Sunday, March 21, 2010

Granny Squares

The closest thing I have to a crafting tradition in my family is the granny square afghans my mother and aunts crocheted while I was growing up. Sometime when I was in my early teens, my mother and aunts started getting together weekly for what they called their “sewing club.” My mother has six sisters, who all participated, except for Auntie Jo, who liked to wear sunglasses inside, and who was rarely without a cigarette hanging from her mouth. I don’t think the sewing club was quite her thing. Instead, my Auntie Helen, an aunt by marriage, joined the club.

They met on Wednesday nights after dinner, and took turns meeting at each other’s houses. The hostess was expected to provide tea and a dessert. Of course the real purpose of the sewing club was to get together and visit, which is remarkable to me in retrospect, because they spoke to each other continuously on the phone and in person. It was always someone’s birthday in my family, so there was a regular schedule of parties, and of course we got together for holidays. My Auntie Lu would often stop to have coffee with my mother after she’d dropped her kids at school, and before she had to show up for her part time job wrapping packages downtown at the Emporium. She’d arrive with her coat thrown hastily over her nightgown. However, Auntie Lu had to stop driving around town in this attire after her car broke down one morning. Fortunately, she was within walking distance of Auntie Helen’s, but she had to make the walk, as she later reported, sin calzones, without underpants, as she had again rushed out of the house wearing nightgown, coat, slippers, and nothing else.

When they first met for the sewing club, the aunts would bring pants to hem, or other mending. Auntie Nena was the first one who crocheted, and she quickly taught the others. Eventually, the granny square afghan, in its classic incarnation with black-bordered multicolored squares, became the sewing club’s official project.

The aunts swapped brightly colored acrylic yarns so that everyone had the maximum number of colors in their granny squares. They carefully chose what colors to contrast between rounds. They shared extra aluminum crochet hooks in size E with those who couldn’t find theirs. I don’t remember my mother working on her granny squares outside of sewing club meetings, and my aunts probably didn’t either, which is why the afghans seem to have been completed over many years. Eventually everyone finished one, and except for Auntie Nena, the original crocheter in the group, I don’t think anyone continued to crochet after the granny square afghans were done. Eventually the group disbanded. My aunt Helen separated from my uncle, my parents moved out of the city when my father’s plant relocated. But everyone had a granny square afghan proudly displayed in her home. It was an accomplishment they’d made together, as a group, as sisters.

The granny square afghan appears to be trendy again. Or maybe it’s that its trendiness has been acknowledged by a new generation. Check out the work of Attic24 . There are some remarkable examples in Flickr groups Attic24 Inspired and Crocheting Sunburst. As always, careful color selection is the key to the granny square.

I was inspired by a project in this post on Attic24, and by the sewing club afghans, to make a granny square scarf. It was fun to make, choosing from a selection of bright scraps. I got Allie to model it for me. She has the panache to make it look elegant. I’m going to wear it with my jean jacket now that the weather has been warmer.

The granny square captures some of the best parts of the crafting experience. It’s best executed when both yarn and experience are shared with others. It’s being fostered today in virtual sewing clubs all over the world.


Vicki W said...

What a great story about your Mom and Aunts! I absolutely love that scarf too. I'd wear it for sure.

Rian said...

That was a wonderful, rich story about your mom and aunties. It brought a smile to my heart. I love the scarf--it makes me want to learn how to crochet (again).

Abbaskid78 said...

I love the granny square scarf! I learned to crochet by making a granny square afghan for my dad!

Debra said...

I loved your story too!

I remember making a granny square pullover vest for my then to be first husband for Christmas circa 1974. I got it done in plenty of time, hid it in a nice spot and got so involved with college finals and making the trip to Germany with him to meet my folks that it wasn't until I was already in Germany and pulling out presents to wrap that I remembered I had forgotten his vest at school. So, that year for Christmas he got a sweatshirt which I hate to admit he liked much better than the granny square vest I gave him when we got back home!

I eventually went on to crochet an almost bed-sized granny square afghan that we used for a long time and that he actually asked for in the final divorce decree some 27 years later. So, I at least did one granny square project to his liking!

Granny squares are right up there as Americana as quilts--oh, and their cousins the Ripple Afghan too. . . .

Judy S. said...

Great story, Barbara. I love your scarf variation, too. One of my friends makes baby blankets that are really one huge granny square.

quiltmom said...

Hi Barbara,
My mom did not knit but she did learn to crochet. She made a few afghans but never did make things with family. She learned to crochet from a friend.
She still makes stamped cards- she often goes to a senior center where she teaches some of the others how to stamp cards.She is younger senior- soon she will be 74..VBS
I don't know how many ladies of the club groups there have been in this world but they all share some commonalities- some sort of handicraft project- sewing,quilting, embroidery, crochet, knitting and other needlework, good food and conversation that provides socialization and support to all who are members of the group. I have a group of quilt ladies like that- We have met together for different periods of time for the past 15 years. They are caring friends and I am proud to know these ladies.
My grandmother belonged to a local group of community ladies and I have a quilt that is upstairs in my house. She and a number of the other ladies each made an embroidered square for each block in the bedspread. I want to put some batting and backing on it so that I can preserve it a little better. It was done on muslin or feedsacks that were white. It is one of the few pieces of handwork that my grandmother did.
Love the gran squares - I remember vests that were made with them.
Thanks for sharing your family story- it is a special one.

Allison Ann Aller said...

It's a great story about all those wonderful women in your family!
And I love Allie wearing the scarf today...
...but I have to say I am really curious about that Auntie Jo... ;-)

Thanks for a terrific post, Barbara.