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INTRODUCTION

Determined to forge a relationship with her long deceased mother, Eleanor, before her wedding, Sylvia turns to the secrets embedded in Eleanor's bridal quilt. But upon searching the attic, she finds that her sister has sold it—along with four other of their mother's original quilts—leaving Sylvia disappointed and seemingly shut out from the opportunity to learn from her mother's handiwork and a family tradition.

Thanks to the Internet and an interested and kind colleague, Sylvia begins her search for her mother's quilts, looking for Eleanor's 'signature' on each—her initials and the date of the quilt's completion. Andrew, Sylvia's fiancÚ, understands that Sylvia cannot marry him until she finds her mother's quilts and better understands her background . Together, they begin a cross-country search of museums and quilt shops, piecing together Eleanor's quilting work as well as the family history.

Disowned by her family for refusing an arranged marriage set for financial gain, and preferring the 'coarse' work of quilting to the New York social scene, Eleanor followed her heart and eventually left New York for Pennsylvania, refusing to allow her overbearing parents to plan her future. A strong and resilient woman despite a weak heart, Eleanor's only tie to her former life was her Nanny, a suffragette and labor union activist.

Having been willing to risk everything for an honest, fulfilling life, Eleanor bestows many lessons of strength, independence and dignity upon Sylvia, even years after her death. Taking these lessons to heart and seeing love as life's main goal, Sylvia is able to help Andrew face his grown children's objections to their impending marriage. A celebration of motherly wisdom and the human spirit, The Quilter's Legacy is the fifth in Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series.

 

ABOUT JENNIFER CHIAVERINI

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of The Quilter's Apprentice, Round Robin, The Cross-Country Quilters, The Runaway Quilt, and The Quilter's Legacy (all available in Plume editions). She lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER CHIAVERINI

What was your initial inspiration for the Elm Creek Quilts novels?

In the autumn of 1994, I was enjoying my life as a newlywed, teaching part-time at Penn State—and struggling to begin my first novel. I knew what I wanted to write; I knew the mood, the theme, and I even had a vague idea about two of the characters, a young woman and her older and wiser friend. Yet I struggled to get beyond the first few paragraphs of any story I started.

I wanted to write about women and their work, and about valuing the work we as women choose to do. Too many women I knew disparaged their work. Many working mothers thought they ought to be home with their children instead, so they carried around too much guilt to enjoy much job satisfaction. Mothers who chose to stay home to care for their children thought they ought to be working outside the home, too. Many of my single friends, pursuing exciting careers they had studied and worked for years to obtain, thought they should be doing something more lucrative, something more important, or just something else. This saddened me. I believe that if our work is worth the time, energy, and talent we commit to it, we ought to value it, especially if we expect other people to do the same. If we don't value this work to which we turn over so much of our lives, then we ought to do something else.

I also wanted to explore the theme of friendship, especially women's friendships and the way women use friendship to sustain themselves and nurture each other. I wanted to include this theme in my first novel not only as a tribute to the most important friendships of my own life, but also out of a sense of longing for the friendships that I could not find when I needed them most.

Though I knew what I wanted to write about, I could not bring those two disparate themes together. I tried writing about jobs I had had and enjoyed (teaching, or my first real job as a page at the Thousand Oaks (CA) City Library) as well as jobs that had not been quite so satisfying. Regardless of what I attempted, I could not wrestle those two themes into a coherent story.

Then, at last, I realized the answer had been right in front of me all along: I should write about quilters. Anyone who works on a quilt, who devotes her time, energy, creativity, and passion to that art, learns to value the work of her hands. And as any quilter will tell you, a quilter's quilting friends are some of the dearest, most generous, and most supportive people she knows. Two quilters who have just met will be strangers only until their mutual passion for quilting is revealed. Then they can talk for hours like the best of friends. Quilting wove together my two themes like no other subject could, and since beginning writers are often told to "write what you know," I realized I had finally found my story.

With which woman in the novel do you identify most and why?

None of the characters are meant to be me, but I'm sure I share personality traits with many of them.

What drew you to write about the suffrage movement?

For as long as I can remember, I've always been interested in issues of social justice, political freedom, and civil rights. I am the Catholic middle child These issues—as well as matters of racial equality and worker's rights—have figured in all of my novels, although sometimes I suspect—and regret—that they have passed unnoticed in favor of the details and descriptions of quilting.

What are you working on now? I am writing the seventh Elm Creek Quilt novel, currently titled The Sugar Camp Quilt. It is a historical novel featuring Dorothea, Gerda's friend introduced in The Runaway Quilt, and takes place in Creek's Crossing before the Bergstroms' arrival in America. I am also working on a second pattern book, Return to Elm Creek (Fall 2004), which will include photos and patterns for more of the quilts from the Elm Creek Quilts novels.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. In Eleanor's case, what does quilting say about the time in American history in which she lived? Reflect on the social climate of the time.
     
  2. Who is the heroine of The Quilter's Legacy?
     
  3. Compare and contrast the lives and times of Sylvia and Eleanor. How do they each face the hurdles in their relationships?
     
  4. Eleanor decides to follow her heart against her parents' wishes. What about this decision makes her extraordinary for her time?
     
  5. How does Chiaverini portray the suffrage movement through The Quilter's Legacy? What did you learn about the political climate of the time in which Eleanor lived?
     
  6. Why does Sylvia wait so long to marry Andrew? What are some of the difficulties in their relationship? How does The Quilter's Legacy cover the issue of widowhood?
     
  7. Discuss the significance of the heron on the pair of silver-plated scissors that Sarah gives to Sylvia for her engagement. How does seeing this heron affect Sylvia?
     
  8. Who is Amelia Langley Davis?
     
  9. Upon finding a note beneath Eleanor's door, Harriet takes it and says: "It may be your door but it is your mother's house. You can have it if she says you might" (page 105). How do these two sentences capture the tension that existed when Eleanor was growing up in her parents' house?
     
  10. What did Eleanor learn from her sister Abigail? How was Abigail's suffering similar to Eleanor's?
     
  11. How did Spanish influenza change Waterford? How did being surrounded by so much death affect Eleanor and her neighbors? Describe your reaction to medicine at turn of the century.