A woman learns that she's expecting a baby. Does she directly inform her husband of this? Not necessary. She just sits there looking smug and knitting something (usually a sock or a sweater), and he gets the message.
Basically, knitting = pregnancy. This is based on some cultural artifacts from an older time period:
- There wasn't a large source of store bought clothing (which was typically very expensive), so most clothing was made and mended by hand, and hand-me-downs were most likely commonplace.
- A new baby would require new clothes.
- Whether or not they actually had children, knitting was a common activity among women.
Often used in works made before it was considered okay to discuss the subject of pregnancy, as it has the benefit of also informing the audience that the woman is expecting a child without actually having to say it out loud.
This is hardly a Dead Horse Trope or even a Forgotten Trope today, as any person (man or woman) who knits in public will tell you—and, in fact, may have been rescued by the resurgence of knitting as a hobby. Contrast Needlework Is For Old People because if the old person is a woman, she can't be pregnant.
- Cover of issue #192 of MAD magazine, parody of King Kong (1976).
- Played for Laughs in Fables where Beauty and Beast ask Frau Totenkinder what she's always knitting. She says it's for their unborn child. Beauty laughs and says she's not pregnant. Frau says she will be and shows off the onesie...which is built for a child with six limbs and a tail. Turns out, she's right.
- In The Addams Family, the wife revealed she's pregnant by knitting a four-legged onesie◊ before its occurrence in the movie.
- Superman & Batman: Generations: When Bruce Wayne's wife goes to tell Bruce she is pregnant, she holding a pair of knitting needles with partially knitted booties on them behind her back.
- Tragically inverted in the French comic series 'Tamara'. When Amandine thinks she's too old to be a mother again and doesn't know whether to keep it, her old aunt convinces her to do it. However, later in the book, the old aunt, who is kitting baby clothes, receives a phone call, and then puts her work away.
- In a Bittersweet Ending, she picks it up again on the last page, as Amandine and her fiancé choose to get married maybe try again.
- Smurfette does this in two alternate timelines in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story series with her two alternate timeline husbands (Hefty and Papa Smurf), only instead of it being used to announce a pregnancy, she does this to signal a yearning for a child from her husband in that timeline, after the husband originally assumes that Smurfette is knitting something for Baby Smurf. Both husbands respond by just picking her up from the chair and taking her off to be alone with her.
- The second Thin Man movie, After the Thin Man. Nick has just solved a very complicated mystery, but has yet to deduce that his wife Nora is expecting—until he realizes that she is knitting a baby's sock.
Nora: And you call yourself a detective.
- The Addams Family. Gomez realizes in the last scene that Morticia's pregnant again when he sees her knitting a baby's jumper. With three legs.
- In 1937's Shall We Dance?, the Ginger Rogers character is assumed to be pregnant because she's seen knitting. She's actually repairing a dog sweater.
- It happened in Enemy Mine, when the asexual reptile guy revealed he was knitting some small garments.
- By 1940 and Kitty Foyle, this was old enough to be lampooned. In the satirical prologue, the wife reveals that she's pregnant by making a needlepoint that says "Baby."
- In Terms of Endearment, Aurora Greenway freaks out at the news she'll be a grandmother, with her clueless son-in-law asking "Does this mean you won't be knitting the baby any booties?"
- Being Two Isn't Easy: Subverted. One of the conflicts between the parents has been about whether or not to have another baby, with Chiyo wanting one and Goro not. Near the end when Chiyo brings it up again, Goro says he's OK with itthen he notices her knitting something. He excitedly asks her if she's going to have another baby. She says of course not, she's knitting something for little Taro.
- In Raymond E. Feist's and Janny Wurts' Daughter of the Empire (part of The Riftwar Cycle), Mara of the Acoma knits while pregnant in order to appease her abusive husband. She is terrible at it and has no expectation of ever knitting anything useful. Her husband just expects that is what she should be doing.
- In the Sookie Stackhouse novel Dead and Gone, Sookie knows her fairy-aunt Claudine is pregnant when she sees her knitting baby clothes. Though Claudine also tells Sookie straight out that she is expecting.
- Technically the "Polgara and Ce'Nedra are both pregnant" reveal toward the end of The Malloreon is the two of them puking over the ship's railing, but this gets invoked on the trip home when Polgara teaches Ce'Nedra how to knit. (Though Velvet also gets knitting lessons, and she doesn't become pregnant until the epilogue of Polgara The Sorceress.)
- Stephanie Pearl-McPhee recounts a real-life encounter with this trope on a bus in her first book, Yarn Harlot.
- Stephen King does this in a few stories. In "The Boogeyman," from Night Shift, after Lester's first two children die and he tries to prevent her from having more the main character's wife starts "knitting little things," and that's how he knows. In Bag of Bones, the protagonist goes through his wife's things and finds a mystery; her knitting is something he dismisses, as she has only been able to make afghan squares. In "Home Delivery," from Nightmares & Dreamscapes , the main character does this as a means to pass the time while pregnant. It becomes a Chekhov's Gun when her zombie husband returns..
