North America

An American Tale….the Granny Square

The granny square first made its debut in 1891, in The Art of Crocheting as an engraving. It wasn’t until 1897, however, that a written pattern was published in Weldon’s Practical Needlework. That pattern is one of the few things that has translated pretty much fully to today in crochet. As we’ve learned from past articles most everything else would be unrecognizable to us to a certain point (like 1920). The only difference is that the granny clusters on the first one only contained two double crochet as opposed to three. Other than that it is the same as the granny square we are familiar with today.

The Woman’s Day Book of Granny Squares (Fawcett, 1975), features a collection of granny-based designs, notes that grannies have been around for “as long as anyone can remember… Making colorful afghans by joining small squares,” the book’s introduction says that this “is one of the most traditional and American forms of crochet.” So strongly was this style of crochet identified with the United States that in Europe, it was called American crochet.

It’s an easy project, requiring zero eye sight and you can use all the scrapes of yarn you have from all your left over projects to make whatever stitches you feel like and create something amazing. Using scraps, regardless of color allowed crocheters of old to use yarn they otherwise couldn’t have used. The practice also inevitably led to the almost gaudy bursts of unlikely color pairings, usually bordered by black. Perhaps then this is where those gaudy Christmas sweaters came from (though Mrs. Weasley’s always made me want one). Yarn in 1891 was much more precious and scarce than yarn today. They couldn’t just pop on down to their local store or even go online. Even if they could have, they were unlikely to have the money. Those grannies and granny squares were the ultimate yarn stash busters.

The project isn’t just popular with long time crocheters but these squares are so easy they are one of the most common projects for new yarnists so even a beginner can quickly experience the rush of a finished object. The most basic square is typically only four or six inches, worked in just a few rounds. And we were all a beginner once who took on a project that was larger then we thought and perhaps we came to view it as a little larger then life and so we stopped working on it countless times because it was never going to get done….as my sister who made a purse and then couldn’t bear to finish it because it was taking for ever so she weaved twisty ties together and knotted them through the bottom and created a beach bag….hey, the bottom is water proof.

Granny squares saw a resurgence in the 1970’s and 80’s, and much like those hippie crocheted pants from the 1970’s, granny squares became popular again. In 2010, Cate Blanchett walked the red carpet in a granny-inspired dress for an opening at the Australian Center for the Moving Image. Designed by an Australian design team called Romance Was Born, the dress—rendered in traditional bright colors with black borders—drew out the best and worst in critics. Some dubbed the actress Cate Blanket.

Following on the heels of the dress, British designer Christopher Kane dove deep into granny-square waters for his 2011 fall runway show, which featured a variety of dresses and skirts rendered in a fabric with oversized grannies in subtle blue and gray hues. Kane seemed to be reaching for a new and exciting way to view this dappled motif, but reactions invariably included references to afghans.


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