Shop’s project makes blankets for Tree of Life families

PITTSBURGH (AP) — When Yarns by Design, an Oakmont yarn shop, launched the Tree of Life Afghan Project after a horrific shooting at the Squirrel Hill synagogue to show support for those who worshipped there, the response was overwhelming. By early December, more than 1,000 knitted or crocheted squares had arrived from across the globe.

Now volunteers will be working to complete the project by seaming the squares into an estimated 50 blankets.

The shop hopes to have everything ready for February delivery to the three congregations that had worshipped at the Tree of Life synagogue, said Natalie Belmont, manager at Yarns by Design.

“We’ll see how quickly we can finish,” she said.

The idea originated during a conversation between 9-year-old Eliana Wellman and her mother, Vanessa Picard, who is an instructor at Yarns by Design.

The mass shooting in which 11 people were killed and another six were wounded occurred on Oct. 27 in the building where three congregations — Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light — worshipped on that Sabbath morning. On that day, Eliana was out running errands with her father and brother. When they heard about it, they returned home and spent the rest of the day “watching the news and crying,” Ms. Picard said.

She and her husband tried to explain the event to the children.

“Eliana has a lovey blanket, like Linus’, and we got that blanket and wrapped her in it. It calmed her down,” Ms. Picard said.

“My daughter is a very empathetic kid. She said she wished everyone else who was hurting could have a blanket, and I suggested we make one.”

Ms. Picard designed a square pattern that featured trees, and she stayed up into the night knitting it in sunny yellow.

“I realized I needed at least 30 of these to make an afghan and decided to reach out on Facebook,” she said. “I thought probably a handful of my friends who knit would pitch in a square or two. Natalie is one of my Facebook friends and she said, ‘I think this has legs.’ She put it on the Yarns by Design site two days later just hoping for enough help to get the one blanket finished.

“And it exploded.”

Ms. Picard continued: “I got a phone call from Natalie and she said, ‘It’s gone viral.’ I said ‘You mean a few hundred?’ and she said, ‘No.'”

Within a week there were 20,000 views shared hundreds of times. Ms. Belmont and Ms. Picard moved the information to Ravelry, a social media site for those who knit, crochet or do other fiber hand work.

The squares poured in to the yarn shop, which Ms. Picard credits with “really taking over the logistics.” Multiple deliveries began arriving daily from the post office, FedEx and UPS.

They arrived from all over the U.S., Germany, Norway and Scotland, and a lot from Canada, the women said. A complete blanket came from Salt Lake City and two are on their way from Long Island, N.Y.

When several came in from the Sacramento, Calif., area, they wondered why, until Ms. Picard heard from an old friend who was a member of a knitting group at the University of California at Davis and had seen the social media post. They also received squares from a Princeton University knitting group in New Jersey.

Many of the squares come with cards or letters. Several contributors have family members who were Holocaust survivors. One wanted her square to be part of a blanket that would be given to the family of slain brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal. She lives in Colorado but knew the family.

The words blanket and afghan have been used interchangeably when talking about the project, but all will be bigger than lap size. A Star of David pattern and one for a plain square were provided along with the tree pattern designed by Ms. Picard, which requires a more experienced craftsperson. They have also received peace signs, peace doves and a couple of menorahs.

Participants could choose their own colors and materials as long as they were washable. Some have to be blocked — soaked and laid out flat so that they sit flat in the blanket — and yarn shop customers have been taking squares home to help with that.

A customer who is a member of one of the three congregations that lost members during the shooting told her rabbi about the project. The information was passed on to a committee formed to receive donations.

“We want to see that each of the family members who were affected receive a blanket first,” Ms. Belmont said. “After that, Tree of Life may distribute the remaining blankets as it wishes.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2FePrX7

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Information from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

https://www.post-gazette.com/

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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