The Master Quilter (Elm Creek Quilts Series #6)

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9781402569579: The Master Quilter (Elm Creek Quilts Series #6)
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This newest of the Elm Creek Quilts novels continues the series with a tribute to matriarch Sylvia Compson, who surprised her fellow quilters by marrying her longtime sweetheart on a recent holiday. Eager to honor their favorite Master Quilter, the Elm Creek Quilters hasten to stitch a bridal quilt for the newlyweds. Until the time comes to unveil the surprise gift, Sylvia will be the one in the dark.

Such little white lies seem harmless enough. But the quilting retreat at Elm Creek Manor thrives on women sharing their creativity, their challenges and their dreams. Somehow, in their race to commemorate in the bridal quilt all they hold dear about Sylvia’s wisdom, skill and devotion, her fellow quilters forget to give honesty its pride of place.

Just when it seems that the women have everything to celebrate, forces conspire to threaten their happiness and prosperity. Two among them falter in their personal relationships, while another suffers financial problems. As still two others weigh the comfort of the present against dreams of a future far from Elm Creek Manor, closely guarded secrets strain the bonds of friendship with those who may be left behind.

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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

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


January 7, 2002

Dear Friends of Elm Creek Quilts,

Wedding bells rang at Elm Creek Manor much earlier than any of the Elm Creek Quilters could have predicted! While Sylvia Compson's friends were helpfully -- we thought -- planning her wedding to Andrew Cooper, Sylvia and Andrew made plans of their own. Friends and family gathered at Elm Creek Manor to celebrate Christmas Eve and found ourselves unsuspecting guests at the union of two very dear friends.

The bride was beautiful, the groom charming, the ceremony moving, and the celebration joyful (although admittedly a few of us spent most of the reception recovering from shock). It was a perfect wedding save one glaring omission: Sylvia's bridal quilt. We had not yet sewed a single stitch!

Diane says Sylvia deserves to go without, but the rest of us know that that would be a cruel punishment for someone who has brought quilting into the lives of thousands of aspiring quilters. That's why we're asking all of Sylvia's friends, family, former students, and admirers to help us create a bridal quilt worthy of everyone's favorite Master Quilter.

If you would like to participate in this very special project, please make a 6-inch pieced or appliquéd quilt block using green, rose, blue, gold, and/or cream 100% cotton fabrics. Choose any pattern that represents how Sylvia has influenced you as an artist, teacher, or friend.

Please mail your blocks so they arrive at Elm Creek Manor no later than April 1. If you have any questions, contact Sarah McClure or Summer Sullivan at Elm Creek Manor. Thanks so much for your help, and remember, this is a surprise! Let's show Sylvia we can keep a secret as well as she can.

Yours in Quarter-Inch Seams,

The Elm Creek Quilters

"Did Diane really say that?" asked Summer as she read over the draft.

"No," admitted Sarah, "but it sounds like something she would say, and I thought it was good for a laugh. Should I delete it?"

"No, leave it in. Just don't send her a copy."

Sarah and Summer exchanged a grin, imagining Diane's reaction. Diane had been the last of the Elm Creek Quilters to admit that the Christmas Eve surprise wedding had been truly wonderful -- and that was not until a week later, and only grudgingly. For all they knew, maybe Diane had indeed declared that Sylvia deserved to go without a bridal quilt for not sharing her secret with her closest friends.

"Don't you think Sylvia will get suspicious when dozens of blocks start piling up in the mailbox?" asked Summer.

"I'll ask Bonnie if we can have the blocks sent to Grandma's Attic," said Sarah. Bonnie would probably be able to find room in her quilt shop to store the blocks, too, rather than leave them lying about Elm Creek Manor where Sylvia might discover them.

A phone call to Bonnie and a few revisions later, Sarah saved the final version of her letter and began printing out copies for every former camper, every quilt guild that had invited Sylvia to speak, and everyone in Sylvia's address book, hastily borrowed for the cause. She needed to refill the paper tray twice and replace the toner cartridge before the last letter emerged from the printer. Summer seemed to think they would receive dozens of blocks, but Sarah was less certain. Quilters were generous, helpful people, but they also tended to be quite busy. For all their good intentions, most might not be able to contribute a block by the deadline.

With all those hundreds of requests, surely they would receive the 140 blocks Bonnie had calculated they would need for a queen-size comforter. As Sarah affixed stamps to the envelopes, listening carefully for Sylvia's footsteps in the hall outside the library, she reflected that they might be fortunate to settle for a ninety-six-block lap quilt.

