Writing about needlework in the film Bright Star last month got me wondering — and Googling — about other portrayals of sewing, weaving, embroidery, and the like in film. I poked around the web for a couple of weeks and contacted film experts and friends of long-standing Cari Beauchamp and Sloan Seale for suggestions. (Cari is the author of a host of books on film including: Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years and Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s with Valeria Belletti and Sam Goldwyn Jr.) The result is the highly idiosyncratic list below. I am indebted to artist Sabrina Gschwandtner and Fiberarts editor Marci Rae McDade who compiled a list of feature-length fiber-related films in the April/May 2009 issue of Fiberarts (their selections are asterisked below). I have added the parantheticals and other nominees in developing my own compilation. For a much more extensive list (132!) of films that feature just knitting, see Knitting in the Movies; there’s another at Knit Flix.
Films that Feature Handwork (a highly selective view):
Amelie, 2001 (tobaccionist is crocheting).
Babette’s Feast, 1987 (Babette sews with her sisters in the kitchen.)
Bend It Like Beckham, 2002 (Mrs Bhamra (Shaheen Khan) is knitting for her expected grandchild.)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, * 1961 (Includes the famed line: “Jose brought up the blueprints for a new ranch house. I have this strange feeling that the blueprints and the knitting instructions got switched. I may be knitting a ranch house!” For more Audrey check out Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey Hepburn stitchalong for across-stitch pattern of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.)
City Lights, Charlie Chaplin, 1931 (Skein winding.)
Dancing at Lughnasa,* Pat O’Connor, 1998, (Meryl Streep knits socks.)
Gone with the Wind,* Victor Fleming, 1939 (When Melanie is reading while the women are waiting, one of them is crocething).
Handmade Nation,* Faythe Levine, 2009 (Includes portraits of crafters across the US, including knitters and embroiderers.)
The Heiress, 1949 (Olivia deHaviland begins an embroidered sampler when her lover abandons her on the night they were to elope.) (In 1999, artist Elaine Reicker who uses embroidery to explore aesthetics in art created a video, When This You See . . ., that combined nine appropriated film clips that show women knitting, sewing, or weaving — including The Heiress. “Each segment reveals a pivotal moment in the source movie’s drama and is punctuated by a freeze-frame and the superimposition of a single word written in bright pink cursive script: ‘obsession,’ ‘betrayal,’ ‘revolution,’ ‘revenge,'” wrote Margaret Sundell, in Art Forum (6/22/99). In this way, Reichek captures cinema’s structural interplay between repetition and temporal unfolding, and – as the viewer starts anticipating the arrival of her interpretative captions – the rhythm of expectation and delivery that drives its narrative engine.”)
Heavenly Creatures, 1994 (Kate Winslet knits.)
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,* 2005 (At one point, the entire cast is turned into stop-animation knitted dolls. One of them vomits multicolored yarn.)
How to Make an American Quilt, 1995 (The story centers on the stories of several women in a quilting bee as they construct a wedding quilt as a gift for a member’s granddaughter, Finn Dodd (Winona Ryder).)
Like Water for Chocolate,* 1992 (Tita crochets onto a bedspread when upset, as a way of coping with disappointment.)
Mr. Lucky, 1943 (Cary Grant learns to knit.)
The Odyssey, 1997 (Penelope (Greta Saatchi) weaves a shroud by day and unravels it by night — having promised to pick a suitor when her weaving is finished, and having no intention of ever reaching the end, certain that Ulysses will yet return home.)
Pluto’s Sweater, 1949, animated (Pluto is teased when he wears a red sweater knit for him by Minnie.).
Preparez vos Mouchoirs (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) 1978 (The leading lady knits for her lovers and when her knitting shows up on other men, they immediately know what’s up — as does the audience.)
The Price of Milk,* 2000 (key role for patchwork quilt.)
Repo Man, 1984 (A knitting security guard.)
The Science of Sleep,* 2006 (Knit objects take on an animated life.)
The Secret Code, 1918 (The villainess crochets coded messages into mufflers)
Tale of Two Cities, 1935 (Madame DeFarge knits a register of names of those headed to the guillotine); also A History of the World, Part I, Mel Brooks, 1981 (Madame Defarge (played by Cloris Leachman) has become so poor she has run out of wool, simply rubbing her knitting needles together.)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 2005 (Gromit, knits a scarf while waiting in the car for Wallace); also Wallace and Gromit in A Close Shave,* 1995 (this one’s just 30 minutes, but it’s all about hand knitting and knitting machines.)
Wanted,* 2008 (A mild-mannered man leaves a dead-end job to join a fraternity of assassins headquartered in an unassuming textile mill. The group is giving its assignments by the Loom of Fate, a loom that gives the names of the targets through binary code hidden in weaving errors of the fabric.)
Wool 100%,* 2006 (In this Japanese film, two elderly sisters live in a mansion piled to the roof with things they have found in the trash, including a jumble of brilliant red yarn. A strange, wild girl breaks into their house and starts to knit the yarn into a formless sweater.)
And What’s with handwork and the criminal element?
In A Cry In The Dark, 1988, Meryl Streep knits while discussing the trial where her baby is carried off by a dingo in Australia. In Chicago, 2002, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) knits during her murder trial and in Murder Most Foul, 1964. Margaret Rutherford knits in jury box. In No Escape, 1999, male prisoners are seen spinning and knitting. And in Foul Play, 1978, Goldie Hawn uses a knitting needle as a weapon and so does a seemingly mild-mannered grandmother in George Romero’s The Crazies, 1973).
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