Quilting, the Underground Railroad, and the struggles of immigrants in Pennsylvania all find a place in this passable fourth in the Elm Creek Quilts series (The Cross-Country Quilters, 2001, etc.).
With young Sarah as assistant, Sylvia’s ancestral home of Elm Creek Manor has been successfully reinvented as a summer camp for quilters. While she’s lecturing down south, Sylvia is shown a quilt, now in the possession of a southern family, that makes obvious references to Elm Creek Manor and is ominously named the Runaway Quilt. Thus the mystery begins, with Sarah afraid that her ancestors may have been involved in slavery. Conveniently, the clues are housed right in the attic of Elm Creek Manor, where Sylvia finds three quilts and a memoir written by Gerda, the spinster sister of Sylvia’s relative Hans Bergstrom and his wife Anneke, mid–19th-century German immigrants. Comprised mostly of the memoir, the narrative stitches its way from Gerda’s compelling tales of the Bergstrom’s success in the New World to the contemporary mystery of the Runaway Quilt, whose provenance is revealed at the end (though apparent earlier). While Hans and Anneke build roots in their small Pennsylvania town, Hans eventually making a fortune in horse-breeding and Anneke as a skilled seamstress, Gerda becomes involved in the suffragette and abolitionist movements. By chance (Anneke accidentally copies a quilt pattern used as a signal to runaway slaves that they had reached a safehouse), a woman, pregnant and injured, shows up, paving the way for the Bergstrom home to become a stop on the Underground Railway. In spite of opposition—and perhaps treachery—from Anneke, she is given shelter until she delivers a son. The historical voice rings truer than the contemporary one, making the reader long for Gerda’s story, and hers alone.
Simple enough to be better aimed as a YA, though not without its historical charm and interest.