The bridal quilt was Sarah's idea, but the other Elm Creek Quilters were just as enthusiastic about the project -- even Diane, who now only rarely complained about having to return the "perfect summer dress" she had purchased for the anticipated June wedding. Sylvia was the heart and soul of Elm Creek Quilt Camp, the business the eight friends had founded, jointly owned, and operated each year from spring to autumn, and not only because Elm Creek Manor was her ancestral home. Sylvia's passion for the artistic, historical, and social aspects of quilting so permeated the quilting retreat that the campers felt her influence in every class, every lecture, and every late-night chat with new friends that took place within the manor's gray stone walls. She had earned the respect, admiration, and affection of every quilter who had passed through the doors of Elm Creek Manor, yet she alone seemed unaware of this. Whenever Sarah tried to explain, as she did on each anniversary of the founding of Elm Creek Quilts, Sylvia cut her off and dismissed her praise as "preposterous." This bridal quilt would finally tell Sylvia what she would not allow Sarah to say.

To Sarah's delight, the first quilt block arrived only a week after the letters went out. The next day, Bonnie phoned with news that two more blocks had come in the morning mail, and after that, packages came so frequently that Bonnie stopped calling to report them. When she offered to bring them to their upcoming business meeting, Sarah couldn't resist. She and Bonnie told all the Elm Creek Quilters except Sylvia to meet in the kitchen thirty minutes early. Sarah figured that would give them plenty of time to examine the blocks, read the accompanying letters, and return the packages to Bonnie's car before Sylvia expected them in the formal parlor.

That Thursday evening, Bonnie arrived first, hustling through the back door and into the kitchen with a Grandma's Attic shopping bag in her arms. "Maybe this was a mistake," she said as Sarah eagerly took the bag and set it on the long wooden table in the center of the room. Bonnie shrugged off her coat and sat down on one of the benches. "All Sylvia has to do is look out the window at the parking lot and she'll know we're here."

"Sylvia's room faces the front of the manor," Sarah reminded her, emptying the bag onto the table. "It's twenty degrees outside, so the windows are shut and the furnace is running. She won't hear the cars pull up."

Bonnie raked her fingers through her close-cropped dark hair and glanced at the doorway. "Even so, we should keep our voices down."

"We're here," Diane sang, strolling into the kitchen, her blond curls bouncing. "Do we have to wait for everyone or can we see the blocks now?"

"Diane, hush, dear," warned white-haired Agnes, following close behind. Her blue eyes were exasperated behind pink-tinted glasses. "Stealth, remember?"

"She's about as stealthy as a thirsty elephant at the only waterhole on the savanna," remarked Gwen, peering in over Diane's shoulder. "You're also blocking the doorway."

"Well, excuse me, professor," Diane shot back, but she took a seat beside Sarah and reached for the envelope on top of the pile.

"Is Summer coming?" Sarah asked Gwen as she helped Agnes with her coat. "I sent her an email, but she didn't write back."

"Who knows what my daughter's up to anymore?" said Gwen. "I've had more meaningful conversations with her answering machine than with her lately."

"Summer has already seen most of the blocks at the quilt shop," said Bonnie. "But I'm sure she'll be here for the meeting."

"Summer never misses them," added Judy as she hurried into the kitchen, removing her gloves. "Unlike some of us. I honestly didn't think I'd make it tonight. When did juggling the schedules of two parents and an eight-year-old become so complicated?"

"When was it not?" asked Bonnie.

Sarah glanced at her watch and opened an envelope. "Let's keep an eye on the time, everyone."

"And keep one ear pointed toward the door," added Judy.

They agreed in whispers and soon were engrossed in passing the blocks around the table, praising them in hushed voices, silently reading the letters their makers had sent. Little Giant, Mother's Favorite, Three Cheers, Trip Around the World -- the blocks were as imaginative and as varied as the women who had made them; while Sarah usually couldn't decipher the hidden meaning at first glance, the letters never failed to explain what the blocks represented. Sarah's favorite was a Spinning Hourglass block, which the maker wrote was inspired by a conversation she and Sylvia had participated in over dinner one evening at camp. One of the women at the table had complained that she never had time to quilt at home and had to cram an entire year's worth of quilting into the one week each summer she spent at Elm Creek Manor. "We make time for the things that are important to us," Sylvia had remarked, and she listed several activities people typically participated in out of habit rather than necessity or enjoyment.

The writer said that Sylvia's words resonated with her and when she returned home, she scrutinized her routine to see where she could make better use of her days. After cutting out mindless television watching and delegating some household chores to her husband and teenage sons, she found several hours each week that she could devote to her own interests, including quilting. "Sylvia showed me that although we never have enough time for all the things we want to do," she concluded, "if we simplify our busy lives, we can keep them from spinning out of our control."

Sarah tucked the block and letter back into the envelope, ruefully running through her mental checklist of daily activities and wondering which she could sacrifice.

"Sarah?" called a distant voice. "Where is everyone?"

They scrambled up from the benches. "Quick," Gwen hissed, but the others were already returning the quilt blocks and letters to their envelopes and tossing them into the bag.

"Someone stall her," whispered Sarah frantically just as someone thrust the bag into her arms.

"Sarah?" Sylvia's voice came louder now, her footfalls swiftly approaching. "I don't have time for hide-and-seek."

Sarah flung open the pantry. She threw the bag inside and slammed the door just as Sylvia entered the kitchen.

