A shy girl with no family, Maria knows she’s lucky to have landed in the sewing room of the royal household. She can’t afford to lose her place, and, like any good servant, she keeps downstairs.
That is, until the Prince summons her. Their chance meeting sets in motion a series of events that rip Maria’s life away from her. Broken, lost, and searching for a way to understand what has been done, Maria turns to what she knows best.
Can a beautiful patchwork quilt, discovered decades later, reveal the truth about what happened to Maria?
What a page turner this novel is. From the very beginning, you are thrown into a world unlike your own, in a time period long gone but not forgotten. We begin with a woman, who has a raspy voice and a cough that won’t quit. She is speaking from a cassette tape of her session with a therapist, trying to prove her sanity as she relives her life from the beginning to now. This woman is Maria, and when she was younger, she and her best friend Nora, left their orphaned lives behind to work as servants in Buckingham Palace for the new royal family. Unbeknownst to Maria, her life would be nothing like she dreamed.
Fast forward to the year 2008, we meet Caroline, your typical Londoner with a job she hates, an aging mother with Dementia and boyfriend she just broke up with. Suddenly Caroline is let go, finds out she is pregnant and is faced with the decision of having to put her mother into a nursing home. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel. While digging around the third level of her childhood home, Caroline finds a quilt made of fine silks, immaculate stitches and intricate patterns. Not only is she intrigued enough to find out its origins, Caroline is motivated enough to re-pursue her passion for design. Could this quilt be the answers to all her prayers?
Back in the past, Maria is with the therapist again, regaling her tale of woe. Here she has met the prince and she has been called up to his dressing room to tighten his pants. And the prince takes a liking to her. Could this be her lucky day or is she just a fool in love? According to Nora, she is a fool and Nora warns not to let her heart lead her head. Unwilling to listen, Maria indulges this girlish fantasy and she becomes pregnant with child. Unfortunately for Maria, she is whisked away, never to see the palace or Nora again. This place is Helena Hall, but it is no palace. The she is forced into labor and told she has lost her child but Maria knows better. Tragically, she is pumped with meds and left to go insane in an asylum with only her quilting to comfort her.
Returning to the present, Caroline finds out that the quilt she found was made by a friend of her grandmother’s. Caroline also finds out that this friend was with her granny when she stayed in an asylum. She discovers this place to be Helena Hall and there is record after record of scandal behind it’s treatments of patients and its connection to the palace. Needing further information, Caroline also uses some of her connections and finds out that there are recordings of the patient’s sessions at the university where her father used to work. There she learns the identity of her grandmother’s friend, Maria, or Queenie, as she was called, who used to tell stories of how she worked in the palace and how she knitted to stay sane with the materials she “borrowed” from the palace. All to make a quilt for the child and the life she lost. Caroline is thrilled that she can give this quilt and Maria some restitution when the quilt is stolen! With no quilt, Caroline falls into despair and loses hope for her future as well as Maria’s. Will she ever find the quilt? Will her design career ever take off? Can she handle having a baby on top of it all? And will she be able to clear Maria’s name and allow her to finally rest in peace?
The Forgotten Seamstress isn’t a fitting title for this novel because no one is ever truly forgotten. We are remembered through the memories of others as well as through the things we create and leave behind. We can only be forgotten when people choose to ignore or discard our life. Also, this tale as old as time is about time itself, and how it heals all wounds and yields to understanding and truth when we take our time through life. Rushing or wasting moments and events never solve anything, yet if we live through the time as it comes, answers are revealed and knowledge is gained. Most importantly, The Forgotten Seamstress teaches us that it is never too late in life to regain a life. While we may miss a train or a window of opportunity when we’re young, it is only to help us mature and rise to the occasion when it comes.
Reviewed by Camia Rhodes