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Bootie Call by Franklin Habit

Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago so I pulled out a copy of After the Thin Man, the second of the classic MGM films with William Powell and Myrna Loy as socialite detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Have you seen them? You really ought to.

Start at the beginning, with The Thin Man. It was based on a crime novel by Dashiell Hammett, and all the installments are mysteries; but they wear that badge lightly. You don’t really watch a Thin Man film to find out who killed who; you watch it to see Powell and Loy bounce absolutely perfect wisecracks off one another in the highest possible style. Even their romantic moments are agreeably tart.

NICK: Did I ever tell you that you’re the most fascinating woman this side of the Rockies?

NORA: Wait ’til you see me on the other side.

Nick, Nora, and their dog, Asta, form the family unit in the first and most of the second installments. But in the closing minutes of After the Thin Man, Nick notices that Nora is knitting something.

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He leans in to take a closer look. “Looks like a baby’s sock,” he says.

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A pause.

“And you call yourself a detective,” says Nora.

He gasps. They kiss. Asta wails. The End, until Another Thin Man.

I’ve watched that scene at least twenty times; yet not until this viewing did it set me thinking about the motif–especially beloved in Hollywood–of Woman Knitting Baby Booties to Telegraph That She Is Expecting.

There were no knitters in my family, so a television portrayal of Woman Knitting Baby Booties to Telegraph That She Is Expecting (WKBBTTSIE) was probably the first knitting I ever saw. I was about five years old. The knitter in question was Wilma Flintstone.

I will leave it up to a proper historian of the moving image to write the definitive treatise on WKBBTTSIE. I will only say it is firmly embedded enough in the public imagination that have on many occasions been asked, “So, when are you due, ha ha ha?” by jocular strangers who point at whatever it is I happen to be knitting.

This, in spite of my being (as you may have noticed) a man.

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I began to wonder whether WKBBTTSIE is pure Hollywood invention or whether it is–or at least might have been–an actual thing. So I summoned an impromptu online round table of four knitting friends (all women, aged 22 to 67) to share their views and experiences.

What follows is an abridged transcript of our online chat. All names have been changed to make them funnier.

FRANKLIN: So today’s question is: have you ever knit booties to tell your significant other that you are expecting a baby?

MIDGE: I’ve never been pregnant. So, no.

FRANKLIN: Duly noted.

MIDGE: You know I’ve never been pregnant, so why did you ask me to join this chat?

FRANKLIN: Because I enjoy the pleasure of your company and because you are awake at 2 a.m.

MIDGE: Liar. It was to fill some kind of quota, wasn’t it?

FRANKLIN: Yes. I needed a Presbyterian, so I asked you.

MIDGE: I’m a Methodist.

FRANKLIN: Does anybody besides Midge have anything to say?

SKIPPER: I haven’t, but I’ve seen it on television. Wilma Flintstone, right?

FRANKLIN: Yep.

BARBIE: I remember that episode.

SKIPPER: I don’t know why you wouldn’t just say honey, I’m pregnant.

FRANKLIN: I thought maybe it was a woman thing. Like, you’re too shy to say the actual words to a big scary man.

SKIPPER: Have you met me?

BARBIE: Might be generational? I didn’t do it but a woman from my garden club tried. Would have been circa 1964.

SKIPPER: Seriously?

FRANKLIN: And?

BARBIE: Didn’t work. He never looked to see what she was knitting.

MIDGE: !!!

BARBIE: She was halfway through bootie number three before she gave up and told him.

FRANKLIN: Am I allowed to laugh at this?

SKIPPER: I am laughing my [deleted] off.

KEWPIE: What are we laughing at? I was in the bathroom.

SKIPPER: Did you ever knit booties to tell your husband you were pregnant?

KEWPIE: Like Wilma Flintstone?

FRANKLIN: Yep.

KEWPIE: Nope.

Ultimately my round table yielded no more than a secondhand account of a failed attempt at real-life WKBBTTSIE and a longer conversation (withheld) about whether it was the arrival of Bam-Bam or the arrival of the Great Gazoo*** that made The Flintstones jump the shark.

That said, I would like to open the floor to further input. Are you a knitter (or crocheter, thank you very much) who for better or worse has tried to send an important message via a bootie-in-progress?

* Of course, WKBBTTSIE** is by no means the only knitting stereotype. We have also

Elderly Woman Knitting in Rocking Chair. In the popular imagination, knitting appears to mark both the beginning and end of a woman’s fertility.

** I tried like heck to make this acronym spell BOOTSIE but, you know, deadlines. Maybe next time.

*** All reasonable people agree that it was Gazoo.

—–
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep. Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • Margo Lynn

    It probably has to do with the Hayes Code - not being able to use certain terminology (why Lucy was "expecting" and not pregnant) they had to come up with something for the wife to use.

  • Colleen Sheelen

    No booties, but I did cast on the "Baby bib o' love" from Mason - Dixon Knitting (my first ever knitting pattern book) as a way to signal my knitting group that I was expecting. My knitting skills weren't quite at bootie level yet, or I may have fulfilled the stereotype ;)

  • Laura Ferguson

    As a pleasingly plump woman in her fertile years, the last time I knitted a baby blanket for a gift, I stated to each and every person who asked what I was knitting the following, "It's a baby blanket and no, I am not pregnant."

