The good old granny square. If you crochet, you’ve probably made one…or ten…or maybe even hundreds. But did you ever wonder who invented the granny square?

Lots of other people have wondered too. Crochet historians knew it was created in the United States and was first popular in the 1890s. But the earliest published example they could find was from an 1891 book on crochet. They searched through women’s magazines of the era such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, Peterson’s and Dorcas for the original pattern, but to no avail. It seemed like the very first granny square design, and its creator, was lost to the mists of time.

Until now. Because it turns out the original pattern wasn’t published in a women’s fashion magazine. It was published in the last place anyone would expect – a farming magazine. And, after loads of research, we’ve finally found it.

Now, for the first time since April 1885, we can share that very first granny square pattern as well as the designer’s explanation for what inspired her to create it. We’ll talk about how this motif has become a fashion trend over and over again through the decades. We’ll give you seven more amazing granny square patterns that you can create. And we’ll even give you the original granny square pattern, translated into modern crochet terminology (downloadable PDF here) so you can make your own version of the very first granny square!

What Exactly is a Granny Square, Technically?

Nowadays, many crocheted squares, and even other crocheted shapes, are called “granny squares.” There are almost as many variations on granny squares as there are people who crochet them! Before we talk about the history of the granny square, we need to define exactly what a true granny square is.

A traditional granny square is made from yarn. It is worked outward in concentric rows from a central circle. It is made from double crochet and chains, and it has a pattern of triangles and gaps that alternate on rows.

One of the earliest examples we have of a crochet square is the Crochet Square pattern in Théreèse de Dillmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework, published in 1884. However, this does not meet the definition of a granny square for several reasons: it is worked from crochet thread; it does not use double crochet; and it does not have a pattern of triangles and gaps. But it may have provided inspiration for Mrs. Phelps, who designed the very first granny square pattern.

The Very First Granny Square Pattern Was by Mrs. Phelps, from Prairie Farmer Magazine

Prairie Farmer Magazine is exactly what it sounds like – a weekly magazine for farmers on the U.S. prairie. It still exists, and is the oldest continually published magazine still in existence in the United States. The modern edition is strictly limited to farming. But in the 1800s, there were several pages dedicated to the domestic arts. The April 4, 1885 edition contained a page of reporting on the March 14 meeting of the Housekeeper’s Improvement Club, where a Mrs. Phelps presented her pattern for the “Crazy Afghan.” (In the tradition of the time, her first name was not printed; we are currently searching for more information about her.) 

The first granny square, created in 1885 by Mrs. Phelps of Chicago
The original design by Mrs. Phelps, from the April 4, 1885 issue of Prairie Farmer Magazine

I have been trying a new crocheted pattern for an Afghan, which is on the principle of the crazy work so popular now. [Editor’s note: see below for an explanation of the 1880s “crazy work” trend.] It is made in strips of the desired length, and with two of the blocks, which I have brought, forming the width (fig. 2). The long strips are crocheted together with a double chain stitch which is twisted, and of any two desirable colors. The small blocks can be sewn or drawn together, so as to make a perfect square, this joining being done on the wrong side. The idea is to have the blocks appear as one straight strip. Use Germantown wool [Editor’s note: Germantown was the top US yarn brand at the time], the colors of the block being bright and varied to one’s taste, but the outer edge of each is black.

Are you ready to make this lovely, elegant little piece of history? Go straight to the free Mrs. Phelps Granny Square Pattern!

Or keep reading to learn even more about the history of the granny square!

What Was Crazy Work, Anyway?

In the 1880s, a type of fibre artistry called “crazy work” was all the rage in the United States, and soon around the world. For this motif, sewists and fibre artists made blankets and clothing from pieced-together, oddly shaped, vividly coloured scraps. You may have seen some “crazy quilts” yourself; they are still popular. “Crazy” in this case did not mean “mad” but instead “crooked” or “askew.” 

During this very first wave of “crazy quilts,” the blocks shared some very specific design elements. As printed in Dorcas Magazine, “let your blocks abound in triangles, angles of all denominations…lay the edges [of the squares] together…and join with strips of black velvet ribbon.” Embroiderers soon emulated this with bands of embroidery in an unusual, brightly coloured mosaic of shapes bordered in black. It was no surprise that a crocheter would create a pattern that was inspired by the height in fashion, using brilliantly coloured wool bordered by plain black in a nod to the quilting style.

