Category: Film

Stitching on the Silver Screen: A List in Progress

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):

The Addams Family; Addams Family Values, 1991;1993 (In the films and tv series, Mother Morticia often knits odd two-headed, three-legged items for family members.)

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.)


Coraline,* 2009 (see Thread for Thought for a comprehensive discussion of the “loving attention” given to handcrafts in this film.)

Dancing at Lughnasa,* Pat O’Connor, 1998, (Meryl Streep knits socks.)


Fargo, 1996 (Jean in a bobble and cable sweater, knitting her next project. (thank you Vickie Howell.)

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.)

Now, Voyager, 1942. Bette Davis operates a loom at the sanatorium where she goes to stave off a nervous breakdown and later on in the film she knits on deck on a cruise.













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.)

The Lone Wolf battles Nazi spies, including Valerie King, intent on stealing military plans. At one point, Valerie’s purse spills open and a patch of crocheted lace falls out. Later, The Whistler, a mercenary, approaches the Lone Wolf and reveals that King delivered the lace to a laundry and has arranged to pick it up at midnight. The Whistler gets hold of the lace, and when he and another mercenary, unravel the lace, they decipher a code directing Valerie to a midnight meeting with a submarine.

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).

Add your nominees to the list by posting a comment here or writing us at Thanks!

Stitching on the Silver Screen: Bright Star

From Bright Star: Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) examines a piece of handwork.

In the film Bright Star, released last month, sewing, fashion and handwork play more than walk-on parts. Set in London in 1818, the film chronicles a secret, and ill-fated, love affair between the young English poet, John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an out-spoken student of high fashion. They make an unlikely pair, he thinking her a stylish minx, and she unimpressed not only by his poetry but by literature in general. “My stitching has more merit and admirers than both of your two scribblings put together,” Fanny tells John Keats and Charles Brown, as they dismiss her so they can work on their poetry. “And I can make money from it.” That scene illustrates a key conflict in the film, between Fanny’s “utilitarian talent and his ethereal one, a woman’s ‘craft’ versus a man’s ‘high art,'” Elizabeth Bales Frank observes in her blog review of the film.

The film’s director, Jane Campion, spends time sewing herself — including embroidering pillowslips for her daughter and her own friends. Campion told Livia Bloom of Filmmaker magazine that “Sewing is a literal metaphor for making one’s will, stitch after stitch. Louise Bourgeois also has a lot of sewing and waiting in her work. I love that this film is an opportunity to look at the world, or look at an event, or at Keats happening, through the eyes of someone who was a sew-er and a wait-er.”

Campion’s eye for needlework detail is evident from the opening scene, an extreme close-up of a needle piercing a cloth. It’s “a close image, very close, so close that you can see the fibers of the cloth furring its surface,” says Frank in her review. “This, then, will be a film about intimacy and domesticity, about creativity and limitations.” In other shots, the camera will linger on buttonholes, and seek out hats, pointy shoes, an embroidered silk pillowcase and a lavishly layered triple mushroom collar. The film ends as it begins, with Fanny sewing, this time her widow’s gown.


“In that period there weren’t many opportunities for women to express themselves,” Campion has observed. “They sewed and they waited; it has a kind of rhythm — needle in, needle out — to me that’s kind of poetic.”


A detail from the earliest plate in Fanny Brawne’s book, dated 1812. Between 1821, when Keats died, and 1933 her book contains few entries. Her interest in fashion seemed to return after she married Louis Lindon.

Even Abbie Cornish, the 26-year-old Australian actress who played Fanny, picked up needle and thread to better inhabit the character. That Fanny created her own clothes and had a reputation for her flamboyant dress were key, according to Cornish. “You look back to her journals and they’re filled with drawings, different embroidery patterns and fabric swatches.” Fanny Brawne kept a Fashion Plate Book, from the time she was 12, in which she collected fashion, theatrical and costume illustrations. She wrote letters to Keats’ sister Fanny offering advice on fashion, textiles and London dressmakers and including diagrams to enhance her explanations. Fanny also occupied herself with embroidery, sewing and knitting. The Keats House Collection contains a few items that she created including a fichu scarf. A display about Fanny and fashion can be seen at the Keats House.