The Winding Ways Quilt
“Powerful and poignant.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Odds are good that this latest Elm Creek adventure will bring Chiaverini even more devoted readers who can’t wait to find out what happens next.” – BookPage
Quilters have flocked to Elm Creek Manor to learn from Master Quilter Sylvia Compson and her expert colleagues. There’s Sarah, Sylvia’s onetime apprentice who’s paired her quilting accomplishments with a mind for running the business of Elm Creek Quilts; Agnes, who has a gift for appliqué; Gwen, who stitches innovative art quilts; Diane, a whiz at the technicalities of quick-piecing; and Bonnie, with her encyclopedic knowledge of folk art patterns.
But with Judy and Summer, two other founding members of the Elm Creek Quilters, departing to pursue other opportunities, will the new teachers be able to fill in the gaps created by the loss of their expertise — and more important, their friendship?
“When I think of all the different paths I could have followed in my life, all the twists and turns that could have led me anywhere,” muses founding Elm Creek Quilter Gwen, “it’s something of a miracle that I ended up here, surrounded by loving friends.”
But what of friends departed? As Sylvia contemplates a tribute to the partnership of the Elm Creek Quilters, she is reminded of a traditional quilt pattern whose curved pieces symbolize a journey. Winding Ways, a mosaic of overlapping circles and intertwining curves, would capture the spirit of their friendship at the moment of its transformation.
Will Sylvia’s choice inspire the founding members to remember that each is a unique part of a magnificent whole? Will the newcomers find ways to contribute, and to earn their place? The Winding Ways Quilt considers the complicated, often hidden meanings of presence and absence, and what change can mean for those who have come to rely upon one another.
Praise for The Winding Ways Quilt
Sylvia woke to a gentle breeze and birdsong beyond the open window. Sitting up in bed, stretching, she saw clouds in the eastern sky, pink with the new light of dawn. Andrew had risen earlier, without waking her, but she knew there was only one place her husband could be at that hour on a Sunday morning.
She dressed in a light sweater and slacks and went to join her husband, pausing at the top of the grand oak staircase to savor the brief, reverential stillness that descended upon Elm Creek Manor on Sunday mornings. In a few hours, the gray stone manor would bustle and hum with the sounds of dozens of eager quilters arriving for a week of quilting, friendship, and fun, but for the moment, Sylvia, Andrew, and the manor’s other three permanent residents had the estate all to themselves.
After descending the staircase, grasping a banister worn smooth from the hands of generations, Sylvia crossed the black marble floor of the front foyer and turned down the older west wing of the manor, built by her great-grandfather in 1858. She brushed the wall lightly with her fingertips, wondering what her great-grandparents would think of the changes their descendants had brought to the farm they had founded, nestled in the fertile Elm Creek Valley in central Pennsylvania.
Voices and the smell of frying sausages drifted to her from the kitchen at the end of the hall. Sarah would be at the stove, no doubt, preparing breakfast for five, but who kept her company? Her husband Matt, most likely, although he usually was too busy with his caretaker’s duties to linger in the kitchen. Perhaps Sarah’s best friend and fellow Elm Creek Quilter, Summer, had finished her daily yoga routine early and had decided to lend a hand, taking advantage of the opportunity to contribute more vegetarian options to the meal.
“Good morning,” Sylvia sang out as she entered the kitchen, but she stopped short at the sight of Sarah sitting on a bench and resting her head in her arms on the kitchen table. Her husband, Matt, attended the stove, a pink calico apron tied around his waist.
“Morning,” Matt said, throwing her a grin over his shoulder and raising a spatula in salute. Sarah managed to lift her head long enough to give Sylvia a pale smile. Then she groaned and let her head drop onto her arms again, her long, reddish-brown ponytail falling onto an open package of saltine crackers beside her on the table.
“Goodness, Sarah. Are you ill?” Sylvia sat down on the opposite bench, brushed Sarah’s ponytail away from the food, and felt her forehead. Sylvia detected no trace of fever, thank goodness, but the younger woman clearly was not well.