This was not the only “crazy afghan” pattern published at the time. Godey’s Magazine published a pattern of the same name in 1884. But it didn’t look anything like this. Unlike the Godey’s pattern, the one created by Mrs. Phelps would go on to be popular all over the world.

But I Thought Granny Squares Came From Colonial America!

Publications such as Martha Stewart Magazine dated the granny square pattern to the early 1700s in the USA. They said that the granny square pattern was created by “thrifty settlers faced with a dearth of warm textiles” and that yarn was rare in those days. The pattern was inspired by necessity, because there was so little yarn to work with that they had to make do with scraps.

We asked Jay and Lara Templin, Colonial-era historical interpreters for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Virginia USA, whether any of this was true. The first thing we learned was the settlers had plenty of yarn. “Spinning was done by everyone capable and yarn was often easier for younger kids to make than fine thread,” Lara Templin said. 

More importantly, crochet did not yet exist in Europe or the United States. “I’m not aware of a single verified example of European or American crochet in the 17th or 18th century,” Jay Templin said. Crochet-type hooks were used for lacemaking, but not for what we now know as crochet. Blankets in this era were strictly made of woven fabric. “We don’t see any knit or crocheted blankets in the colonies at all; they show up in the U.S. in the middle 19th century,” he said. “They did make bed hook rugs reminiscent of latch hooking,” Lara Templin said, but these were not crochet and did not have the interlocking stitches of a granny square. Instead, they looked like, well, rugs.

It isn’t likely that the pattern originated earlier in the 19th century, either. Even in the 1880s, crochet techniques were largely used to make lacy, delicate creations. Crochet with worsted weight yarn was still unusual when Mrs. Phelps wrote her pattern. The other crochet pattern published in that issue of Prairie Farmer was a lace pattern, and the crochet patterns published in magazines like Godey’s were also for lace-style work. Mrs. Phelps’ design, using worsted weight wool to create thick, bold strokes of colour, was definitely edgy and innovative for the period.

Based on all available evidence, including her letter explaining the inspiration for the design, Mrs. Phelps is the originator of the granny square.

But How Did a Granny Square Pattern By A Country Farmer’s Wife Get So Popular?

Mrs. Phelps was not necessarily a farmer’s wife. Prairie Farmer Magazine was published in Chicago, which by 1885 was one of the most prominent cities in the United States. And that’s where the Housekeeper’s Improvement Club was located. Though Prairie Farmer Magazine was published in Chicago and focused on farming in the region, letters to the Housekeeper’s Improvement Club came from across the country. It’s clear that the magazine was read nationwide. The Housekeeper’s Improvement Club columns were also quoted in other newspapers across the nation. So it’s likely that women across the country saw the Mrs. Phelps “Crazy Afghan” pattern and began adapting it to their own preferences.

1891 Granny Square design
Granny square example from 1891’s The Art of Crocheting

It may have gotten another boost. Shell Heise found that the image of the “Crazy Afghan” ran again in Prairie Farmer in July 1890, this time with crochet instructions by a Mrs. Clay. Mrs. Clay called this a pattern for a “slumber robe.” At the time, this did not refer to a bathrobe, but instead was another term for an afghan. Mrs. Clay’s instructions use slightly different wording, but give an identical pattern, and they don’t credit Mrs. Phelps at all. It is possible that Mrs. Clay learned the pattern from Mrs. Phelps. It is also possible that Mrs. Clay was Mrs. Phelps; if her first husband had died and she had remarried, she would have taken on her new husband’s name.

Possibly due to this second appearance of the design in Prairie Farmer, Mrs. Phelps’ little pattern spread. Variants of it appeared in other publications, although she was never credited elsewhere for developing the pattern. Crochet artist Vashti Braha reported an example (previously thought to be the first published granny square pattern) in the 1891 volume The Art of Crocheting, where it was called “Block for a Slumber Robe,” a title that ties in with the 1890 appearance in Prairie Farmer. The image is shown to the right here; it is very similar to Mrs. Phelps’ design, but adds an additional row and does not have the elegant border of the original. The article has an image but no pattern, stating, “The engraving clearly states the method of making.” It also notes that, just like Mrs. Phelps’ pattern, “…the outside edge of every block is made with black wool.”

