Readers of The Quilter’s Apprentice and Round Robin have been enchanted by Elm Creek Quilt Camp, where women gather each year for quilting, friendship, and fun. The third in the Elm Creek Quilts series introduces the Cross-Country Quilters, a group of far-flung friends who pledge to complete a “challenge quilt”—symbolic of each woman’s personal goals—in one year’s time.
These five women arrive at Elm Creek Manor hoping to find in their quilt lessons an escape from the problems they left at home. Julia, an aging starlet, has pinned her hopes to a plum role in a historical epic whose director is under the mistaken impression that Julia already knows how to quilt. Megan is a successful engineer who has won prizes for her miniature quilt designs. The one challenge she has yet to master is single motherhood. Donna, a mother of two, must hasten to teach her daughter independence and self-esteem—lessons she, too, must take to heart. Grace is a renowned curator of antique quilts, whose creative flair is waning for reasons she is unwilling to reveal—even to her closest friends. Vinnie, the senior member of the group, is a sunny soul with a tragic past. Her overwhelming desire is to bring happiness into the lives of those she loves.
Although the Cross-Country Quilters share a common creative goal, as the year goes by their bonds are tested by the demands of daily life. But despite differences in age, race, and background, the friends' love for quilting and affection for one another unite them in a patchwork of caring and acceptance. The quilt they make reminds them of an everlasting truth—friends may be separated by great distance, yet the strength of their bond can transcend any obstacle.
Why is the quilt called a challenge quilt? What is a challenge quilt? How are the five women’s lived affected by the quilt?
Do the five friends accomplish the goals they set for themselves? How are their dissimilar lives eventually symbolized by the challenge quilt?
Jennifer Chiaverini alternates points of view to convey her story, a technique she also used in her second novel, Round Robin. Do you think this was an effective storytelling technique? In what ways do you think it was or was not?
How did you feel about the introduction of a brand new set of characters three books into the series? Were you able to connect with them? Did you find yourself drawn to any character in particular? Were you sympathetic to their problems?
Why do you think Vinnie starts her mornings by talking with God? Do you think she is a religious or spiritual woman? She also values the time spent with her children and grandchildren, despite missing her Sam. Is family the driving force in Vinnie’s life? How do her actions reveal this? How do they affect the others?
Are all the women in the novel equally courageous? Do you think Grace, with her strength and resolve to overcome her health issues, is the bravest?
What unique obstacles do Julia, Donna, Grace, Megan, and Vinnie face at the beginning of the story? How does each woman tackle her problems? Discuss whether they have begun resolving their issues by the end of the book.
The women’s friendship evolves throughout the book. In what ways is it tested? What happens to bring them closer together? What unites them in the end?
What do these friends believe attending quilting camp at this point in their lives will accomplish? What are their sentiments regarding Sylvia? What are her feelings about them?
Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, five collections of quilt projects, and several historical fiction novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more, visit JenniferChiaverini.com.