Tracy Chevalier

Honor Bright

This is how I imagine the main character, a young English Quaker who emigrates to America in 1850.

Oberlin, Ohio

This town was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Always a radical place, Oberlin College was the first to admit women and African Americans.

The Sick Room

Many 19th-century American houses had “sick rooms” off the kitchen because someone often had a fever and needed tending. This one is at Hale’s Farm, Ohio.

Desperate measures for desperate times

Henry "Box" Brown was a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

Tracy’s quilt

In researching the novel, I learned how to quilt the way my heroine would have, and made this all by hand.

Quakers have no formal creed.

Their unity is based on shared understanding of the "Inner Light" in each person and a shared practice of silent worship.


Ohio Star motifA quilt is a bed covering made of two layers of fabric with a layer of wool, cotton or other soft material sandwiched in between, all held together by decorative lines of stitching. Most 19th-century women in Britain and the USA knew how to make quilts.

The top cover can be made of:

Patchwork - bits of colored cloth are sewn together into a pattern:

- fabric is cut into shapes and sewn on top of a larger piece of material:

Block pieces
- a sort of patchwork of shapes make up squares that are then sewn together; many of the patterns have classic names such as Ohio Star, Jacob’s Ladder, or Drunkard’s Path.

– one large piece of material is used, which highlights the stitching patterns.

The stitching that holds the layers together is called quilting. It gives the fabric texture, and the designs can be simple or astonishingly elaborate. Quilting could be done by one sewer, but sometimes women got together for quilting “bees” or “frolics”. They would stretch the cover over a frame and gather around to work on it and quilt it all in one day. Women made quilts using fabric from old dresses, blankets, coats and other cast-offs, as well as buying material especially for the purpose. Chintz made in India was the most common fabric used.

Quilt making is hugely popular today, especially in the USA. While the internet is awash with quilt websites, here are a few I found most helpful and interesting:

Quaker Quilt History

Rocky Mountain Quilts


A few quilt crazes I love:

Barn Quilt Trails. Begun in Ohio in 2001, people all over the USA and Canada have painted quilt squares on barns. For more information:

Quilt of Quilts. On the Victoria & Albert Museum website, you can upload a photo of a quilt you’ve made to join other quilts in a giant patchwork. I’ve done it!

Drive-By Quilting. Instigated by musician and quilter Ricky Tims: as he travels around the USA, quilters stand by the road and show him what they made as he drives past. I love that people do such crazy things. Have a look here:






The Last Runaway