It is not unusual for women’s books to lay out women in groups, like a plate of madeleines, a silver tray of cream cakes. But this circle of quilters is not a dainty or delicate array.
Chiaverini quilts stories about a dozen or so women who quilt, whose separate lives come together accidentally and on purpose at Elm Creek quilting camp, where women welcome women into an American tradition. Chiaverini’s women are full-bodied, irregular, problematic. Each one has stories full of children or mothers; Diane, for example, who shows up at the police station to bail out her son:
Well. it certainly does my heart good to know that the citizens of Waterford are being protected so heroically from skateboarders. Now if only you could do something about all those thieves and murderers and terrorists running loose, now I would be really impressed.
Diane is smart and sarcastic and argumentative, Sylvia is a grand old dame and a master quilter, Summer is a sleek hippy daughter of a single feminist academic, Judy is a practical, organized, rational type, Bonnie industrious and busy shopowner-housewife, Sarah, the bitchy domestic manager and co founder of the quilting camp. After eight quilting books, these characters are solid evidentiary structures and Elm Creek is a well elaborated structure of the imagination: safe, supportive, creative, cozy. It is problematic and fun. As fun as a summer camp for big girls who love little pieces of cloth.
It is of course the problems of everyday life that are shared among the quilters, not just the piecing and sewing and binding and basting.Perhaps there is a kinship between these ladies and the medieval craftswomen or ‘spinsters’ who (like the wife of Bath) were good at ‘deceit, weeping and spinning’. Somehow, this medieval picture of women and textiles and discourse is comforting to female readers in 2010.