Sunday, September 18, 2016

Raging bead embellishment endorphins: Help, I can't stop!

By odd coincidence, the word for "insanely cute" in Japanese - kawaii - sounds almost the same as the Hawaiian isle of Kauai (both are kuh-why-eee).  

This linguistic coincidence came to life when I found this terminally cute Tokyo street fabric on sale in while vacationing in Kauai a year ago, blogged here.  As a former resident of Tokyo, it spoke, nay, yelled to me. 
Tokyo streets - at least when I lived there in the early 1980s -  were dense with action, color and plastic cherry blossoms. This fabric street scene was good, but needed more! So I stitched on a slew of vintage glass and plastic beads, plus sequins held on by beads.
Most of the beads and sequins are iridescent. I bought them at a flea market many years ago. 

Here's the overall wall hanging. It's about 14" x 9". 
The top area is an elegant metallic print featuring cranes in flight. I embellished it with vintage gold sequins and plastic beads. 
Along the bottom, the fish are decorated with iridescent blue translucent sequins, and blue-and-gold plastic beads.
Along the bottom, I stitched on a colorful premade seed bead fringe which came attached to white elastic. To that I added long dangles, Small black safety pins hold the dangles. Each safety pin is attached to a gold-colored jump ring. There are three eyepins per jump ring. These can be unpinned in case the wall hanging ever needs washing. Here's the back:
The back has sushi fabric. Through the top rod pocket, I slid a chopstick. I should paint it gold, right?
Once every available space had been filled, my embellishment endorphins were still raging! I scoured the house for something else to adorn. Family members declined the honor, and we have no living pets (unsurprisingly), but I did find a silk dupioni raw-edge appliquéd scrap 9" strip lying around. I had been planning to make it into a cuff bracelet, or maybe a bookmark. 
 I outlined the edges with gold metallic thread satin stitch, then added the leftovers from the project above. 
The left side doesn't have beads, in case my giftee wants to use it as a bookmark.
I stitched those sequins on with metallic gold thread, setting stitches at 120 degrees from each other. 
 The right half has the glass beads holding the sequins on. 
It's freemotion quilted with gold metallic thread. What fun! What or who to embellish next?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Sew Jewish" Book Review

One thing I love about Jewish tradition is that it requires plenty of textiles. Important occasions are marked not only with prayer, gratitude, and (usually) food, but also fabric creations. These include:
  •      Marriage - the ceremony requires a chuppah, a wedding canopy, 
  •      Bar or Bat Mitzvah - the child needs a tallit, a prayer shawl; people need kippot, headcoverings,
  •       Sabbath, aka Shabbat, which comes every week - the challah bread wants its own little bedcover,
  •      Passover - The ceremonial matzoh cracker needs a cover; the people need theme pillows and kippot,
...And much, much more! I won't even describe here the fibrous imperatives of  Rosh Hashanah,  Purim, Sukkoth or Chanukah - but  they are surprisingly compelling once you start thinking this way!

Today, one of the most significant gathering places for like-minded people is the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, a nonprofit organization approaching its 40th year. Members include quilters, needlepointers, embroiderers, knitters, weavers, beadworkers - you name it. All skill levels are welcome. (Learn more here.)

And one of the most exciting new voices in the world of fibrous Judaica design is Maria Bywater of Hudson Valley, N.Y. Maria is a professional huppah-maker, who rents out wedding canopies at, and blogs at She recently sent me a complementary copy of her book, "Sew Jewish."
The book is geared to beginners on up. Most of the 18 projects are not quilts, but they draw on the same basic sewing techniques. They cover the Jewish lifecycle and calendar: 
  • For weddings, she offers not only simple chuppah directions, but also a bridal veil, kippot, tallit, tallit bag, and teffilin bag.
  • For Shabbat, there's a challah cover, and, when Shabbat ends, a havdalah ritual spice pouch. 
  • For Chanukah, there are directions for a dreidel (spinning top) game kit, complete with cut-out labels that explain how the game works. 
  • For Purim, there are bright and cheerful mishloach manot gift containers.
  • For Passover, a matzoh cover, and handwashing towel.
  • I especially like her detailed prayer shawl pattern/instructions, which answers all the questions beginners and beyond have been asking me for years about construction. 
  • For the home, there's a pattern for a mezuzah case; a tzedakah (charity) jar wrap; a mizrah (which marks the Eastern wall); a "Shalom" pillow; and an aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) cuddle blanket, and this lovely, whimsical hamsa (a hand-shaped good luck wall hanging): 
The book is clear and beautifully illustrated, There's an entire chapter that covers the most basic stitching concepts. 

