Tree of Life massacre

These 60 blankets were handmade to comfort families of Tree of Life victims

They’re the product of thousands of hours of intricate work.

A close-up of one of the blankets, featuring the Tree of Life pattern and a bridge design.

A close-up of one of the blankets, featuring the Tree of Life pattern and a bridge design.

Courtesy of Yarns by Design
Rossilynne Culgan

Over the span of four months, people from across the world knitted, crocheted, and sewed blankets to donate to those those affected by the Tree of Life massacre.

After thousands of combined hours, about 60 blankets are nearly complete and ready to donate — a number that exceeds the early estimate of 40-some blankets and well outpaces the original idea to make just one.

“They’re beautiful,” said Natalie Belmont who manages Yarns by Design, the Oakmont shop leading the project. “They’ve all turned out really well.”

The blankets, a patchwork of colors, sit neatly folded at Yarns by Design while donation arrangements are made with the synagogue.

“We want one to go to each of the family members who lost somebody and one for each of the law enforcement injured,” she said, adding that the synagogue can distribute any leftover blankets as it sees fit.

One blanket is specifically earmarked for the family of the Rosenthal brothers, who were among the 11 people killed. “One of the squares in it is from somebody who knew the family and wanted to make sure they got the blanket with that square,” she said.

About 50 Pittsburgh crafters volunteered to sew together 1,000 hand-knit squares, which were sent from as far away as Utah and Scotland.

Yarns by Design hosted “seaming parties” where crafters stitched the squares into blankets. Many volunteers took the blankets home to complete their work and now are crocheting borders to finish their work.

It can take up to five hours to sew the squares together, Belmont estimated, especially given the challenge of working with a variety of pieces. That time is on top of the “thousands of hours” that went into creating the squares, she said.

“Everybody knits and crochets differently, so we definitely got a lot of different sizes,” she said. “We had to work with the different sizes that we got, plus all of the different colors.”

Some of the 1,000 squares submitted to Yarns by Design.

Some of the 1,000 squares submitted to Yarns by Design.

Courtesy of Yarns by Design

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 the synagogue. Yarns by Design shared the post, which quickly went viral, and the project evolved into an idea to make as many blankets as there were squares.

As interest poured in from those across the globe, Yarns by Design Owner Sandra Donatelli said it shows how much people want peace.

“It’s just so overwhelming,” Donatelli previously told The Incline, “and it’s showing how much people care.”