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Turns out that the term "afghan" does specifically refer to a home-made blanket or throw, often one made by knitting or crocheting in geometric shapes. The reason afghans are sometimes also called throw blankets is that often the materials used to make them would break down or decay so that the blanket would eventually be thrown away. Such blankets were first made in Afghanistan and commonly used yarn to make the blanket with geometric designs and many holes in lacy patterns. In America, the tradition has become to make afghans for decoration, to be draped over a couch or armchair, and for napping or warmth while watching television. Afghans are usually self-made or received as a gift from another crafty person. Come to think of it, what a great gift to share with someone!
I couldn't have said it better myself -- check out this great blog entry by Crafting With Style that sets forth the standard sizes for beds and cribs and gives great pointers on how to choose the right size for the crochet blanket or afghan that you want to make: http://craftingwithstyle.blogspot.com/2008/03/afghan-blanket-sizes.html
There are many ways to make an afghan, using many different designs and techniques, but there are three main types: Mile-a-Minute afghans, Join-as- you-go afghans, and Motif afghans. The Mile-a-Minute afghan usually is made by repeating one or two stitch choices in one continuous piece. This type of afghan is a great starter project for a beginner due to their simple, easy, and repetitive nature. The Join-as-you-go afghan involves making many different pieces, but beginning a piece where another one finishes off, so that the blanket grows as each piece is added on to and completed. The Granny Square afghan is a great example of the third type of afghan, the Motif afghan. Such afghans are comprised of many different motifs, or blocks or squares, made one by one and then later joined all together. The motifs all can be of the same design or each of a different design, but they tend to all be of the same size for easy joining. Making afghans using the motif method is often desirable because it's easy to carry around the materials for each individual square and it doesn't get boring if you choose a number of different designs to make!
It's easy to get confused between the afghan blanket (which is basically any handmade blanket or throw) and the afghan stitch (which is another name for Tunisian crochet). The Tunisian or Afghan crochet technique is a great way to make a blanket, though you will probably need to make 3 or 4 panels and stitch them together to get the width desired. The Afghan stitch (which is not just one stitch but all the different Tunisian stitches) can be used for so much more than blankets -- garments, pillows, washcloths, and hotpads are just the start! Please see our growing Tunisian Crochet category for tips to use with this fun crochet technique.
The traditional granny square is a great foundation for an afghan. Choose 3 coordinating colors and either combine all 3 colors to make each square (alternating which colors you use in the center, middle, and last rows) or use each color to make solid squares. Then lay out the squares into whatever color combination or pattern you desire! Granny squares usually measure about 4 to 5 inches on each side, so you'll need to figure out how long and wide you want your afghan to be, then figure out how many squares you will need. See my tip on how to make the Granny Square!
The crochet magazine Crochet Today! has published a special issue titled "All-Time Best Blankets." This issue has every type of blanket crochet pattern -- for kids and baby, granny square, stripes and chevrons, and for every room. Also included are instructions for the different ways in which to connect motifs, such as "join-as-you-go" and other seaming techniques. The issue is available at most big-box book stores and their online outlets, or call Crochet Today! at 800-865-7240 to order a copy. As Brett Bara, the Editor in Chief, says "everyone loves a cozy handmade blanket."
Making an afghan is a long-term but satisfying project, but first off, you need to decide what kind of afghan you want to create. There are basically 2 kinds: 1) an afghan that is made in one big piece, or 2) an afghan that is a number of pieces (often squares) either sewn or crocheted together. In deciding which kind of afghan you want to work on, think about whether you prefer to make your afghan while you are at home (maybe in front of the TV where your growing afghan will keep you warm as you make it) or while you are commuting or away from home (where it might be easier to take along just enough yarn and supplies to make a few squares, then put them all together later). Either way, an afghan is a great project to work on!
Baby blankets are a great beginner's project and make for wonderful keepsakes. There are a lot of patterns out there for baby blankets, but you can easily create your own as well. The standard measurements for a baby blanket are 30 inches by 36 inches (or about 76 cm by 91.5 cm). As with larger throws and blankets, a baby blanket can be constructed by joining squares and motifs or all in one piece.