By Kathy North

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Digital photography is a wonderful thing. It allows us to capture, document and preserve possessions and snapshots of our lives, sharing them worldwide through storage and networking sites like Flickr, Facebook, and Ravelry. It was through this venue that the editor of CI spotted some of my afghan work and inquired about it. What follows is an historical chronology (‘ghanology?) of some memorable projects.

Perhaps your story parallels mine: my paternal grandmother’s home was filled with expert crochet pieces of thread lace tablecloths, frilly doilies, round ripple pillows and ripple afghans. Even though the desire-to-crochet gene skipped my mother, I am grateful that it passed on to me (along with some of Grandma’s ruffled doilies and steel crochet hooks.) My mom knit a few baby things when I was born so she possessed some needles and an instruction book: the Coats & Clark ‘œLearn How’ booklet. It was from that little green-covered tome that I taught myself to crochet in the late ’60s.

Are you a crocheter who ascribes to the philosophy of ‘œfind a need and fill it’? Many of my afghans originated with that thought in mind. It started with a need to keep my hands busy, which led to filling my home with crochet, then the homes of family, friends and coworkers, and from there the ‘worldwide home’ of charitable causes: shelters, hospitals, orphanages. Crochet is magical. With yarn and hook, we can create afghans that comfort, beautify, warm, decorate, celebrate and provide for charitable causes like Project Linus, Warm Up America, and Care Wear.*

At the time the afghans featured below were created, sources of patterns and materials were limited. Our choices in the ’70s were standard 4-ply worsted weight acrylic from Woolworth’s, K-Mart, Mary Maxim, and Herrschner’s, as well as a few periodicals: McCall’s Needlework & Crafts, Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and Annie’s Crochet Newsletter. I absorbed every new issue, choosing projects according to whim and purpose. It’s amusing when someone comments “you have a good eye for color.'” I don’t have any formal art training or color-knowledge secrets: in fact, many of the color schemes shown below evolved from materials on hand in the stash or supplied in a kit.

Here are the stories behind some memorable afghan projects”

Afghan #1 (ca. 1971): The Tulip (sadly, no photo available)

(Pattern source: unknown, possibly Family Circle magazine from the 1970s)

(Materials: Red Heart Super Saver 4-ply worsted weight acrylic)

On a study break in college, my roommate (a knitter) and I went to a local Woolworth’s store. When we chanced upon the yarn aisle, I froze, absolutely mesmerized by the rainbow of colorful, neatly lined-up skeins of Red Heart 4-ply worsted weight acrylic. I wanted it all but of course on a college student’s budget had to restrain myself and decide on just one project.

Are you like me, a crocheter who can’t resist a challenge? What do you think a beginner would choose for a first afghan project? Granny square? Simple rows of double crochet stripes? Of course I chose the most complicated afghan pattern colorfully splashed across the front of a magazine. It consisted of rows of numerous individual tulip-shaped pieces joined by long and short stitches interspersed with rows of plain single crochet to hold it all together. I chose light and dark turquoise for the tulips and olive green for the joining rows. For several months, whenever time permitted, I sat on my dorm bed crocheting tulip shapes (never mind that the pattern instructions in the magazine didn’t make sense and I free-styled a lot.)

Finally the tulip shapes were joined together. The finished afghan wasn’t exactly as beautiful as the magazine photo, but since it was my first attempt I was proud of it anyway. Unfortunately, this was long before the age of digital camera documentation, so there are no photos (it would be enjoyable to see one now, just for the laughs.) The afghan was eventually discarded during a household move. (Note: if anyone recognizes the description of this afghan or where it might have been published/republished, we would love to know.)

Afghan #2 (1973): The Ripple

(Pattern source: Unknown)

(Materials: Sears Roebuck standard 4-ply acrylic)

The age-old ripple afghan is still going strong today. Grandmother H. made one long ago, and I needed one for my first apartment. The popular colors of the day were gold, brown, orange and green. This time I selected colors from the yarn department of a local Sears store which offered their brand of standard 4-ply acrylic in cream, pale yellow, golden yellow and chocolate brown. Many, many hours of single-crochet-in-the-back-loop later, this ripple afghan was complete. We still own it today and it’s as sturdy as the day it was finished. It makes an excellent car or nap blanket which has stood up to time and frequent washing with nary a hole or defect.

Kathy North, with her knit hat on the magazine’s cover. Photo by Sherrie Escue

The RIpple

The Bobble

The Bicentennial

The Graphic

The Square

The Aran
Afghan #3 (ca. 1975): The Bobble

(Pattern source: Unknown, probably a magazine from the 1970s)

(Materials: Red Heart Super Saver 4-ply worsted weight acrylic)

One day while in a local K-Mart, I was drawn (like a moth to a flame) to the yarn section. This time finances permitted purchasing one skein of every color in the rainbow. The hundreds of bobble-stitch squares comprising this afghan were created on breaks and lunch while working at a, shall we say, less-than-interesting job. Today’s busy lifestyle might interfere with the time commitment needed for such an afghan, but it helped pass the hours then. The enticement of working with each new color kept me on track. Eventually the puzzle pieces were arranged and joined together. There were enough bobble squares for two afghans: the first was bordered in a cream color and gifted to my mother; this one was bordered in red because there was a larger supply of it than any other color! It’s true that red draws attention. This photo has garnered a lot of positive comments from viewers.

