Crafters across the world knitted and crocheted more than 1,000 squares to be stitched into blankets for Tree of Life synagogue.
Stacks of squares in a rainbow of hues — dark blue, pastel lavender and deep green — now sit in neat rows at Yarns by Design, the Oakmont yarn shop coordinating the project.
Yarns by Design began collecting the squares shortly after the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Squirrel Hill synagogue, and knitters responded in droves, sending hand-crafted contributions to Oakmont from across the United States, Canada and Europe.
“We had multiple post people coming in multiple times a day — FedEx, UPS, and the Post Office. They were bringing in the postal service boxes filled with them — multiple ones a day,” Yarns by Design manager Natalie Belmont said. “It was very emotional.”
Beginning in January, Yarns by Design will coordinate with local crafters to sew the blankets together. Once completed, the blankets will be donated to Tree of Life, and the synagogue can use them as wish. Belmont estimates that the squares will make 40 to 50 blankets by February.
The squares alone account for “thousands of hours” of work, Belmont said. Though each knitter works at their own pace, she said, it can take eight hours to complete just one square.
Yarns by Design also received two completed blankets, one following the “Tree of Life” pattern from an individual knitter and the other a patchwork of many patterns from The Wool Cabin in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Many knitters submitted cards or letters with their squares, and Yarns by Design will donate those with the completed blankets.
“We had a few people say that they had family members that were Holocaust survivors,” Belmont said about the letters.
The project initially began with an idea from Yarns by Design knitting instructor Vanessa Picard and her 9-year-old Eliana Wellman to make one 54-square blanket. Upon hearing the news about Tree of Life, Wellman wanted to “give everybody a hug who was hurting.”
Picard knitted a yellow square from the pattern “Tree of Life” and posted it on Facebook, asking friends to contribute a knitted or crocheted square to make an afghan that would be donated to Tree of Life. Yarns by Design shared the post, which quickly went viral, and the project evolved into an idea to make as many blankets as there are squares.
“They’re handmade,” Belmont said, “and I feel like it just symbolizes comfort and warmth.”
How you can still help
If you knit
While collection officially ended Dec. 1, Belmont said they won’t turn away submissions as long as they’re received before blanket crafting begins in January. Designs can be mailed to Yarns by Design (622 Allegheny River Blvd.; Oakmont, PA 15139) or dropped off in-person at the store. Here are pattern suggestions and more details.
If you sew or quilt
Volunteers will be able to sign up for several assembly sessions held in January at Yarns by Design or can take the quilts home to assemble. Those with sewing skills can email instructors@YarnsByDesignPA.com and info@YarnsByDesignPA.com for more information.