Sunday, February 5, 2012

Granny Squares and Me

My Grandma Tillie taught me how to crochet and knit when I was 5 years old.  She lived with us, and took care of me while my mother was at work. When my mom got home from work, she and my Grandma Tillie made dinner, and then sat down in the living room with their crocheting or knitting, and watched tv on our black and white television. I sat on the floor, using the coffee table that my dad had cut down from a round dining room table, as a desk to do my homework (when I was old enough to have homework). When I finished my homework, I picked up my hooks or needles, and joined my grandma and my mom – crocheting or knitting blankets for my dolls. My grandma couldn't read English. When she came to the US from Ukraine, she was only 12 or 13, and at that time (in the late 1800's) young Jewish girls didn't go to school – they went to work. So Tillie worked in a sewing factory in New York.  I don't know if she knew how to sew before she started working there, but she certainly perfected her skills there. When she was living with us, she had an old Singer treadle machine (which is still in the family), and was able to look at garments in the store windows, and come home to her machine and sew them for my sister and me.  That was the same way she crocheted and knit. No patterns, just looking and studying the construction of the pieces. I think that was how my mother crocheted and knit, also. Every time I asked her to crochet or knit something for me from a pattern – something that I didn't have time to make for myself, or just didn't want to do, she struggled with the pattern and kept complaining. I never even realized that she didn't read patterns, because she was such a prolific needleworker, just like her mother, my Grandma Tillie.

Fast forward a few years. When I was in 8th grade, my teacher taught the class, boys and girls alike, how to crochet Granny Squares. After we got done with our work, she wanted us to make granny squares, and then we would put them together in afghans which we would give to veterans. The class was "accelerated" – we all finished our work quickly, and crocheting granny squares was supposed to keep us out of trouble. I sat next to a boy in class, I think his name was Harold, who always finished his work ahead of me. And bragged about it.  That just bugged me, and all I wanted to do was finish something before he did. With this crocheting, I finally did! I was able to crochet much faster than he did, and finished a bunch of granny squares while he was still on his first one. Or at least it seemed that way to me! When I got home from school that day, and my mother came home from work, she sat down on the couch for a while, and I was telling her about my day. I told her that I learned how to make Granny Squares, and I remember that she said I should sit down beside her and teach her. Which flabbergasted me. I thought EVERYONE knew how to make Granny Squares. Well, I taught her, and she learned quickly. And soon she was making Granny Square afghans for everyone in our family. All our aunts and uncles, cousins, cousins' kids, everyone she could think of got a Granny Square afghan. It became a tradition in the family. You got married, you got a Granny Square afghan from my mom. You had a baby, you got a Granny Square afghan from my mom. You graduated, you got a Granny Square afghan from my mom. She was the queen of the Granny Squares. She was able to finish a 10 x 14 afghan (that's 140 four-round squares) in 2 weeks, working mostly at night after she worked at her office job all day. My dad helped her with colors and placement, but she did all the crocheting. And putting together. And weaving in ends. And loved it. She also made Granny Square sweaters for my sister and me. And lots of other styles of afghans.  Here is a picture of a few squares of one of the modified Granny Square afghans my mom made for me after I got married.

Fast-forward a few more years – I went back to school for my Masters and PhD, and had to put aside my crocheting for awhile. But then my niece had a baby girl. Her mother, who crocheted, was no longer living. My mom was no longer living. So I was the one who had to carry on the tradition of the Granny Square afghan. I told my niece that I would make the baby an afghan just as soon as I finished my dissertation – in about 4 months. So the day I turned in my dissertation, I went yarn shopping. I knew what kind of Granny Square afghan I wanted to make – it was a design that I had made for my family years ago. I just didn't know if I would remember how to make a Granny Square. When I got home from the yarn store, I got out my crochet hook and the yarn I just bought, made a slip knot on the hook the way my grandma Tillie taught me, and started crocheting. And guess what – I remembered how to make a Granny Square.  And since then, I've been making Granny Square afghans for everyone, just like my mom did.

Now, fast-forward a few more years. I knew that there were a lot of ways to make Granny Squares – you can chain 1 between the groups of 3 double crochets, or chain 2, or 3. Or just chain 3 in the corners, and 1 along the sides. Or none along the sides, and 1, 2, or 3 in the corners. And you can start the rounds differently and join them differently. I like to make things as simple as possible, so I chain 1 between each of the groups of 3 double crochets, on the sides and in the corners. I end each round at the beginning of the first group of 3 double crochets of a corner. I also start each round in the ch-1 space of a corner, so if I'm not changing yarns, I have to slip stitch to the corner ch-1 space. I wanted to know if that was the way I always made Granny Squares – if that’s what my 8th grade teacher taught me. So I looked at some of my mother's Granny Square afghans, and yes, that's what she did. That's what I must have taught her, and what my teacher taught me. And what I always did. It's nice to know I'm carrying on the tradition.

There is one thing, though. I do not especially like to weave in ends. They are the bane of the Granny Square. In fact, here is a picture of part of a baby Granny Square afghan I made probably 20 years ago, for a friend's baby. 

If you look closely, I took the picture of the afghan on the wrong side (WS), so you could see all the ends. Three rounds per square. Each round a different color. One hundred squares. (I don't know what I was thinking of when I designed this!) Do the math – how many ends to weave in? 600. I never finished weaving in the ends. (You can see the little black strands hanging down.) I never gave the afghan to the friend. Every once in a while, I may weave in an end or two, but there are still a lot to do. But I keep the afghan in the family room, and use it as a lapghan when needed. It also makes for a good story. And I say that the ends are a design decision! One thing I did notice. Even 20 years ago, I was joining the squares the same way as I prefer to do it today. As they are crocheted, I join the last rounds together. Now I design a lot of afghans and garments using Granny Squares. Many of these designs are published in various magazines and books, and when I have to weave in a multitude of ends, I like to figure out how many ends there are. For bragging rights!  But sometimes, I do all sorts of things to get around weaving in ends. I make Granny Squares in one color. I join the Granny Squares as I make them. And I just discovered a book by Kristin Omdahl, Seamless Crochet, that explains how to make Granny Squares and other motifs without ending one and starting another. In other words, you can make a multi-square Granny Square afghan in ONE PIECE. Do you know what that means? Only 2 ends to weave in – one at the beginning, one at the end. (If your skein is long enough!) My kind of project!

I will be  blogging about the book on Friday, February 10, 2012, in my other blog: TheCrochetDoctor ( Check it out, and see my first attempts at one-piece motifs!