Monday, December 15, 2008

The Quilter's Apprentice, Elm Creek Quilts: A book review

There are times when I find myself wanting to take a break from the normal routine of life--the duties and responsibilities, even the recreational activities, like quilting. (Horrors.) At these times, I am on the hunt for good reading material--substantive, yet not too heavy. I stumbled across a series of books quite by chance, with stories written loosely around quilting, but focusing more on relationships and the common occurrences of everyday life. The books I found were the Elm Creek Quilts series.

The first book in the series, The Quilter's Apprentice: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (Elm Creek Quilts), introduces the reader to what will most likely be a recurring cast of characters. There is Sarah, the young woman who moves with her husband to a small town where he has been offered full-time, permanent employment. As she is unable to find a job, she begins to work in the home of the crotchety old woman for whom Sarah's husband Matt is performing landscaping services. While the relationship begins somewhat awkwardly, Sarah and the older woman, Mrs. Compson, eventually become friends.

Without giving the plot away entirely, I will merely state that the characters, while a bit trite at times, serve to remind us of our own human frailties and challenges--broken relationships, disappointments, guilt, aging, death, failure, hope, strength, joy, and reconciliation, just to name a few. Portions of the story are told in flashbacks and reminiscences, with characters reflecting dreamily or bitterly on earlier days and past occurrences. We see a detailed character development with Sarah, Matt, and Mrs. Compson; other characters are not quite as developed, but will probably be in later books in the series.

A word of caution: The author makes mention of a quilt which was used during slavery to signify a "safe" house on the Underground Railroad. There is no historical evidence that such quilts and quilt codes existed. Unfortunately, not long before this book was published, another book was published which made the unsubstantiated claim that quilts were used to transmit messages on the Underground Railroad. An entire movement was spawned, based on this ONE book with its incredibly faulty research. Essentially, a woman trying to sell her wares in a market relayed this quilt code story to an author, but then refused to repeat it later. Nothing else--not even firsthand accounts of slaves--has ever made this outrageous claim, in all of history.


Quilters will find themselves enjoying the quilting process detailed in the book, as we journey with Sarah through her beginning quilting lessons and trials. I laughed at the ever present hand-pieced vs. machine-pieced, hand-quilted vs. machine-quilted debate waged cheerfully in the pages of the Quilter's Apprentice. Also to be appreciated are the stories that are told with every quilt, and how they, or the fabrics of which they are comprised, are significant to their owners or recipients. I'll bet you, like I, recognized the description of the Lone Star pattern in the very beginning of the book long before the pattern was mentioned by name.

If you are looking for high quality or serious reading material, this series is probably not for you. But if you are looking for a lighthearted, heartwarming, enjoyable read, with quilting as a central, recurring theme, then this series is for you. I think you will laugh and cry right along with the characters in the book.

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