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Groovy Kinda Love

In December of 2012 I visited my mum in New York for what will be the last time. She had terminal cancer. Sometime during my 93 day stay she asked for a crochet blanket made by me. I made one for her without hesitation. I would hook away at her bedside. I would crochet whilst listening to the stories she needed to share with me. I would crochet and watch her affectionately while she played with Candela during those increasingly rare moments she had energy to sit upright.

I would stitch away near her while she slept during the day.

I would crochet near a dim lamp sitting next to her during my sleepless nights listening to her shallow breathing.

I was on a deadline, but I did not know what that deadline was.

I would be anxious to know if and when she would wake next.


What if she dies before I complete her request?

What do I do if she dies when alone with her?


She died a few days after I finished her blanket. I was not by her bedside but when I went to her, she was covered with the lacy throw.

I don´t know what happened to it. I left the family home immediately after she was buried in the family crypt and I have not returned to that house since. On occasion I have picked up a hook to crochet, but never really complete an item for any particular use.


Lets talk about crochet and granny squares...

Crochet is not one of my favourite techniques but I have been crocheting on and off for over 40 years and I do fall into the "hooking" when it makes a whirlwind comeback to mainstream fashion and now, therapeutic uses as a form of meditation, mindfulness and mental health.

Lately there has been a rising debate in the fiber arts world about "appropriating" designs and "inventing" the granny square. Yes, you have read that correctly, there are several claiming to have invented the granny square. The drama would have one shy away from creating a garment or other items with this seasons IT aesthetic- The Granny Square.

You either love the granny square or you hate them, but you can never claim them.



As many fiber and textile artists out there, once achieving an even tension chain with a hook and string I moved on to making a granny square when I was a kid. I was not taught with the chunky worsted acrylic yarn with ease nor were there any written instructions, it was math, a white cotton spool of South Maid crochet thread and a 1.5mm hook.




My humble beginnings towards a perfect granny square...

I had great aunt who had doilies on the head rests of her plastic covered arm chairs in her foyer. I remember the beautiful designs; florals, scallops and what I called spider webs that I would be able to touch when she was not looking and they would not become undone.

My great-aunt Rose was an unwed spinster, past 60 years of age. She had a low tolerance level for children and demanded order. She was scary to my then six year old self. In reality she was all but a four foot nine frame.

She was an impeccably dressed and coiffed lady for 1970s standards with a presence of authority when she would enter a room. She had lived through lots of untold stories and never shared her experiences with anyone. She also never expressed emotion. Despite all this she embraced my curiosity and my want to learn how to crochet.

My great-aunt Rose teaching me was when I developed a love hate relationship with the granny square. She would give me instruction. I was to pay attention, not waste her time and I was not to speak until I was done. Many today would think she was cruel but in her defence she was teaching me patience, endurance, commitment and focus.

With the thin cotton thread and the 1.5 mm hook I developed a wound at the top fold of my left index finger from all the practice I would do. She would frog my completed wonky squares and tell me they were no good and have me start over. It would happen again and again until the day I shyly handed her a finished granny square and she nodded with approval. I felt accomplished.

It was at that moment I was given right of passage to move on to more elaborate stitches and designs once the crocheted square was not perfect but acceptable.

The filet stitch followed immediately after.

Once I had gotten her approval I never made another granny square for decades.

It was not because of her teaching method it was because I had spent an entire summer and countless hours getting the granny square right and all I really wanted to make was an indestructible spider web made of string.


The debatable origins of the granny square...

After reading social media threads on discussions and cyber arguments of the granny square I decided to go down the rabbit hole of the World Wide Web and do some research. My loving curiosity for fiber and textile art can be said to have started with a granny square, but I never asked questions:


  • Where does the granny square originate from?

  • Who created It?

  • Why was it created?

  • Why was it named a Granny Square and not motif?

Dear old Mrs. Phelps...

Mrs. Phelps Crazy Pattern Afghan Block. Praise Farmer Weekly, Chicago Illinois. April 4, 1885

The Prairie Farmer Weekly Journal

April 4, 1885

Chicago, Illinois


The earliest written mention making reference what we call today a granny square was an article by Mrs. Phelps in 1885 clearly stating the "the principle of crazy work so popular now" and refers to it as a BLOCK I am lead to believe the "granny square" predated 1885 and it existed all along.

It is very basic. It is geometry, the formula to a perfect square.

It is the same block that haunts me remembering that summer with my great- aunt Rose and her crochet lessons.


