Zweiman is the founder of the Pussyhat Project, the initiative that produced those hand-knit cat-eared pink hats you saw on millions of women’s heads across the globe during the Women’s Marches in January.
What started as a crafting project caught fire, with the handmade hats—off all shapes, sizes and shades of pink as women traded patterns and instructions or improvised their own—symbolizing the resistance to President Trump’s agenda on women’s issues that first ignited the Women’s Marches.
Now, Zweiman hopes to do the same for another cause: immigration reform.
Her latest project, called Welcome Blanket, calls on crafters to knit blankets for families just arriving in the United States. Each blanket will include a note from the knitter, telling their own family’s story of how they arrived in the United States. And if the giver choooses, they can include their contact information, so the recipient family can be in touch.
“If you knit a blanket, you can share a piece of yourself, through a note, to someone else,” Zweiman told PEOPLE. “So, it really lends itself towards people saying how they’re thinking, how they’re feeling and what they would want to say to someone who just came to this country, who they might never meet, and they would have the opportunity to say that.”
The idea came to Zweiman when the border wall was first formally proposed once President Trump was in office. She couldn’t stop thinking about the material that would be used to build the barrier: 2,000 miles of concrete.
“This is 2,000 miles of concrete. This could be used to house homeless, fix our crumbling infrastructure, fix schools,” she said.
And the topic of immigration hit especially close to home for Zweiman, the granddaughter of immigrants on both sides of her family.
“My grandparents sought opportunity, safety, and freedom here in the United States,” she says. “They laid the foundation for my family in this country through hard work, integrity, and kindness. I see my grandparents in the people who, at this very moment, are trying to come to the United States. I want to welcome them with the same opportunity, safety, and freedom my grandparents hoped for.”
So, says Zweiman, she wanted to shift the conversation “from something that is exclusionary to something that’s inclusionary.”
And the Welcome Blanket was born. The same knitter — Kat Coyle of The Little Knittery — who designed the pattern for the Pussyhat designed the blanket pattern. Both were crafted with a similar goal in mind: Pick something that’s easy enough for a beginner knitter to pick up needles and get to work.
Zweiman says she also liked the symbolism of a blanket as something that’s warm and welcoming.
“A welcome blanket is often to welcome a new person to the world,” Zweiman says. “A person who comes to the United States as an immigrant, is an adult. No question there. But it is coming to a new life, a new culture and it is a way of welcoming someone to a new world as well. It’s been made by hand. It’s almost like giving someone a hug, in an abstract way.”
Before the blankets are handed out, they’ll be on display. An exhibit of the blankets and the knitter’s accompanying notes will open at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art on July 18, and will run until December 17. Afterwards, both the blankets and notes will be given to refugees and immigrants.
In total, Zweiman’s crew hope to create 3,200 blankets to start, the number necessary to physically cover 2,000 miles in blankets total — the same length as the proposed wall.
And in this politically divisive time, Zweiman says she hopes the project will spark some kindness towards others, and openness to opposing viewpoints.
“Even with people who are politically different from me, I think listening to each other can be very productive,” she says. “I really tried to think about this project and design it to bring in more people to the table who don’t necessarily think the same way on all topics as I do, but do think new people coming to this country are needing a kind welcome and appreciation.”
Through both Welcome Blanket and the Pussyhat Project, Zweiman says she’s been able to meet all sorts of people—like-minded and not—who care about unity and inclusion.
“My politics are really about treating people with dignity and respect and so I’m putting my efforts towards trying to create that,” she says. “In my efforts to do that, I’ve been very lucky in creating projects like these. I’ve been exposed to really fantastic, wonderful people. I don’t care where they come from. I am really inspired by people who have taken to making sure their voices are heard and for trying to bring people together instead of separate them.”