Review: How to Make an American Quilt

Maya Angelou, Winona Ryder, and Ellen Burstyn

I found How to Make an American Quilt, a 25 year old gem, on Netflix in a queue of films directed by women. I remember loving it, wanting more films like it, and holding it as an example of what I wanted movies to be. I decided to watch it again to see how it held up all these years later.

How to Make an American Quilt was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. She’s also directed The Dressmaker, A Thousand Acres, Proof, and episodic television. For such a gifted writer and director, her resume should be 10 times longer than it is. That she managed to get this almost-all-women film made in 1995 is amazing.

Winona Ryder in How to Make an American Quilt
Winona Ryder as the star was probably a big part of the reason this film was made.

How to Make an American Quilt is ostensibly about Finn (Winona Ryder). She spends a summer with her grandmother to finish her Master’s thesis and decide if she will accept Sam’s (Dermot Mulroney) proposal.

To me, the film was about the magnificent group of women quilters who worked in Finn’s grandmother’s home. Their lives and stories were what made the film. Granted, 25 years ago most of the tales were about love and romance and family life. But the were stories about women, not men.

Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Alfre Woodard, and Kate Nelligan in How to Make an American Quilt
Don’t know why this is black and white – the film was in color

The cast included Kate Capshaw, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Maya Angelou, Alfre Woodard, Lois Smith, Jean Simmons, and Kate Nelligan. Playing some of the younger versions of these women were Samantha Mathis, Joanna Going, María Celedonio, Claire Danes, and Alicia Goranson. Also featured in other parts were Esther Rolle and Holland Taylor.

What a cast!

All those women together in a film was revolutionary. It was balm for my soul when I saw it. Women telling women’s stories. Pure magic. It impressed me so much I mentioned it in my personal manifesto.

There have been other films and TV shows since then that featured large ensemble casts of women. I’ve loved all of them, too. Yet this film still makes me smile, still makes me feel good. After 25 years have gone by, the film and I are both a bit creaky with age. Even so, I still loved it.

poster for How to Make an American Quilt

The trailer is so old-fashioned it’s almost funny.

Did you see this film years ago? Think you might look it up now on Netflix and watch it?

2 thoughts on “Review: How to Make an American Quilt”

  1. This is one of my favorite movies of all time I saw it when I was a little girl in the 90s and I still watch it once a year! I still have not seen another movie like it since love your blog, from one movie buff to another…thank you

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