My modern day translation of

Mrs. Phelps Crazy Pattern Block...


Any combination of four colour thread, yarn or ribbon.

Start with first colour:

  • Chain 4, form into ring with slip stitch into first chain. 12 double crochets in ring slip stitch on top of first double crochet to close round. Cut thread.

  • Join second colour. 3 double crochet, chain 1, 3 double crochet in between 2 double crochets. Skip 3 double crochets, repeat from * Slip stitch on top of first double crochet to close round. Cut thread.

  • Join third colour: 3 double crochet, chain 1, 3 double crochet in corner. Chain 1, 3 double crochet in next chain 1. Repeat from * all around. Slip stitch on top of first double crochet to close round. Cut thread.

  • Join fourth colour: 2 double crochet, chain 1, 2 double crochet in corner chain 1, one double crochet in each stitch of previous row. Repeat from * to end. Slip stitch on top of first double crochet to close round. Cut thread.


All basic math. All sides must have the same amount of stitches to make the perfect square, in this case, BLOCK as Mrs. Phelps chronicled in the Prairie Farmer Weekly Journal. It was not named "The Granny Square" but let us leave that argument for another moment.



I pulled out the box of my cotton stash and got to hooking. The thread itself was nothing spectacular, however the variety allowed the use of a 1,75mm crochet hook.

What is fun about Mrs. Phelps Crazy Pattern Afghan block is the variation of colour following a simple colour placement formula for each row.

Four colours result in 24 variations.

Following the said sequence, substituting hues that ran out, it is the perfect stash buster and a great exercise for colour work.

I randomly selected yellow, pink, green and dark blue to start with. I had no intention of making more than a few. Several hours later on a rainy day in rural Galicia I completed all 24.


The Sequence...

My first block sequence was yellow, pink, green and dark blue.

Then mixed them up a bit, substituting a rosey coral when pink ran out and lavender when the latter ran out.

Using four colours throughout, the colour sequences for each block is as follows resulting in 24 different blocks. An interesting burst of colour and a crazy, no beginning and no end of pattern.


 

A. Yellow B: Pink C: Green D. Blue


ABCD BACD CABD DABC

ABDC BADC CADB DACB

ACAD BCAD CBAD DBAC

ACBD BCDA CBDA DBCA

ADBC BDAC CDAB DCAB

ADCB BDCA CDBA DCBA

 




The true artistry of it then, when first published in 1885 because of its popularity and the craze now, is the placement of colours, the structure, fibres used and the end result.

But my argument remains:


NO ONE CAN CLAIM THE INVENTION OF THE GRANNY SQUARE.


Mrs. Phelps did not claim to have originated the crazy block, she shared what she saw being created from small stashes of yarn and shared it with the masses in a printed weekly journal.

This being said, I in no way am belittling nor undervaluing brilliant crochet designers, a few I can call good friends within the Fibre Arts world. I take the crazy pattern a.k.a. the granny square as an invention of necessity during a waste not era in Mid West America.

We are living in uncertain times-globally with inflation, recession, inter-territorial conflicts, loss of residual income for most and for some reason the granny square is something of comfort and affordability to make. It was most likely an invention of necessity and can be easily altered, having four equal sides to effortlessly convert into triangles or rectangle for garment shaping. The crochet block is versatile enough to create with what is at hand for something needed or wanted but not economically permissive.

So, all new crocheters, hookers, granny square makers out there, ease up a bit. I have seen your work, some are nice, others are "artistic expressions" . Yes you have crocheted something, for many of you your first granny square, but... YOU DID NOT INVENT THE GRANNY SQUARE!


... And my questions remain: Who invented the granny square and why was it named a granny square?


©2020-2024 NYC Artist In The Woods. All Rights Reserved.



4 Comments


Guest
Apr 04

Que interesante tu artículo. Me ha encantado.

Yo soy autodidacta. Te confieso que nunca se me ha dado bien calcetar o ganchillar, aunque siempre me han gustado las prendas y piezas hechas con esas técnicas. Ojalá hubiese tenido una tía abuela como Rose. 🥰

El hacer joyas de soutache, así como mi curiosidad y mis ganas de aprender de todo, me llevaron a descubrir este mundo del ganchillo. A ver hasta dónde me lleva.

Por cierto, me encanta la combinación de colores que ha resultado al final con tus "afghan crazy pattern" o " granny square". 😍

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Replying to

Eres toda un artista... disfruta del proceso. Espero ver maravillas hechas por ti. Un abrazo.


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