Afghan #4 (1976): The Bicentennial

(Pattern source: A kit received as a gift, purchased from an unknown source)

(Materials: 2-ply light worsted weight acrylic provided in the kit)

Once people know you are a crocheter, conversations revolve around yarn and projects every time they see you. If your coworkers observe that you pull out hook and yarn at every break or lunch hour, or wear your latest creations on your body, chances are you will never escape the questions and requests for crochet services, which can be a good thing at times. In this case, when I left employment at an office in order to move to a new location, they gave a gift only a dedicated crocheter could love: a kit for this Bicentennial Afghan. Amazingly, there was actually enough yarn to complete the heirloom, which consists of squares of white Tunisian (afghan-stitch) crochet embroidered with patriotic emblems in red, navy and gold, alternating with red and navy double-crochet mesh squares. It’s another unique piece still in our home, kept as a reminder of the celebrations of that bicentennial year.

Afghan #5 (ca. 1980): The Graphic

(Pattern source: Woman’s Day Crochet Showcase ‘“ Galaxy Afghan designed by Mary Ellen Thompson)

(Materials: Red Heart Super Saver 4-ply worsted weight acrylic)

Let me repeat: Are you the type of crocheter who can’t resist a challenge? (and as a side note, are you a glutton for punishment?) A coworker asked for a black & white afghan, so I let her peruse patterns and magazines owned at the time. She chose this one and I agreed to make it for her (fool that I am). I purchased a supply of Red Heart Super Saver 4-ply worsted weight acrylic (again) and commenced this ingenious design by Mary Ellen Thompson. It begins with the seven center circles of brown, white and black. Next are the scalloped sections which echo the center circle motif. The two side panels of stripes are made in rows from lower edge to top, keeping one edge straight while shaping the other with increases/decreases to fit the scallops on the center panel. Assembly proceeds from the center out, then a single crochet edging is worked all round, fringe is added and voila! ‘¦ there is a true masterpiece reflecting the culture of its day.

Guess what? The coworker didn’t want it after all. I laugh now at my fee, including materials: $75, which apparently was thought to be outrageous at the time. All’s well that ends well, however. I still have the afghan in my possession and am able to share its uniqueness with the world through digitized photo storage.

Afghan #6 (ca. 1991): The Square

(Pattern source: Leisure Arts #2055, Baby Blocks ‘“ Rainbow Block by Cathy Hardy)

(Materials: Herrschner’s 2-ply Sport & Afghan Yarn)

This lapghan is included because it has received a lot of comments about the color scheme. Can you believe it was created from ‘mystery yarn’? Every now and then, I find it hard to resist those bargain-priced ‘surprise package’ offers seen in needlework catalogs. In this case, a box of assorted sport weight yarn from Herrschner’s, from which I pulled a variety of golds and greens, supplied the basics for this lapghan. This one-piece block-style afghan designed by Cathy Hardy is worked from the center out, in double crochet with an occasional ‘blip’ of long double crochet to provide contrast and an interesting design feature. It was an easy and enjoyable project whose final destination was a charitable organization in need of lapghans.

Afghan #7 (ca. 1992): The Aran

(Pattern source: Unknown, most likely from a magazine pattern in the ’70s)

(Materials: Bernat Berella 4 worsted weight yarn)

Last but not least, here is one my favorites. This panel-style afghan replicates in crochet the look of a knitted Aran sweater, incorporating diamond motifs, popcorns and cables. Tunisian stitch panels of varying width were worked vertically, following a charted design for placement of the motif designs. Each panel was bordered in single crochet, then joined in a balanced sequence with the largest panel at the center. This afghan is such a beauty that it still graces the back of the sofa in our family room.

Preparing this article brought to mind memories of other afghan projects created then and now: the baby granny I crocheted in five colors for my newborn daughter’s trip home from the hospital in 1980; the partially-finished classic multi-piece granny square afghan kit unearthed at a thrift store; the pink & rose shell-stitch afghan on the foot of my bed; the snowflake afghan that won a ribbon at the county fair; the pineapple square community blanket our online crochet group made for a local teen who suffered serious injury in a car/train accident; the ‘Thinking of You’ lapghan** designed to comfort my aunt shortly before her passing; the just-for-fun afghans with names like ‘Rex the Cat’ and ‘Pretty in Plaid’ (see my Ravelry page under the ID dbknfivec for more information about these projects.)

May you, too, have fond memories of your hand-crocheted afghan projects. Remember to document your efforts and share photos with the world so we can all enjoy carrying on the tradition of afghan-making to decorate our surroundings and bring comfort to others.

*Charitable organizations that accept handmade afghans. Please consult their sites for guidelines:

Project Linus:

Warm Up America:

Care Wear Volunteers:

**Thinking of You Lapghan pattern designed by Kathy North is available FOR FREE at