The Quilter's Legacy (Elm Creek Quilts Series #5)

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9780743236133: The Quilter's Legacy (Elm Creek Quilts Series #5)

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 fiancé, 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.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, five collections of quilt projects, and several historical fiction novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more, visit JenniferChiaverini.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

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.

"What pattern are you going to use?"

Sylvia looked up. "Hmm?"

"What pattern are you going to use for your wedding quilt?" Sarah regarded her, curious. "You are planning to make one, aren't you?"

"I honestly hadn't thought about it," said Sylvia. "Do you think Andrew expects a wedding quilt?"

"'Expects'? No, I don't think he expects one, but don't you want one? You'll need something for your new bed anyway, unless you're planning to squeeze both of you into your bed or Andrew's."

"Oh, of course," Sylvia said. "You're right. We'll need something."

Sarah's eyebrows rose. "Did you forget about that part? Most married people, you know, cohabit. Unless you were planning on twin beds a discreet distance apart?"

"Our sleeping arrangements are none of your business." Then Sylvia paused. "Actually, I suppose this sounds foolish, but I forgot we would be sharing a room."

Sarah put an arm around her. "I know it's probably been a while, but there's nothing to be nervous about. Especially with Andrew. I'm sure he'll be -- "

"No, you don't understand," said Sylvia. "I'm not talking about what you think I'm -- You're going to force me to say it, aren't you? Very well, then. Sex. I'm not talking about sex. I said share a room, not share a bed."

"I think you should be prepared to do both," said Sarah carefully. "Andrew might be disappointed if you don't want -- "

"I said I'm not talking about sex," exclaimed Sylvia so forcefully Sarah jumped back in surprise. "Andrew and I will be fine in that department, and that's the last I'll say on the subject. My concern is with my room. I haven't shared a bedroom since -- well, since James passed. Before then, even. Since he went overseas."

"I see. You're used to having a room of your own. Your own space."

"Precisely." If her bedroom didn't reflect Andrew's tastes and interests as well as her own, he would feel more like a visitor than an occupant. Hardly anyone but herself ever entered the adjoining sitting room, one of her favorite places to read or sew when she wanted solitude. Would she have to shove her fabric stash aside to make room for Andrew's fishing gear? "I don't think there's enough space in my suite for two people."

"Didn't you manage to make room for James when you married him?"

"That was different. I was younger. I didn't have so many things, and neither did James." When Sarah looked skeptical, Sylvia added, "Besides, when James came to live at Elm Creek Manor, I left my old bedroom and we moved into the suite together. That made it our room, not merely mine."

"Why don't you and Andrew do the same? You could move into the master suite on the third floor."

"I couldn't. That was my parents' room."

"But it's just sitting there empty and it's the largest suite in the manor."

"I suppose," said Sylvia, reluctant. But that would not solve the problem. She was content with her room as it was. It was private and it was hers. She did not want to change it or move somewhere else, but what was the point of getting married if they meant to leave things exactly as they were?

Sylvia stroked the heron scissors with a fingertip and carefully returned them to the box. She would just have to get used to the idea. If she told Andrew how she felt, he might think she was having second thoughts about marrying him.

Whatever they decided about the room, they would still need a quilt. Sylvia could no longer sew as swiftly as she had before her stroke, and she did not want a half-finished quilt covering their bed on their first night as husband and wife. She could ask the Elm Creek Quilters for help, or --

"I know just the thing." Sylvia rose from her chair, tucking her mother's scissors into her pocket. "Thank you, Sarah. Your gift has inspired me."

"Where are you going?"

"Up to the attic, to look for my mother's bridal quilt."

Sylvia stifled a laugh, amused by Sarah's baffled expression. It was nice to know that, in spite of their closeness, Sylvia could still surprise her young friend.

Sylvia went upstairs to the third floor, then climbed the narrow, creaking stairs to the attic. Rain drummed on the roof as she fumbled for the light switch Sarah's husband, Matt, had only recently installed. The overhead light illuminated the attic much better than the single, bare bulb it had replaced, but even now the sloped ceiling and the stacks of trunks, cartons, and the accumulated possessions of four generations cast deep shadows in the corners of the room.

Directly in front of her stretched the south wing of the manor, added when her father was a boy; to her right lay the older west wing, the original home of the Bergstrom family, built in the middle of the nineteenth century by her great-grandparents and her great-grandfather's sister. Only a few months before, Sylvia had searched the attic for the hope chest her great-aunt Lucinda had described, the one containing her great-grandmother's quilts. One of those quilts, the family stories told, had acted as a signal to runaway slaves in the years leading up to the Civil War, beckoning fugitives to the sanctuary of a station on the Underground Railroad. Sylvia had found the hope chest and much more, for it had contained three quilts made by her ancestors and a journal, a memoir written by Gerda Bergstrom, her great-grandfather's sister. Within its pages Gerda confirmed that Elm Creek Manor had indeed been a station on the Underground Railroad, but the particular circumstances differed greatly from the idealized tales handed down through the generations.

