Skip to main content


Literary Friday: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Friday, February 12, 2021


Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing another book I received for Christmas: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier.  It's historical literary fiction, and if you love to needlepoint or appreciate beautiful needlepoint pieces, then you should like this book.

Hardcover British edition
I think this cover is so pretty.

According to Goodreads:

A BEST BOOK OF 2019 with The New York Public Library USA TODAY Real Simple Good Housekeeping Chicago Sun Time TIME PopSugar The New York Post Parade

1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a surplus woman, one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother's place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England's grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers--women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren't expected to grow.

Told in Chevalier's glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

My Review:

First, I must fully disclose that Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite (Top 5) writers.  I have read all of her books but one, and Girl With a Pearl Earring is one of my favorite books.  You can read my review of Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures HERE.  

I enjoyed reading a little about the history of Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, one of the oldest and most important in England.  

Winchester Cathedral

Its beginnings can be traced back to the sixth century when the Anglo Saxon kings were first converted to Christianity.  (Visitors can still see the outline of the Old Minster north of the present cathedral.)  The church became the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England, partly because the diocese stretched from the English Channel to the river Thames. It was the burial place for some of the earliest kings of Wessex, including King Alfred the Great.  Jane Austen was also buried there.

A Single Thread is about the broderers who painstakingly made beautiful needlepoint kneelers and bench cushions for Winchester Cathedral.  Although the main characters are fictitious, the book also features the real Louisa Pesel, one of the leaders of the broderers, and also a talented pattern designer.  

Two of the designs that were mentioned in the book, King Arthur and The Tree of Life, can be seen below.  I like how the broderers were required to use a variety of stitches on each piece.

Tree of Life

King Arthur

The kneelers and cushions were made for the choir stalls originally.  Today, broderers still create beautiful kneelers and other needlepoint projects that enhance worship in the cathedral.  According to the cathedral's website: "Winchester Cathedral Broderers design and create new textile pieces for the cathedral and carry out repairs to existing textiles and vestments. This requires skilled stitching and embroidering techniques. They are all volunteers and meet at the cathedral on Monday mornings."

The main character in the novel is Violet (38 years old), and the story begins in September, 1932. Violet has recently moved to Winchester from her mother's home in Southampton: She can't take her mother's hatefulness any longer, and she wants to try and make a life for herself as an insurance company typist in Winchester. The first scene in the novel depicts Violet as she happens upon a special service at the cathedral: "the Presentation of the Embroideries."  At this service, the recently completed kneelers and cushions are dedicated to the church.  She pretends to be a broderer so she can remain at the service, and she soon meets outgoing broderer Gilda and eventually joins the group.  

Needlepoint isn't the only art featured in the novel: Chevalier also includes the cathedral bellringers, and I found the intricacies of bellringing just as fascinating as the needle art.  Violet befriends Arthur, an older man who's a bellringer at the cathedral as well as his small village a few miles away.  Arthur is married, and that complicates their relationship even more.  I felt for Violet throughout most of the book because I thought her family members (her brother and mother) were either patronizing or dismissive of Violet.  Her independence and determination make her an admirable character, but Winchester, her cathedral, and the surrounding countryside are the stars of this novel.  I highly recommend it, and it would make a wonderful book club selection.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

IndieBound affiliate link

What are you reading this weekend?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


  1. I like Tracy Chevalier too and this one sounds especially interesting to me because for many years I needlepointed a lot and while I never did church kneelers, I know several who did. The photos you shared of the needlepoint in Winchester are stunning. I like books set in these periods. It may well go on the list.

    I'm having a hard time reading lately. I am into "A Woman of No Importance" (fiction, WWII resistance) which is very good but I think a little more dense than my brain can handle these days. I may need to pick a different book to read between chapters -- something I rarely do. We'll see.

  2. This book looks very interesting and I put it on my list. I had not heard of this author (thank you, Ricki Jill!) and I love historical fiction.

  3. Oh, historical fiction is my favorite...and with crafting thrown in? I'm sold. After another one of your recommendations this fall, I picked up my kindle again, since it was impossible to get to the bookstore. I borrowed the book from the library and now I have started reading again before bed, instead of being on my phone. It's been a wonderful lifestyle change and I have you to thank. I still prefer books and will read them again, when I can get to the local shop to pick them up, but until then, it feels good to dive back into any kind of page.


Comments are friendly!


I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

Follow me on Instagram