How to Make an American Quilt, the Movie
Women stitch quilt as a wedding gift for girl
Girl doesn’t know whether she wants to get married.
Women in quilting circle tell stories about life and love that fit the quilt’s theme
Where Love Resides
Wrapped in a quilt, girl follows bird flight to find her dream.
That, in essence, is the story of Finn Dodd, a Berkeley graduate student who visits her great aunt and grandmother to finish her thesis and to think about a marriage proposal. Among her grandmother’s sister and friends, Finn (Winona Ryder) learns that love can sour, thicken, betray, even stay strong. She also learns a thing or two about quilting in lines spoken by Anna, played by Maya Angelou, the organizer of the group:
You have to choose your combinations careful. The right choices will enhance your quilt. The wrong choices will dull the colors and hide their original beauty. There are no rules you can follow. You have to go by instinct and you have to be brave.
~ Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt
Quilts as Remembrance
It was not a woman’s desire to be forgotten. And in one simple, unpretentious way, she created a medium that would outlive even many of her husband’s houses, barns and fences; she signed her name in friendship onto cloth and, in her own way, cried out, Remember me!
Lipsett suggests there is “a sense of permanence that permeates” the folds of a quilt.
Mom’s Quilts Live On
Mother Ruth Longenecker wrapped in love and beauty
You can read more about my mother’s quilting adventures here.
Quilts in Church
Writer and blogger Sherrey Meyer shared a link to the story of quilts that brightened a memorial service.
In a recent USA Today feature, Brittany Loggins reports that the family of Margaret Hubl honored her memory by displaying all of her quilts at her funeral. Her children and grandchildren draped dozens of quilts over the back of pews, a visual demonstration of how she communicated love for her family.
I’m curious: Have you see this movie? Read Whitney Otto’s book? Made a quilt? Want to comment on anything else?
Bonus: Behind the Scenes of this post . . .
Are there quilts lying in a chest somewhere in your home? On a bed? Have you made a quilt or received one as an exquisite one as a gift? Inquiring minds want to know . . .
Good morning, Marian! I guess you decided to get this post out ahead of storm and traveling. I’m impressed by the work you did in the “birthing” of your post.
I haven’t seen the movie (that I remember) or read the book. My husband’s grandmother made many quilts, some of them she made with her sisters. She had quilting frame in the basement of her house. She seemed to turn them out regularly, but she had quite high standards on stitching. We got two quilts for our wedding, and I know there was a little doll quilt somewhere, too.
A few weeks ago the film was mentioned in a PBS documentary about Maya Angelou. I hadn’t remembered seeing the movie either, so watching it sparked this post. (You know how it goes!)
Quilts are a wonderful idea for bequests. My children each have a quilt from their Grandma Longenecker. One of them used fabric from dresses she made and wore. I wonder whether your girls used the little doll quilt.
Thanks for starting our conversation here today, Merril. By the way, I like your new Gravatar photo! 🙂
After reading this post, I’d like to see that movie. I’d never heard of it, so thank you, Marian.
What a beautiful idea to display the quilts across the pews. I’ve never made a quilt, but I received one recently from a woman and her quilting group. They made them for all of the patients at the infusion room. We used to freeze when we’d go for our infusions, but now we’re cozy and quite colorful.
Quilts as comfort – what a wonderful idea for a quilting group to gift patients with such pleasure and beauty.
You would enjoy the movie – the plot has so many moving parts, which you as a novelist would appreciate.
Quilts have a long history in our family too. They are so precious, although I don´t have one. I was enamoured by the quilt hanging in Jane Austen´s cottage when we visited as it was made by her, her mother, sister and good friend. It was behind plexiglass so we couldn´t touch it (rightly so). I thought about Jane working on the quilt and probably creating stories in her mind or telling them to the other quilters. I was so impressed by the amazing quilts the Mennonite women made for the local auction back in Canada.
More than ten years ago, Cliff and I did a literary tour of Great Britain but we didn’t visit Jane Austen’s cottage. It strikes me that quilting, like cooking, and other arts, inspires story-telling.
Quilts at auction bring thousands of dollars. I can imagine quilters in Russia, Switzerland, and Germany brought their craft to the New World when they immigrated centuries ago.
Nothing says ~love~ like a quilt, especially when fabric swatches come from the clothes of loved ones. I’ve seen some beautiful quilts made from baby clothes or favorite t-shirts.