Despite these new uncertainties, Sylvia still knew much more about her father's side of the family than her mother's. Until that summer she had excused her ignorance as a consequence of growing up on the Bergstrom family estate; naturally her father's family tended to talk about their own. Her mother died when Sylvia was only ten years old, and the few stories her mother had shared about her youth were almost certainly edited for a young girl's ears. Her mother spoke of strict, wealthy parents who raised her to be a proper young lady, and since this was the very sort of well-behaved child Sylvia invariably failed to emulate, her mother's stories seemed like dull morality tales. Sylvia eventually decided that the Bergstrom family was far more interesting than the Lockwoods and paid little attention when that distant look came into her mother's eyes as she remembered events long ago and far away.

The events of the past summer had pricked Sylvia's conscience, and for the first time in her life, she regretted neglecting an entire half of her heritage. Sarah's gift -- the silverplated scissors Sylvia had so often seen in her mother's hand -- had flooded her mind with images and conversations long forgotten and a warmth of remembered love. Mother had tried to pass on more than quilting skills as she taught Sylvia how to work a needle. If only she had paid more attention to her mother's reminiscences, she might feel as if she had truly known her, and known her family. Now all Sylvia had were her memories and the incomplete list of names, birthdates, baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded in the Lockwood family Bible.

She surveyed the attic. Somewhere in one of those trunks or cartons were her mother's quilts. Claudia must have stored them up here, for upon Sylvia's return to the manor after Claudia's death, only a few of Mother's most worn utility quilts had been spread on beds in the rooms below, awaiting guests who never came. Her mother's bridal quilt was sure to be among those that had been put away for safekeeping.

"Now, where to begin?" mused Sylvia. The search earlier that summer had focused on a specific hope chest, so she had ignored those that did not fit the description. Still, she had opened enough, just in case, to detect a pattern within the clutter. The newest items were closest to the stairs, as if Claudia or her husband had merely stood on the top step and shoved the boxes inside. Moving deeper into the attic was like stepping back in time, with an occasional object from another era juxtaposing the past and present: an electric lamp missing its shade rested on top of a treadle sewing machine; a pile of Sylvia's schoolbooks sat on the floor beside a carton of clothing from the seventies. For the most part, however, the pattern held true, and since Sylvia had found Gerda Bergstrom's journal in the deepest part of the west wing, possessions from her mother's era ought to be somewhere in the middle of the south wing.

She chose a trunk at random, tugged it into the open, and had just lifted the lid when she heard the stairs creaking. She turned to find Agnes emerging from the opening in the floor. "Oh, hello, dear," Sylvia greeted her. "Did you finish your business with Sarah and Diane?"

"We didn't even get started," said Agnes, touching her curly white hair distractedly. "Once Sarah told me what you were up to, I came right upstairs."

"If you came to help, you're a brave soul. It took me weeks to find Gerda's hope chest."

"Sylvia." Agnes hesitated, removed her pink-tinted glasses, and replaced them. "About your mother's quilt -- "

"Oh yes, of course," exclaimed Sylvia, suddenly remembering. "You've seen it -- the burgundy, green, black, and white New York Beauty quilt. It was on the bed of your guest room when you visited us that first time." She chuckled at the memory. "We used it for only our most important visitors, but you apparently had no idea how we had honored you. The next morning, when you complained about how cold you had been all night, I wanted to snatch it off your bed and give you a few scratchy wool blankets instead. I would have, except my brother would have been furious."

"I don't remember complaining..." Agnes shook her head and began again. "Sylvia, dear, I hope you don't have your heart set on using your mother's bridal quilt."

"I don't plan to, not every day. Just on our wedding night." She sensed Agnes's dismay and amended her words. "I wouldn't damage an antique quilt just to indulge a whim. If it seems too fragile, I'll just display it at the reception instead."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Sylvia." Agnes took a deep breath. "The quilts aren't here."

"Of course they are. They must be."

"I don't mean they aren't in the attic. They aren't in the manor. Claudia sold them."

"What?"

"She sold them. All of them, except for the utility quilts."

"I don't believe it." Sylvia steadied herself with one hand on the trunk, then slowly closed the lid and sank to a seat upon it. "Not even Claudia could have done such a thing. Not even Claudia."

"I'm so sorry." Agnes worked her way through the clutter and sat down beside her. "After the family business failed, ...

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