26 April 1996
A Cultural Artifact: The Afghan
Technological advances are rampant in our society today, and we are becoming a busier people each day. In such a fast-paced era, it is sometimes beneficial to return to simplicity. One may choose to "get away from it all" by taking a drive in the country or by simply taking a relaxing hot bath. It does not always have to be the things which one does, however, to bring peace and comfort to the individual. It could very well be the possessions that one has. An old teddy bear, perhaps, may ease loneliness and add comfort. One item of comfort used historically is an afghan. An afghan is more than a blanket; it is tranquillity.
The dictionary defines an afghan as "a blanket or shawl of colored wool, knitted or crocheted in strips or squares which are joined by sewing or crocheting (McCall's 7)." Though this may in fact be true of afghans, the definition does not capture the true beauty of afghans. Not only are they nice to look at, they are an element of peace, warmth, and happiness. Generally, older afghans are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. An element of family and belonging is held in the warmth of the blanket.
A human being is more than just a mass of different types of cells clumped together. One needs food, shelter, and water in order to survive. However, a person with nothing other than these physical objects can never be complete emotionally or spiritually. The soul can never be at ease without more worldly, pleasurable objects. An afghan is a combination of the commodities of survival and emotional gratification.
No two afghans are exactly alike, just as all humans are unique and individual. There may be a common pattern which uses the same stitches, but there is always something particular about a hand-made object. It has been written, "now that you have yarn and hook or needles in hand, the next consideration, certainly as important as the two preceding ones, comes into play. That is the state of the YOU that you are about to put into your work (Feldman 11)." These directions are even more important than those of the stitching or motions. The importance of the individuality of each afghan makes every one even more important.
Each unique afghan is looked upon as a thing of beauty, despite the differences in them. Each one has special meaning, depending on who created it, for whom it was made, and for what reason. The overall appreciation of these creations exhibits acceptance of variety and differences. It may be a subtle metaphor, but I feel that it shows the ability that lies within all people to deal appropriately with difference.
The general truth is that afghans are made to keep people warm. One may wonder why would one bother to take hours upon hours of time to create a blanket, when in today's society it is far simpler to take a trip to the department store and pick up a nice down comforter. Well, an afghan is part of the American handcraft tradition, an expression of the love and joy of working with the hands, of making something useful and beautiful with the skill of your own fingers (McCall's 7). Keeping this tradition is like tying a community together. One who contributes such a beautiful piece of heritage is most definitely an active contributor to one's community.
One cannot merely exist to be considered a member of a community. One must be willing to devote time and a piece of oneself towards the community and the people in it. I feel that a community is defined as a large group of individuals, each contributing a characteristic unique to them, coming together to live a full and complete life. There are builders, entertainers, cooks, clothiers, and many other types of people. One who knits or crochets afghans is not only one who keeps others warm, but is an historian.
Personally, I do not know how to knit or crochet, so I have yet to make an afghan on my own. I hope to acquire these skills, however, because it has been a tradition in my family for generations. In my house, we have three afghans made by my mother and one made by my grandmother. Here at school, I have an afghan that is very special to me. When I was in eighth grade, I chose the colors that I liked and my mom started on an afghan especially for me. She promised me that I would have it before I left for college. After a great deal of careful stitching, she finished it the day before I left for Trenton State.
I was not upset in the least about the long time span because I knew that my mother took her time so as not to make any mistakes. I also understand that she was constantly busy with other things and the crochet was something that could only be done in her spare time. In between work, driving my brother and me everywhere that we needed to go, and everything else that I took for granted before I moved to school, she found the time to keep her promise to me. Many times she put working on my afghan above some things that she would have rather done.
I will always hold my afghan dear to me because of its origin. I am sure that my afghan is not the only one which contains special meaning. For years these special quilts have been passed down generation to generation, each of them with their own story and nostalgia. As the pieces of an afghan are being sewn together, so are pieces of history, warmth, and love.
x-posted to missgleny and crochet