Readers of Jennifer Chiaverini's popular and engaging Elm Creek Quilts series are treated in each successive volume to storytelling that expertly weaves the joys and intricacies of history, quilting, and family ties. In The Quilter's Legacy, a daughter's search for her mother's treasured heirlooms illuminates life in Manhattan and rural Pennsylvania at the turn of the last century.
When precious heirloom quilts hand-stitched by her mother turn up missing from the attic of Elm Creek Manor, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson resolves to find them. From scant resources -- journal entries, receipts, and her own fading memories -- she pieces together clues, then queries quilting friends from around the world. When dozens of leads arrive via the Internet, Sylvia and her fianc?, Andrew, embark on a nationwide investigation of antiques shops and quilt museums.
Sylvia's quest leads her to unexpected places, where offers of assistance are not always what they seem. As the search continues, revelations surface about her mother, Eleanor Lockwood, who died in 1930, when Sylvia was only a child. Burdened with poor health and distant parents, Eleanor Lockwood defied her family by marrying for love. Far from her Manhattan home, she embraced her new life among the Bergstroms -- but although warmth and affection surrounded Eleanor at last, the Bergstroms could not escape the tragedies of their times.
As Sylvia recovers some of the missing quilts and accepts others as lost forever, she reflects on the woman her mother was and mourns the woman she never knew. For every daughter who has yearned to know the untold story of her mother's life, and for every mother who has longed to be heard, The Quilter's Legacy will resonate with heartfelt honesty as it reveals what tenuous connections bind the generations and celebrates the love that sustains them.
Chiaverini's fifth and best Elm Creek Quilts novel again stitches together a patchwork of American life. This time she focuses on Elm Creek Quilts founder Sylvia Bergstrom Compson and her search for five quilts made by her mother, Eleanor, who died when Sylvia was 10. Sylvia and Eleanor's stories alternate, as Sylvia, an elderly widow now recovered from a stroke, prepares to marry her friend Andrew despite his children's opposition, while at the turn of the century, Eleanor, daughter of an affluent New York family, defies her mother by attending a suffragette meeting and quilting with her beloved nanny, Amelia Langley. When Eleanor's sister, Abigail, elopes with her father's business rival, Eleanor also runs away rather than be forced to marry Abigail's jilted fianc�. On her way out the door, Eleanor is offered a ride by Fred Bergstrom, which becomes the beginning of a long life together on his Pennsylvania horse farm at Elm Creek. The novel's high point is the poignantly detailed description of the flu epidemic of 1918. Less historical but equally touching is Eleanor's aging mother's arrival at the horse farm. Chiaverini's storytelling skills have noticeably improved. She approaches but never succumbs to sentimentality and keeps her account of hunts for antique quilts from becoming too predictable. She remains a keener observer of subtleties in quilts than in people, and more adept at capturing friendship than romance, but her gift for visual imagery (Abigail going down with the Titanic; Eleanor's quilts recast as wearable art) and gentle humor (a museum exhibit's explanation of one quilt's origins) blend seamlessly into prose that, like the needlework she portrays, proves intricate, lovely, comforting and uniquely American.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
March 29, 2004
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Excerpt from The Quilter's Legacy by Jennifer Chiaverini
Sylvia supposed all brides-to-be considered eloping at some point during the engagement, but she had never expected to feel that way herself, and certainly not a mere few weeks after agreeing to become Andrew's wife. She shook her head as she flipped through the magazines someone had left on the desk -- Bride's, American Bride, Country Bride -- and dumped the whole stack into the trash can. Unless they came out with an edition of Octogenarian Bride, she would leave the pleading overtures of the bridal industry to the younger girls. Surely she could fend for herself when all she and Andrew wanted was a small, private ceremony in the garden.
The door to the library swung open, and in walked her young friend and business partner, Sarah McClure, neatly dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, the glasses she wore only reluctantly tucked into the breast pocket. She carried a small white box in one hand. "Do you have a moment?"
"Yes. I was just doing some light housekeeping." Sylvia gestured to the trash can. "Are you responsible for this?"
"Are you kidding? After you scolded me for offering to take you shopping for your wedding gown?"
"I'm glad you learned your lesson." Sylvia frowned. Who could it have been, then? All of the Elm Creek Quilters had free run of the office. Summer spent more time there than anyone other than Sarah, but she was not the bridal magazine type. "Diane," she declared. "Just yesterday I overheard her say that this will be her only chance to plan a wedding because both of her children are boys. Do you suppose she forgot the magazines or left them deliberately, hoping I would be caught up in the wedding planning frenzy that seems to have captivated everyone else around here?"
"Ask her yourself," said Sarah, smiling. "She and Agnes are coming over to discuss new courses for next season."
"Already? Elm Creek Quilt Camp won't open until spring."
"Would you rather have them work ahead on next year's classes or plan your wedding?"
"I suppose you're right."
"You can't blame us for being excited. After you turned down Andrew the third time, most of us gave up hope that you two would ever get married."
"If you were disappointed, it was your own fault for treating our relationship like a spectator sport."
Sarah laughed. "I wasn't disappointed. I always knew it would happen eventually. In fact, I've been saving something for you for months with this occasion in mind."
She set the box on the table.
"What is it?" asked Sylvia, wary. "I distinctly said we did not want any engagement gifts."
"This doesn't really count."
"How could it not count? It's in a wrapped box; it's quite obviously a gift." But Sylvia smiled and unwrapped it. Inside was nestled a pair of silverplated scissors fashioned in the shape of a heron. "My goodness." She slipped on her glasses and studied the scissors, astonished. "My mother had a pair exactly like these. Where on earth did you find this?"
"In your attic, earlier this summer when we were looking for your great-grandmother's quilts," said Sarah. "You ordered me back to work every time I got sidetracked, so when I found them, I set them aside to show you later. When you found the quilts, I forgot about the scissors in all the excitement."
"In the attic. Then -- " The weight and shape of the scissors felt so familiar in her hands that, even with her eyes closed, she could have described the pattern of nicks on the blades. "Then these must be my mother's. I should have known them immediately. Did you know these were given to her by the woman who taught her to quilt? An aunt, or someone. My mother was just a girl when she used these scissors in making her first quilt."
"I thought you might like to use them when you make your bridal quilt."
Sylvia nodded, scarcely hearing. She could picture her mother slicing through fabric with a sure and steady hand, cutting pieces for a dress or a quilt. She remembered sitting beneath the quilt frame as her mother and aunts quilted a pieced top, eavesdropping on their conversation, watching as they worked their needles through the layers of fabric and batting. The weight of her mother's scissors as they rested on the quilt top made the layers bow at her mother's right hand, the depression vanishing and reappearing, accompanied by a brisk snip as her mother trimmed a thread. Those were the same scissors Sylvia and her elder sister, Claudia, had fought over as they raced through their first quilt project, each determined to complete the most Nine-Patch blocks and thereby earn the right to sleep beneath the quilt first. It was a wonder the scissors had not been damaged beyond repair that wintry afternoon, the way Claudia had flung them across the room in frustration when she tried to pick out a poorly sewn seam and jabbed a hole through her patches instead.