Other variants would appear in the 1890s – but then it vanishes until the 1930s.

Mrs Phelps Granny Square and The Art of Crocheting Granny Square
The Mrs. Phelps Granny Square is on the left. The Art of Crocheting granny square is on the right.
1930s granny square sport coat

The 1930s Granny Square Trend

Why did the granny square get its popular name in the 1970s? We surmise it was because everyone’s grandmother had made an afghan using some variant of Mrs. Phelps’ pattern in the early 1930s, when the motif saw a surge in popularity. As writer Dora Ohrenstein of Crochet Insider notes, the traditional black-bordered granny square blanket pattern that we know and love is featured in the 1930 edition of Fleischer’s Afghans.

There are many other examples of the granny square worked into patterns from the 1930s, such as the “sport coat” pattern here. Many of the women crocheting these patterns in the 1930s would become the grandmothers of the women born in the 1950s who made granny squares a peak trend in the 1970s. Some of you reading may have a hand-me-down 1930s granny square afghan. (Your humble writer does!)

The 1970s: Mrs. Phelps’ Granny Square Becomes an Icon

Heirloom 1930s granny square afghan
Heirloom granny square blanket from the 1930s, according to family lore

The granny square afghan was ubiquitous in the 1970s and has become an iconic piece of handiwork. If you grew up during this era in North America or the UK, you would have seen it in the homes of family members and friends. Granny square afghans appear so frequently in TV and movies that the website Slate published an investigative piece titled “Why Do TV Characters Own the Same Old Weird Blanket?” (Although writer Laura Bradley called it “objectively unattractive,” which – ahem – beg to differ, Laura!)

Granny squares weren’t just used in afghans. They were used in shirts, pants, bags, for planters, potholders, skirts…anything that could be made from a granny square was made from a granny square. Though the black border was still traditional, people experimented with every colour of the rainbow. 

Also Read: 8 Free Runway-Worthy Crochet Patterns

Your favourite fibre craft has become the top runway trend from New York to Milan. It has been shown in season after season and it’s not going away anytime soon. Crochet is once again considered haute couture. It’s being used everywhere, from cardigans to hats to handbags to bikinis to pants that look like they might have re-used the squares from Grandma’s old afghan. Here are 8 free patterns that look like what you’re seeing in fashion shows. Read More

The 2020s: Mrs. Phelps’ Creation Trends Once Again

But now granny squares are not just a retro icon. As reported in WhoWhatWear, the Sydney Morning Herald and L’Officiel, crochet has been on-trend since 2019 (heralded by a landmark fashion show by designer Ashish Gupta), and granny squares are leading the way. 

And now we know the name of the woman responsible for the trend. Mrs. Phelps, a member of the Housekeeper’s Improvement Club of Chicago in 1885, created a pattern that has become popular over and over and over again. Her creation now has hundreds, if not thousands, of variants made by fibre artists around the world. There was no way that Mrs. Phelps could know how iconic her pattern would become.

Perhaps we should begin calling them “Mrs. Phelps Squares!”

7 Free Granny Square Afghan Patterns

Plus the Complete Original Mrs. Phelps Granny Square Pattern

We have no way to know, but we hope that Mrs. Phelps would be delighted by the ways her idea has inspired designers over and over again across the decades. Click here to go straight to the free Mrs. Phelps Granny Square pattern!

WATG | Here Comes The Sun

Here Comes the Sun

Wool and the Gang has created a lovely granny square afghan with a sun motif in the centre of each square. Buy the Wool and the Gang Here Comes the Sun Blanket kit and get the pattern and all the yarn you need to make it! 

Classic Granny Square Blanket

Classic Granny Square Blanket

Jenn from Life Adorned has created a free Classic Granny Square Blanket pattern, which also links to a pattern for a traditional granny square. If you are aiming for a traditional look, this is your pattern! Try Malabrigo Rios yarn, which is worsted weight, smooth and has some colour variability from dye lot to dye lot – which is a plus in this case! 

