How to help knit and crochet blankets for Tree of Life synagogue

The idea came from a 9-year-old in Fox Chapel — and now crafters from around the world are helping.

An example of the Tree of Life knit square.

An example of the Tree of Life knit square.

Courtesy of Vanessa Picard
Rossilynne Culgan

When 9-year-old Eliana Wellman heard about the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, she wanted to “give everybody a hug who was hurting.”

“She said, ‘like my blanket hugs me,'” said her mom Vanessa Picard of Fox Chapel. “I said, ‘We can make a blanket that will hug them,’ and that seemed to calm her down.'”

So 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, the Oakmont yarn shop where Picard works as a knitting instructor, wanted to help, so they posted about it on social media, too, and “it took off.”

At least 700 people have expressed interested in contributing from across the globe — from New York, Wisconsin, Utah, California, Canada, and Japan, Yarns by Design Manager Natalie Belmont told The Incline.

There’s even interest from those who don’t sew. A mother and daughter from Squirrel Hill, for example, told Yarns by Design that they would like to bring food for those putting together the blankets.

The surge of calls and emails shows how much people want peace, no matter their religion, said Yarns by Design Owner Sandra Donatelli.

“It’s just so overwhelming,” Donatelli said, “and it’s showing how much people care.”

With so much support, the idea to make one 54-square blanket evolved into making as many blankets as there are squares, Picard said, adding that they’ll donate the afghans to Tree of Life, and the synagogue can use them as want to.

“(A blanket) symbolizes warmth and comfort and home. When that blanket is handmade, I think it conveys an extra layer of caring,” Picard said. “The recipient knows that someone sat for hundreds and hundreds of hours doing something for them.”

In hindsight, she said she should have expected the massive outpouring of support.

“We should have known that this community would rise up like this,” she said. “That’s just what Pittsburgh is like.”

How to help

If you sew or quilt

Putting together the afghans will be a major project, and Yarns by Design is looking for people who can sew or quilt to help them assemble the squares. Picard expects to begin assembling the afghans in January.

Those with sewing skills can email [email protected] and [email protected] for more information.

If you knit or crochet

Knitters and crocheters are invited to submit squares in any color with “whatever speaks to them,” Picard said, whether it’s intertwined trees, a Star of David, a heart, dove, peace symbol, falling leaves, or simply a blank square.

One person even plans to knit their square to show the initials of one of the Tree of Life victims, Donatelli said.

Patterns and more information can be found on Ravelry, a free social media website for knitters and crocheters. Search for “Yarns by Design” on the site.

Crafters are asked to indicate their name and city with their design, so Picard can compile a list thanking each contributor.

Designs are due by 1 p.m. Dec. 1 and can be mailed to Yarns by Design (622 Allegheny River Blvd.; Oakmont, PA 15139) or dropped off in-person at the store.