- The Handmaid's Tale : Subverted and played with. Serena spends hours knitting scarves with human figures in a motif along the bottom, and Offred comments that these are the only children Serena is making these days. She also hypothesizes that the scarves get sent out, unraveled back into yarn, and re-knitted.
- Joey Maynard does this in Mary-Lou of the Chalet School, in order to explain to Mary-Lou why she can't deal with Jessica Wayne herself. She shows Mary-Lou some baby clothes she's been knitting.
- Played With in The Laughter of Dead Kings, the final Vicky Bliss novel. John reacts with alarm when he sees Vicky knitting baby clothes at the beginning of the book. Subverted when she angrily retorts that they're for her newborn nephew. Double Subverted (sort of) at the end, when John claims that he's deduced the action represented Vicky's desire to have a baby of their own, and has decided he's on board with it. Vicky denies this is the case, though she may or may not be being truthful.
- Lampshaded and Subverted in I Love Lucy. Lucy and Ethel think their husbands are going to join the army, and decide to take up knitting as a hobby. The husbands notice their doing this, and naturally assume they're both pregnant.
- Parodied in a later The Honeymooners episode, may actually have been a reunion show. Ralph thinks Alice is pregnant when he finds her knitting materials. However, rather than a sock, she's apparently knitted a baby's sweater — complete with one hole for the head and two for the arms. The holes are unrealistically tiny, but then again, a baby is small. What Alice was really knitting was a cover for Ralph's bowling ball.
- In The Twilight Zone episode "The Chaser", a man gives a love potion to the gal he is truly-madly for, but within months grows tired of her cloying devotion. He plans to kill her with a "glove cleaner" sold to him by the same mysterious old man who gave him the love potion. However, he drops the poisoned drink in shock when she presents him with a tiny knitted bootie.
- Obliquely referenced on The Late Show with David Letterman
Hillary Clinton is about to become a grandmother. She's busy knitting tiny pants suits.
- At the start of the third series of Call the Midwife, Shelagh is shown sewing a baby's nightdress. Subverted in that she isn't pregnant yet, and later finds out she can't get pregnant because of complications from TB. There's also a Double Subversion in that she and Dr Turner adopt a baby girl in the third season finale, and Sister Julienne returns the nightdress to the Turners.
- Exploited in Chicago, where Roxie is made to knit during her public trial to play up the claim of her being pregnant.
- College Roomies from Hell!!!: This is the first indication that Hazel is pregnant after she became a surrogate for April and Mike/Satan's baby.
- The Flintstones had a sort of "false alarm" in this regard. At the end of one episode, Fred accidentally sits on Wilma's knitting needles, and finds a bootie. Fred jumps to conclusions and runs out of the house with it (he had told his rich uncle that he had a kid named after him; he didn't, but now it looked like things were different) before Wilma can tell him that it was for Betty's sister, who recently had a baby. Of course, later on that season, Wilma showed him another "bootie" which Fred mistook for a nose cover, but this time...
- In the TV movie Hollyrock-A-Bye Baby, Wilma learns that Pebbles is expecting a baby of her own and immediately gets to knitting booties for the new arrival, using wool coming straight from a nearby sheep. Then it fades to the next scene, in which the Flintstones and the Rubbles are on a plane heading to Hollyrock... And Wilma is somehow still knitting, to the point that what started out as booties have now become a long lump of fabric reaching the floor of the plane.
- The Tex Avery cartoon "Little Johnny Jet" has an airplane find out his wife is expecting when he catches her knitting a little plane-shaped sweater. At the end she has a long line of them after the government orders ten thousand more.
- In another Tex Avery cartoon, "The Flea Circus", Francois comes home to find his wife Fifi knitting a flea-sized sweater with human-sized knitting needles (they also have a human-sized home and Fifi delivers in a human hospital). In the final scene, Francois enters Fifi's dressing room and is shocked to see her knitting away again.
- The Chuck Jones cartoon "I Was a Teenaged Thumb," a comical take on Tom Thumb, has the mother knitting microscopic booties. At the end, her husband is aghast when she starts knitting a giant bootie.
- Lady and the Tramp. Lady tells Jock and Trusty that her female owner, "Darling," is knitting booties. Jock and Trusty realize that Darling and her husband, Jim, must be expecting a baby (specifically their first child) and the two older dogs try explaining what a baby is to Lady.
- This happened to Daffy Duck once. In the cartoon, Daffy finds his wife knitting a sweater. Assuming it's for him, he takes it and tries putting it on. Suffice to say, the sweater's too small for him and he can hardly breath through the tight garment upon putting it on.
- The Goofy cartoon "Fathers Are People" ends with Goofy saying that, despite all the hardships of having a kid, he wished he had a million of them. Then his wife shows him a tiny sweater and Goofy gasps in horror...then sighs with relief when she puts it on the dog.
- One of Foghorn Leghorn's suitors decides she wants to have a baby and starts knitting, much to the annoyance of the other hens. IIRC, she found the egg, rather than laying it.
- An alligator female in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy knitted underwater, and was very clearly pregnant.