Editor’s note: This guest post, contributed by Mindy Fitterman, my first cousin once removed on my mother’s father’s side, is about my great grandmother and Mindy’s grandmother Fannie Maltz Zagon (1888–1972).
It’s probably my earliest textile memory: considerable weight, the pungent scent of wool, and beautiful colors. Grandma’s afghan is large enough to cover a full-size bed but mostly I remember my mom pulling it out when someone was cold. The color combinations held endless fascination for me. When I went to college, I took it with me…a colorful reminder of home and family. This year, for the first time in a long time, I pulled it out of my blanket chest and put it on my bed. There is was again: the weight, the scent, the colors – my own little blanket of many colors.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Maltz Zagon, made dozens of these afghans from old family sweaters – enough to give at least one to each of her seven children. She even made two small afghans for my dolls.
Most of the afghans had a single unifying color around all the granny squares and the outer border. My mom had one with gray borders, but she had another one that looked different from all the rest; the borders on the squares were different colors. It looked like Grandma used leftovers, and yet she achieved visual unity because of the layout and a framing border of white with green scallops. Matching squares were arranged in stripes of varying length. The stripes were arranged almost symmetrically, but not quite – just enough to keep your eye moving.
Whenever I look at it, I can almost hear Grandma thinking about the colors and the symmetry. Her tight precise stitches speak of determination, strong hands and an exacting eye…and I remember my mother’s cousin Rose telling my mom, “Your mother ran a tight ship.”
Growing up, Grandma was in New York and I was in Colorado, so I never saw these projects unfold. I wonder who got the idea to make the afghans? Were they creative fun or busy work or a little of both? Was anyone else involved in the designs?
Grandma’s life was not easy. She lived in poverty most of her childhood. As a teen, she left school to support the family after her father’s death, and later survived the Great Depression with seven children and an alcoholic husband. As the children married and left home, Fannie faced psychiatric issues and treatment. For years, she moved from the home of one child to another. When I was ten, she lived with my family for a few months, and she taught me to knit and crochet. Eventually, Grandma was institutionalized; the details of that decision are few and far between.
Often, my mother told me that Grandma’s proudest achievement was the survival of all seven of her children….a true accomplishment in her time. (Fannie also inspired future generations to make afghans of their own.) The afghans now scattered among her 14 grandchildren are testament of Fannie’s industry and creativity. Spotting one of the afghans in a cousin’s home is like affirming clan membership. Did Grandma know we would treasure them all these years later and that they would remind us of her?
Mindy Fitterman has been playing with color, paper, and cloth since forever. She is a retired public health nutritionist, now enrolled in the Art Cloth Mastery Program. View her Flickr sets at https://www.flickr.com/photos/minkas_studio/sets/ with photos that link to her blogs.