Quilts as history and family heirloom: That’s another way to describe love in a circle. I’ve never seen a quilt made from tee shirts or baby clothes – thanks for adding that, Lynn.
While my mother spent day after day watching the Water Gate Hearings on TV, she made one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen.
Not only have I seen the movie, How to Make an American Quilt, my cousin, Jane Anderson, wrote the screen play!
Your cousin wrote the screen play – how impressive! It strikes me that quilting is a lot like writing, putting together disparate pieces to make a sensible design.
I can’t imagine watching the Water Gate hearings daily as your mother did, but something beautiful came of it. I wonder whether you’ve pictured this gorgeous quilt on your blog.
Don’t get me started on quilts. But I loved the photo of the memorial service using the mother/grandmother’s quilts! How poignant that would have been.
Last year I was fascinated to interview two local quilters for this article which some of your followers might enjoy: http://www.valleyliving.org/2016/08/quilting-not-just-grandmas-generation-anymore/
I loved finding out about the creativity of younger quilters as they spin out art in fabric. Not being much of a quilter myself, it would be fun to use one of those long arm quilting machines, even if not as intimate as thinking of my mother, grandmother, and aunt who stitched the ones I love and have used.
I’ve just read your article in Valley Living. I hope other will click on the link and learn more about deaf quilter Vera and others. By the way, I have never seen a Mennonite quilter with a huge cap and black covering strings pictured in one of the quilts – ha! Thanks for adding a whole new dimension to my quilt post, Melodie.
The Dresden Plate design is phenomenal Marian as is the first one pictured with the flowers. Such a shame it wasn’t something done here as there could have been some memorable bequests by now.
xxx Huge Hugs xxx
Good to hear a Welsh greeting this morning. You are one manly man in touch with your softer side. I have to think that there are quilters in Wales as well. Huge hugs to you too, Sir David.
Tha’s a lovely way to be remembered by and I love the church pews covered in Margaret Hubl’s quilts: how touching and original! I suppose I could be remembered by all the crochet work I’ve done since I was 10 years old! 👍
I am guessing that you have given away some of your crochet work over the years. Crocheting, teaching, and traveling would seem to be a wonderful combination. Thanks for adding richness to the conversation here, Fatima.
I would love to have a quilt. Yours are gorgeous!
You are crafting a wonderful legacy with your photos. Still, I hope one of your fans (or family members) will honor you with a quilt, Fiona.
Marian — Ohhhhh, I love that the family draped the woman’s quilts over the pew-backs in church. What a creatively beautiful statement.
To answer your questions:
Are there quilts lying in a chest somewhere in your home? No. But where I’m living during my three-month sabbatical they are EVERYwhere.
On a bed? Yes.
Have you made a quilt? Yes. I made an “apple core” quilt for my sister.
Have you received one as a gift? Yes, it’s the one on our bed.
That’s 4 yes’s and 1 No depending on how you count. I wonder what an apple core design quilt looks like. Oh, wait – I could google this: https://www.pinterest.com/hot4art/apple-core-quilts/
I like the interlocking design, a good metaphor for companionship, which is easy to feel with commenters like you.
Only 2 more weeks until the big reveal. I have a feeling you are still in the Pacific Northwest, but I’ll know soon. I suppose you will also give us an update on your writing progress.
I love this post Marian, and Linda Otto Lipset’s quote really stood out for me: “It was not a woman’s desire to be forgotten. And in one simple, unpretentious way, she created a medium that would outlive even many of her husband’s houses, barns and fences; she signed her name in friendship onto cloth and, in her own way, cried out, Remember me!” Your photo of those quilts lining the pews is one I believe I’ll long remember. I have never finished a quilt. (ahem!). But I have many that have been passed down from the women before me. One has squares, each with a signature that was then needlepointed (embroidered? I actually don’t know the difference), then the squares combined into the quilt. That was a gift TO my grandmother, though I’m not sure from whom. The signatures were all the missionaries she supported around the world. Thanks. And, I also love that it came today, during our little blizzard up here. Are you moving to Tuesdays now?
Quilts can make you feel cozy warm even with a blizzard outside. It’s very breezy here but in the 60s. Tomorrow my sister and I plan to fly to PA for more family visits/business. This time I’ll remember to wear my fuzzy winter coat. Last time I left it in the trunk of our car when I left the Orlando airport, northbound.
