Sparkt Bridges

"Viral" Knitting Project Comforts Tree Of Life Victims

The idea of making a comforting afghan for one Tree of Life family goes viral. Organizers now need help "seaming" together squares for 50+ blankets contributed by knitters around the world.


This story is the first in a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The "Sparkt Bridges: Stories That Connect Us" Series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

"Knitting doesn't go viral!" That was knitting instructor Vanessa Picard's shocked reaction when she heard that her idea to make an afghan for someone affected by the October 27 massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill had gotten thousands of social media hits. In fact, there were enough volunteers to knit blankets for every family who lost someone in the tragedy - and then some!

See how something Picard's young daughter said after the tragedy turned into a project that is building bridges between people who will never meet, and letting the world know Pittsburgh is "better than" the tragedy.

Vanessa and her colleagues at " Yarns by Design " Shop in Oakmont still can't get their minds around the way the small idea went viral. It started when Vanessa and her husband soothed their 9-year old daughter Eliana with her childhood blanket after the massacre. Eliana said she wished the victims' families could feel as comforted as she did.

Vanessa stayed up all that night knitting the first "tree of life" design square (borrowed, with permission, from Pittsburgh native and knitting designer Nicky Epstein ). She decided to ask her friends to to join her so work on a whole afghan would go more quickly. The manager of "Yarns by Design" invited their customers to make squares too, and the idea quickly grew. Now the group has squares of many colors and designs from knitters around the world, enough to make at least 50 afghans.

What organizers need now is volunteers to help "seam" the squares into full afghans. Yarns by Design (622 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont 15139) will host sewing sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday Jan. 25 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday Jan. 26. Space is limited, so call 412-794-8332 to register, or e-mail intructors@YarnsByDesignPA.com. The shop also has blanket kits available for people to take home and seam. They're due back by Feb. 1.

The finished afghans (the one above was made by a group of knitters in Utah) will be donated to the three congregations affected by the tragedy, which have already formed a committee to decide how to distribute them. Picard is hoping that two blankets with uniquely special squares will go to two specific families (watch the video story to find out which ones and why). For her it all comes back to her daughter's small idea, that through willing and caring people around the world, has grown so big.

"If you see someone hurting and you have a way to help them you should help them." Vanessa Picard, organizer, Tree of Life Afghan Project

You might also like:

Update: Tree of Life Afghans Almost Ready to Go

Pittsburgh Native Runs First Marathon Honoring 11 Tree of Life Victims

Oakmont Bakery Aims to be a Destination

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life changing medicine.

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