October 06, 2011
An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler by Jennifer Chiaverini
This compilation of stories was absolutely wonderful. I loved all the stories and the last one, Cross-Country Quilters, was especially dear to me for the message it gave. That is not to say though that the other two novels are without any lessons. They all show the value of friendship and doing the best you are able with what you are given (kind of like a scrap quilt). So without further ado, here is a breakdown of each of the novels:
The Quilter's Apprentice
What a charming story. I love quilting. I love reading. So this book was just about perfect for me. While it was largely a work of fiction, the aspects about quilting were not. They were very instructional in a non-boring type of way.
Sarah and her husband have recently moved to a small town where he was able to find a job. Having had to give up her own job for the move, Sarah is desperately trying to find one in this place with no luck. No luck that is until she accompanies him to one of his client's he is doing landscaping restoration for.
At first she find Sylvia Compson to be crotchety and rude. Certainly no one to spend a lot of time with. However, when Mrs. Compson offers her a job restoring and cleaning the inside of her beautiful mansion, Sarah agrees on one condition; part of her pay will be quilting lessons. Mrs. Compson quickly agrees and as Sarah spends more time with her she learns that Mrs. Compson truly is a wonderful person and also has many stories to tell and quilting knowledge to share.
Through these stories she is able to see why Mrs. Compson is the way she is and also why she is so hesitant to join a local quilting guild. They also try to devise a way to save Elm Creek Manor, Mrs. Compson's beautiful home.
The writing was largely in the 3rd person except for when Mrs. Compson is telling her stories. Those are told in the first person and are separated by different chapters from the rest of the text. A bit of warning, if you aren't familiar with quilting it could be somewhat hard to understand some of the terminology. As it is, as a novice quilter myself I had to go look up some of the patterns I didn't recognize. But really, that's half the fun!
I look forward to reading the next in the series. Chiaverini apparently has many books out that all relate so its nice to know I can continue enjoying the stories for quite some time. It definitely inspires me to go finish that quilt I've been slacking on!
The 2nd in the series of the Elm Creek Quilts collection, Round Robin comes after the first book, The Quilter's Apprentice. While this story was just as charming as the first, I was disappointed to find that there wasn't as much quilt lore or instruction in this novel. It was more just a work of fiction than the half fiction/ half quilting fun I had discovered in The Quilter's Apprentice.
Instead of focusing mostly on Sylvie and Sarah, this time the novel stretched to cover the trials and tribulations of the whole Elm Creek Quilter's Guild. It takes place two years after the first book and the Elm Creek Quilter's Retreat that is located on Sylvie's historic estate has grown into a big success. So big that they were even featured in a television show on unique backwoods places.
However, due to a careless comment she made on the show, Sarah ends up hurting her mother yet again. There's has been a relationship full of trouble and arguments. Seeking to repair that, Sylvie invites Sarah's mother Carol to come and stay at the retreat and learn to quilt, hoping that in the process she and Sarah will learn to respect each other again. This proves tougher than she thinks as the two cannot stop arguing or saying the wrong things to each other. Sarah also finds herself growing further apart from her husband as well. Feeling isolated she has to find a way to deal with her emotions alone.
Meanwhile Diane is trying to figure out how to make her son behave. Recently arrested for skateboarding in a no-skateboard area, she realizes that he's not acting out because he wants to, there's literally no legal area to skateboard in town. She and her husband construct a ramp in the backyard, but nosy neighbors report them and the city forces them to take it down. Problems ensue as a result.
Judy, who has known all her life that her biological father didn't want contact with her, receives a surprising letter from him. Upon opening it however, she discovers its from her half-sister who is very eager to meet her. She has to decide whether to open old hurts for a chance to meet new family.
Gwen and Summer, while they rarely have problems between themselves come to an argument that threatens to break them apart. Gwen has high aspiration for her daughter and wants her to go on to graduate school. Summer on the other hand, has different plans for her life. But she doesn't want to disappoint Gwen.