Find it  on Maria's Etsy shop or Amazon,  in paperback or downloadable PDF.  The Etsy site also sells more tallit collar patterns, and a different hamsa wall hanging than the one in the book. (No financial affiliation with any of this!)

I am thinking that this book would be a terrific present for a teen, especially a bar or bat mitzvah who is interested in sewing; for newlyweds; for people who are celebrating conversion; for new retirees; and for anyone who wants to sew and is interested in Jewish heritage and ritual. I also think it's a must-have for synagogue and Jewish school libraries. Maria, yasher koach, well done! 

Interested in seeing more Judaica? Go to, and also check out my own website. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Three Easy 9-Patch Baby Quilts, One for Presidential Namesakes

Sure, making babies is fun, but making a baby quilt can be even better! No morning sickness! No active labor! No college tuition!

My go-to baby quilt is what I call an "Everything in the World" quilt. I cram in dozens of different novelty fabrics, determined to give that baby as much as possible to discuss with its parents before it learns to text its friends. Here's one I made recently for a new grand-nephew:
The wackier the print, the better:
This quilt has a total of 108 4" squares. Each square is different, making it a charm quilt. How to manage so many pieces? I first sewed the 4" squares into 9-patch blocks (3 squares x 3 squares). Then I joined the 9-patches together in rows of three, with columns four blocks high. I surrounded the whole thing with a border made up of as many different solid colors as I could fit.

Since this nephew is a New Yorker (well, a Hobokenite), I threw some City memorabilia on the back - a subway map (to encourage the baby to use public transportation), and a Statue of Liberty panel (suggested destination).

Buy the New York subway fabric and more at the City Quilter store, here. Sadly this legendary Manhattan retail shop is closing, but they will continue to sell their intoxicating New York fabrics online - no financial affiliation.

Here's another "Everything" baby quilt I made long ago for a preschool auction.
In this version, I placed airborne novelty fabrics - like birds, planets, spaceships, airplanes - in the sky strip that runs horizontally along the top,
and ocean life against a turquoise sailing-themed print on the bottom.
In the central nine-patches, I tried to alternate light and darkish squares.
The sashings have different colors. 
(Black-and-white prints are said to enhance infant intelligence.)

In July, my friend T. asked me to complete two baby quilts for her. T. is having shoulder problems. (She also assigned me this Curvalicious quilt.)

First, she asked me to repair a baby quilt that she'd mostly completed, but which had a tear, and needed stipple quilting. I did all that...

Next, she wanted me to make an approximate copy of that quilt, but bigger, using fabric she sent. I made this:
After completing the top, I suddenly realized that this layout - 9-patches, alternating with horizontal bars in each vertical column - creates an interesting illusion of capital H's.  It's fun to watch them appear and disappear.

The diagram below shows what's actually going on. Within each 9-patch, the darks and lights alternate, with dark in the corners and center. Place dark horizontal sashing strips between the nine-patches, and there are your H's.
Sometimes they look like H's wearing Mickey Mouse hats. 

What if you put the darker fabrics in the alternate locations within each 9-patch? I colored my diagram to find out: 
Hmmm, I see red flowers. With a little more study, I see two white negative space H's. Cool!

And so, in conclusion, this quilt layout is ideal for babies and other people who are named after, say, Harry (Potter), Hermione (Granger), Hope P. (my favorite community arts advocate - Hi Hope!), and, of course any baby named after our country's potential first woman president.

