Jennifer Chiaverini's bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series continues with The Winding Ways Quilt, in which the arrival of newcomers into the circle of quilters heralds unexpected journeys down pathways near and far.
Quilters have flocked to Elm Creek Manor to learn from Master Quilter Sylvia Compson and her expert colleagues. There's Sarah, Sylvia's onetime apprentice who's paired her quilting accomplishments with a mind for running the business of Elm Creek Quilts; Agnes, who has a gift for appliqu�; Gwen, who stitches innovative art quilts; Diane, a whiz at the technicalities of quick-piecing; and Bonnie, with her encyclopedic knowledge of folk art patterns. But with Judy and Summer, two other founding members of the Elm Creek Quilters, departing to pursue other opportunities, will the new teachers be able to fill in the gaps created by the loss of their expertise -- and more important, their friendship?
"When I think of all the different paths I could have followed in my life, all the twists and turns that could have led me anywhere," muses incoming teacher Gretchen, "it's something of a miracle that I ended up here, surrounded by loving friends."
But what of friends departed? As Sylvia contemplates a tribute to the partnership of the Elm Creek Quilters, she is reminded of a traditional quilt pattern whose curved pieces symbolize a journey. Winding Ways, a mosaic of overlapping circles and intertwining curves, would capture the spirit of their friendship at the moment of its transformation.
Will Sylvia's choice inspire the founding members to remember that each is a unique part of a magnificent whole? Will the newcomers find ways to contribute, and to earn their place? The Winding Ways Quilt considers the complicated, often hidden meanings of presence and absence, and what change can mean for those who have come to rely upon one another.
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Simon & Schuster
March 31, 2008
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Excerpt from The Winding Ways Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Sylvia woke to a gentle breeze and birdsong beyond the open window. Sitting up in bed and stretching, she saw clouds in the eastern sky, pink with the new light of dawn. Andrew had risen earlier, without waking her, but she knew there was only one place her husband could be at that hour on a Sunday morning.
She dressed in a light sweater and slacks and went to join her husband, pausing at the top of the grand oak staircase to savor the brief, reverential stillness that descended upon Elm Creek Manor on Sunday mornings. In a few hours, the gray stone artists' retreat would bustle and hum with the sounds of dozens of eager quilters arriving for a week of quilting, friendship, and fun, but for the moment, Sylvia, Andrew, and the manor's other three permanent residents had the estate all to themselves.
After descending the staircase, grasping a banister worn smooth from the hands of generations, Sylvia crossed the black marble floor of the front foyer and turned to walk down the older west wing of the manor, built by her great-grandfather in 1858. She brushed the wall lightly with her fingertips, wondering what her great-grandparents would think of the changes their descendants had brought to the farm they had founded, nestled in the fertile Elm Creek Valley in central Pennsylvania.
Voices and the smell of frying sausages drifted to her from the kitchen at the end of the hall. Sarah would be at the stove, no doubt, preparing breakfast for five, but who kept her company? Her husband, Matt, most likely, although usually he was too busy with his caretaker's duties to linger in the kitchen. Perhaps Sarah's best friend and fellow Elm Creek Quilter, Summer, had finished her daily yoga routine early and had decided to lend a hand, taking advantage of the opportunity to contribute more vegetarian options to the meal.
"Good morning," Sylvia sang out as she entered the kitchen, but she stopped short at the sight of Sarah sitting on a bench and resting her head in her arms on the kitchen table. Her husband tended the stove, a pink calico apron tied around his waist.
"Morning," Matt said, throwing her a grin over his shoulder and raising a spatula in salute. Sarah managed to lift her head long enough to give Sylvia a pale smile. Then she groaned and let her head drop onto her arms again, her long, reddish-�brown ponytail falling onto an open package of saltine crackers beside her on the table.
"Goodness, Sarah. Are you ill?" Sylvia sat down on the opposite bench, brushed Sarah's ponytail away from the food, and felt her forehead. Sylvia detected no trace of fever, thank goodness, but the younger woman clearly was not well.
"I'll be all right." Sarah's voice wavered feebly, belying her words. "I think I finally understand why Summer won't eat meat. I never realized how awful it smells."
Sylvia thought breakfast smelled delicious, but she knew better than to discuss food with someone suffering from a stomach bug. "Perhaps you should go back to bed, dear. Matthew seems to have everything well in hand, and you wouldn't want to pass on whatever you have to our guests during registration."
At the stove, Matt choked back a laugh. "I don't think we have to worry about any of them taking home this particular souvenir."
"We can't be too careful."
"I'll be all right in a moment." Sarah pushed herself to her feet.
"It's my turn to fix breakfast and I'm not going to shirk my duty."
"Shirk away, honey," said Matt. "I have everything under control."
"Beginning today, we'll have a professional chef on staff again," Sylvia reminded her. " Anna's planning a cold buffet for lunch, but supper will be a gourmet feast. She phoned me with the menu. Mushroom and rosemary soup, salmon filets, an eggplant ratatouille that Summer is sure to love, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Best of all, no more kitchen duty for the rest of us!"
"I can't wait," Sarah croaked, then pressed her lips together and hurried from the room.
"She'll be fine," said Matt when Sylvia rose to go after her.
"Don't worry. Just give her a minute, and she'll be back here scrambling eggs."
Sylvia wasn't so sure, but she put on a pot of coffee and offered to mix up a batch of biscuits. Just as she was about to dust her hands with flour to knead the dough, Sarah returned, looking remarkably better. She insisted on taking over, and when the younger couple overruled Sylvia's protests, she left them to their work. She filled two travel mugs with coffee -- cream and sugar for her, sugar only for Andrew -- and carried them out the back door and down four steps to the rear parking lot.
Outside the air was cool from the night and misty, dew fresh on the grass.