To a state where quilting is as common as red punch and butter mints at a wedding reception comes Jennifer Chiaverini and her new novel "The Wedding Quilt."
In its pages we meet Caroline McClure, about to be married and dreaming of a made-with-love wedding quilt to celebrate her big day. How -- or if -- Caroline's wish comes true unfolds in this 18th book of Chiaverini's popular Elm Creek Quilts series.
Wedding quilts are a tradition as old as quilting itself, Chiaverini explains in a phone interview. Besides being stitched to provide warmth, quilts have always been made as a way to commemorate special events.
"In a family's life, weddings certainly do rank among the most important of celebrations or occasions," says the author, who speaks Thursday at the South Branch Library in Bountiful.
Yet, you'll find no wedding quilt stretched across the bed at Chiaverini's home in Madison, Wis.
This is only surprising because the desire for such a quilt is exactly what inspired Chiaverini to pick up needle and thread 17 years ago to teach herself how to quilt.
Quilt she did, as a young newlywed, but then she also started writing books, a whole series of books, about -- what else? -- quilters and their quilts.
"The Wedding Quilt" (Dutton, $25.95), which was published Nov. 1, is the author's newest contribution to a series that also includes "The Aloha Quilt" (2010), "The Winding Ways Quilt" (2008) and "The Christmas Quilt" (2005).
Chiaverini -- pronounced "shev-er-ee-nee" -- admits some pigeonhole her as the woman who writes "those books about quilts."
But her stories "are not driven by the quilts -- they're driven by the quilt makers," she says. "To me, the characters are the heart and soul of the books."
Quilting may draw the residents of fictional Elm Creek Valley together, but the stories are about the characters' ups and downs, their relationships and long-lasting friendships.
"These are people that I hope feel real to my readers," says the author of 11 New York Times best-sellers.
Ever a surprise
Thursday marks Chiaverini's second visit to Utah; she was here in 2010 on a brief stop during her book tour for "The Aloha Quilt."
"I met a lot of just lovely people," she recalls of her visit to The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. "It was a lovely welcome to the city and to the state."
During her visit to the Bountiful library, Chiaverini will read an excerpt from "The Wedding Quilt" and talk about that quilting tradition. She will also answer questions from her readers, which she finds to be a "nice give-and-take between me and the audience."
"The Wedding Quilt" continues the stories of Sarah McClure (mother of Caroline, the bride-to-be), her friend and mentor Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, and other members of the Elm Creek Quilters.
The books are not written in chronological order, but jump back and forth in time, Chiaverini says. Some are contemporary, others take place in the past. The newest one is set in 2028 and much of the story is told in flashbacks.
"I'm glad that my readers have let me know that they enjoy the common themes in the novels and they don't expect me to be restricted or constricted to chronological order," Chiaverini says.
With every new book, she adds, "They're prepared for the unexpected."
Piecing a story
Quilters and nonquilters alike will enjoy the Elm Creek Quilts series, says Rosalie Taylor, program coordinator for the Davis County Library.
"They're delightful stories," Taylor says, noting that Chiaverini excels at weaving stories and at character development. We can relate to the residents of Elm Creek Valley because they remind us of folks we know -- a cousin, an aunt, a grandmother.
"They're characters that you feel at home with," Taylor says.
As soon as quilter Cindy Park was introduced to Chiaverini's novels by a friend, she says, "I ate them up."
Park, a self-described "worker bee" at Gardiner's Quilts in Ogden, says she enjoys the focus on family and friendship in the series, as well as the glimpses into the history of quilt making.
Oftentimes, we tend to take the art of quilting for granted, Park says. But an old quilt top pieced together by a great-grandmother has more than sentimental value, she says, because it represents "family history and the history of our country."
The Elm Creek novels offer a warm and gentle read, adds bookstore manager Anne Holman -- "not a lot of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll."
'Painting' a portrait
Chiaverini's work falls into a popular genre of stories linked to some sort of hobby or interest, says Holman of The King's English Bookshop, which will provide copies of "The Wedding Quilt" for a book signing during Thursday's event.
Other series revolve around cooking or needlework or even farmers markets, as in the case of Salt Lake City author Paige Shelton, she says.
"As you look around, you see there are series that do absolutely everything," Holman says, and provide "another gateway into enjoying a book."
For Chiaverini, who had always wanted to be a writer, focusing on quilts in her first novel, "The Quilter's Apprentice" (1999) was simply a matter of "writing what you know."
She also wanted to paint an accurate portrait of the world of contemporary quilt making "with respect and humor and affection."
The stereotype is that quilting is a cozy and charming pastime, "something everyone's grandmother does but nobody else does anymore," Chiaverini says.
Yet today's quilt making crosses all genders, ages and demographics: "Yes, grandmothers quilt, but so do elementary schoolchildren and everyone in between," the author says.
Stitches in time
A passion for American history inspires the settings for some of Chiaverini's novels, which have transported readers into the days of the underground railroad and the Civil War. Her next book -- "Sonoma Rose," due out Feb. 21 -- takes place in a California vineyard during Prohibition in the 1920s.
Her interest in particular time periods or events in history -- and women's roles in those events -- is her primary inspiration for her topics, Chiaverini says.
"Fortunately, there are always interesting quilts and interesting new quilting techniques through every era, so really I can't go wrong," she says.
Her research includes learning about what fabrics, dyes and tools were available to quilters in bygone eras, to ensure her books are historically accurate.
Chiaverini's first quilting project was a nine-block sampler, which readers can see -- "mistakes and all" -- in the photo gallery on her website, www.elmcreek.net.
Although that project was Chiaverini's first step toward learning to make her very own heirloom wedding quilt, the wedding quilt itself has been sidelined during 17 years worth of other stitchery creations.
"It's probably going to be a 20th-anniversary quilt," says Chiaverini, with a laugh, "which means I really need to get working on it."
WHAT: Jennifer Chiaverini
7 p.m. Thursday; doors open at
Davis County South Branch Library, 725 S. Main, Bountiful
TICKETS: Free; seating is limited. 801-451-2322.