I like your stories of quilts lining your family history. Your grandmother’s quilt may have been a gift of gratitude from the women in her church.
About your question, I’m still claiming Wednesday for blog publication, but until the notification system is completely taken care of, I’m posting a day early. Thanks for the comment today, Janet.
We decided to celebrate the birthday/shower weekend by buying a handmade quilt at Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast last Monday. I am not a quilter and neither is my mother, but we have several heirloom quilts from my mother-in-law and purchased several others. My daughter has one of these, and I have another. They are the best kind of “material culture” because they carry invisible desires — for beauty and for love.
You stated explicitly what this post hints at, the desire to express beauty and love. Another lovely thing of beauty is the stone farmhouse of your youth experiencing new life as an unforgettable bed and breakfast.
Thank you, Shirley, for breaking your Lenten fast to read and comment here. You always add another dimension to the conversation.
Marian, you have created your own lovely patchwork quilt of stories and words here. I love this post and appreciate all your efforts in pulling it all together. I did read that book years ago and it has stayed with me. I have two special patchwork quilts made with fabric remnants- one made by my mother (it shows up in my first memoir) and one from a childhood neighbor that adorns the rocker in my living room.Quilts tell stories that endure. Thanks for another delightful post.😊
Oh, you have family heirlooms too, telling stories that endure. I am honored that you add more texture to the “fabric” of our conversation here.
It strikes me that the quilting circles served as sounding boards for the women around them, in some cases better than psychotherapy. Thanks for your comment here and the Twitter share, Kathy.
The movie looks like one I would enjoy. Thank you for the review. This post about quilts has a bright rich feel to it…I love the photo of Ruth Longenecker wrapped up in a crazy quilt. And the photos draped over the benches at a funeral–what a meaningful and original way to honor someone. I guess I’ve often sorta taken quilts for granted. I mean, my grandma makes them, and the ladies at church knot comforters, and I don’t tend to think of it as anything exciting or earthshaking. But recently I helped design and make a quilt for my mom and dad’s anniversary, and really started to understand the artistic quality of a quilt.
Impressed with your behind the scenes, too! Very organized.
You probably think of quilting as part of your DNA, Luci. I do remember reading about your parents’ wonderful wedding anniversary, but I had forgotten you helped make the quilt.
Thanks for your kind comment. I guess you have your own method of organization bringing to life your memoir this year. 🙂
Hmm. Well, somehow or other the memoir has sprung to life, but probably no thanks to my grand organizational skills. 🙂 I do TRY to think of a plan before I start, and stay fairly true at least to the big picture thrust, but the rest of it is me writing and seeing what happens. I know every writer is different, and so I don’t feel bad to say that I have never been able to write from an outline. Sometimes I think it would make my life so much easier, though!
The terms I see floating around in writing world are “plotter” and “pantser,” the outliners and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Thankfully, you have the support of editors who can give you constructive feedback. I’ve always thought that writing that flows from pantsers may be more fresh and vivid.
What a wonderful expression of love and creativity quilting is! Each stitch a labour of love, each panel a coming together – thanks Marian, lovely post. What a striking photo of the quilts over the church pews..
No, no bequeaths of quilts in my family. My sweet sister quilts.
You’re welcome, Susan. Your comment about your sister quilting shows there’s a tradition in almost every family though I suspect it’s a dying art. Yes, the quilts over the church pews add such beauty to a somber service.
Gorgeous quilts! Beautiful post, Marian xx
Thanks for following me over to my website, Tina. I have checked yours too and applaud you for choosing love over fear: https://tinafrisco.com/about-3/ What’s not to love about a quilt: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” so the saying goes.
Marian, loved this post and enjoyed “seeing” the work you put into it. I read the book, never saw the movie (now I’ll rent it). I have quilted–several wall hangings and a quilt for our bed (a 2-color in red & white). We also purchased an Amish quilt in a small town I believe was named Strasbourg. A sweet Amish woman sold it to me and cautioned me it made to be used, not just looked at or hung on the wall. She then told me of its mistake and why every quilt included one. I wish I could talk with her now so I could tell her my quilts include more than one!
