COMING IN APRIL 2024: The Museum of Lost Quilts: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel
Just in time for the 25th anniversary of the beloved and bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, Jennifer Chiaverini welcomes readers back to Elm Creek Manor with a delightful, much-anticipated novel about friendship, perseverance, and honoring our shared history.
Summer Sullivan, the youngest founding member of Elm Creek Quilts, has spent the last two years pursuing a master’s degree in history at the University of Chicago. Her unexpected return home to the celebrated quilter’s retreat is met with delight but also concern from her mother, Gwen; her best friend, Sarah; master quilter Sylvia; and her other colleagues—and rightly so. Stymied by writer’s block, Summer hasn’t finished her thesis, and she can’t graduate until she does.
Elm Creek Manor offers respite while Summer struggles to meet her extended deadline. She finds welcome distraction in organizing an exhibit of antique quilts as a fundraiser to renovate Union Hall, the 1863 Greek Revival headquarters of the Waterford Historical Society. But Summer’s research uncovers startling facts about Waterford’s past, prompting unsettling questions about racism, economic injustice, and political corruption within their community, past and present.
As Summer’s work progresses, quilt lovers and history buffs praise the growing collection, but affronted local leaders demand that she remove all references to Waterford’s troubled history. As controversy threatens the exhibit’s success, Summer fears that her pursuit of the truth might cost the Waterford Historical Society their last chance to save Union Hall. Her only hope is to rally the quilting community to her cause.
The Museum of Lost Quilts is a warm and deeply moving story about the power of collective memory. With every fascinating quilt she studies, Summer finds her passion for history renewed—and discovers a promising new future for herself.
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…