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Thursday, January 6, 2011

AFGHANS -- A WOMAN'S TEXTILE TRADITION

SMALL BOX OF OLD PATTERNS

Recently, a small box stuffed with patterns for quilts, afghans and needlepoint fell into my possession. As of today, I have not completely finished going through the material to see what all it contains but I recognized that most of the patterns were torn from pages of magazines dated during the 70s and 80s. That puts most of the box’s material in the range of 30 to 40 years old.
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Now why would a small cardboard box filled with this kind of stuff interest me? Well, it wouldn’t have maybe 30 or 40 years ago but now it does. Why?  About in the early 90s I attended an older woman’s estate sale and spied a colorful afghan. For some crazy reason I was smitten with the colors and the workmanship that had gone into it. As perhaps some of you know, I do like women’s handwork -- but usually in the form of quilts. Afghans had never really appealed to me -- I had an instant change of heart as I carried away the beautiful estate sale afghan.


1970S WOMAN'S DAY MAGAZINE ARTICLE ON GRANNY SQUARES 

Since that sale I have been attempting (at a slow pace) to find out more about afghans. This box of patterns would perhaps contribute answers to several of the questions I had regarding them.

Old books about constructing afghans can be found in the library. But, they do not include what were some of the popular patterns over the past years -- or the social history surrounding them. So finding torn-out pages from magazines like Woman’s Day and McCall’s Patterns in the box gave me a snippet of information of what seemed to be popular --  it appeared that the crocheted granny square was the winner since the 70s and perhaps before? Or perhaps since I found this box in Kentucky, the granny square only reflects what was popular here?


BORDER DESIGN OF AFGHAN BELOW
UNIDENTIFIED PATTERN

Over the years the type I came to prefer were the granny squares. Also, I gravitate toward afghans with fringeless borders that are patterned with earthy colors of yarn. Many Kentucky quilts have earthy colors and I am assuming that perhaps their colors influenced Kentucky made afghans. 

After all these years, since I first found that afghan, I feel I am just at the starting line of figuring out their patterns --  knitted or crochet styles, and other attributes of  these wonderfully worked afghans.


UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN PATTERN WITH CURVY BORDER



Perhaps, you have made afghans or someone in your family has. I do not have the ability to make such textiles as quilts or afghans. I can however stand back and admire afghans for what they represent. I label them in the category of woman’s traditions. They evidently have a role in women’s cultural history but little seems to be documented.  

26 comments:

  1. Nice post. I love when things 'come into my hands'...... ;)
    I am just now learning the art of tapestry crochet.....and am really enjoying it.

    I'd love to read more about your adventures with fiber arts!

    Have a lovely and creative day!
    ~Mimi

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  2. What a great gift!!! I love going through old needlework patterns and such. I embroider and am trying to teach myself to crochet. We are lucky to have a number of afghans from my husband's mother and grandmother. Each of us have a scrap afghan that my mother-in-law made us from scraps of yarn she had - they are our favorites. We also have some very beautiful afghans that his grandmother made. Treasures!

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  3. Love this post. I am making an Afghan now and using mostly granny squares. I don't get lost as easily.

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  4. Granny square afghans were something I became aware of in the late '60s as a part o the Hippy era, they went along with granny glasses, long dresses, macrame and long hair for men and women. I have never crocheted and have not found afghans particularly appealing. I think since the '60s granny squares have been the most popular although there are many other patterns, especially wavy ones of many colors. I don't know, but maybe you will find out, if afghans were popular in the Applachain region. I suspect the granny square design grew out of frugality of women wanting to use up ends of skeins of yarn in different colors -- but that's a guess. I'll watch for your future discoveries.

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  5. I had a few quirky bright colored afgans, knitted by extended family back in the 70s. My daughter pronounced them "cool" and packed them off.

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  6. I've recently been collecting old knitting & crochet patterns from pre-1966 (Australia went decimal currency Feb 14, 1966 so all patterns are labelled with pounds, shillings and pence price tags).
    I love crocheting - it is the easiest thing to do while watching tv, don't have to look at the pattern all the time, grows quickly and the quilts are warmer than eiderdowns/doonas :)

    A couple of years back Aussie actress Cate Blanchett threw on a little crocheted number for the red carpet to very mixed reviews lol.

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  7. Mimi -- I am not familiar with tapestry crochet. Have you written a post about it? My box of patterns should teach me quite a bit about knitting and crocheting -- perhaps some tapestry crochet patterns will be found in the box? Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  8. Witch of Stitches -- you certainly have a family of women that are talented including you.

    I know a country woman that produces quilts that are full of lovely embroidery. I am going to try and have her sit down with me for an interview and a photo shooting session for a future post. Hopefully I can make it happen.

    Wonderful that you have all those afghans from you and husband's family. Would make a wonderful post to identify the pattern and the family member along with the date made.

    Thanks for stopping by with your comments -- barbara

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  9. Schmidleysscribbling -- Ahhh -- how wonderful that you are carrying on the tradition of women making afghans. And granny squares at that! Thanks for the nice comment about the post. -- barbara

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  10. June -- a piece of social history about granny squares -- women wearing them during the Hippy era. Interesting point that granny squares might have been influenced by the Appalachian region. Perhaps I will find this to be true? Very good comments for me to follow up on Thanks -- barbara.