In her late 70s-early 80s my mother took possession of all my sister-in-law’s fabric scraps and yardage she no longer wanted. Mama then took a 9-square pattern from a Better Homes & Gardens magazine, and made each of my two brothers and me a quilt. I still use mine; I have no idea where my brothers’s quilts might be.
I love handmade goods and quilts especially. Thank you for making my day today, and thanks for the link both to my site and that wonderful article.
I’ll be sharing this one around!
I was thrilled to see the article you posted on Facebook. That’s added something special to the end of this post. Thank you!
If the quilt you bought came from Pennsylvania, I do know the town of Strasburg, famous for its railroad attraction. That Amish lady was certainly wise – and realistic.
And you are a quilter too. I wonder if you have ever featured them on your blog, a splendid idea! You’ll love the movie. It’s like a quilt, stitched with many interwoven pieces.
I’d seen the movie so long ago I’d forgotten it. We also have a quilt my husband’s sister gave us as a gift years ago. We hung it on the wall. She ran a quilting club in the little town she lived in with the Mennonites in her community. Her name was Grace, she was full of her name. She’s gone now to the big quilting room up in the sky. 🙂
After you return from sunny Arizona, you may enjoy the warmth of the movie. Several of the actresses are vintage too, like the quilts: Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, and of course Winona Ryder, who seems to have disappeared from Hollywood. I wonder if Grace was a Canadian Mennonite.
Thanks for telling this story here, Debby!
Can you belive ,as we speak, I am staying with The Queen Of The Quilters ( my sister Jan ) . Only yesterday I was at ‘Cutting Edge’ her wonderful ladies Quilters group where I was introduced to all my sisters amazing friends . How they welcomed me into the fold . I was fascinated by their work , it’s so clever . I have promised to send a poem to them about yesterday to their blog . I ll perhaps send one to you .
I have not see the film but I will tell sis about it and yes she has made a quilt for me that I treasure and is one one of my bed always .
I have a sister Jan too but she probably wouldn’t classify herself as the Queen of Quilters. If you wrote a poem about quilters. Can you share it here or provide a link to their blog? I’d love to read it and maybe other readers would too.
You would love the film with all the intricately woven love stories, some of them naughty. The word American is in the title but the wisdom is definitely universal. Thank you, Cherry!
I know you have a sister called Jan , my sister wouldn’t classify herself as Queen of the Quilters either…I do 😊
I haven’t completed the new poem yet but I have one I sent a few months ago to Cutting Edge blog , I’ll fish it out . Either way I will send to a poem , thank you for asking .
I eagerly await that poem, Cherry, and the new one too. What a creative soul you are!
I am not a sewer but my older sister is a quilter and so I’ve forwarded this post on. To her. I know she will love it.
Me? My creativity is in writing, blogging, stories for my grandsons and an incomplete (or should that be uncompleted) novel.
Thanks for this lovely post.
Welcome, Judith. Thank you for checking in here. You are a fantastic blogger with many followers. I especially enjoyed one of your last postings, a gratitude list: https://growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com/my-gratitude-list/
Like you, my stories are becoming a legacy for my grandchildren, the best possible gift, besides the love we bestow on them.
I come from a long line of quilters; mother, maternal grandmother and maternal great-grandmothers who were known for their fine small quilting stitches. My paternal grandmother was also a quilter, as was my mother-in-law. I have been quilting and making quilts since I was a teen-ager although I am not extremely prolific. I retired 4 months ago and hope to quilt much more and have many plans, patterns and fabrics for quilts. Not only do I want to quilt for myself, I want to quilt for others and hope to be part of Mennonite Women USA’s Housewarmer Project, making quilts for those whose houses have been rehabilitated and built by Mennonite Disaster Service. No one in the generation following me is a quilter (yet; I can hope) but I have promised to teach a friend to quilt when she retires in the not too distant future. I have a few treasured quilts from great-grandmothers, grandmother and my mother made 3 quilts especially for me. I need to find a way for others to enjoy them rather than storing them away. I like the idea of displaying quilts at a quilter’s funeral; I think we will do that when the time comes for my mother’s funeral. We will also display 2 large notebooks she kept documenting pictures, patterns, fabric samples and other information about the quilts she made.
Welcome to this conversation, Sarah. I am guessing you have a Mennonite background too because of your references to the Housewarmer Project and the MDS.
