Friday, May 2, 2014

Author Liz Trenow discusses The Forgotten Seamstress (+Pre-order offer)

9781402282485-PRI’m delighted today to welcome author Liz Trenow here to talk about her second novel, THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS, which hits bookstores next Tuesday, May 6.

A beautiful patchwork quilt and the secrets stitched into every seam are at the center of THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS (ISBN: 9781402282485; $14.99 U.S.; Historical Fiction; Trade Paper). During Liz’s virtual blog tour there is a FREE eBook preview of the first four chapters available on Kindle and NOOK.

Etsy Gift Card Offer

All readers who pre-order a copy (print or eBook) of THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS before May 6 and send their proof-of-purchase to will be entered to win an Etsy gift card. Giveaways will be held when Sourcebooks hits 100, 250, 500, 750 and 1,000 pre-orders with prizes ranging from $25 up to $100.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book …

        In 1910 London, a remarkable young seamstress is noticed by Queen Mary and given a position in the royal household. A century later, Caroline, a struggling designer, discovers a mysterious hand-me-down quilt with a curious verse embroidered into its lining.
        When Caroline learns that the fabric in the quilt is rare royal wedding silk and begins to dig deeper, she uncovers the extraordinary story of two women whose lives collide with devastating consequences. But that secret pales in comparison to the truth Caroline finally learns about herself. 

Please join me in welcoming Liz as she graciously answers some questions for me.

Mason - How did the collaboration with internationally-acknowledged quilter Lynne Edwards impact the story?

It’s quite simple: I could not have written the story without her!
I am not a quilter myself so, as I set out to write THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS, I knew that I would need expert guidance. From the moment I contacted her, Lynne embraced the project with such enthusiasm that I knew at once that our collaboration would produce something remarkable. 

We met several times and, over bottles of wine and lots of laughter, ‘devised’ the quilt that my character Maria sewed, taking into account the influences and sources of inspiration that she would have had at different times of her life, and the sort of fabrics she might have had at her disposal at each point in time. The quilt is constructed in ‘medallion’ style, allowing my character to add ‘frames’ each time she picks up the quilt again, sometimes after a long period has elapsed.

Maria sews each concentric ‘frame’ in memory of, or in tribute to, the people who befriend her throughout her life. But we had to be careful to ensure that the messages behind each design were sufficiently subtle not to give away the mystery too quickly, so they are ‘hidden’ in the applique shapes, in the fabrics, in the design and choice of piecing system, and ultimately, in the very construction of the quilt itself.

Each time we came across a problem, we would pour ourselves another glass of wine and Lynne would think for a few seconds before declaring ‘That’s it, that’s how she’d do it,’ and then grabbing a piece of paper and drawing the design so that I could picture it for myself, or perhaps rushing upstairs to her workroom and producing a piece of patchwork to demonstrate how it worked in real fabric. She even lent me a very beautiful unfinished quilt of Liberty Prints that had been left to her by a pupil, so that I could have it in front of me as I wrote that particular passage.

I arrived with a very sketchy idea of how the quilt might be constructed, but by the time we had finished we both had a very clear view of what the quilt would look like. With her years of experience and expertise, Lynne knew precisely what fabrics and techniques Maria might have used, and we had great fun creating her ‘virtual quilt’. 

The pattern Lynne has very generously devised is available for free at If you decide to create ‘Maria’s quilt’ please let me know!
Mason - What are the challenges and rewards of writing a novel that goes back and forth over a period of nearly 100 years?

The first challenge was to ensure that the ‘voice’ of each character was consistent and true to the period. For Maria’s story, I read lots of Victorian literature and other novels set in the time, as well as books of social history. For the 30-something metropolitan woman Caroline, I looked no further than my two daughters, both of whom are around that age, and live and work in London! I wrote Maria’s story, and then Caroline’s and then created many drafts of the novel (13 in total) trying to stitch their stories together. 

The second challenge was to devise a way in which my contemporary character, Caroline, would be able to discover what had happened to Maria, who in any case is an ‘unreliable narrator’. Because there is a century between the two characters they could not have met, so there had to be a way for Caroline to learn about Maria’s life story.

While researching the history of Severalls Hospital, I came across a wonderful book by the sociologist and author Diana Gittins called Madness in its Place (Routledge 1998), in which she quoted from her recordings with staff and patients. These first-hand accounts really brought the place and the people to life, and in one of those light-bulb moments, I realised that this was exactly what I needed to do with Maria. 

So I created a character – Professor Patsy Morton – who had undertaken a research project not unlike that of Diana Gittins’, although a couple of decades earlier. This was the perfect way of allowing Caroline – and the reader – to hear Maria’s story first hand.
This was my ultimate reward: although we never properly ‘meet’ her in the book, the tapes enabled me to feel that I really knew her – I hope this is the same for you. If you want to find out more, please visit me at

Liz, thank you so much for stopping by today and sharing this background with us. The quilt that Lynne designed is beautiful. The pattern makes me want to try my hand at quilting again.


Liz Trenow is a former BBC and newspaper journalist, and author of THE LAST TELEGRAM. Liz’s family have been silk weavers for three hundred years, which has led to two novels with silk as their focal point. 

For more on her work, visit her at


        “The characters are strong, caring and well developed, and the descriptions of the handmade quilts will appeal to those who also have passion for quilting. Trenow has written a spellbinding story that will keep readers up late to find out what happens next.” – RT Book Reviews
        “The two narratives are seamlessly woven together, forming a heartrending tapestry of tragedy and resilience.” – Booklist
        “A page-turner with eye-opening details about the conditions of mental hospitals in the 20th century, as well as the provenance of royal fabrics, the art of quilting, and the vagaries of modern interior design.” – Publishers Weekly
        “Weaving together Caroline's and Maria’s journeys, Trenow meticulously stitches each piece of this engrossing story into a unified—and heartwarming—whole.” - Kirkus

Hi everyone and thanks so much for visiting today. Are you a quilter or is someone in your family? Have you ever tried your hand at quilting the ‘old fashion’ way without a machine?

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  1. Enjoy the book and then make your own quilt! Fun for readers. Did you make one of your own, Liz? (Asks the person who wouldn't know what to do with a needle and thread.)

  2. Liz, thanks again for visiting. Your research for this book sounds fascinating. Wishing you much success.

  3. sounds intriguing, I do love me period set stories

  4. Mason - Thanks for hosting Liz.

    Liz - Thanks for sharing the background to your story. What a fascinating collaboration! I wish you success.

  5. Interesting idea for a book.

  6. Just finished reading the forgotten seamstress and I loved it! Looking for your other books now:). Have been looking for the free quilt pattern? Is it still available?


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.