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The Forgotten Seamstress

Cover of The Forgotten Seamstress

The Forgotten Seamstress

"An intriguing patchwork of past and present, upstairs and downstairs, hope and despair." —Daisy Goodwin, New York Times bestselling author of The American Heiress

She Kept Her Secret for a Lifetime...

A shy girl with no family, Maria knows she's lucky to have landed in the sewing room of the royal household. Before World War I casts its shadow, she catches the eye of the Prince of Wales, a glamorous and intense gentleman. But her life takes a far darker turn, and soon all she has left is a fantastical story about her time at Buckingham Palace.

Decades later, Caroline Meadows discovers a beautiful quilt in her mother's attic. When she can't figure out the meaning of the message embroidered into its lining, she embarks on a quest to reveal its mystery, a puzzle that only seems to grow more important to her own heart. As Caroline pieces together the secret history of the quilt, she comes closer and closer to the truth about Maria.

Page-turning and heartbreaking, The Forgotten Seamstress weaves together past and present in an unforgettable journey.

"An intriguing patchwork of past and present, upstairs and downstairs, hope and despair." —Daisy Goodwin, New York Times bestselling author of The American Heiress

She Kept Her Secret for a Lifetime...

A shy girl with no family, Maria knows she's lucky to have landed in the sewing room of the royal household. Before World War I casts its shadow, she catches the eye of the Prince of Wales, a glamorous and intense gentleman. But her life takes a far darker turn, and soon all she has left is a fantastical story about her time at Buckingham Palace.

Decades later, Caroline Meadows discovers a beautiful quilt in her mother's attic. When she can't figure out the meaning of the message embroidered into its lining, she embarks on a quest to reveal its mystery, a puzzle that only seems to grow more important to her own heart. As Caroline pieces together the secret history of the quilt, she comes closer and closer to the truth about Maria.

Page-turning and heartbreaking, The Forgotten Seamstress weaves together past and present in an unforgettable journey.

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  • From the book

    1.

    CASSETTE 1, SIDE 1, APRIL 1970

    They told me you want to know my story, why I ended up in this place? Well, there's an odd question, and I've been asking it meself for the past fifty years. I can tell you how I got here and what happened to me. But why? Now that's a mystery.

    It's a deep, smoke-filled voice, with a strong East London accent, and you can hear the smile in it, as if she's about to break into an asthmatic chuckle at any moment.

    They've probably warned you about me, told you my story is all made up. At least that's what those trick-cyclists would have you believe.

    Another voice, with the carefully modulated, well-educated tones of a younger woman: "Trick-cyclist?"

    Sorry, dearie, it's what we used to call the psychiatrist, in them old days. Anyway, he used to say that telling tales-he calls them fantasies-is a response to some "ungratified need."

    "You're not wrong there," I'd tell him, giving him the old eyelash flutter. "I've been stuck in here most of me life. I've got plenty of ungratified needs." But he'd just smile and say, "You need to concentrate on getting better, my dear, look forward, not backward, all the time. Repeating and reinforcing these fantasies is just regressive behavior, and it really must stop, or we'll never get you out of here."

    Well, you can take it or leave it, dearie, but I have to tell it.

    "And I would very much like to hear it. That's what I'm here for."

    That's very kind of you, my dear. You see, when you've been hidden away from real life for so many years, what else is there to do but remember the times when you were young, when you were meeting new people every day, when you were allowed to have feelings, when you were alive? Nothing. Except for me needlework and other creations, they were the only things that would give me a bit of comfort. So I tell my story to anyone who will listen, and I don't care if they call me a fantasist. Remembering him, and the child I lost, is the only way I could hold onto reality.

    So, where do you want me to start?

    "At the beginning would be fine. The tape is running now."

    You'll have to bear with me, dearie. It'll take some remembering, it was that long ago. I turned seventy-four this year so the old brain cells are not what they used to be. Still, I'll give it a try. You don't mind if I carry on with me sewing while I talk, do you? It helps me concentrate and relax. I'm never happy without a needle in my fingers. It's just a bit of appliqué with a buttonhole stitch-quite straightforward. Stops the fabric fraying, you see?

    She is caught by a spasm of coughing, a deep, rattling smoker's cough.

    Hrrrm. That's better. Okay, here we go then.

    ***

    My name is Maria Romano, and I believe my mother was originally from Rome, though what she was doing leaving that beautiful sunny place for the dreary old East End of London is a mystery. Do they all grow small, the people who live in Italy? Mum was tiny, so they said, and I've never been more than five foot at the best of times. These days I've probably shrunk to less. If you're that size, you don't have a cat's chance of winning a fight, so you learn to be quick on your feet-that's me. I used to love dancing whenever I had the chance, which wasn't often, and I could run like the wind. But there have been some things in my life even I couldn't run away from-this place being one of them.

    The strange thing is that after all those years of longing to get out, once we was allowed to do what...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 24, 2014
    An heirloom patchwork quilt hiding a scandalous royal secret is the link between the generations separating an orphaned seamstress and a modern-day single woman, in Trenow’s (The Last Telegram) solid second novel. Maria Romano, an inmate at the Helena Hall mental hospital, comes to life through a series of taped conversations from 1970, when she was interviewed by a young research student. Fast forward to 2008, when Caroline Meadows, made redundant at her bank job and recently broken up from her boyfriend of five years, discovers she’s pregnant and suddenly becomes curious about the quilt she inherited from her grandmother. The novel pairs the stories of the young women a century apart: Maria, an orphan whose artistic needlework gets her placed in a royal household where she has a dalliance with the Prince of Wales; Caroline, whose own artistic talents and ambitions jump-start her career as an interior designer. Unfortunately, Maria’s saga is much more interesting than that of her modern counterpart, who, as the reader discovers through a convoluted plot thread, has more of a connection to Maria than just her grandmother’s quilt. But nevertheless, this is 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.

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Liz Trenow
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