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One writer pays homage to an irreplaceable afghan (and an even more irreplaceable woman).

handmade blanketMy favorite handmade gift is this cozy afghan crocheted for me by my late great grandmother. It's perfect for curling up on the sofa with. Photo: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

My great-grandmother, who we called Na, lived to be 100. I was lucky enough to grow up with Na until I was 16. This wise, soft-spoken woman was the picture of warmth. I'd often find her sitting with one of her crochet projects on her lap as she watched The Young & the Restless. I'd curl up next to her on the sofa with my grilled cheese sandwich, and everything felt right in the world.

Crochet was one of Na's greatest talents. I've had a lifelong love of crafts. Coincidence? Probably not.

My great grandmother (who I called Na) holding baby me. Photo: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

Before she passed away, Na managed to crochet a special afghan for each of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (15 of us in total). We're all connected to each other in a special way though Na's handmade afghans, each different but definitely of a common thread (kind of like all of us).

In my early teens, it was my turn. I remember the thrill of going shopping with Na to find the perfect purple yarn (my favorite color, then and now). I watched Na work on my afghan; her aged hands were amazingly nimble. One by one, the stitches magically grew into a blanket. I opened up my finished crochet afghan on Christmas. It was a thrill to finally hold it in my hands!

Now I'm in my thirties, and Na's afghan traveled with me from the house where I grew up to college halfway across the country; then it came with me to my first apartment, and followed me through every apartment I've inhabited in New York, including my current place in Brooklyn, where I live with my husband. The afghan has kept me cozy through many brutal winters, and is a reminder that Na is always with me, wherever I go. Who needs a Snuggie when you've got a handmade treasure like this?

crochet blanketFour crochet afghans that Na made for different family members. Photo: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

This winter, I'm signing up for a knitting class; I'm craft-oriented, but somehow I've never taken the time to learn needle crafts. My mom and aunt both knit and crochet. Now it's my turn to pick up where Na left off.

As for my purple afghan, it's still kicking; no holes, no pulls, and it only gets cozier with age.

Tell me about the best handmade holiday gift
you ever received!

  • Deborah

    Like you, my grandmother (whom we called Mamaw), made wonderful hand-made things. She could crochet and knit, she made "sock monkeys", and, all kinds of little dolls. But, when I was about 15 or 16, my Mamaw asked me what my favorite colors were. I didn't know it, but, at the time, she was planning on making both me, and, my older cousin, Laura, a hand-made quilt. At the time, I told her that peach and light blue were my favorite colors. And, at the time, they were.
    My Mamaw had lived through a time when Polyester was the biggest fashion of the times. And, she had hand-made many of her own clothes, and, I suspect maybe even some for my Dad (because she was his Mom).
    I'm glad that we no longer wear Polyester suits, because, the material, in my opinion, is rather scratchy, and, I can't imagine being dressed in it from head to toe. But, over the years, she'd grown a rather large collection of this type of material. And, she'd saved the scraps.
    I suppose that being as frugal-minded as she was, she planned to someday do something with those scraps, and, she eventually ended up cutting them into quilting squares.
    Finally, one day, Mamaw presented me with the quilt that she'd made for me. It wasn't a Christmas present or anything given over the holidays. In fact, I don't even remember it possibly being a birthday gift. But, what I do remember is that she one day, out of the blue, just bestowed upon me this wonderful quilt that she had made for me. The underside of the quilt was made out of a really soft sheet that was, of course, one of the colors that I had chosen: a soft peach. But, the outside of the quilt had many colors. The quilt was mostly made up of the colors that I had chosen, but, she made it very eye-catching by adding in her own choices as well. She'd picked some maroons, some pinks, and even some light grays. It ended up being one of my prized possessions for many years, and, I displayed it, proudly on my bed, all of the way through high school, and, young adulthood while I was living at home. Then, when I later moved out, I, of course, took it with me.
    Eventually, I married, and, although I was no longer using the quilt (it isn't a convenient size to use as a "throw", it belongs on a queen-sized bed), I made the decision that I would pass it down to my daughter one day.
    My daughter, Faith, is now 9 years-old, and, my Mamaw's quilt is now her bedspread. It's light-weight enough to use in the summer time, while, here in Texas, we have to lower the thermostat considerably. But, it's warm enough, also, in the winter time, if you add a light-weight blanket underneath of it, and, a bed sheet. With those 3 layers, you stay perfectly toasty.
    You can tell by looking at the quilt that she put a lot of meticulous effort into making sure it was done "just right". And, although my Mamaw passed away back in 1996, at the age of 86, I still have, at least, small part of her to share with my daughter.
    Thank you for sharing your story, as, it brought me a happy memory. And, happy holidays to you and your family!


