Outside quilting circles, many readers may not realise that American quilts are historical. A single quilt will record a piece of history either by its design title, the very fabric of which it is made, or the event for which it was made. The Elm Creek Quilts series, by Jennifer Chiaverini, starts with The Quilter’s Apprentice and continues through a further nineteen books.
The novels revolve around Sylvia Bergstrom Compson and the quilter’s retreat and teaching centre she sets up. Some plots involve Sylvia and her colleagues researching a vintage quilt with the aim of restoration prior to public display. There, the plot goes back in time to the original maker of the quilt, their own story of pain/grief/love/family which results in the making of the quilt and passing it from one hand to another until it ends up with Sylvia. Other plots focus on Sylvia’s teaching colleagues at the centre and the paths which led them to accept full time positions with Sylvia. One colleague, a keen quilter in her own right, baked cookies and decorated them by piping quilt designs in icing, taking them to her interview. She didn’t get a teaching position but she was offered the full time Catering role! Another plot involved a famous Runaway Quilt, whose design cleverly hid clues for escaping, illiterate slaves to find safe houses on the underground railroad, so they could travel to the Free States and Canada in the 19th century.
A keen quilting friend of mine has read various books from this series. She tells me that she loves the series as it’s filled with accurate details of quilt making but also tells of historical events in America. Recommended for those who love reading about American history, through the eyes of quilt makers and restorers, past and present.