“I’ll be all right.” Sarah’s voice wavered feebly, belying her words. “I think I finally understand why Summer won’t eat meat. I never realized how awful it smells.”
Sylvia thought breakfast smelled delicious, but she knew better than to discuss food with someone suffering from a stomach bug. “Perhaps you should go back to bed, dear. Matthew seems to have everything well in hand, and you wouldn’t want to pass on whatever you have to our guests during registration.”
At the stove, Matt choked back a laugh. “I don’t think we have to worry about any of them taking home this particular souvenir.”
“We can’t be too careful.”
“I’ll be all right in a moment.” Sarah pushed herself to her feet. “It’s my turn to fix breakfast and I’m not going to shirk my duty.”
“Shirk away, honey,” said Matt. “I have everything under control.”
“Beginning today, we’ll have a professional chef on staff again,” Sylvia reminded her. “Anna’s planning a cold buffet for lunch, but supper will be a gourmet feast. She phoned me with the menu. Mushroom and rosemary soup, salmon en croute, some kind of eggplant cassoulet that Summer is sure to love, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Best of all, no more kitchen duty for the rest of us.”
“I can’t wait,” Sarah croaked, then pressed her lips together and hurried from the room.
“She’ll be fine,” said Matt when Sylvia rose to go after her. “Don’t worry. Just give her a minute, and she’ll be back here scrambling eggs.”
Sylvia wasn’t so sure, but she put on a pot of coffee and offered to mix up a batch of biscuits. Just as she was about to dust her hands with flour to knead the dough, Sarah returned, looking remarkably better. She insisted on taking over, and when the younger couple overruled Sylvia’s protests, she left them to their work. She filled two travel mugs with coffee—cream and sugar for her, sugar only for Andrew—and carried them out the back door and down four steps to the rear parking lot.
Outside the air was cool from the night and misty, dew fresh on the grass. Insects chirped and buzzed and darted in the sunlight shafting through the forest canopy, the elms barely stirring in the still air. Sylvia knew the day ahead would be warm and humid, but the grey stone walls of Elm Creek Manor would keep their arriving guests cool and comfortable—as long as she reminded Sarah to open all the windows and keep plenty of lemonade on hand.
A mug in each hand, Sylvia crossed the bridge over Elm Creek without spilling a single drop. Andrew’s favorite fishing spot, a large, round, flat rock on the creek bank beneath a willow tree, had been her favorite secluded hideaway as a child. Whenever she had needed time alone to think or to cool her temper after an argument with her sister, she had stolen away to the willow and the rock. The musical burbling of the creek never failed to soothe her, and sometimes even now, a woman grown, she favored the private spot for quiet contemplation.
But she was happy to share it with her dear Andrew.
She knew better than to scare away the fish by calling out to him when she spied him through the willow branches, that faded, worn fishing cap on his head, a tackle box on the rock by his side. She approached quietly, but her footfalls alerted him when she was still several yards away. He glanced over his shoulder, and his face lit up at the sight of her. “There’s my girl,” he said, his voice low. Shifting his fishing rod to one hand, he patted the rock beside him.
Sylvia gladly took the offered seat, handed him his coffee, and rested her head upon his shoulder as he drew her closer. “Anything biting?”
“No keepers. Not like you.” He sipped his coffee, and nodded to show it was just the way he liked it. “You’re definitely a keeper.”
“I’m glad to know you don’t plan to throw me back.”
“Not on your life.”
She smiled, and they sat in companionable silence, watching minnows draw close to the hook and dart away into the shadows. “Sarah and Matt have breakfast cooking,” Sylvia remarked. “Sarah seems to be under the weather.”
Andrew grinned. “She’s not sick. She’s just sick of cooking.”
“No, that’s not it. I urged her to return to bed, but she flatly refused.” Sarah wasn’t a shirker. If anything, she worked herself too hard. “But I think we’ll all be happy when Anna Del Maso joins our staff today. We’ve been without a real chef too long.”