"Sarah -- " Sylvia stopped short in the doorway and eyed the gathering. "Well, for goodness' sakes. Why are you here so early?" She fixed her gaze on Sarah. "And why are you clinging to that door for dear life?"

"Because -- " Sarah opened the door and retrieved the first item her hand touched. "They came early to help me make brownies. I was just getting the mix. Do you know if we have eggs? I was going to stop at the store, but -- "

"You need six people to make brownies?"

"Sarah's never been much of a cook," offered Diane.

"Nonsense," said Sylvia, and gestured to the cellophane-wrapped plate on the counter. "She made lemon squares this morning."

"Should we get started?" asked Judy, reaching for an apron hanging on a peg beside the pantry door.

"Don't be ridiculous," said Sylvia, glancing at the clock. "We have a lot to cover tonight. We shouldn't waste time preparing extraneous desserts."

"Chocolate is never extraneous," said Gwen, but the others quickly agreed with Sylvia, eager to get her out of the kitchen.

They gathered in the formal parlor, where the original west wing of Elm Creek Manor intersected the south wing, added when Sylvia's father was a boy. The antique Victorian furnishings might have seemed stuffy if they were not so comfortably worn. Sylvia had once mentioned that her paternal grandmother had brought the overstuffed sofas, embroidered armchairs, beaded lamps, and ornate cabinets to Elm Creek Manor upon her marriage to David Bergstrom. No one else in the family had cared for the young bride's tastes, so they had arranged the furniture in a spare room and proclaimed it too fine for everyday use. Thus the newest member of the family had not felt slighted, and the Bergstroms were able to keep the west sitting room, their preferred place for quilting and visiting, exactly as it was. In more recent decades, the Bergstroms had grown more fond of the room, but even now the only nod to modernity was a large television in the corner, concealed by a Grandmother's Fan quilt whenever it was not in use.

Sarah began the meeting with an update on registration for the coming season. Enrollment was up fifteen percent, and there were so many requests for Gwen's Photo Transfer workshop that they had decided to add a second weekly session. "If you're up for it," added Sarah, glancing at Gwen.

Gwen shrugged. "Why not? Once the spring semester ends, I'll have plenty of time."

"Bonnie, I also thought we should add a few extra shuttles into town so campers can shop," Sarah continued. "Since they'll want to visit Grandma's Attic, we'll arrange them for when you can be fully staffed, okay? I wouldn't want one person to get swamped."

"Oh. Great." Bonnie hesitated. "Do you need to know the best times of the day now? Because I'm not really sure -- "

"Just get back to me whenever you know." Sarah gave Bonnie an encouraging smile. She knew the quilt shop owner appreciated the extra business Elm Creek Quilt Camp sent her way, but she always seemed embarrassed by it, as if she thought she was taking advantage of their friendship. "You'll probably want your camp course schedule first."

Bonnie nodded, so Sarah glanced at her notes. "Oh. One more thing. This goes for everyone. Please remember to charge anything you use in your classes to supplies, not overhead. If we ever get audited -- "

"I'm here," said Summer, rushing in red-cheeked from the cold and struggling out of her coat. "I'm sorry I'm late."

"Relax," said Diane. "This isn't the first time."

"Yes, but your tardiness has been increasing lately," mused Sylvia. "I can't imagine what has been keeping you so busy."

Summer draped her coat over the back of a chair and sat down. "What did I miss?"

"Sorry, Sylvia," said Judy with a laugh. "I don't think Summer wants to discuss her boyfriend."

Everyone except Summer laughed, but she managed a wry smile. "Fine. I was having supper with Jeremy. Satisfied?"

"You guys spend so much time together you might as well live together," said Diane.

"Don't suggest such a thing," protested Agnes. She patted Summer's hand. "She meant after you get married, dear."

Summer blanched, and Gwen said, "Married? Are you crazy? Don't go putting thoughts of marriage in my daughter's head. Or of living together. My daughter has more sense than that."

"As a newlywed myself, I object to the implications of that remark," retorted Sylvia. "Sometimes getting married makes perfect sense."

Agnes nodded, but Bonnie said, "Sometimes marriage makes no sense at all."

"Can we please get back to business?" begged Summer, throwing Sarah a pleading look.

Sarah promptly returned to her agenda despite grumbles from Diane, who apparently found teasing Summer far more interesting.

Midway through the meeting, Sylvia offered to return to the kitchen for refreshments, but Bonnie leapt to her feet and announced that it was her turn. She returned with the lemon squares, coffee, and a look of relief so plain that Sarah knew the quilt blocks were safely hidden away in her car.

That night, as Sarah and her husband prepared for bed, she told him about the afternoon's mishap. Matt laughed and said, "Why didn't you just go to Grandma's Attic and look at the blocks there?"

"Because every time I say I'm going downtown, Sylvia asks to come with me. I can't very well ask her to stay in the van while I go into the quilt shop."

"No, I guess not," Matt acknowledg...

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Jennifer Chiaverini
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