How Textiles Helped Transform My Home for Filming “Nowhere Normal”

14 September 2022

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Recently, my house became a movie set for the short film Nowhere Normal, written and produced by my talented friend Heather Morrow. Thanks to its 1950s origins and our collection of well-loved, hand-me-down furniture, the house was a good choice for the home of the story’s grandmother. Among the most important final touches to the setting was to add a proliferation of textiles that would, at a glance, provide a sense of presence for the grandmother, a character who had recently passed away.

One of the first things that happens after you agree to let a film crew take over your house is a production meeting where they check the space to see if it really will work. We showed everyone around and were met with frequent exclamations of, “This is perfect for a grandma’s house—no offence!” “None taken,” we replied, pointing out the Formica table, and my great-grandmother’s sewing box. I overheard, “I have a fever, and the only cure is more doilies,” so I showed them the ones that my Oma had made, pouring her time and love into them. Oma never did see our house, but her handiwork is part of our lives and the lives of the great-grandchildren she never met.

image description: two handmade lace doilies, and some small cross stitch embroideries lying on top

While the production designer dressed the set, removing things that didn’t fit in and returning them to place afterwards, I was happy to help with whatever I could. To save the crew time, I got to work on the living room, which we use a lot for reading, visiting, working, crafting, and playing board games. I pulled games and paperbacks (apparently hardcovers look more generic) off our overstuffed bookcase and packed away some trinkets, as the film’s grandmother probably didn’t own Doctor Who and Star Wars collectibles. I hauled my loom, spinning supplies, and many project bags downstairs. I set up one basket with a crochet project and another with blankets handmade by friends and family.

Feeling organized, I checked Heather’s prop wish list. Sheet music for the piano? Done. Empty picture frames? Done. A toilet paper cozy? Remembering my Oma’s, of the Barbie-doll-in-a-dress variety, I offered to make one. Heather and the production designer decided they’d love to have one with a non-trademarked doll. I looked through my stash, opened my copy of Literary Yarns by Cindy Wang and turned a crocheted Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice into a toilet paper cozy. I modified the pattern, enlarging the skirt by increasing every round until it was the right size, and then working it even to the correct length. I improvised a scalloped edging and added a belt with a large flower. Heather was delighted, posting her on the film’s Instagram account as the newest cast member.

image description: a crocheted toilet paper cover, made to look like a doll in a large dress
To get out from underfoot as the film crew worked, we decided to go camping. We left on Friday while the crew were setting up, then texted on Sunday afternoon to see how things were going. Filming was only a little behind schedule. Our teens were tired and finding it a bit hot out, so I suggested they drop me off at the house with our gear and go to a movie. After hauling our gear into the backyard (aka craft services), I sat knitting and visiting with the crew and the cast members who came to see us after they wrapped. It was great to hear all had gone well, and lovely to hear the good cheer in everyone’s voices!
image description: a film shoot; a crew member holds a large camera

Later, watching the rough cut, it was a delightfully eerie experience to see my home transformed in subtle ways into someone else’s home. On the couches, my Firth Waves cushion joined an afghan and cushions made by Heather’s grandma, along with one of the production designer’s large, thrifted doilies. In the end, Oma’s doilies might have been hard to spot on-screen, but the production designer’s oversized ones stood out and were easy to read as doilies, helping to set the scene when the camera panned across the room. Switching out plain bedroom curtains for lacy ones made the room read as grandmotherly, and the wedding quilt, made for us by my aunt, quietly tied things together. I was amused that the production designer had included a prop basket of yarn. As the saying goes, it was a bit like “bringing coals to Newcastle,” but, to be fair, she had not seen my stash.

image description: scene from a film shoot in a home; a camera operator stands in front of a large camera; in the background you can see a couch covered with a crochet blanket
Even my Oma’s cross-stitched ornaments got into the action; one is seen bouncing around on the wall when struck by an object flying out of the pantry. Thankfully, it was unscathed. And as for Elizabeth, the toilet paper cozy, she now knows how it feels to be a film extra who never made it into a single shot. She waits, perched on the back of the toilet, for her next role. None of us had ever wanted a toilet paper cozy, but she is now a souvenir of the experience and a reminder of the grandmothers—real and fictional—who make houses into homes with their stitches.
image description: image from a film set; an actor sits at a dining table, looking down; he appears sad
Nowhere Normal was produced with the assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Media Arts Alliance, FAVA, and ACTRA. Nowhere Normal will be appearing at film festivals this fall.

Doily and doll photos by Jessie McKitrick; featured photo and all others by Kristin Breitkreutz.

Copyright © Jessie McKitrick except as indicated.

About Jessie McKitrick

Jessie lives in Edmonton in Treaty 6 Territory, where she writes patterns for hand-knitters who can’t resist the lure of texture, cables, and colour in their next sweater, hat, or mitten project. She began to crochet and knit after becoming a mother, teaching herself from library books, and soon found herself designing projects. Feeling a strong need for a job that included creativity, Jessie would go on to submit patterns to various publications who supported and published her work, including Knit Now Magazine, Knit Picks, and Interweave Knits. Collaborations with Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts eventually led to working with the company in the capacity of Design Coordinator. When she’s not working, Jessie practices karate, draws, dabbles in other fibre crafts including spinning, sewing, embroidery and weaving, and enjoys playing board games with her family.

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