Quilt Fiction

March 2011


Author and women’s rights advocate Eliza Calvert Hall planted the seed for quilt fiction with her book Aunt Jane of Kentucky, published in 1907. The collection of short stories celebrates the themes of women’s relationships, harmony in marriage, and working together as a community. Eliza used quilting as an underlying metaphor in her writing. She concluded Aunt Jane with the following: “Patchwork? Ah, no! It was memory, imagination, history, biography, joy, sorrow, philosophy, religion, romance, realism, life, love, and death; and over all, like a halo, the love of the artist for [her] work and the soul's longing for earthly immortality.”


Author Sandra Dallas published her first quilt fiction work The Persian Pickle Club in 1996. Set in 1930s Kansas, the story explores how the strong ties of friendship help women overcome life’s sorrows. Prayers for Sale features a new bride arriving at a cold and remote Colorado mountain mining town and finding warmth in the friendships of fellow quilters. Alice’s Tulips is a collection of letters written by newlywed Alice while awaiting her husband’s return from the Civil War. Throughout Dallas’ books is the common thread of women coming together to stitch quilts but coming away with so much morelasting friendships that not only provide comfort in times of sorrow but also share the celebration in times of joy.


Jennifer Chiaverini, of Madison, created the Elm Creek Quilts series. Most of Chiaverini’s novels are set in present-day and feature a core group of quilters who help one another find peace and forgiveness when life gets difficult. Chiaverini traveled back to pre–Civil War days in The Sugar Camp Quilt to establish the origins of the Elm Creek Valley. Young Dorothea Granger makes an appliqué quilt according to the specifications of her stern and gruff uncle Jacob, only to discover after his death that the quilt was a map for runaway slaves to find the next station in the Underground Railroad. Chiaverini develops the theme of quilts used as signals and maps for slaves in two more books, The Runaway Quilt and The Lost Quilter.


Author Earlene Fowler titles each of her novels in the Benni Harper Mystery series for a traditional quilt pattern which also provides a hint for the novel’s storyline. The series follows ex-cowgirl, quilter, folk art expert, and amateur detective Benni Harper as she solves murders and mysteries alongside her police-chief husband Gabriel Ortiz. Benni enjoys hot-fudge sundaes, fast food, and The Waffle House, while Gabe sticks to health food and runs every morning. Together, the two form the perfect crime-solving duo.


Other notable authors of quilt fiction are Clare O’Donohue, Terri Thayer, and Marie Bostwick. Curl up under a warm quilt and nestle in for an enjoyable read.