Flower Granny Square

Flower Granny Square

Especially for beginners, TheSpruce created a free Flower Granny Square crochet pattern. Join up the squares to make an afghan, a bag, a pair of pants…use your imagination! And Lily Sugar ‘n Creme yarn is the smooth, brightly coloured yarn that would be a good fit for this.

Babushka Vintage Grannies

Babushka Vintage Grannies

The Babushka Vintage Grannies afghan by Hooked on Sunshine pulls in lacy elements that would have been so stylish when Mrs. Phelps created her original granny square pattern in 1885. It’s a truly unique spin on a traditional pattern. This is designed for DK weight yarn. We would recommend Uneek DK for the colourful elements of the squares, because it would create gorgeous colour pools similar to the colour variability in the original design, while Broadway NZ Merino DK would work well for the portions that call for a solid colour.

Hooked on Grannies

Hooked on Grannies

Another pattern by Hooked on Sunshine, Hooked on Grannies, creates wild bursts of colour with unique designs in each and every square. It’s truly a showstopper. Broadway Purely Wool DK has the vibrant colours you’re looking for to create this one.

Granny Square Baby Blanket

Granny Square Baby Blanket

The free Granny Square Baby Blanket pattern by Daisy Cottage Design is one big square. It crochets up quickly, and would make a lovely baby gift! This calls for a worsted weight yarn as touchable as it is durable, and Wool and the Gang’s Feeling Good yarn fits the bill.

Hexagon Burst

Hexagon Burst

The Hexagon Burst pattern by Rachele Carmona is a bright, complex burst of wild colour. If you want to step up the difficulty from squares, this is the afghan to make! Zealana Rimu DK will give you the rich colours this pattern calls for as well as the luxurious softness it demands.

FREE: The Original Mrs. Phelps Granny Square Pattern, With Updated Notation by Ruth Walden

Below is Mrs. Phelps’ original pattern. However, crochet notation at the time was not as we know it today and the original pattern can be hard to navigate. Ruth has translated Mrs. Phelps’ original text into modern US and UK crochet terminology so that anyone can make it. She used Broadway Purely Wool DK for this example, which is a modern yarn that is similar to the Germantown yarn from 1885, but you could use many yarns to make this beautiful, elegant granny square.

The blue used for the edge is in order to make the stitching more visible in the photos; Mrs. Phelps’ original design used black. If you want to be a traditionalist, you can use black…or whatever colour your heart desires! Yarn weights also were not as well defined in this era; according to David J. Jeremy, in the 1870s there were at least 50 different yarn weight systems in use. So if you want to make an authentic Mrs. Phelps Granny Square, you have a lot of latitude when it comes to yarn weight!

Download the original Mrs. Phelps Granny Square crochet pattern with US and UK crochet terminology! (PDF format)

We’ve italicized Mrs. Phelps’ original text below; Ruth’s translations are in normal text.

1st row: Make a chain of a circle; then over that work 12 long stitches, and fasten together the worsted by drawing through 2 or 3 stitches, and fasten, and cut it off.

US Crochet Terms

Start with a slip knot and chain 4

dc into the first chain formed. The remaining 3 chain are counted as a dc. Make 10 more dc stitches into the beginning chain. You will have 12 dc in total, including the 3 chain at the beginning.

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning of the row. Fasten off.

Count 12 dc

UK Crochet Terms

Start with a slip knot and chain 4

tr into the first chain formed. The remaining 3 chain are counted as a tr. Make 10 more tr stitches into the beginning chain. You will have 12 tr in total, including the 3 chain at the beginning

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning of the row. Fasten off.

Count 12 tr

Chaining 4 to start the Mrs Phelps Granny Square
Chain 4
Mrs Phelps Granny Square: Closing the row
Close the row
Mrs Phelps Granny Square: The center of the square, completed
The finished centre

2nd row: With another color worsted, start a shell between any of the 12 stitches in the preceding row. The shell consists of 6 long stitches, with one chain between the 3rd and 4th stitches. Make 4 of these shells; join the 1st and 4th, and finish off the end of the worsted as before.