  • Lizfm

    I think you're safe with Midge as a Presbyterian. The town where I grew up was so small that the Presbyterian and Methodist churches were combined. It was called the Highland United Methodist Presbyterian Church...aka the HUMP church. Yes, it was referred to by this acronym in all town calendars, etc.

    I've never been pregnant, but as I'm grandma age, I get asked if I'm knitting for future grandchildren sometimes. I usually just say, "nope"

  • Pam

    It is such a common misconception. I find that most knitting groups I have attended (including my local, weekly knitnight group) all give a giant middle finger to all the common knitting misconceptions...sometimes we knit booties, but we usually use words to share news.
    And yes...Gazoo! lol!

  • Lila

    I had to go look it up -- and yes! It's a recognized TV trope:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KnittingPregnancyAnnouncement

  • Dana Strotheide

    I've not had children, but now I feel compelled to try to tell my husband I'm pregnant (if and when such a thing happens) via booties. I'd probably be with the Garden Club woman though, I doubt he'd notice. Or would notice and assume that it's for someone else. :)

  • Barbara Stoner

    I was going to tell my husband I bought these cute new shoes and show him some baby shoes. That was before I really started knitting more than just scarves and wraps though.
    The first sweater I knit was a baby sweater and I made sure to let everyone I worked with know I WAS NOT pregnant.

  • Barbara Vaccaro

    I think it has been replaced by the purchase of a home pregnancy test.

  • basementmatt

    So, which one are you?

  • knittnchick

    You know i told my husband I was pregnant? I vomited on him. True story.

  • AJ

    I am now on layette #4 of 5 (maybe 6, depends on one of the attorneys decided whether to commission a set for one of the HR folks). No one asks if it's for me. Mostly because they ask WHAT it is, and get told the entire "at first, it was just two people, and I'm thinking, February, two layettes, no problem! And then this person turned up pregnant, and that person turned up pregnant, and someone commissioned a set, and goddammit, I have other things to knit, stop getting pregnant already!" And by then their eyes have glazed over.

  • Cathryn

    I never had to tell my husband. He figured it out before I even took the test (we both knew before then). I did, however, make booties for the Facebook announcement, which was a big hit!

  • Pam

    The day I knew I was expecting our first child, I was not able to tell my husband in person, because he worked 1st shift and I worked 2nd. So, I took some pink and blue yarn and made bows, and taped them to the front door of our home. When I got home from work, I was expecting a "Honey, I'm so excited" type greeting from my husband, but instead found all of the bows on the table. I asked hubby if he saw all the yarn on the front door, and he said "yes, what the he!! was that about?"

  • CarolynK

    Didn't Morticia Addams knit a baby garment to let Gomez know she was pregnant?

  • JJ M

    Wilma had Pebbles, Betty Rubbles had Bam-Bam.

  • http://ababymoon.com Angie

    I enjoy knitting baby hats and booties. My "excuse" is that I'm a doula. New moms I work with usually get a knitted gift, too.

  • Sheila

    Not to send the message. However, I have been asked by strangers whenever making baby items for gifts or charity even at almost 50!

  • Janet Fletcher-Meyer

    This was so fun to read (as usual). And the fish cartoon...........very clever. Wish this was an every week event instead of every month!

  • Swapna

    This thing crosses cultures, because it's common for women in India to be asked "Are you pregnant?" when they knit, as well. I never tried to tell anyone such a thing via my craft, although I was successful at camouflaging my pregnancy on social networks because all the stuff I knit or crocheted for my own baby was indistinguishable from what I was doing before (everyone on FB had a nice surprise when we put up pictures of our baby :) )

  • suezeejay

    Didn't Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere pull baby knitting out of his pocket at the end of 'Sitting Pretty'? I think it seemed like he knew his employer his employer was pregnant before she did!

  • Honora

    Knitted a pair of pink an d a pair of blue booties. Sent one of each to the grandparents to be. They got the message. Now a grandma and still knitting.

  • carriea

    I have never been pregnant but the first thing I felt compelled to do when my daughter( Yep, can't say I do anything the most common way) became pregnant was run out and get baby wool to knit booties and a cap. We wouldn't find out the sex of the little bun for months.

  • Amy Knits & Crochets

    Your fun drawing made me laugh out loud, Franklin. Love it! Funny stuff. :)

    When I used to live in Los Angeles, I would often crochet while riding the bus. It used to puzzle me that I'd be crocheting, for example, a black eyelash scarf or something, and other passengers would ask "when's the baby due?" I'd wonder -- do I somehow look pregnant? And how on earth could anyone mistake this for a baby project? At the time, I found it quite puzzling, repeatedly having the same general conversation with different strangers on different occasions.

    I must've watched a zillion episodes of the Flintstones as a kid, but somehow missed the one with Wilma Knitting. That explains a lot!