A review by kate_can
The Quilter's Apprentice, by Jennifer Chiaverini

emotional lighthearted relaxing slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


For a novel with quilting at its centre, this is as homey and heart-warming as you would expect. It features friendships, family, forgiveness, sisters and sisterhood, supported by a wealth of detail about making quilts that those who do will doubtless find fascinating. Taking disparate scraps and piecing them together into a whole is an obvious metaphor for storytelling: in quilting the stitches that bind the fabric together are best if they are nearly invisible. Unfortunately the working is quite clear in this novel as some of the dialogue is clunky, and the scenarios are often unrealistic. 
Sarah and Matt move to a new town for his job as a landscape architect. Matt works for an irascible client, Mrs Compson, at Elm Creek Manor restoring the grounds to their former glory while Sarah reluctantly takes up a position indoors, helping with the cleaning and taking lessons from Mrs Compson (an awarded quilter) in return. Sarah is a trained accountant but she is bored with the work. The characters are privileged, middle-class and comfortable, and Sarah’s complaints certainly seem petty. 
Mrs Compson plans to sell Elm Creek Manor, but when Sarah and Matt discover that the intended buyer wants to tear it down and build student accommodation, they are appalled and try to think of a way to save it. The focus is on conserving and preserving rather than progressing and assisting potential students with their future living arrangements. 
Looking to make friends, Sarah joins a quilting circle, befriending the other women, although they clearly have reservations about Mrs Compson. They welcome Sarah into their group and help her practice, supporting the individual tutoring she has with Mrs Compson, expanding upon the techniques of the craft. They discuss different stitching methods; there are arguments over the preference between hand and machine stitching; and the skills required to undertake different tasks, with a level of detail that might be skimmed by those not interested in the minutiae. The history of quilting is mentioned, as are individual patterns with their specific meanings. 
There is a highly unrealistic conversation about craft being viewed unfavourably compared with art as it is considered women’s work, which raises some valid points, although the dialogue is stilted and deeply unlikely. 
Sarah appreciates her newfound female friendships, and learns about Mrs Compson’s past through the older woman’s reminisces and reflections of life. She looks to Mrs Compson as a substitute mother-figure, while acknowledging her complicated relationship with her own mother. This dynamic is left unresolved – perhaps for the next novel; this is clearly positioned as the first in a series. 
The theme returns to the purpose of making quilts, whether as a practical hobby and a leisure activity or an art form to be rewarded. Chiaverini argues that the value of a quilt is more holistic. Craft as empowerment is not a new theme, but it is one that this novel embraces warmly bringing gentle comfort.