The page illustration for Australia from Alphabet Atlas, written by Arthur Yorinks and illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Yorinks.
Textile artist and designer Adrienne Yorinks has conversations with fabrics. The same piece of fabric might tell her a completely different story, depending on the time of day or night.
Based on her mindset at a given time or what is going on in the world at a particular moment, a fabric’s message might change. And Yorinks’ feelings about it may change as well. Some fabrics whisper, some shout, some laugh. Some are highborn; some are common. Some come from other countries; some are homegrown. Adrienne gets to know them all. She spends time with her fabrics, learns about their ages, their places of origin, what they’re made of, how they’re formed. It is through such intimate communication that she translates their stories into images that speak to the rest of us.
Looking at books illustrated with original quilts by Adrienne, it is clear that she uses her love of fabric to good effect. A piece of 1885 mourning fabric is used in a quilt to illustrate Eugene O’Neill’s The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog, written in the 1940s about the death of a beloved pet. Cloth featuring honey possums—an animal unique to Australia—and, artwork by Aborigines, borders a block depicting Australia in The Alphabet Atlas.
In Quilt of States (written with assistance from 50 librarians and published by National Geographic), conversation prints depicting iconic images about each state playfully enliven the descriptions, encouraging readers of all ages to enjoy learning things they might have overlooked had they not examined the quilted illustrations.
Adrienne’s passion for fabric began when she was just a child. Growing up in New York City as the daughter of an artistic mother, she was exposed to art early on. As she was particularly drawn to color and texture, fabric was a natural choice to express her creativity. She started out by making doll clothes, a hobby that propelled her at an early age to assemble what has now become a huge collection of textiles of all sorts.
Although fabrics have always been Adrienne’s medium of choice and she has been sewing most of her life, she has not always been a quilter. She became one when she moved to upstate New York and joined a quilt guild. Serving as program chair, being inspired by others who were as passionate about fabrics as she was, and learning by doing, Adrienne fell in love with quilts and quiltmaking.
She is now internationally known for her art quilts, and her clients range from public entities such as the AFL-CIO, the Texas Library Association, and City University of New York (to name a few), to private collectors such as well-known children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Her pieces often contain a powerful social message.
Adrienne certainly did not set out to be a book illustrator, using quilts as a medium for those illustrations. Lisa Holton, the publisher of Hyperion Books for Children, who had seen a one-woman show of Adrienne’s work, approached her about doing the illustrations for a book entitled Stand for Children.
The text was a famous speech by the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, in which she said, “If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much.” The publisher thought that quilts would be a good choice for the book and felt certain that Adrienne would be the best person to realize that idea. It was the beginning of a new facet of Adrienne’s career.
Since illustrating that first book in 1999, she has steadily worked on others, including the recent Hummingbirds, which was published in 2011. Each book features quilts that add another dimension to the subject matter and text—a visual narrative that enhances the written one.
Adrienne designs her quilts on a wall, like a puzzle, putting up different fabrics to see how they look, varying the colors and textures as the piece takes shape and comes together. “I like to work big,” she says. “Some of my quilts are 8 ½ feet by 10 feet, and that feels comfortable to me. Learning to work within the parameters required for book illustration has been a real stretch.”
Thankfully for readers, she has managed that transition, allowing her fabrics to reveal their secrets and share their stories in an unexpected way. In short, through her quilted illustrations, Adrienne Yorinks has given her beloved fabrics a voice and allowed them to speak to an audience they might otherwise have never reached.
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