The Winding Ways Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts Series #12)

The Winding Ways Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts Series #12)

by Jennifer Chiaverini


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416533153
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 12/30/2008
Series: Elm Creek Quilts Series , #12
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 251,907
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt


Sylvia woke to a gentle breeze and birdsong beyond the open window. Sitting up in bed and 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 artists' retreat 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 to walk 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 usually he 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 tended 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 filets, an eggplant ratatouille 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 gray 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 ice.

With 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 for 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 stick around 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, 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's 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."

Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Chiaverini

Reading Group Guide

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 ( or the National Quilting Association ( 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: 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).

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The Winding Ways Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts Series #12) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Redcatlady More than 1 year ago
As the Elm Creek Quilters prepare for the departures of two members -- Judy, who is moving out of the area with her husband, and Summer, who is FINALLY heading off to graduate school in Chicago -- each of them prepares part of a quilt that, when put together, is in the Winding Ways pattern (albeit in a color scheme that reflect each individual quilter). Flashback chapters tell the members back stories: Judy's introduction to quilting is bittersweet as she and her parents deal with a grandmother's racism; Summer has to deal with a grade-school history teacher who accuses her of cheating on a pioneer history project (with Gwen's confrontational reaction not really helping); Diane's foray into quilting as a result of a decade-long war with the neighbor whose son helped destroy Bonnie's shop; Bonnie's intro to quilting via a beloved grandmother who later develops dementia, and the establishment of Grandma's Attic in tribute (despite hubby Craig's lack of support); unwed mother Gwen, college career cut short because of the lure of the '60's, discovering an unexpected support group in her mother's quilting circle which, in turn, leads her to an interest in women's studies after the discovery of an abandoned quilt (and its contents) unearths a long-hidden secret about a prominent local family. And, in addition to the group's feelings of loss, there's the issue of how to welcome newcomers Anna and Gretchen. All is resolved in a positive but realistic way.
Angie2536 More than 1 year ago
As some of the founding members of Elm Creek Quilts begin their journey to other parts of the country, the rest of the quilters carry on with new replacements, getting to know them, saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new, while Sylvia works on a secret project for the end of the summer season. A relaxing and enjoyable read.
Soupie58 More than 1 year ago
The Winding Ways Quilt, by Jennifer Chiaverini is an excellent read, either as a stand alone story, or as part of the Elm Creek Quilt series of books. As characters we who have read the series prepare to take on new roles in life, Chiaverini introduces us to new characters without distracting from the original set of women who permeate the books. I enjoyed this story, as it looks forward, while tying up loose ends of characters. An excellent read alone, or as part of the Elm Creek Quilt series. This is an excellent quilting/book club story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Elm Creek books are like visiting old friends for the weekend, and catching up on their lives, and talking about old times. These books leave you with a satisfied feeling. Not to mention the inspiration to quilt, and make something to hand down to your children as a family heirloom, or just to use in your own home. I sincerely hope there will be many more books from Jennifer Chiaverini.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Elm Street Quilters camp is about to reopen and participants eagerly hope to learn more about their craft and meet old friends and make new ones. This year¿s opening is bittersweet because some of the founding members are leaving. --- Judy wouldn¿t leave for anything less than a tenure position at U of Penn and her husband is getting a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It is a time for new beginning for pregnant Sara and her husband Matt. Bonnie lost her store Grandmother¿s Attic when some thugs destroyed it beyond repair and her husband changed the numbers to their accounts and the locks to their home. Summer who is also one of the founders is taking her doctorate at the University of Chicago. It is time for the Elm Street Quilters to have welcomes and farewells to characters who are coming and leaving. --- The characters are fully developed and likable especially bringing in two new faculty members to replace departing instructors adds freshness to the saga. However, the story line feels very similar to previous tales with flashbacks overly employed and there are very little interactions between the main characters as the tale is more of a series of vignettes. Still fans will want to say goodbye to leaving quilters and welcome new members. --- Harriet Klausner
mchwest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love all these books, and I don't quilt!
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chapters on all of the main characters in the series give readers the stories of the "winding ways" that brought each woman to quilting and to Elm Creek Manor. Much of the information was already provided in previous books, but it was nice to have all the stories in one place. Review based on publisher-provided book. 02/27/2010
Brandie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Light, fun, great, read. I read it in a day! I love this whole series, they are such feel good books and yet not always full of good things either.I love the way the women pull together and I think it's the friendships that they form and care for that makes me love the books the most! =)
MerryMary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Apparently it is only one in a long series, but I found my way among the personalities and relationships without much trouble. This story concerns one summer in the history of the Elm Creek Quilters - a group of women who live and/or work in an old manor house teaching quilting classes. Each section of the book is told from the viewpoint (3rd person) of one of the women. It is fascinating to watch the threads of these stories weave together into the satisfying whole at conclusion.
mawshimp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Back to the roots of the series - the ladies. I like catching up with them and seeing their internal struggles as they relate to each other. Also a good look at some of their backgrounds and how it relates to them in present time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not read much because it put me to sleep. but this book I had a hard time putting it down. a very good book.
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A warm caring story about the history of making quilts and how a renewed interest in quilt making brings to together family menbers, and old and new friendships.
Sir_Callipygian More than 1 year ago
Loved it.
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This was mostly a retelling of the previous novels. Only a few of the stories of the main quilters were new. It was not a very exciting read. This would be fine if it was your first Elm Creek novel.