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How to Make an American Quilt

How to Make an American Quilt is a 1995 movie which was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and stars Winona Ryder, Maya Angelou, Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft. It is based on a novel of the same name by Whitney Otto.


The story centers on the stories of several women in a quilting bee as they construct a wedding quilt as a gift for a members' granddaughter, Finn Dodd (Winona Ryder). Finn is a Berkeley graduate student visiting her grandmother Hy (Ellen Burstyn) and great aunt Glady Joe (Anne Bancroft) in Grasse, California, over the summer to work on her master's thesis. During her stay the women share their stories, which leads her to reflect on her life and where it is headed.


Finn Dodd

Main character. Following a proposal of marriage from her boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney), Finn decides to visit her great aunt and grandmother to finish her thesis and think over the proposal. At her grandmother's house, a quilting group congregates, and she's shocked and surprised to discover that the current quilt that they're working on is a wedding gift for when she gets married. The theme of the quilt is "where love resides". Unsure whether she's ready for marriage or whether he's 'The One', the stories of the women in the quilting group open her eyes to the different kinds of love that exist.

Sophia Darling

When she was young, Sophia (Samantha Mathis) was a talented diver with dreams of escaping her small town and overbearing mother. One day she meets a boy (Loren Dean) whilst diving at the local pool and romance ensues. He's attracted by her fearlessness and she believes he can take her away from her current, suppressive way of life. However, motherhood turns out to be just as -- if not more -- suppressive, and married life soon grinds her down. With three children and little help from her husband who is frequently away because of his job, she no longer has time to dive and eventually forgets the feeling of freedom and escape it gives her. One day she snaps at her husband for digging a pond in the back garden. In an attempt to remind her of the girl he fell in love with, he tells her the pond is for her to wade in. After she rejects his efforts, he realizes that her free spirit is gone. One morning he leaves for work, never to return. Abandoned, bitter, and trapped in a life she didn't want, Sophia ironically ends up like her overbearing mother, particularly in her relationship with Finn.

Years later, when the wind blows part of Finn's thesis into the pond, she wades in to get it. With her feet in the pool, she remembers what her husband tried to remind her of all those years ago, and one of the last scenes shows her diving off the high dive.

Em Reed

Em, like most of the women in the story, marries young. Despite the promiscuity of her artistic husband Dean, she stays with him for a period of time. Eventually, after discovering yet another affair, she leaves him whilst pregnant. She returns to her parents' home, but it still takes weeks before Dean comes to find her. He begs forgiveness yet again, and her parents pack her bags, loading them into Dean's car. At this point, Em has no choice but to return to her broken life.

Years later, she suspects Constance is having an affair with Dean, which causes friction between the two. later, she realizes that, in his own way, Dean does truly love her when she takes shelter in his studio during a rain storm and discovers numerous paintings of her over the years.

Glady and Hyacinth

Glady and Hyacinth are Finn’s great aunt and grandmother and sisters to one another. At one point, Hyacinth goes to visit her dying husband in the hospital. Despite her deep love for her husband, in a moment of weakness and tragic emotion, she sleeps with Glady’s husband. After Glady discovers the truth, she smashes every one of her porcelain figurines and plasters them onto the wall of the laundry room as a reminder of her anger. Glady never really forgives her husband and does not forgive Hyacinth until the end of the movie. Their reconciliation is symbolized by the demolition of the plastered walls in the laundry room when Glady Joe realizes that her love for her sister overcomes her feelings of betrayal.

Constance Saunders

Constance had a happy and fulfilling marriage until her husband dies and she's widowed young. When he was still alive, Constance’s husband gave her a dog to keep her company. Although she starts an affair with Dean, Em's husband, she knows that her love for her husband and her dog are her true companions. Her panel for Finn's wedding quilt depicts a yellow rose bush, which symbolizes the yellow rose bush that she buried her dog under after he dies.


Mother of Marianna. As a young servant she starts an affair with her master's son, Beck (Jared Leto), who's visiting from Chicago. She falls pregnant by him, and when her great Aunt finds out about the pregnancy she sends Anna away with their family story quilt (which she had sold to the mistress of the house). During her pregnancy Anna met Glady and Hyacinth when their family took Anna in. She becomes particularly close with Glady, teaching her to quilt. It's during one of these lessons that she starts labor, eventually giving birth to Marianna. It's only then that Anna realizes that her fancy notion of romantic love was nothing in comparison to the maternal love she felt for Marianna. Anna now orchestrates the quilting group.


Daughter of Anna. Marianna gives the appearance of being in love with her promiscuous freedom until a moment of vulnerability comes in a conversation with Finn. She speaks of a man that she met in France. They meet, and spent one evening together during which they connect over a meeting of minds before she discovers that he's married. Although she has taken many lovers since, she realizes this man is her soul mate and she doesn't even know his name.


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