“If those cookies she brought to her job interview are any indication, she’s going to be a great addition to the staff.”
“I couldn’t agree more. If she can make a simple sugar cookie taste that delicious, I can’t wait to see what she’ll do for Judy’s going-away party.” Sylvia sighed and sipped her coffee. “I only wish it weren’t necessary.”
“Judy couldn’t turn down such a great offer from an Ivy League school.”
“Of course not. I wouldn’t expect her to. But I’ll miss her very much.”
“That’s only natural. She’ll miss you Elm Creek Quilters, too.”
“She’s one of our founding members,” said Sylvia, steadying a quaver in her voice. “It’s difficult to believe this is her last week.” The Elm Creek Quilters were fortunate that one of their new hires, Gretchen Hartley, was willing to start right away. Although Gretchen and Judy had very different quilting styles, adjusting the course offerings was a minor inconvenience compared to the upheaval of canceling classes altogether. At least the rest of their staff would remain through the rest of the season, but then… “We won’t have Summer for much longer, either.”
“I thought she was staying through the end of September.”
“That’s what she says now, but I’m sure once camp wraps up for the season, she’ll be eager to move to Chicago before the fall quarter begins.”
“What about her boyfriend? Won’t she want to linger in Waterford for him?”
“I’m not so sure about that. She’s more likely to delay her departure for her mother than for Jeremy.”
Andrew chuckled. “Gwen’s so proud of her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she drove Summer to Chicago and walked her to class on the first day.”
Sylvia smiled at the image of Gwen in a brightly colored gypsy skirt and beaded necklaces escorting her red-faced, twenty-eight year old daughter to her first graduate school symposium. “Gwen might do exactly that, if she didn’t have her own students to worry about. And if Summer wouldn’t faint away from embarrassment.”
“Summer doesn’t seem the fainting type.”
“No, I suppose you’re right.” It was far more likely that the spirited young woman would welcome her mother’s companionship. Gwen and Summer were very close, and Sylvia was so happy for them both, so proud of Summer’s accomplishments and her prospects, that Sylvia could almost forget to regret her leaving them.
Andrew finished his coffee, drew in his fishing line, and began packing his gear. “Do you think you’ll finish your quilt in time?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, no. The grand unveiling I had planned for Judy’s going-away party will have to wait.”
“Think of it this way.” Andrew squeezed her hand in sympathy and helped her to her feet. “Now we’ll have an excuse to visit Judy in Philadelphia. A quilt that special ought to be delivered in person.”
Sylvia nodded, but the thought of a future visit was small consolation. She had worked on the quilts all summer in secret, tracing the templates on the back of her favorite fabrics, carefully cutting the pieces, pinning and sewing each curve by hand.
Winding Ways. The pattern’s name was as evocative as the design was lovely. A mosaic of overlapping circles and intertwining curves, the circles would appear only if the quiltmaker created a careful balance of dark and light hues, if she harmonized the colors and gave contrast its pride of place. Such was the harmony and balance of the Elm Creek Quilters, whose friendship had been tested by time and conflict. In the years ahead, it would face the test of distance, as well. The quilt—or quilts, rather—that Sylvia was making would capture the spirit of that friendship, and the necessary journeys that sometimes led one woman far from the embrace of her beloved friends.
“When I think of all the winding ways the path of my life has followed,” Sylvia said as she and Andrew strolled arm-in-arm back to the manor, “I believe it’s a miracle that I ended up back in this beautiful place, surrounded by so much love and friendship. I could have followed my winding ways anywhere, and yet here I am, exactly where I am meant to be.”
She would have to trust that Judy and Summer’s own winding ways would lead them to joy and fulfillment. They both deserved happiness in abundance.
“My favorite winding path is the Pennsylvania Toll Road,” remarked Andrew.
Sylvia laughed, her melancholy momentarily forgotten. “Why is that?”
“Because it brought me back to Elm Creek Manor, and to you.”