Chiaverini's Latest Looks At Lincoln Family Through Dressmaker's Eyes

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MTT News Desk's picture

Middleton resident and New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini departs from her Elm Creek Quilts series to debut her first stand-alone novel, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” (Dutton; January 15, 2013). 

The book unveils the private lives of the Lincolns from the time of their rise to White House glory, through the President’s shocking assassination and its tumultuous aftermath, until the end of Mary Todd Lincoln’s troubled life - all told from the perspective of the First Lady’s most trusted confidante and friend, her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley.

Chiaverini is the author of the Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.

The Lincolns have been immortalized in countless works, but Keckley’s story has really been told only once - and that was in her own controversial memoir, published in 1868. 

Born into slavery, Keckley earned freedom for herself and her son by the skill of her needle. She moved to Washington, DC, where she quickly made a name for herself as the city’s most talented dressmaker. 

It didn’t take long for Washington’s political and social elite to take notice of her intricate designs, flawless needlework, and the flattering fit of her dresses. After moving into the White House, Mrs. Lincoln called upon Keckley to be her personal modiste - but she soon became much more. A devoted friend, Keckley supported Mrs. Lincoln through political scandal, the loss of a child, her husband’s assassination, and her eventual descent into poverty. 

Chiaverini is no stranger to creating poignant and relatable historical fiction; her long-standing Elm Creek Quilts series has hit the New York Times bestseller list fourteen times. 

“More than a decade ago, I was researching antebellum and Civil War era quilts for my fourth novel when I discovered a photograph of an antique masterpiece,” Chiaverini said. “Arranged in the medallion style, with appliquéd eagles, embroidered flowers, meticulously-pieced hexagons, and deep red fringe, the quilt was the work of a gifted needleworker, its striking beauty unmarred by the shattered silk and broken threads that gave evidence to its age.”

The caption noted that the quilt had been sewn from scraps of Mary Todd Lincoln’s gowns, by her dressmaker and confidante, a former slave named Elizabeth Keckley. 






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