Book Review: The Last Runaway

Here in the North-East we have seen a recent rapid increase in numbers of the population testing positive for Covid-19, so we are under new restrictions. We cannot meet anyone outside our household either inside a home, outside in a garden or at a venue. Life is feeling somewhat like the first UK lockdown in March, so everyone is having to find new ways of living everyday life.

I have been stitching of course, but I’ve also been reading a lot. This week I’d like to recommend to you the book ‘The Last Runaway’ by Tracy Chevalier, published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2013. It’s appropriate for this blog, because appearing all through the book are quilts.

The central character Honor, leaves her homeland to accompany her sister to America. There’s a ‘signature’ quilt (inscribed with embroidered names) that Honor takes to America with her and the quilt she has expertly made and given to a friend on leaving. There are the rosettes for a quilt abandoned for good reason on the sea-journey from England. There’a quilt which has to be destroyed! Once in Ohio, there is a description of fabrics for making another quilt:

The shapes and colours – brown and green rosettes from Grace and Honor’s old dresses, the beginning of a Bethlehem Star in different shades of yellow – reminded her of Dorset…

There’s also a description of Honor’s attendance at a sewing bee to add the quilting to a quilt as a group, in preparation for a marriage. The important of having a large collection of handmade quilts to bring as a prospective bride becomes very clear.

Then there are the quilts that Honor must ask to be sent to her from England and the striking quilts made by Mrs Reed, who Honor befriends.

The novel is set in the mid-nineteenth century. Running through the novel like a thread are references to the (actual, historical) Underground Railway, a network of people across the United States who helped black slaves escape to freedom. October is Black History month (always marked during my years as a school-teacher) so this is a good time to read this book. It’s exciting, page-turning, moving and challenging. In addition, quilters will enjoy each quilting reference and appreciate the beautiful endpapers:

Endpaper copyright The American Museum in Britain, Bath*

Another joy is the description of Honor’s sewing box, which will please anyone who enjoys sewing, whether you are a quilter or not.

Another quotation from the book, in a description of Honor (who is a Quaker) doing some sewing for a milliner

As she worked on the second bonnet, the steady familiar rhythm of sewing took over, its repetition meditative, freeing her to her thoughts rather as Meeting for worship did.

Many of us who sew can witness to the meditative repetition, particularly of hand sewing. There is much to enjoy in this book. I recommend it thoroughly.

* For a blog post about my own visit to the American Museum, click here

Thank you for reading my blog. Quilt patterns are here, Fabrics are here, Classes are here.

Published by Amanda Jane Textiles

I am an artist, designer and maker living in Ramsgate, UK

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