Come From Away's Warm Embrace

Bringing Come From Away home to Newfoundland and Labrador has been a special endeavor for everyone involved. To make this all-new production especially unique, director Jillian Keiley and set designer Shawn Kerwin joined forces to “inhabit the spirit of the welcome that Gander and the surrounding communities gave to the people who arrived during 9/11”.

In a recent conversation, Kerwin spoke of her early thoughts and ideas surrounding a “warm embrace”. She mentioned the idea of blankets, open arms, and the way that the people of Gander and surrounding areas came together to say “we will take care of you” to the passengers stranded in this place that was unknown to them. She stated that “it was like a hug”.

Granny square blankets and afghans are quite popular here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and since they are customarily unique and colourful, it certainly makes sense why. The Come From Away team had an idea to integrate this lovely art form into the set and hoped they could rally local knitters and crocheters.

The call for squares went out. Anyone and everyone, of all experience levels, were invited to join one of the knitting and crocheting parties held at Arts and Culture Centres throughout the province. Knitters could also opt to send their squares in the mail. Moreover, Kerwin encouraged participants to share their stories about their personal connection to the warm embrace bestowed to the 7,000 stranded strangers.  

The response was overwhelming, with more than 2,200 squares from 200 knitters with 150 touching stories received. Kerwin and Keiley now had a broad beautiful compilation of art pieces to feature in the new set for this spectacular homegrown production. Kerwin said that she created a “system that allowed for randomness”, and although the squares from the Warm Embrace Project may appear somewhat random in the way they are staged, there is a logic behind it all.


"When I was a child, I remember my grandmother knitting sweaters, hats, mittens, and socks so that I would always be warm. It’s these memories that inspired me to be a part of the Warm Embrace project, so that I could contribute to spread this warmth."
Cicely Hefford

Local artist Jessica Waterman worked closely with everyone involved, both the Come From Away team and the knitters, to help bring Kerwin and Keiley’s vision to life. Kerwin expressed her sincere gratitude to all the knitters and crocheters, saying she “never imagined that the response would be as profound and moving as it has been”.


"We are so incredibly grateful to each and every knitter and crocheter. It was important that their work is seen across the set, into the auditorium, into the gallery. It’s as if the warm embrace will come off the stage and wrap around the people in the theatre."
 Shawn Kerwin

Stories and squares came from people near and far, with many even learning how to crochet just for this project. It was a joyous inter-generational experience for several knitting families too.

An art gallery at the Joseph R Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre in Gander features more on the Warm Embrace Project including a book displaying the more than 150 stories from giving knitters and crocheters.

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