Monday, February 24, 2014

Writer's Block Quilt Block and an Interview with Author Jennifer Chiaverini

Writer's Block Quilt Block Pattern Information

This month, the Quilters' Book Club is reading Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini.  We invite you to join us!  It's easy to jump in anytime.  Check out the Quilters' Book Club Schedule right here.  

Chiaverini was interviewed by Penguin Books as part of the reading guide for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker:

How would you best describe Elizabeth Keckley? How would you describe her relationship with Mary Lincoln?
Elizabeth Keckley was a woman of remarkable strength, courage, perseverance, and dignity. She was exceptionally talented, but also very diligent and ambitious, and together those qualities enabled her to deliver herself from slavery and become a successful businesswoman. In their written reflections, people who knew her during her lifetime refer admiringly to her natural grace and dignity, her integrity, her lovely speaking voice, and her beauty. As for her relationship with Mary Lincoln, for as long as their friendship endured, it was, for the most part, mutually beneficial, strengthened by shared experiences and tragedies. Mary Lincoln provided Elizabeth Keckley with opportunities for social and economic advancement she probably had never imagined during her years as a slave, while Elizabeth offered Mary the loyal, steadfast friendship she craved but had always found so elusive.

President Lincoln is often characterized by his calm, thoughtful, and wise demeanor. The same, however, can’t be said for Mrs. Lincoln. In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, you paint a picture of a complex, yet fascinating woman with mood swings and emotional outbursts but who also possesses a strong and confident presence. Can you describe your insights on her character? Why is she such an intriguing person, not just in your book but also in history?
Despite the volumes of historical and psychological research devoted to Mary Lincoln, she remains an enigma. She was the first wife of a U. S. president to be called First Lady, and she was then and remains to this day one of the most controversial. Regrettably, descriptions of her tend to fall into the extremes of caricature: She is either portrayed as an unstable, shrill, vicious, corrupt shrew who made President Lincoln utterly miserable, or as a devoted wife and mother and a brilliant, shrewd, political partner whose reputation was savaged by biased male historians. As a friend and confidante who observed Mary Lincoln closely in moments of triumph as well as tragedy, Elizabeth Keckley knew her as a real woman, full of flaws and virtues and surprises like any other. It was this far more nuanced woman that Elizabeth Keckley depicted in the pages of her memoir, and since Elizabeth Keckley is my narrator, I shaped the character of Mary Lincoln according to her perceptions.

If you'd like to make a quilt block to represent Mary Todd Lincoln, here are some ideas to get you started:

Kentucky Chain Quilt Block

Lincoln Quilt Block (an Eleanor Burns video) - you have to go about halfway in to hear the instructions.  Before that, she shows many Tales from First Ladies completed quilts.

Lincoln's Hat Quilt Block (a video)

Lincoln's Platform Quilt Block

After reading the book, did your opinion of Mary Todd Lincoln change?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Answer in the comment section below for a chance to win a copy of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.  Plume Books is generously offering two copies of the book.  If you are reading this via email, you must click on the title of my blog post to be able to comment and read the comments of others.  Winner will be announced March 1.

In March, the Quilters' Book Club will be reading and discussing A Drunkard's Path by Clare O'Donohue.  It's a mystery set in New York and is second in her Someday Quilts Mysteries Series.  Get the book from your library or local bookstore now and be ready to join us! 

You might also enjoy reading my previous blog post Birthday Cake Quilt Block and Texas Sheet Cake.


  1. Just finished this book.Had it from the library as an audio book; and played it while I was quilting. LOVED this book.

  2. I loved this book. I think my opinion changed of Mrs. Lincoln but only because I didn't really think of her before. Terrible to say I know but that's the truth. To me she was always President Lincoln's wife and yes the First Lady. I didn't think that she could have had so many problems while in office (besides loss of children, etc.) because one always assumes that the society would come to her way of thinking once she was First Lady. It was interesting to see the other side of politics being written about and so wonderful that Elizabeth became her dressmaker and had so many opportunities that opened up for her as well.

  3. I haven enjoyed what I have learned so far about Mrs. Lincoln. I've still got quite a bit to read! It's interesting how we learn so much about the presidents and so little about their spouses.

  4. My tendency is not to judge someone if I have not walked in their shoes. I think there is little to prepare a woman for the task of first lady, and in those days, coming from the mid-west it was probably more so. I know I wouldn't want the job. There are people all around making judgments by what you say or even wear. (I stopped going to the church on campus when I was in college for that very reason ... my hat and gloves don't define me) How much worse for a person in the public eye?

    1. Agreed! In someways I think it must be a tougher job than being president.

  5. I hadn't really read much about Mrs. Lincoln before reading this book. So I can't say my perception of Mrs. Lincoln changed, since I really didn't have one before. I have enjoyed getting to know Mrs Lincoln through the eyes of Mrs. Keckley.

  6. I love Jennifer's books, but I haven't read this one. I guess my next task is to request it from my library and correct this error..

    I have read next month's book, 'Drunkard's Path'. :-)


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