I think quilting would be very hard on the eyes as you mention great-grandmothers who were known for “fine small quilting stitches.” Also, it seems you may have a quilting buddy in your soon-to-be-retired friend who wants to learn to quilt.
I’m glad this post sparked an idea for a memorial service when (as you say) the time comes. Again, welcome – I hope you will visit here again soon.
I loved this movie. Wish I could find it on DVD to add to my collection.
I checked out the DVD from our public library 📚. It’s available on Netflix for a fee which I’m too frugal to pay – ha!
Maybe try a garage sale, a bin at Target 🎯 or Walmart. Good luck in finding this gem.
I know the name of the book and movie but don’t have first hand experience with either. My paternal grandma crocheted–everything from her dish rags to huge and very fancy tablecloths. I have some of her creations hanging on a dark wall (so they show off) in my bedroom. My maternal grandma embroidered and knit. I have a few pillowcases from her–and I sleep in her antique sleigh bed with the rest of her bedroom set in my room. No one quilted, as far as I know, but I have friends who do. It’s such a beautiful art, especially when women do it together. Thank you for this joyful and colorful, Marian. I’m deeply moved by the quilts hanging on pews at a memorial service. Wow!
It strikes me that your crocheted artifacts stand out against the dark wall much like contrasting moods in writing. Maybe that’s putting too fine a point on it, but that’s what came to mind when I read about your handmade displays.
You are so fortunate to have a sleigh bed, and an antique one at that. I picture your nest filled with family heirlooms and you warm and cozy by the fireside.
I don’t quilt either but I also appreciate “this beautiful art, especially when women do it together.” Well said, Elaine. Thank you!
I positively love quilts! I took a stab and learning to make one many moons ago and learned to make squares. I set this endeavor aside when children came along and I needed an easier hobby. I long to return to the meditative craft and perhaps one day I will. I do not own one quilt! It seems my ancestors knitted and crocheted, as did I, and the cost of buying one was always prohibitive. Again, one day! Love your pictures and the story of the quilts on church pews.
I hear your enthusiasm through the screen, Dorothy. Quilting is a meditative craft and one that would dovetail well with writing. One thing for sure, whatever your next hobby you could blog about it. As always, thanks for reading and commenting here.
I’m a little slow in reading and therefore commenting on this post. I love quilts. I’ve started a few but never finished! I have some precious quilts I’ve written about before. I haven’t seen the movie you wrote about, I’ve never even heard of it. If I ever do I’ll be sure to watch it! And I’ll let you know!
Oh, so good to “see” you again here, Anita. I know you love quilts and remember seeing precious quilts on your website. You would enjoy the movie if you like happy endings, but in the process lots of hurdles to clear just as in real life.
Wow–I haven’t seen that movie in years, but you just made me want to re-watch it. I don’t think I’ll ever have the patience or manual dexterity to make my own quilt, but I really admire the work of others who do!
I echo your thoughts about quilt-making; I too have never been tempted to quilt. You would enjoy the movie again. Rebecca. I saw it twice before posting this time. 🙂
I liked all the pictures. Quilts are such a visual representation of love and caring.
I have never seen the movie or read the book. Our public library has both, but it does not say what the movie is rated. It sounds good and I would hope it is a family movie.
The oldest quilt I have is one made by my mother’s grandmother when my mother was a teen. We took all our older quilts to the historical society meeting about 15 years ago as they had folks there identifying the quilts. They dated them and sewed a small label on the back with the date and pattern, if identifiable.
Hello, Athanasia! The movie filmed in 1995 has a PG-13 rating; I would not say it is a family movie – more appealing to women of all ages.
I am in awe of your treasure chest of quilts and the provenance to go with each quilt. As we sort through Aunt Ruthie stuff in the house she shared with Grandma Longenecker, I wish we had knowledgeable people to give identification and appraisal if needed. Of course, I’m talking about antiques and collectibles, not just quilts. Thanks for posting here.
My definition of family movie meaning no swearing, sex, smoking or drinking or drug use etc etc. All the things that apparently make a movie more desirable in the ratings.
This film is rated PG-13, so by your definition, this is not a family movie. Blogs have to have a rating too, and mine is rated G. You should never find anything offensive on this site, even in the comments column, which I have to approve. Thanks for speaking your mind, Athanasia.