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.
He leans in to take a closer look. “Looks like a baby’s sock,” he says.
“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.
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?
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.
BARBIE: Didn’t work. He never looked to see what she was knitting.
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?
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.