it was important to include the hands, representing the hands that were a part of running a house & raising a child. I used the magnolia flowers to represent the voices of the three main women in the book (southern women have also been referred to as ‘magnolias’), & I included the nightingale bird as an homage to the cover of the book from the movie. Also from the movie, I used the weeping willow vines, representing a special place where the main character, Skeeter went to think & figure things out. The quilt block that is featured on the cover is called the Mississippi block, & so I included that to represent the state where the story takes place.


I loved that something I created was to be used for such a wonderful story and it allowed me to re-read the story with new eyes & that was a great experience.

What were the challenges of creating a book cover using quilting?

The main challenge was to make sure that the quilt was to scale for the finished cover size. When quilting, there are many variables that can affect the finished size- for example when the finished top is quilted and the lines are sewn over the design, so I needed to be sure to work in some design elements that would give the photographer some ‘wiggle room’.


Embossing plate

Can you explain your creative process – from working on the concept of an idea, to creating the finished product?

I start with sketching & research. Sometimes there are particular fabrics & colours that inspire a piece, & sometimes it’s simply something I want to capture or express. The next step is figuring out the math of how much fabric will be needed, how to cut the pieces for piecing, & making the templates for the appliqué pieces. There can be a lot of little steps, but I enjoy each step of the process, & seeing it all come together is so much fun for me.

Who taught you the art of quilting and what made you begin crafting? 

After loving the quilts that my grandmas left us, I took several classes on the basics, & every time I create a quilt, I feel a connection to my grandmas. My background in design started with having a love of drawing – ever since I can remember – & I studied both graphic & environmental design in college.


What is it about the medium that you love?

I love the connection I feel with the past quilters & the history of these amazing ‘works of heart as well as seeing the more contemporary looks that are expanding the love of this medium even further. I love the hands on aspect of every step of the process, and that each step is a process that leads to such a treasure, whether used for decorative purposes or for a more utilitarian purpose… It’s a wonderful medium that has the capability to be snuggled with in the end!

What else is in the pipeline for you at the moment?

I am currently working on my next fabric line for Moda which will be released later next year.

Finally, what’s your favourite book?

I have many, but the one that I have read again & again (& always find something new in it every time I do) is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.

The Help Hi resThe Help is part of the Penguin by Hand series, with artwork commissioned by Gill Heeley and Alison O’Toole.

See the whole Penguin By Hand collection here, and read the stories behind The Forty Rules of Love and The Postmistress. 

Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Have these been released in the United States? I’d love to buy the collection of all six.

    • Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks so much for getting in touch. These are a U.K only publication, so won’t be available in the USA. To get the whole collection, it may be possible to buy them all from the UK and get them shipped to you.


  2. […] Sarah Blake (Penguin) is part of the Penguin by Hand series. Hear the story behind the designs for The Help and The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and […]

  3. I wasn’t aware that this book was available,

  4. […] the whole Penguin By Hand collection here, and read the stories behind The Help and The […]


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