Crocheting Granny Squares, Connecting to Grandmothers, and Crafting a More Just Future

Skeins of yarn laid in a row: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, plum, purple.

Recently, I felt inspired to pick up crocheting again, after many seasons without touching a needle, hook, or yarn. Feeling the call for creative self-care, I ordered vegan yarn in the colors of the 7 chakras and laid them out, planning a small afghan of granny squares.

Thread yarn onto hook. Chain five, and connect stitches, making a circle.

Days after purchasing the yarn and only a few stitches into my first granny square, my mom shared some news. Betty, the woman who’d taught me to crochet from the back of her bait and tackle shop in rural East Tennessee, had died of cancer. She’d died as I was casting yarn onto my hook, beginning this new project with red for the root chakra and grounding.

Red yarn cast onto crochet hook and chained into a circle.

Chain three (to count as one double-crochet, or dc), and then add two dc stitches.

The summer before fifth grade (at age 10), I learned to crochet in the bait shop with fish lures, rods, and night crawlers as backdrop. I spent Wednesday afternoons sitting at a counter with Betty—watching her create elaborate projects, as she taught me stitch after stitch. That summer I made several potholders for my mom, a football for my brother, and an afghan for my grandmother. All projects were gifts, just as Betty gifted the blankets she made.

Chain two, and then add another three dc into the circle’s center.

I’d become interested in crocheting after watching my great-grandmother. She crocheted until her 90s and made gifts that decorated the homes of family and friends, near and far. The trouble was we were never in each other’s company long enough for her to teach me, so my mom inquired at work and learned that Betty was willing to become my teacher.

Continue with the pattern: chain two, and add three dc. Chain two, and add three dc.

What followed were weekly tutorials in Betty’s shop, which involved my mom having to rearrange her schedule and transport me to and from daycare during her work day. I was aware of the sacrifice this involved: my mom working longer hours and paying Betty for the lessons. I was aware, too, of her love for me and desire not only to foster my interest in arts and crafts but also to free me from required afternoon naps at daycare, which I despised. To this day, my mom’s efforts feel important as symbolic and literal work to connect me with my great-grandmother and other women crafters in my family. My mom didn’t crochet, but she found a way for me to learn and to see myself as part of this lineage.

Red yarn crocheted into the center round for a granny square to emerge.

Chain two, and use a slip stitch into the top of the first chain of three to finish the round.

In the past few months, especially since spell-casting to heal my concussion, I’ve been thinking about ancestral healing: how to be connected to a lineage of white women, while working to heal the harms associated with white womanhood.

At the same time, I’ve been hearing others share stories and raise questions about ancestral healing—thanks especially to the How to Survive the End of the World and Healing Justice podcasts. And I’m re-reading essays by Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks (among other feminists and womanists of color), who carefully trace ancestry lines and speak of elders with truthful grit, gratitude, and generosity.

I find in these sources language that feels ground-shifting. I see myself recognizing lineage, while highlighting how whiteness has falsely constructed and eroded connections, including with the people who raised me, my mother, and my grandmother.

As I pull on ancestral threads, I’m considering when and how to call on grandmothers for support, while recognizing this lineage as both the perpetuation and denial of white supremacy. What are my responsibilities (response-abilities) as a white woman wanting to heal the harms of whiteness backward and forward in time?

Begin the next round by chaining three in the first “corner” of the granny square. Add two dc.

Through Reiki, I’ve learned to see myself as part of a lineage and to ask for assistance from ancestors and other spirit guides. When opening Reiki, I visualize my teaching lineage, naming teachers in order. I then ask for support in channeling energy, imagining especially two great-grandmothers: Daisy, who crocheted, and Selma, who prioritized daily contemplative practices.

I know too little about these great-grandmothers. What I know is that they both endured and got free from abusive, alcoholic marriages. I don’t doubt that they have their own #metoo stories and stories of enduring and surviving violence. I can see that internalized oppression (inferiority and superiority) were passed through them and the family, reinforcing sexist, racist, and other sorts of bullshit. So, through Reiki, I talk with these white women, women who made my birth possible, asking us to face collectively not only the hurts done to us but also the hurts done by us.

Single granny square with red center and orange outward layers (7 rows in total).

Continue the pattern, using dc and chains to construct granny squares.

Granny square. There—in the name of this craft pattern—is the connection to lineage: to grandmothers, those by blood and those by human kinship.

Betty, who taught me to crochet, became an elder (now ancestor) connecting me to granny squares and grandmothers. Her death from cancer occurred as I was reading Alice Walker’s “Longing to Die of Old Age”—making intimately real for me the connections among environmental destruction, detached food systems, and dehumanizing structures that Walker correlates historically with cancer becoming commonplace. I see before me lifespans limited by the loss of right relationship with the earth, each other, and ourselves. I grieve, and I pray, and I commit again to righting wrongs.

I’m understanding more and more that repairing relationships involves the both/and of looking backward (reckoning with the past) and looking forward (imaginatively creating the future). This both/and of repairing relationships involves honoring those who have taught and raised me and honoring a commitment to justice by naming, truth-telling, and healing wrongs associated with my upbringing and ancestral lineage.

Multiple stacked granny squares, balls of colorful yarn, and crocheting in process.

Repeat process to create multiple granny squares, sew in the loose ends, and then stitch-and-sew squares together to assemble an afghan.

Stitch by stitch, I talk with grandmothers through the movement of my hands, through embodied-soul-connection that speaks beyond words.

I’m far away from understanding ancestral healing, but I’m committed to healing with my whole body: heart, head, and hands. I’m hopeful that crocheting will allow me to keeping pulling on threads of the past (memories held in my body, if not yet in my head)—toward building, assembling, and crafting a more just present and future.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Reclaiming Childhood Power with Coloring Books” and “Revisiting Fear Through Walker’s Essay ‘Everything Is a Human Being.’Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Author: Beth Godbee

I’m an educator living in Washington, D.C. with connections to many places, including Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Georgia. I write from my identities as a white, feminist teacher and researcher; reiki and yoga practitioner; hiker and vegan. My deepest commitments are to equity, justice, and peace. These commitments lead me to write about intersectional identities, embodiment, power, and rights, among other matters. In this blog, I document my ongoing efforts, struggles, and attitude of “try-try again” to align with these commitments.

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