As part of the new Penguin By Hand series, the cover of Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love has been recreated in cross stitch by Emma Ruth Hughes. Read more on her creative process in this exclusive interview.

Forty Rules of Love name crop

Which aspects of The Forty Rules of Love did you want to convey on the cover of the book?
After researching the book’s themes of Sufi mysticism and poetry, I was immediately drawn to imagery from the Middle East, particularly the patterns and colour palettes of traditional tapestries, mosaics and rugs and this is what inspired the imagery that I used for the cover.

The Forty Rules of Love blog crop 3

What were the challenges of creating a book cover using cross stitch?
Cross stitch is challenging because you need to fit everything into a grid of tiny squares. Making sure the design is aligned correctly and fitting the type into the space can be difficult and there’s a lot of trial and error when making the design. Once stitching begins, it’s a case of being very careful and not losing concentration. If you start stitching in the wrong place, you might not realise until you’ve stitched a whole section, and then you have to unpick the lot and start again, which is no fun!

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

I start in my sketchbook, and then once I have a few ideas, I’ll work them up in Adobe Illustrator on the computer. This is a really useful and quick way of planning out the grid and crosses, so I know what fits where. Once I am happy with the design on screen, I prepare the fabric with some guides (a lot of counting tiny squares, which is tricky!) and then, finally, I can start stitching.

Forty Rules of Love WIP image

Who taught you the art of embroidery? What’s your background in design?
I’m self taught in embroidery. I did a degree in Graphic Design and during my time at University, I often experimented in different media, including textiles. I did a daily project in 2012, called And Sew For Today, where I hand stitched a random word every day for a year. I learned an awful lot about embroidery and different techniques in that year.

What is it about this medium that you love?
Cross stitch has always been my favourite way to work, it’s very structured, which I like. It’s exciting to see the design emerging slowly from the canvas and watch it become more and more complete as you stitch. It’s also quite therapeutic and a really nice way to work.


What else is in the pipeline for you at the moment?
Hopefully, more embroidery! I am working on a few personal projects at the moment and am hoping to start making cross stitch kits later this year. I also work with my husband on a project called Miscellaneous Adventures. I make a range of fabric products such as pouches and rucksacks and my husband makes hand carved wooden utensils. We also teach monthly woodcarving workshops in a local woodland to creative professionals, so that keeps me pretty busy too.

What about the project did you enjoy the most?
It’s hard to pick one thing, I really enjoyed the whole process to be honest. It was a really fun project to work on.

Forty Rules of Love cross stitch crop hearts

What’s your favourite book?
Yikes, that’s hard. If I had to choose a book that I could always pick up and enjoy at any time, it would probably be The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith which is hilarious. Or maybe A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole, which is just wonderful and, for illustration and nostalgia, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, I love his work.

The Forty Rules of Love is part of the Penguin by Hand series, with artwork commissioned by Gill Heeley and Alison O’Toole. See more of Emma Ruth Hughes work on her website. 

See the whole Penguin By Hand collection here, and read the stories behind The Help and The Postmistress. 

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