‘Knit the Bridge’ legacy to live on in scarf knitting

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I’m going to stick my neck out and say everyone could use a good scarf.

Especially if that scarf was hand-knitted as part of the “Knit the Bridge” project that artfully draped the Andy Warhol Bridge last summer.

It’s Open Studio Night tonight at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse in North Point Breeze, where knitters and crocheters will be gathering to turn the black material that once covered the bridge railings into handsome neckwear.

Are you up for an old yarn?

A couple of years ago, Amanda Gross, a fabric artist from East Liberty, started a project to celebrate Pittsburgh’s bridges in a way that would bring together the region’s communities.

The result was “Knit the Bridge,” in which more than 1,200 volunteers from 100 organizations around the county created almost 600 knitted and crocheted panels — measuring 3 feet by 6 feet — that adorned the span from Aug. 10 to Sept. 6.

“The underlying reason for the project was to think about how communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania can be pretty siloed and to think about how we can bridge different communities and knit stronger ones,” said Ms. Gross. “The process was about getting people together and working toward an end goal, getting to know each other and building relationships in the process.

“I think it was a tremendous success. We got over 90 percent of the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and over 90 percent of Allegheny County township and boroughs involved. And just the fact that we were able to do it — because it was just the biggest yarn bomb ever.”

An eye-catching display that combined a big idea with a little bit of grandmotherly warmth, it caught the attention of observers from around the world and was even suspected of spurring foot-traffic for Downtown businesses.

And afterward? Well, the panels were cleaned and donated to organizations in need of blankets.

But what of the 900 railing covers? The long stretches of black yarn — 5 to 10 inches wide and 6 to 12 feet long — that gave the panels their neat borders?

“These could make extra long scarves,” said Ms. Gross. “We’ve been putting some together to make more blankets. Of course, the railing covers need a little bit more love to make them usable. But it’s acrylic yarn and nearly all of them are in pretty good condition. They laundered very nicely.”

From the outset, part of the project planning focused on reusing all the material involved. Nothing would go to waste.

“We’d thought a lot about how to make the project sustainable,” Ms. Gross said. “Acrylic yarn is not the most environmentally friendly material, but it is the most widely available and accessible. By using that, we wanted to make sure it would have another life.”

It comes to life tonight at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, the very goal of which is to promote “resource conservation, creativity, and community engagement through material reuse.”

“We take materials that otherwise would get thrown away — literally put into the landfill — like business discards, mistake pieces, unwanted items,” said Ashley Andrews, shop manager for the center. “Stuff that is taken and redirected into this nonprofit retail shop where it is sold for a minuscule amount of money to the public.”

In a few years, the center — which is housed in the Construction Junction on North Lexington Street — has blossomed into a thriving endeavor.

“When I came here four years ago, I found a dusty little attic that was crazy and wonderful and out of control and I knew that I had to be part of it,” Ms. Andrews said. “There was only one employee at the time and I was proud to be employee No. 2.

“Now there are 10 employees and dozens and dozens of volunteers. This nonprofit retail shop has been growing every year. So many more donations, so many more volunteers. Community engagement is through the roof.

“We have Open Studio Night once a month. It’s a community event and we invite anybody to come and make stuff with us. They did a lot of the knitting for the bridge project here. They would come here, sit down all together and knit up a storm. It was awesome. I do not knit, but I love the knitters.”

Now the knitters aim to turn the railings into decorative scarves, adding fringe and frills and even little bridge insignias.

“It’s been really great to see how people are continuing to come out and get excited about this,” Ms. Gross said. “Repurposing is not as exciting as creating your own piece from scratch and having it put on display as art, but it’s still cool to see how excited people can get about repurposing the material by making the scarves.”

The goal is to make 50 scarves that will go to the East End Cooperative Ministry shelters.

You don’t have to be an experienced knitter to take part. Just stop up at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, 214 N. Lexington St., from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is free, but it’s for adults only tonight. (You’re welcome to bring your own drinks and vegetarian pot-luck foods.)

The knitting needles will be provided.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com.

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