How to Make an American Quilt - a movie review

"How to Make an American Quilt" is the only major movie I could think of which featured quilts in the title and the action.  I decided this would be the perfect choice to review for ChicagoNow's tribute to Roger Ebert's annual movie festival held in Champaign this week.  Quilt + movie = perfect, yes?  Sadly no.  Let me tell you why.

ktThis movie stars Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn all of whom showed up to perform their roles but none of them seemed to really make their character come alive.  Not that I blame them, the script was a disjointed even though it is based on a pretty cool book of the same title by Whitney Otto .  I enjoyed the book even though it's not written by a person who loves quilting but someone who is studying and observing it.  This is a slight problem in the book and a huge problem in the movie. It's hard enough to engage people in a movie about quilting but for goodness sake 1317536-Mcan't the author have passion and knowledge about it?  I realize they are just using a quilt as a metaphor for women's lives but you can't just grab any subject and use it as a metaphor which works as a movie.  (Moms who eat mac n cheese, Ladies who buy Lotto tickets are examples of other goofy ideas that wouldn't work.)  To get a metaphor to work, you have to know and love the original, the actual subject a la "A River runs through it."  Now that was a metaphor movie that worked.  I cared about fishing while watching that gorgeous film.

From a quilting point of view this movie was completely flawed.  Did they not hire anyone who knew anything about quilting for at least an afternoon to get some advice?  They have these women gathered around a quilt frame (good metaphor) but they are not quilting, they are appliqueing and women don't gather around a quilt frame to do that.   The top is already completed when you get to the frame.  Now this might not sound like a big deal but this movie should at least make sense to the targeted quilt audience!  Quilting is done on a quilt frame, it is the action of taking small stitches to join together the quilt top, the batting and the back.  And they "quilt" for 73 straight hours?  Please.  And they smoke weed?  Ha ha, that was the stupidest part of all.  Hollywood, quilters just well, don't!  And you've just ruined the movie as a potential gift for a quilter, outing for a quilt group or viewing at a guild meeting.  If all of this wasn't bad enough, at the end there is somehow this terrific quilt and the first thing Winona does is wrap it around herself and run through muddy fields, dragging it on the ground.  Quilters are now throwing stuff at the screen.

If you've lost the quilters, maybe you can get a main stream audience by comparing it to "The Joy Luck Club" a great book and pretty good movie.  If I was Amy Tan I would sue you for slander for comparing this awkward, poorly made flick to her movie.  And you know who knew this movie just didn't work?  Roger Ebert, of course, and I don't think he even quilted.  But he sure knew movies and he gave this movie two stars.  Hmmm, it barely rates two stars in my opinion.  But I will defer to the master as I and the rest of ChicagoNow honor his memory with our own movie reviews and blog posts.

I am also offering my services to Hollywood as their quilting consultant when the next quilt movie is made.  My advice, make the quilting just one part of a movie, make it the side kick, not the main star.  Heck I will even write the screenplay.  You can contact me with any reasonable offer on my Facebook page.  In fact, the rest of you can contact me there also!  Post your thoughts, your quilts or your quilt movie ideas.  Be forewarned, I might make them into screenplays and get rich in Hollywood.

Sew happy!

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    Kathy Mathews

    My passions are quilting and sewing. Add to that French, Spanish, books, swimming, travels, new restaurants, yoga and chocolate and you have me. All of these are best shared with family and friends. Except for chocolate, don't touch my chocolate. You can email me at

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