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  • shykiss3

    My great-grandmother lived till she was 90yrs old. She died last year of natural causes. I was lucky enough to know her into my 30's because she passed away last yr when I was 32. Even my daughter who was 4 at the time remembers her. We had 5 generations. She did not knit or make quilts but she was known for her biscuits. She would make these biscuits from scratch that was absolutely delicious. It's good to have memories of our loved ones, because we are able to pass them on to our children and keep the memories and traditions alive. I sure do miss her biscuits. Goodnite.

  • RQ

    I sooo agree. We have to have those memories of our parents/grandparents to pass on.

  • tracy

    my grandma did this too so does my mom and i lover her and this year she made me and my kids snowman they are great and will stay with me forever

  • beemer

    such a great story!! my mother knitted(i never learned) and made scarves and a couple of sleevless sweater vests for me. that was years ago and now she is in heaven and i treasure these items. so nice to hear this story with so much "bad" news in this day and time. merry christmas to all and yes to "Mama" in heaven. miss you so much.

  • silent

    I really love your story. As I sit with my 11 year old son, he is reminded of his grandfather as I read your story to him. He passed away Christmas Eve 2006, but the memories of his love and compassion never leave my sons thoughts. I am also reminded of my own aunt who loved knitting with her arthritic hands. She passed away in her sleep with a smile on her face, so passive. Have a Merry Christmas, and memorable new year with your loved ones.

  • Elsa

    Although neither of my grandmothers were into knitting or crocheting, it is actually me that has started a tradition of making blankets for each of my nieces & nephews as they are born and now have started them for great-niece & great nephews. The first three were of a different color in the same pattern, but now I have since learned to cro-knit and my newest challenge is learning to knit (my first knitting project was a baby blanket which turned out perfectly.) My hope is that one day that each one will be treasured and eventually be passed down to their loved ones. I also made a tradition of buying them their first Christmas stocking and an ornament for each year. What makes it so special is that when my great-niece was born two years ago and Christmas came, my nephew (her father) automatically knew that I wouldn't forget either one.

  • Judy Smith

    Thank you for beloved Grandmother (who we called Nanny) hand made quilts, and we are passing them now to MY Grandchildren....her love lives on.....brings tears to my eyes...

  • carol

    Very sweet story! I also have handmade afghans my grandma crocheted and also my mom. My grandma lived to be 100 too. I'd never get rid of any of the afghans. I have several, more than I need, but I treasure them!

  • donnie

    my favorite all time gift was an afghan my mom made me many years ago, she made one for each of us 5 kids. in all my travels over the last 20 plus years, i still have mine and i treasure it.

  • ingrid

    That was a lovely story, and the throw is still really beautiful, yes. I have some things my mother crocheted (she quilted, too, and I'm starting to get into quilting) and I just got one out of storage that I'd put away. I went over it carefully, just looking at mini holes that I should repair, but mainly, I just held it close to me and smelled it and tried to remember it thrown across the couch when I was a toddler (I've seen pictures). The colors aren't my fav., but I love it. I still have two quilt tops of hers that I need to see to fruition. I have GOT to start quilting. Your story is inspiring--I'm so glad they posted it on AOL. Blessings to you!

  • Elsie Underwood

    I love your story and I love anything having to do with the needlearts and crafts. I learned to knit at the knee of a wonderful woman who lived in the apartment upstairs from us when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Although she was not related to me, I very lovingly referred to her as "Aunt Teresa". She had a warm smile and an inviting way about her. She would welcome me with open arms which incircled me with each of my "knitting lessons" so that we were both facing my knitting. I'm near 70 years old now and to this day, I can hear her soft voice. Almost feel the warmth of her arms around me, as she guided me thru every stitch until I could manage a few on my own. She was so proud of me when I got to the point that I could "roughly" knit small squares on my own!! Because of "Aunt Teresa", I feel very content whenever I pick up my knitting needles. I have two sons and now, one little granddaughter. My sons were never interested in learning those crafts so I look forward to the day that I can show my granddaughter all of the wonderful things she may want to knit for herself. She is only 2 now but, day!!

  • Grammie

    I have spent this year crocheting blankets for all 4 of my grandkids and one for my daughter. Last year I made up family photo albums for each of the grandkids going back as far as my grandparents up to them currently,with a few blank pages for them to add to. I also enclosed family recipes etc. I used albums that had memo space so I could give bio info on each of thier relatives.These kinds of gifts might not thrill kids at the time, but when they're adults it will mean alot more to them. One thing that pleases me to no grandpa was a carpenter his whole life, when he retired at 70, he took to making furniture etc. Each of my grandkids have a piece that he made, whether it be knic knac shelves or a coffee table. Again, as adults they'll appreciate having something thier great-great grandpa made.

  • susieq

    That is a beautiful story and legacy. My first husband's mother did the same for all of her children and grandchildren. She was a beautiful, southern country woman.

  • Von

    I could feel the love in this article; a blessing, indeed! :)

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