On a cold winter's morning seven months ago, Pearl Deaniello spotted some pretty postcards on a visit to her health club.
" 'Knit the Bridge'? That sounds so strange," she recalled.
On a whim, she took one, suspecting her older sister, Christine Goines, might like to pass the time knitting for this odd-sounding project.
For Ms. Deaniello, what began as a simple way for her sister to pass the time during a hospital stay evolved into a -- dare we say it? -- loosely knit network of others that would help create what organizers say might be the largest example of "yarn bombing" a public space in the United States.
Motorists, bikers and walkers along the Allegheny River and those traveling below were treated to an unusual sight over the weekend. More than 600 hand-knit or hand-crocheted blankets in a prism of colors spanned the sides of the Andy Warhol Bridge and will remain there through the Sept. 7 weekend.
The towers of the bridge were slowly being draped in large swaths of machine-knit colors.
By lunchtime Sunday, a construction "boom lift" had just about completed the tower closest to the North Shore on both sides, including a large area in deep purple and teal.
"This is a year-and-a-half in the making," said Knit the Bridge co-director Penny Mateer, who said the selection of the Warhol Bridge was fitting, in that it's the only one in this country named for a visual artist.
The roughly $100,000 project, created by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh as part of its current triennial exhibition and funded through various endowments and individual donations, brought together skeins of volunteers Sunday who whip-stitched the 72-by-34-inch acrylic panels with nylon thread.
Lining the rims of the pedestrian walkways were knitted acrylic yarn borders, in black.
Technical adviser Norman Beck devised a batten system to secure the larger panels to the towers, and workers were not permitted to be on that part of the bridge Sunday without hard hats.
When the installation is removed, the blanket panels will be cleaned and, depending on condition, donated to homeless shelters, senior citizen centers and animal rescue groups.
"What's amazing about this project is how many people it's brought together. Thinking of the bridge as a metaphor, it's bridging differences and getting people to meet each other," Ms. Mateer said.
"This project has over 1,800 people ... not just [in] Allegheny County, but Westmoreland and beyond, people who just got together to hang out and knit and crochet, or learn how to do it."
In the case of Hazelwood resident Ms. Deaniello, getting her ailing sister involved led to her own investment.
"It was so therapeutic for her. She had a few hospital stays and every time she went in, people would say 'What are you doing?'
"She'd pull out the little card and tell them proudly what it was all about."
A niece in Toledo, Ohio, Rose Durant, also got involved. Ms. Deaniello didn't stop there, though, and brought in yet another acquaintance to create panels, 90-year-old Zella Poindexter, who lives in a Pittsburgh nursing home.
Much of the pre-site planning for Knit the Bridge was accomplished at the Spinning Plate gallery in East Liberty, where volunteers such as Ms. Deaniello, 71, were "little worker bees," she said, laughing.
The real buzz began early Saturday, when the actual assembly began. With the bridge closed off to vehicle and foot traffic, the low chatter of conversation from the mostly female crews was a backdrop as they stitched away hours in the sun.
"I had the noon-to-3 shift [Saturday]," said Squirrel Hill's Barb Gengler, pointing to red skin. "I've just been working on sunburned ears and stuff like that. I kind of missed with my suntan lotion."
Working alongside was Debbie Antantis of the South Side.
"I saw the link to Knit the Bridge on a website and I thought it was something I could join in and do," Ms. Antantis said.
The appeal of working with many others to create a work of art was appealing, Ms. Gengler said: "It's artsy, it's fun, it's community-building.
"Also, there are just so many understories to hear: teaching little kids to knit, women at senior centers making little panels."
Amanda Gross, lead design artist on the project, called Knit the Bridge "a tool for community building and community organizing, and creating positive change in the world."
As the panels were installed, they were numbered and cataloged.
Ms. Gross said that eventually, contributors will be able to use a data base, and possibly a smart phone app, to locate their work along the bridge. The Knit the Bridge website is www.knitthebridge.wordpress.com.
"This is an art project, in the sense that it is a visual display of color and beauty, in a patchwork sort of way," Ms. Mateer said. "But it's really a community project, because it's been marked by so many."
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com, 412-263-1478 or Twitter @MariaSciulloPG. First Published August 12, 2013 4:00 AM