Jennifer Chiaverini's bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series continues with The Winding Ways Quilt, in which the arrival of newcomers into the circle of quilters heralds unexpected journeys down pathways near and far.
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 incoming teacher Gretchen, "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.
Discussion Questions 1. How does the quilt that Sylvia works on throughout the novel represent the Elm Creek Quilters? Describe how she uses each piece and the overall concept to create a lasting tribute and connection to her friends. 2. The women of Elm Creek Manor often come to realize their own feelings by analyzing their reactions to others. For example, how does Judy's reaction to Anna, the manor's new chef, reveal her feelings about leaving Waterford? Identify other scenes in the novel where a character's true feelings are revealed by the way she acts toward or reacts to others. 3. At the first Candlelight Ceremony in the novel, a shy camper's words remind the Elm Creek Quilters that circles can exclude as well as include. Relate this concept to the running theme of absence vs. presence in the novel and explain the symbolism inherent in the concept of a Quilting Circle. 4. Gwen warns Sarah about "unsmoothable wrinkles" of motherhood, but the uber-organized Sarah is confident that she can plan for just about anything. What unsmoothable wrinkles present themselves to Sarah, and how does she deal with them? Which other characters struggle with unsmoothable wrinkles along their own winding ways? 5. Several of the Elm Creek Quilters came to quilting because of their grandmothers, either directly or indirectly. Describe their stories and compare them: Were these women brought into the art with love, or were they motivated by something else? What other ways were the Elm Creek Quilters introduced to quilting? 6. The Pineapple quilt that Gwen rescues from her church's lost-and-found box ultimately reveals a history discordant with the symbolism of hospitality, friendship, and love many people associate with quilts. What is the significance of this discovery, both for Gwen and for you as a reader? 7. On page 154, Gwen muses, "It was never too late to offer something the respect that it deserved." Do you agree or disagree, and why? Describe moments in the story that illustrate this belief. In what ways are the characters offered a chance to reassess their opinions about a person or situation from the past? What influences their decisions or actions? 8. Why doesn't Judy accept her great-grandmother's coveted Tulip quilt when her cousin Carrie offers it to her? Similarly, why doesn't Bonnie take Sylvia up on her generous offer to rebuild her quilt shop at Elm Creek Manor? 9. For many of the Elm Creek Quilters, quilting is a multigenerational craft. What do you think it is about quilting that brings women of such different backgrounds and at such different life stages together? What is the appeal of working in a quilting circle with your own relatives -- as Gwen, Summer, and Bonnie do? 10. When you learned about the chain of events between Diane and Mary Beth that led to Mary Beth's son, Brent, and his friends vandalizing Bonnie's quilt shop, did you feel more or less sympathetic toward the boys? Did it change your opinion of Diane at all? Do you think Diane bears any responsibility in what happened? What about Mary Beth? 11. Several characters in this novel are seeing their grown children off to college. On page 261, Diane remarks that Gwen "doesn't really know what I'm going through," because Gwen has gotten to enjoy the company of her daughter, Summer, longer. Identify characters throughout the novel who share situations in common. Compare and contrast the ways in which they suffer. Do you find that they have more or less in common than they think? 12. As mother and daughter, Gwen and Summer are similar in many ways. In particular, they share a tendency to ignore or avoid things that are unpleasant or painful. How do each of these women deal with difficulties at various points in their lives? How do they ignore or avoid saying good-bye in this novel? 13. Examine the role of quilting and the quilts themselves as the predominant symbols in the novel. What, exactly, do they symbolize for these women? What do they symbolize in relation to the overarching plot lines of this story? Are there other crafts or pursuits that similarly serve as metaphors? Enhance Your Book Club 1. To get a real taste of what the larger quilting community is like, visit a quilt show or contest near you with the other members of your Book Club. Look for announcements in your local newspaper, or visit a crafts store, where such information is often posted. If you quilt yourself or are a collector, joining a national organization such as the American Quilting Society (www.americanquilter.com) or the National Quilting Association (www.nqaquilts.org) will get you a complimentary subscription to a quilting magazine and access to tons of resources, letting you expand your quilting horizons by seeing what other quilters are doing throughout the country. (These sites can also help you find local shows and contests.) 2. On the first night of each weeklong Quilt Camp session, the campers and Elm Creek Quilters gather together for a special ceremony. As a way of getting to know each other (if your group is new), or as a way to make sure the group is on track with everyone's goals and expectations, perform your own Candlelight Ceremony: Arrange your chairs in a circle, turn out the lights, and give each member of your Book Club a lighted candle to hold. Pass the candle around the circle, allowing each member sufficient time to introduce herself and to describe what brought her to your Book Club and what she hopes to get out of it. 3. You can learn more about Jennifer Chiaverini, the author, by visiting her website: www.elmcreek.net. If you're feeling really crafty, try picking out a pattern from one of her three pattern books -- full of patterns inspired by or described in the Elm Creek novels -- and create a quilt block to show at your next Book Club meeting. Or, to give everyone a taste, turn your next meeting into a Quilting Bee and work on a pattern together (but make sure you choose something very simple in order to accommodate a range of experience levels).
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.