COMING IN APRIL 2024: The Museum of Lost Quilts: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel
“An outstanding series of novels…Quilting, in the hands of Chiaverini, allows us to explore human relationships in all their complexity.” —Booklist on the Elm Creek Quilts series
Just in time for the 25th anniversary of her beloved and bestselling series, Jennifer Chiaverini welcomes readers back to Elm Creek Manor with a much-anticipated novel about friendship, perseverance, the power of collective memory, and the fascinating art of quilting.
In the spring of 1999, Jennifer Chiaverini captured everything she loved about quilting—the artistry, tradition, folklore, and, above all, wonderful community—in her debut novel, The Quilter’s Apprentice. Over the decades and twenty-one novels since, her Elm Creek Quilts series has gained an avid following for not only its devotion to a storied craft and memorable characters but also for its insights into the cultural and political tensions, social movements, and remarkable women that helped to shape America from the antebellum era to today.
Five years after the last visit in 2019’s The Christmas Boutique, Jennifer Chiaverini returns to the well-loved circle of Elm Creek Quilters for a deeply moving story about the importance of trusted friends, listening to your heart, and preserving history while acknowledging the failings of our shared past in The Museum of Lost Quilts.
Summer Sullivan was ten years old when she moved with her mother to Pennsylvania’s Elm Creek Valley for Gwen’s new job as assistant professor of American Studies at Waterford College. Sharing Gwen’s passion for quilting as well as history, at fourteen she was granted provisional membership into the Waterford Quilting Guild. A few years later, thanks to good fortune and fortitude, she became the youngest of the eight founding members—along with her mother; her best friend, Sarah McClure; and master quilter, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson—of Elm Creek Quilters. When the novel opens, Summer, now twenty-eight, is coming home to Elm Creek Manor, the celebrated quilters’ retreat, unexpectedly and with mixed feelings. After two years dedicated to earning a master’s in history at the University of Chicago, she has hit a wall—she can’t complete her thesis. If she fails to conquer her writer’s block, she’ll lose her fellowship and the opportunity to pursue her doctorate. And that will mean the end of her plan to become a professor like her mother.
Back at Elm Creek Manor, surrounded by unconditional love, encouragement, and comfort, Summer asks her thesis advisor for an extension and gets an exciting new project to distract her. The Waterford Historical Society is at risk of losing its home, Union Hall. The long-neglected 1863 Greek Revival edifice had been embraced, spruced up, and repaired by hardworking local volunteers. Though spared from demolition, Union Hall is still vulnerable to falling into the hands of the profit-driven University Realty—unless the Historical Society can raise the funds to complete its renovation and secure its future as a registered historic place and local history museum. Given her research skills and thorough understanding of the art and traditions of quilting, Summer is the perfect candidate to take charge of organizing the capital campaign’s centerpiece: an exhibit of antique quilts with historical significance.
Interweaving captivating quilting lore and facts with suspense, drama, and a hint of romance, The Museum of Lost Quilts follows Summer on her quest to find coveted heirloom quilts and uncover their back stories. One remarkable treasure leads to the shocking discovery of a late nineteenth-century KKK rally on the Waterford town square. The mysterious evidence of two World War II Victory Quilts reveals an even more unsettling reality: the unofficial practice of racial segregation in the Waterford Quilting Guild. When creating placards for the exhibit, Summer asks Sylvia if she’d like her to omit the more disturbing details. “Absolutely not,” the master quilter declares. “I’ll have nothing to do with whitewashing history.”
Yet, while local quilt lovers and history buffs praise the growing collection, affronted local leaders demand that Summer remove all references to Waterford’s troubled past—and, shockingly, they tear down and rip up her meticulously crafted, detailed placards. Driving the backlash is none other than the Elm Creek Quilters’ nemesis, Gregory Krolich, CEO of University Realty. As controversy and smear tactics threaten the exhibit’s success, Summer fears that her commitment to presenting the whole truth as best and objectively as she can may cost the Waterford Historical Society their last chance to save Union Hall. What happens next will have readers cheering: the quilting community rallies to her cause. And what Summer ultimately decides about her future will leave them satisfied, genuinely happy for a character many have come to think of as a dear friend.
Within a heartwarming story of women’s friendship and the joys and power of quilting, The Museum of Lost Quilts confronts the racism embedded in the fabric of America and the ongoing debate over transparency, accountability, and reconciliation surrounding our past wrongdoings. A quarter-century after Jennifer Chiaverini introduced us to the Elm Creek Quilters, the series continues to delight loyal fans and welcome new readers to sit for a while and feel right at home.
The cabdriver chose the scenic bypass from the Elm Creek Valley Regional Airport rather than the more direct route through the downtown past the Waterford College campus, adding a few winding miles through rolling countryside to the trip but saving at least twenty minutes. Summer’s rural Pennsylvania hometown barely qualified as a small city, with a seasonal population topping out at about fifty thou- sand when the college’s fifteen thousand undergraduates were in residence. Yet even now, in mid-June, Waterford’s main streets would be bustling with students, faculty, and staff strolling and biking between campus and the quaint shops, sports bars, and trendy restaurants in the downtown district, slowing traffic to a leisurely amble—ideal for sightseeing but not for getting anywhere fast.
And now that Summer was so close, she didn’t want to delay her homecoming a minute longer than necessary.
