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Austin woman has crafted more than 300 Afghans

When the Mower County Fair was looking to give new life to used champion blue ribbons, they didn’t have to look much further than Darlene Hayden.

Hayden, who has claimed dozens of ribbons for her Afghan blankets, said she gave many of them back to the fair years ago when organizers were looking to do some recycling.

She didn’t mind parting with a few ribbons, she said, and she still has a cabinet full of them in her Austin home.

By her estimation, Hayden has crafted more than 300 Afghans throughout the time of her roughly 50-year hobby.

Her six grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren each have several to call their own. She’s also given them away as gifts to all her friends — including two couples who celebrated 50th anniversaries this year.

Hayden has yet to decide whether she will enter an Afghan into this year’s fair, and she is currently busy stitching a blanket for herself.

“I think I have made 17 of these to give out,” Hayden said of a particular beloved pattern. “That’s why this one is mine, and I’ll never make another like it.”

Hayden, now almost 80-years-old, began the craft when she was about 6, living on a country farm.

“My grandmother taught me,” she recalled. “We were very poor… And me grandfather would go out and whittle crochet hooks for us.”

She and her grandmother would then make rugs out of old material torn into strips, she said. Later, Hayden learned to make quilts and doilies.

“Years later, at the old yarn shop, I saw Afghan patterns, and they just caught my eye,” Hayden said. “That’s where it started.”

Her talent took some refining, she said. But soon enough friends and family were encouraging her to enter her colorful Afghans in the Rochester and Mower County fairs.

She has since been named grand champion in each fair she’s entered. In one Rochester fair, she was both the grand champion and grand champion runner up.

“That was just really fun,” she recalled.

Though Hayden’s children and grandchildren love having the blankets around their homes, Hayden said that only one has opted to take up the family craft herself.

“My daughter in Michigan just recently decided to learn,” she said.

Hayden advises anyone interested in becoming an Afghan connoisseur to pick up how-to books or videos from the library. Then, they should try to find someone experienced to ask questions along the way.

“You just have to learn that beginning stitch. Then, it takes practice, like anything else,” Hayden said.

“Some of my original ones, I wouldn’t even want to admit are mine,” she added with a laugh. “But then I think that I have made nicer ones, that I hope were special gifts for people.”