US Crochet Terms

With a slipstitch join the new colour between any 2 dc in the previous row. Chain 3. These are counted as the first dc. Complete 2 more dc, 1 chain, then 3 more dc in the same space. This will form the first corner. 

Skip 3 dc in the previous row and make the 2nd corner by working 3 dc,1 chain and 3 dc. Repeat this for the 3rd and 4th corners.

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning for the row. 

Fasten off.

Count 24 dc and 4 x 1 chain corners

UK Crochet Terms

With a slipstitch join the new colour between any 2 tr in the previous row. Chain 3. These are counted as the first dc. Complete 2 more dc, 1 chain, then 3 more dc in the same space. This will form the first corner. 

Skip 3 tr in the previous row and make the 2nd corner by working 3 tr,1 chain and 3 tr. Repeat this for the 3rd and 4th corners.

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning for the row. 

Fasten off.

Count 24 tr and 4 x 1 chain corners

Mrs Phelps Granny Square: Beginning the second row
Joining in the new colour and forming the first corner
Mrs Phelps Granny Square: Completed second row
The completed second row

3rd row: With another color, make a shell of 6 long stitches, with one chain between the 3rd and 4th stitches, in the centre of the shell of the preceding row. One each side between these shells make 3 long stitches; finish off the same as for 1st and 2nd row.

US Crochet Terms

With a slipstitch join the new colour in the 1 chain centre space between the 2 groups of 3 dc in the previous row. Chain 3. These are counted as the first dc. Complete 2 more dc, 1 chain, then 3 more dc in the same space. This will maintain the shape of the first corner. 

Skip 3 dc in the previous row and work 3 dc in the space, then in the 2nd corner work 3 dc,1 chain and 3 dc. Repeat this for the 3rd and 4th sides. 

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning for the row. 

Fasten off.

Count 36 dc and 4 x 1 chain corners

UK Crochet Terms

With a slipstitch join the new colour in the 1 chain centre space between the 2 groups of 3 tr in the previous row. Chain 3. These are counted as the first tr. Complete 2 more tr, 1 chain, then 3 more tr in the same space. This will maintain the shape of the first corner. 

Skip 3 tr in the previous row and work 3 tr in the space, then in the 2nd corner work 3 tr,1 chain and 3 tr. Repeat this for the 3rd and 4th sides. 

Close the row by slip stitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning for the row. 

Fasten off.

Count 36 tr and 4 x 1 chain corners

Mrs. Phelps Granny Square: Beginning the third row
Third row, maintaining the shape of the corner
Mrs. Phelps Granny Square: Completign the third row
Completed third row

4th row: With the block, make one long stitch between each stitch of the preceding row, except at the centre of the shell and the stitch on each side of it; putting 2 stitches in each place on each corner. Crochet with fine bone needle.

US Crochet Terms

With a slip stitch, join the 4th colour to the 1 chain space in the corner between the two groups of 3 dc. Work 4 chain and 1 dc. This counts as 2 dc and 1 x 1 chain space.

Between the stitches of the previous row, work 1 dc to the corner. You will have worked 9 dc before working the corner. 

In the corner work 1 dc, 1 chain and 1 dc. Work 9 dc along each side, and 1 dc, 1 chain, 1 dc in each corner. 

On the last side finish after working the 9 dc.

Close the row by slipstitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning of the row. 

Count 44 dc and 4 1 chain spaces.

UK Crochet Terms

With a slip stitch, join the 4th colour to the 1 chain space in the corner between the two groups of 3 tr. Work 4 chain and 1 tr. This counts as 2 tr and 1 x 1 chain space.

Between the stitches of the previous row, work 1 tr to the corner. You will have worked 9 tr before working the corner. 

In the corner work 1 tr, 1 chain and 1 tr. Work 9 tr along each side, and 1 tr, 1 chain, 1 tr in each corner. 

On the last side finish after working the 9 tr.

Close the row by slipstitching into the top of the 3 chains at the beginning of the row. 

Count 44 tr and 4 1 chain spaces.

Mrs. Phelps Granny Square: Beginning the border
The border row in progress
Two completed Mrs. Phelps Granny Squares
Two completed Mrs. Phelps Granny Squares

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