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  11. Tess -- I do think the young women of today think like your daughter -- that they are cool. My daughters are quite fascinated with the few that I have picked up here in KY. I bet your daughter will give them a good home. Thanks -- barbara

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  12. Oh Jayne -- may I put the granny square dress link on my post as an addendum credited to you. It is a great link.

    Love to see some of your pattern collections on a post.

    Thanks so much for the great comment and LINK! -- barbara

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  13. I love the granny squares! I learned how to crochet years ago and got part way through an afghan and abandoned it. And now I've forgotten...

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  14. Vicki -- i believe that granny squares are 'haute couture' now. Check out Jayne's comment above. She has a great link showing a marvelous adaptation for granny squares. -- barbara

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  15. I like this post today. I brought back memories of my granny... Nana. She was always doing on of these.

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  16. What a great post Barbara. I used to crochet afghans years ago and one of the first ones I did as a teenager was a granny square afghan. Maybe I should start doing them again.

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  17. Mama-Bug -- I believe you would be right in style if you were to try the granny square again. Visit the above comment by Jayne -- she has a link about Cate Blanchett with a photo of her wearing a granny square dress. I also know that Ralph Lauren has used the granny afghans in his decorating schemes. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  18. Birdman -- Thanks for the nice comment. I do believe that women, not men, were the only ones making afghans in our country. -- barbara

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  19. My mom-in-law crochets and has provided us with afghans over the years. I have to say that they are incredibly warm as a cover in the cold months.

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  20. Farmchick -- What a nice mom-in-law that she makes afghans for you and your family. I agree that they are warm. I throw extra ones on my bed at night to stay nice and toasty -- and I like the graphic patterns spread out on my bed.

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  21. I have one of those "earth-toned" afghans, crocheted by a lady (now gone) who loved me as if I had been her daughter. That afghan symbolizes, for me, her unwavering love. It is wool, and is my warmth and constant winter companion as I snuggle up on the couch to read or knit. If we need an extra blanket, it finds its way to the bedroom and it gives just the right amount of boost to a cold room; the colorway includes gold, burgundy, moss green, tan, yellow. It's 40+ years old and still in perfect condition. Thank you, Barbara! Lovely post. You know I love the fiber arts!

    Elora

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  22. Elora -- What a lovely gift you have from a friend that loved you so much. To still have it after 40 plus years tells me you have taken special care of it. Some things in our life are worth so much emotionally and cannot be replaced. Thanks for the story and nice comment. -- barbara

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  23. Oh boy, more colorful eye candy on a gray day here. :-)

    My mom got into a crocheting kick for a while when I was a kid, and though I don't recall seeing any afghans, she did make herself a very pretty granny square ski sweater. That would have been in the late 60's, early 70's - so she was in synch with the times. I remember loving that sweater's deep, rich colors (I always did love colorful things!), and wonder whatever happened to it. I'll have to ask her! When I was in college she briefly took up crocheting again, and made me a black, white and blue granny square afghan which I still have. It's nice to to snuggle up in on a cold evening.

    Cate Blanchette's dress was an interesting choice! I love her, and she's one of the few women in existence who had any chance of pulling that off, but I had to chuckle - it looked like she remembered the exhibition at the last minute and had nothing to wear, so grabbed a pretty afghan off the back of her sofa, wrapped it around herself and sashayed up the red carpet with poise and panache! Rather like Scarlett O'Hara and her dress o'drapes. (Which of course always makes me think of Carol Burnett's spoof, complete with drapery rod and fringed hat!) LOL!

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  24. Loved this post, Barbara! I'd enjoy flipping through that box of patterns too. Granny squares are so adaptable. That's the first thing I learned to crochet, and is still a favorite pattern. It's so adaptable. The colour pattern possibilities always thrill me. A girl I worked with taught me to crochet in our lunch breaks many years ago and I still have the first afghan I made, about 1970, for my Mom.

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  25. barefootheart -- I recall an afghan being shown on one of your posts that you had completed. I wish I had your patience to crochet such a beautiful piece. Thanks

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  26. Dear Barbara, quite accidentally I found your post. For the last few months I've been doing slow research on granny square afghans, that is why I was so happy to find your website. The GS-afghans are popular all over the world and has become the main hero of many charity, artistic or social happenings. Unbelievable how universal they are. They join all the weomen of the world:) I live in Poland and we had the same trend in 70s. Many types of clothing made of GS pattern were popular. After my research I assume the name "afghan" is popular and known basically in the USA. In France they don't use it, but they still do GS items :) In Poland we also didn\t know this name! Not even granny square. We were - and still are - just calling them squares. Afterm my research I told my several colleauges about this and they were astonished by the name:) So I keep on searching the roots, origins. I found some information that the name is derived from 30s XIX cent. from a book, but first it was probably derived from Afghan carpets (rugs) originally imported from Afghanista via Russia to the USA. In fact they were not straight Afghan rugs, but rather Turkmen. The whole topic fascinates me very much. I would appreciate to keep the contact with you all, dear ladies, crochet lovers, as I am!:)
    ALl the best and hugs from crocheting Poland:)
    Anna
    P.S.
    I am sorry for posting this as my brand, but I am not quite familiar with the system, and Google brought me to log in as eMSA IE, my educational brand.

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