Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Quilts in Little Women

Here's Laura Dern playing Marmee in the recent Little Women.

Looks good for the early 1860s in Massachusetts, a period woven coverlet in indigo and madder,
painted walls, a theorem for decoration. Those are awfully fluffy pillows but that's a minor detail. The costumer won an Academy Award for the garments.

Looking around for some stills.

Is that a cat made out of an old crazy quilt in Amy's room?

I'm afraid so. Crazy quilts after 1880;
old crazy quilts cut up to make cats?

Okay the quilts are all wrong. The strip comforter with ties above looks
early 20th century. Several movie goers with good eyes noted glimpses
of post 1880-crazy quilts.

On the chair on the right, a quilt made out of a piece of cheater cloth.
And what is that on the wall! William Morris wallpaper.

Cheater cloth, mid 1880s.

William Morris style wallpaper. This is Pimpernel
designed in 1876.

So why don't they ask somebody like moi to advise them on accuracy? Actually I have worked as a historical adviser on a movie set in the 1860s. They went with William Morris wallpaper too.

The set designer and production designer are going for a look that is going to sell. They seem to love lavish layers of late Victorian textiles. Movies are entertainment, not house museums.

1854 The New Bonnet, Francis William Edmonds.

True Civil War interiors are rather austere, particularly for people as poor and as ascetic as the Alcott/March family.

1857 Time to Go by Edmonds.

White wash the walls say I. Put up a clock shelf and throw a few rag rugs on the floor.
But whitewashed walls just don't make it.
A movie is not a museum. It's entertainment.

And so is nitpicking. If you are going to have pattern 
remember that in the 1860s repetitious spotty designs were all the rage.
The half drop, diagonal repeat.

Which is why the complex repeat of William Morris paper was so novel twenty years later.

And set designers love it so.


  1. Went to the Mary Todd Lincoln house in Lexington, Kentucky, quite a few years ago. There was a nursery toward the end of the tour and a redwork quilt was on a cradle. Considering Todd married Lincoln in 1842, I found this a little off! However, I didn't correct the tour guide. Nobody really likes a know-it-all.

  2. I bought several yards of that Morris fabric just today for a quilt!!!!

  3. Too True to all!

  4. too funny....I was given a small bag full of about 400 triangles of Morris fabric,was just pressing out the wrinkles and needed a blog break

  5. Love that print on the cheater quilt. Is that print available and where??

  6. I loved the movie, the sets and costumes, and this post! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and giving us something to chuckle about!

  7. I haven't seen the latest "little women", but the Susan Sarandon/Winona Ryder is my favorite. True period dresses were used and the interior of the home was to me, acceptable. Having visited the real home in Concord, I felt they did an awesome job. Looking forward to seeing the latest.

  8. Yes, they should have consulted with you for an authentic look!!! I love the information you gave us.

  9. Very disappointed in the movie. Drove my friends nuts muttering "The fabric is wrong. The under garment is wrong. That quilt is wrong. William Morris? You're kidding!" Etc. Etc. If you aren't true to the details, you're probably not true to the original story. And that is another issue.

  10. I have not seen the movie. I must confess, I'm not so knowledgeable about quilt and decorating history that it mush be quite a blunder to catch my eye.

    Speaking of history knowledge and research, did you see the Smithsonian has released a huge amount of photos from their archives for free use? I saw this on a history blog - which one escapes me at the moment :-(

  11. I have not seen this version of the story yet, but do enjoy the one with Katherine Hepburn, as well as the Susan Sarandon one. In them I love looking at the quilts! So sorry this movie was not more historically correct. Now when I see a movie again I am looking at the paintings and the d├ęcor not the people so much.

  12. Barbara Brackman, how do you feel of the accuracy of quilts, wall paper, and other historical visual accents in the series Turn on Netflix? I'm thinking in particular of the quilts, as they are pieced, not appliqued as I would have thought. Many places did not celebrate Christmas thinking it a heathen practice, did the early residents of our country celebrate it, as seen in season one?

  13. I used to get exasperated when I saw quilts and textiles that did not fit the era of the film. I have learned to say to myself, "It's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie". Thanks for reminding us to let go , enjoy and move on.

  14. I am following your blog about two years now, I am a quilting girl in Europe and very interested in the history of quilts. I saw the movie lately and it was in my opinion a bit overstuffed. It is a nice picture and story, very romantic, but I didnt have the feeling of historic truth, whether in the setting nor the story. As a follower of your blog I was curious to see these quilts, and thank you for this informations

  15. A lovely post and very informative. You are right nitpicking is fun : my husband does it with trains and aeroplanes.

  16. Here is a link to the Whaler's Quilt at the Smithsonian that has that octagon cheater cloth as its outer border. https://www.si.edu/object/saam_1998.84.60

  17. Hey Barbara, indeed with such expertise in the material accuracy, it would have been best for the film guys to take your advice! Since it is a commercial perspective, I think they might have overlooked the accuracy part. Keep doing what you do best and do share more of these insights! It is fun to read.

  18. I saw Little Women near the theatre. Little did I notice these details. As much as they were accurate with the costumes, they weren't with the details on the sets. However, I do agree that the poor lived in austere conditions during the Civil War.

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