She wasn’t looking forward to explaining why she had returned to Elm Creek Manor so unexpectedly, but at least she knew everyone there would be delighted to see her. She would be even happier to see them. As soon as her mom folded her in a warm embrace, the heavy burden of worry and self-doubt that had been weighing her down for months would finally begin to lift. When her longtime friends and colleagues gathered around to welcome her with hugs and fond teasing, she might forget her troubles entirely, at least until one of the Elm Creek Quilters asked her what she was doing there when she was supposed to be back at the University of Chicago, getting a head start on her doctoral studies.
Then Summer would admit the truth, and her friends’ joy would abruptly vanish, confusion and disappointment clouding their faces. She couldn’t bear to imagine it, so she quickly returned her focus to the cabdriver’s conversation. Waterford was not such a small town that everyone knew everyone, but degrees of separation invariably ran in the single digits, and they had soon established that Summer had attended middle school with the driver’s niece. He updated her on the local news, not that there was much of it, aside from the town council’s recent announcement that a generous benefactor had donated fifty acres of wetlands to the Waterford College Arboretum. The driver was so caught up in his story that he didn’t slow down as they approached Summer’s turnoff, a barely visible curve of brown on the edge of a dense green forest.
Almost too late, she realized he was about to sail past the turn. “It’s here,” she interrupted, gesturing to the solid oak Elm Creek Quilts sign marking the T intersection—four feet wide atop sturdy support beams, angled to be clearly visible to traffic from both di- rections, with beautifully carved letters freshly painted every March.
“On it,” the driver replied, quickly spinning the wheel.
Summer instinctively clutched her canvas backpack closer to her side as the taxi turned sharply off the highway, swinging wide onto the grassy shoulder before swerving back onto the road. Behind her seat, her suitcase slid across the floor of the trunk and struck the side with a soft, dull thud. Fortunately, the only valuables she carried were made of paper or fabric.
“Sorry ’bout that,” the driver said cheerfully, raising his voice to be heard over the rattle of rusty axles on the rough, gravel road that wound through the leafy wood encircling the Bergstrom estate. “I’ve been taking folks out this way for years—though less often now that they have their own shuttle—but that turnoff always catches me by surprise.”
“It’s easy to miss the sign,” she said diplomatically, although it wasn’t really, except at night or in a heavy fog, conditions that were not currently impairing that clear, warm, sunny day.
“If you say so,” he replied wryly, grinning at her in the rearview mirror before promptly returning his gaze to the road. That was fortunate for them both. The road was so narrow that if an oncoming car suddenly appeared, one of them would have to swerve off onto the shoulder or into the trees. Occasionally the Elm Creek Quilters debated widening and paving the road during the offseason, when traffic to the manor diminished. Summer’s mom always talked them out of it, citing the expense and inconvenience of construction and concluding with a passionate plea not to sacrifice a single precious tree to the idols of commerce and fossil fuels.
At that moment, the late afternoon sunlight broke through the leafy canopy and illuminated a fork in the road up ahead. “Take the left, please,” Summer quickly said as the driver veered right.
“Are you sure?” He slowed the cab to give her time to reconsider. “The left fork takes you around back. Most visitors like to be dropped off at the front entrance.”
Summer knew that to be true. For most guests of Elm Creek Manor, the approach was a significant, almost reverential act, filling them with the sense that they had arrived at a unique, separate, sheltered and sheltering place, a haven from the chaos and disappointments of ordinary life. As their cars emerged from the dense forest, the gray stone manor would suddenly appear in the middle distance, steadfast and welcoming, surrounded by a wildflower meadow. Moments later, the visitors would glimpse the tall, white pillars sup- porting the high roof of the broad verandah that spanned the width of the manor. As they drew closer, they would see the twin arcs of the stone staircases descending from the verandah to the driveway, which encircled a fountain in the shape of a rearing horse, the symbol of the Bergstrom family.
Through the years, Summer had always enjoyed observing their arriving guests as they took in the scene for the first time, awestruck and thrilled that they would be able to spend a week in such a magnificent setting. She too still experienced that same thrill from time to time, even though Elm Creek Manor had become as familiar to her as her childhood home, only a few miles away. Sometimes the manor felt like her true home, the home of her heart.
“I’m sure,” Summer assured the driver, smiling. “Please take the back way. I’m not a visitor.”
“You mean you’re one of the quilt ladies?”
Her smile deepened. “You could say that, although that’s not my official job title.”
He shrugged, bemused, and drove on. “You don’t look old enough to be a quilter.”
“Careful,” she teased. “Don’t judge by appearances. Quilters come in all ages, all genders, all shapes and sizes and colors. You should know that already, if you bring quilt campers here as often as you claim.”
“Fair point,” he said amiably. “No offense intended.”
“So you’re a real Elm Creek Quilter.” He shook his head, impressed. “And at your age.”
“Not only that,” she said, “I’m a founding member.”
She could understand his surprise. She was still a student at Waterford College in 1997 when the Elm Creek Quilters welcomed their first campers to the renovated and refurbished historic manor for a week of quilting, friendship, and celebration of their beloved traditional art. Elm Creek Quilts had utterly transformed Summer’s life—and not only hers, but those of her colleagues and all the quilters they had hosted through the years.
Even now, with Elm Creek Quilt Camp securely established as the most popular and renowned quilter’s retreat in the country, Summer marveled to think that if events had not unfolded as serendipitously as they had, Elm Creek Quilts never would have existed…