Bonnie, previously thinking her life was happy, finds that her husband has been emotionally cheating on her over the Internet. She also discovers that it could take another step further into a physical relationship. She wants to save her marriage, but isn't sure how to do it.
These ladies, with the help of each other, face their problems and try to find the best solution for themselves. Throughout it they have one common goal that ties them together, a round robin quilt that is a surprise for Sylvia. The quilt is really the only bit of quilting information that is done in this novel. It explains how one is made but doesn't really go into detail on the intricacies of it. This was somewhat disappointing to me but not enough for me to not enjoy the story. After all, there are several more books in the series and more quilting lore is probably encased in those stories.
The writing in this book is once again done in the third person. Since there wasn't as much quilting information in this book the terminology was definitely much easier to understand. It was easy to connect to the characters and you could care about them. I even felt myself tear up at a few points in the story. Overall I was pleased with the novel.
The third installment in this series, Cross Country Quilters diverges from telling the tale of the ladies of Elm Creek Quilts, to telling the story of the quilt campers that come to visit. The original characters only make brief appearances but largely are not present and any of these novels could be read on their own without the previous books.
This book, as stated before, is about their guests. All there for vastly different reasons, a group of women form a unique friendship and promise to work on a Challenge quilt to put together the next year they go to quilter's camp. But part of this challenge is they have to face the challenges in their own life before making their square.
Donna, a mother to two young ladies has to deal that her daughter may be in a not healthy relationship. Originally outgoing her daughter seems to be giving everything up for her fiance. When things start to go worse and worse she begins to fear the worst and think her daughter's entered into an abusive relationship she can't handle.
Megan, a young single mother, is troubled by the problems her son is having at school and the lack of contact with his father. When she meets charming Adam, the grandson of one of the other cross-country quilter's she's scared to let herself fall for him and be heartbroken again. Not to mention she doesn't want to put her son through that as well to be betrayed a second time.
Vinnie, a sprightly grandmother, has the challenge of making her grandson Adam forget his ex-fiance who so carelessly broke his heart and find true love again. Being the matchmaker she has her eye's set on Megan as being a perfect way for that to happen.
Julia is an aging actress that is preparing for her next role in a movie that has to do with quilting. Not knowing how to quilt herself she came to the camp to learn. Now she wants to get through this movie without being replaced by younger actresses. She does a lot of growing in this novel and is a good reminder that age does not always equal maturity.
Grace, a respected quilter in her own right, is dealing with not having inspiration to quilt anymore and her secret. Her secret actually turned out to be something close to my heart and I was really able to care about her as a character. At the risk of spoiling this for others I do have to share what that secret is. Grace has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At first she finds it unbearable to live with and doesn't want anyone to know as she doesn't want their pity. She also mourns the loss of her skills as a sewer and quilter and fears that she will never be the same again or even happy. However, she learns to grow and while she may not be able to do what she once did, she can learn other ways to be happy and to enjoy her craft. You see, my father was recently diagnosed with MS and I see him in the early Grace of this book; very downtrodden and heartbroken at what life has handed to him. However, this book has given me hope that he too will work his way through this, and if not be able to do what he used to, at least be happy again. If I thought I could get him to read a book about quilting I would have him read this book in a heartbeat. It made the book very important to me.
The language of this book, like most of what I've read of Chiaverini's is in the third person. She writes extremely well and descriptive and you can see the colors of the quilts in her words. She also has an unbelievable knack of making you care for her characters. This isn't the only book of her's that I've teared up a bit at. One important thing to note however is that this book is more story than quilting instruction. Like the 2nd book this one is a novel and not a combination of quilting lore/story.
A lovely story with deeply moving moments I will definitely treasure this book. I can't wait to read the next one in this wonderful series!
While there are many books in this series, I am glad that some were chosen to be bundled together. Not only does this make it easier to carry around that three separate books, it allows you to move from one story seamlessly to the next. And believe me, these books are so addicting you'll want to have the next one handy! The characters are all lovable and feel like friends even though they are fictional. And the books make you want to create something beautiful as well.
Elm Creek Quilts Sampler
Copyrights 1999, 2000, and 2001