Book Review: A Single Thread By Tracy Chevalier

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A Single Thread introduces protagonist Violet Speedwell; a post WWI spinster, desperately trying to escape the clutches of her oppressive mother and find some meaning to her life as a single woman destined never to marry.  Following her move to Winchester, it's not long before Violet chances upon a group of broderers at the Cathedral and it becomes her mission to join them, make friends and embroider a beautiful kneeler, good enough for pride of place in the Cathedral itself. She is soon introduced to Arthur, a man many years her senior, and married, but he manages to capture her heart.  Violet makes friends with two ladies who find themselves in a difficult situation and we are left to consider what it means to be a good friend, especially in difficult circumstances, with societal judgment never far way.  (This is the 1930s after all.)  With increasing demands from her brother to be a carer for her frail mother, Violet resists societal expectations, and is steadfast in her pursuit of an independent life, which includes her newfound passion for embroidery and an unexpected interest in bell-ringing.  

I love how this book illustrates how craft can bring people together.  For the women, it was so much more than learning new skills and honing the craft; it was about making lifelong friendships, having the identity of borderer, pride in their work and becoming a valued part of the community.  For the men of the book, their craft is bell-ringing; something they did with pride and accomplishment.  This too gave them purpose; a sense of giving back and and a blissful escape from the horrors of war that they previously endured.  

We as quilters today want the same things as Violet: to create, to share and find solace in craft and the community.  Our desire to be creative and true to authentic selves transcends time and this beautiful, gentile novel is a wonderful illustration of that.

Sarah interviewed A Single Thread author Tracy Chevalier on her podcast, The Great British Quilter Podcast. Listen to their interview on Sarah's website! Look for Series 2, episode 1.


Once you've read the book, I've posed some questions for you to consider, either by yourself, to discuss with your book club, or in the A Single Thread MQG Social Circle.  (SPOILER ALERT  - don't read the questions until you've read the book!)

Do you think Violet was right to leave Mrs Speedwell, move to Winchester and forge a better life for herself?  

In an act of defiance, Violet goes on a walking holiday by herself.  How do you think Violet really felt about doing this?  Is this something you would ever do? 

Could Violet have done more to support Dorothy when she had no where to live?  Why do you think she was reluctant to get involved?

Violet was determined not to become a carer for her mother for the rest of her days.  Do you think she did the right thing getting Dorothy to become her carer instead?

Do you sympathise with Mrs Speedwell?  Do you agree that Violet 'abandoned' her or did Mrs Speedwell make life so impossible for her that she had no choice?

What are your feelings towards Violet at the end of the book, compared to when you first met her? Is she a likeable character? 

Miss Pesel states that “When there is an upset, there's nothing like needlework to bring calm and focus.”  Do you agree with her?  Can you think of a time when you've found solace in stitching?