The Forgotten Seamstress / Liz Trenow. 2014

(UK edition cover)

Back in March or April, Sonomalass tweeted me about the May release of this book by Liz Trenow. This is a book centered around a quilt that brings together two very different women. She thought (rightly!) that I might be interested in a book wherein the quilt tells part of the story.

It should be no surprise that most quilts have a story to tell. The story might be "simple": a quilt is made out of love commemorating the birth of a child or grandchild, a wedding, a friendship, etc. Sometimes the stories are very complex, and even heartbreaking. I highly recommend a visit to the website for Sacred Threads, a biennial exhibit of quilts devoted to the themes: Expressions of Joy, Spirituality, Inspiration, Grief, Healing, and Peace/Brotherhood. There's a link to a gallery of quilts that tell some rather complex stories. A long time ago, when I was a novice quiltmaker, I went to a lecture by Pepper Cory and she showed us antique quilts she'd collected and told us some of the stories behind them. One in particular was particularly eye-opening. It was red and black on a background of white, colors of anger and grief. The quiltmaker had had a tragic life and that quilt was a sobering reflection. That's when I first learned that not every quilt is made from a happy place. For many women, they were and are an important form of expression of the totality of life's experiences.

The Forgotten Seamstress is about a young woman named Maria, an orphan with exceptional sewing skills who becomes a seamstress at Buckingham Palace before WWI. Her exciting new life takes a turn for the worse when she loses everything and is committed to an insane asylum. Maria spends most of her life in that asylum where she creates a quilt that tells the story of her life--a story that no one is willing to believe. The centerpiece of the quilt is scraps of fabric known as the May silks (scroll down to 2nd picture for a gorgeous view of the wedding dress), fabrics that were created specifically for the wedding gown of Princess Mary of Teck. In many ways Maria, and the book, celebrate the fine art of hand sewing and elaborate embroidery.

The Forgotten Seamstress is also about Caroline Meadows, a woman in her late thirties, who finds the quilt as she helps her mother clean out an attic. Caroline is at a crossroad in her life. She's just ended a long-term relationship, she's lost her job, and her mother has Alzheimer's and needs to move to assisted living. Caroline wants to return to interior design, her original career track. The quilt fascinates her and as she researches its origins, her own story becomes entwined with Maria's.

The book goes back and forth between "transcripts" of Maria narrating her story to a sociologist and the present day story of Caroline. I thought it was a clever way to craft the story. There's even a romantic subplot as Caroline becomes involved with a reporter named Ben who helps her research Maria's story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and once I got started I was hooked. I definitely recommend this multi-faceted tale.

Readers (and quilters especially) should be interested in this page of Trenow's website. Trenow collaborated with quiltmaker Lynne Edwards (no website found) who made Maria's quilt and provided a pattern for others to make the quilt for themselves. (It's tempting, but no, I have no plans to make it.)

On a separate note, I know I have had few postings here over the last 6+ months. I haven't done a single TBR Challenge book this year. I didn't intend to disappear. But sometimes life takes a turn--not necessarily for good or bad, just a turn. I read like crazy and started half a dozen new sewing projects (finishing none) to cope with the turn my life took. But finally I can say that the road ahead looks a little straighter these days so I hope to show up here more often. Time will tell, but I sure am going to try.

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Hello Phyl!
    I hope your life is calmer now...I wish you all the best!

    I went to see the dress of Mary of Teck and it looked amazing certain retro things look so good nowadays.
    I got curious about the story..I'm adding it to my list!
    Thanks and hope you're back!

    1. Oh thank you, S.! I sure hope so, too :)

      I envy the fact that you saw the Mary of Teck dress. It looks amazing. Enjoy the book!


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