Questions and Topics for Discussion
At Elm Creek Manor, the week after Thanksgiving is “Quiltsgiving,” a time to commence a season of generosity. From near and far, quilters and aspiring quilters—a librarian, a teacher, a college student, and a quilt–shop clerk among them—gather for a special winter session of quilt camp, to make quilts for Project Linus, a charitable organization dedicated to providing handmade quilts and blankets to children in need. Each quilter, ever mindful that many of her neighbors, friends, and family members are struggling through difficult times, pledges the strength of her creative gifts to alleviate their collective burden. So it happens that when the Quiltsgiving participants swap fabrics and trade techniques around the quilting circle, the warm, bright, beautiful quilts they piece are infused with love and comfort. So, too, are their personal stories, which collectively consider the strength of human connection and its rich rewards.
ABOUT JENNIFER CHIAVERINI
Jennifer Chiaverini lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to the six volumes in the Elm Creek Quilts series and two books of quilt patterns inspired by the novels, she designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric line from Red Rooster Fabrics.
A CONVERSATION WITH JENNIFER CHIAVERINI
Q. How does The Giving Quilt, the twentieth Elm Creek Quilts novel, fit into the series? What was the inspiration behind the book?
In The Giving Quilt, the Elm Creek Quilts series returns to contemporary times as the Elm Creek Quilters host a special week of winter quilt camp to create quilts for Project Linus, a national organization whose mission is to provide love, a sense of security, warmth, and comfort to children in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets, quilts, and afghans. Sylvia, Sarah, and the gang welcome four new characters—and one reader favorite who first appeared in my ninth novel, Circle of Quilters—to Elm Creek Manor, where they become confidantes and discover the many benefits of giving. Since I’ve written about Project Linus in previous novels, it will probably come as no surprise that the wonderful work of their thousands of volunteers helped inspire The Giving Quilt.
Q. Quilting connects all of your characters in significant ways, and you are a quilter yourself. How have your own experiences as a quilter inspired your writing?
Beginning writers are often advised to “write what you know.” Since I knew about quilters—their quirks, their inside jokes, their disputes and generosity, their quarrels and kindnesses—the lives of quilters became a natural subject for me. I also wanted to pay tribute to the quilters of ages past who preserved and handed down their traditions through the generations.
When I first began writing about quilters, I had two audiences in mind. The first included my quilter friends, who I thought would enjoy reading about contemporary women like themselves with problems and dreams like their own, overcoming obstacles in their lives by taking strength from their own moral courage and from the support of faithful friends. I also believed quilters would appreciate a depiction of modern quilters and quilt–making free of the usual stereotypes.
But I also intended to write for non–quilters, to give them some insight into the quilting world, so that they might better understand how passionate we quilters are about our art and why we love it so. I wanted them to take away from my books a greater understanding of how quilting is a wonderful creative outlet that can draw you into a wider community of talented, welcoming quilters who support and encourage one another. Perhaps more importantly, I wanted them to discover how quilting can bring together people from different generations, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds into a patchwork of friendship.
Q. Do you think of the quilts you feature in each of your Elm Creek Quilts novels as characters, of a sort? How do you decide which quilts and patterns to include in which novels? What do you say to people who assume your books are only about quilts?
People who assume my books are only about quilts obviously haven’t read them! I’ve always known that my books are about quilters—in other words, people—rather than quilts or quilting. That said, the quilts my characters make are never arbitrary. They aren’t included as an afterthought or as set decoration, but are as important to my characters as real quilts are to the quilters who make them.
Often I’ll use a quilt to provide insight into a particular character’s personality or past. You can learn a great deal about quilters from the style of quilts they make, the techniques they use, their color and fabric palettes, and whether they finish quilts or have a closet full of abandoned projects. In my novels, sometimes a quilt will play an important role as a narrative device. In The Quilter’s Apprentice, a sampler quilt serves as a useful instructional project as a master quilter teaches her young friend how to quilt, but the patterns also evoke stories from the older woman’s childhood and life as a young bride on the World War II home front. In Round Robin, a collaborative project allowed me to tell the story from different characters’ perspectives as the central block was passed around the circle of friends and each contributed her border.
Ultimately, however, my novels are character–driven stories of friendship, history, moral courage, and ordinary people’s struggle to overcome adversity—and you don’t need to know anything about quilts or quilting to enjoy them.
Q. What are you working on now? Will we hear more from the Elm Creek Quilters?
My next novel, The Spymistress (Dutton, October 2013), will explore the suspenseful, clandestine life of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union loyalist who was General Grant’s most valuable spy in her native Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy during the tumultuous years of the Civil War. Later in the fall, Plume will publish a reader’s guide to the Elm Creek Quilts series titled An Elm Creek Quilts Companion, which will include character biographies, a Bergstrom family tree, descriptions of significant places and things, illustrations of quilt blocks, an interview with the Elm Creek Quilters, and a few other reference tools readers have told me they’d like to have at their fingertips. While writing the Companion, I enjoyed reading through all twenty of the Elm Creek Quilts novels, revisiting favorite settings and tracing the winding paths my characters have followed through the years. It’s been quite a journey for me as well.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSFriendship is a central part of the Elm Creek Quilts series. Sylvia reflects on friends she’s made through the Elm Creek Quilters and muses about how to fully define the word “friend.” How would you define a friend?Sylvia describes the manor as a “sheltered place, a haven from the chaos of the disappointments of ordinary life.” Discuss the new characters introduced in this novel and the reasons they have come to visit Elm Creek Manor.Pauline’s desire to be liked and accepted seems to lead to more conflict than acceptance. How might you have handled the situation with Brenda?The quilters are asked why they give. What did you make of their responses? Why do you give?At one point, Linnea invites a fellow quilter into her group, noting to herself how “demoralizing it is to be the leftover, the one not chosen, the one not noticed but assigned by default.” At some point or another, each of the new quilters feels leftover or overlooked. Does this change by the end of the novel? How so?Pauline seems to approach the week at Elm Creek Quilt Camp as more of a competition than a giving opportunity. Do you see a change in her attitude at any point?Sylvia speaks of the importance of stories and their use in teaching, learning and “making sense of the world around us.” How do stories influence your world?In the spirit of this story, think about what a journal entry would be in your Giving Journal. Share with one another ways that you give of yourself. Who are you especially grateful for? Why?Each woman faces some kind of challenge in the novel. Which character do you think faced adversity with the most aplomb? The least? What personality traits do you think are the most helpful to have when dealing with difficulties?This book focused mainly on new characters in the series. Did you have a favorite? Who, and why?