If you're expecting a Republican baby, however, "T" pattern quilts abound, from vintage to modern. Just google "T block quilts" for yuuuuuge numbers of ideas. "D" pattern quilt blocks are much rarer. For a Green Party baby, it's a no-brainer - use assorted greens. As for Libertarians, they sure don't want me telling them what to make! 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pokemon and Other Matzoh Covers: Judaica Show, II

Last week, I showed some of the quilts I hung at my local Jewish Federation office. This week, I'll show the Passover-only quilts that I considered and/or put on display. Yes, we're having Passover in August! First, my Pokemon-themed matzoh cover, made around 2000. 
My son (now 23) was in kindergarten with Pokemon-crazed children. I interrogated one of them to find out exactly what Pokemons do. He explained that they have superpowers, and are captured by "masters," then forced to battle on the masters' behalf.  It sure sounded like slavery to me (though this little boy insisted that "they like fighting!") 

So Pikachu (the bright yellow guy) became Moses, leading his adorable-yet-ornery minions away from the masters, through the splitting seas, with the ageless cry...
I forgot most of these characters' names - your kids or grandkids know. This cover was a huge hit with the youngsters over the years. Somewhere along the way, it developed an authentic Maneschewitz stain. 

The yellow duck in the next photo has the superpower of causing headaches. I added a kosher certification on the pig-like entity. (He's saying, "Next Year in Tokyo!")
Pharaoh represents the Masters: 
The trompe l'oeil matzoh fabric was purchased from (Similar fabric is also sold by Sunshine Sewing ). It looks exactly like matzoh, and when quilted in lines parallel to the rows of dots, it feels bumpy-soft-good, and so realistic that your guests may try to slather it with charoset and take a bite! 

Next, a cover made primarily from batiks, maybe in 2005. 
As I recall, my quilt-world idol Jane Sassaman's wonderful book The Quilted Garden (no affiliation), inspired me to photocopy, draw, and redraw a leaf of romaine lettuce a whole bunch of times before coming up with this stylized version. 
The entire piece wound up about 24" wide by 20" high - too big for a crowded seder table, but works great as a wallhanging.

Next, another matzoh cover that accidentally grew too large for the table - 35" at its widest. It's octagonal.
All the yellow triangles are 3D, with a folded edge along their hypotenuse, tucked into the seam. Detail: 

Next, a piece I call "Old Plagues on Them, New Plagues on Us."
It's 25" square. The top portion shows the traditional plagues: 
Those labels read "Frogs," "Locusts," and "Wild Animals". (Yes, that cow is supposed to be upside down. She's ill. Cattle disease was one of the plagues.) 

The bottom half shows what, 15 years ago, I considered to be modern-day plagues. These included: handguns, pollution, narcissism, steroids...
...endangered species (they themselves aren't plagues, but the whole endangerment thing I courageously oppose), despotism, bigotry (under a kingly figure who foreshadows 2016 political candidates?), soda, and, um, cell phones?! I can't recall what I had against cell phones, which were new at the time. I think because people were driving while talking on them. Plus, mine didn't work too well. 

Here's another small matzoh cover that I considered for the show, but decided it was too tiny - maybe just 12" high. 
Made with a wavy blue batik. I wish I had written down how I strip pieced it, because I  would like to make another one.

And finally, I hung my matzoh tambourine in the show. Double rows of large plastic buttons around the edges rattle. It's stiffened with plastic canvas, and measures about 12" across. 
For many more Passover items, see  this blog post, from last February. Want to stitch your own Passover  textiles? Join the fun - find inspiration and information - in the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework!

For more connections between quilting and Pokemon, check out this recent blog post.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

My First Judaic Quilt Show, Part 1

I hadn't participated in a quilt or art show for a long time. But I'm resolving to get my work out more. So two weeks ago, when I got a call from one of the lovely people at our local Jewish Federation (in Southern California), asking if I would hang some my Judaic-themed quilts in their Monrovia office, I was thrilled!

For about an hour, until I realized I would have to pull out and look critically at all my Judaic work, some of which is new, and some which is close to 20 years old. Assessing old work is exciting and scary at the same time. Sometimes I say, "Hey, that one was pretty good!" And sometimes, it's a  "Glug." (Similar to "Ugh," worse than "Meh," not as bad as "Argh".)

In this post, I'll show the non-Passover related quilts that I pulled for the show (the Passover ones are next week). First is a quilt that very few people have seen, for reasons that will become apparent in one second:

Yes, it's the world's oldest Jewish joke. It reads, "Three Fairly Major Jewish Holidays on Just 1 Dinner Napkin: They Tried to Kill Us. We Won. Let's Eat!" Another detail:
It is appliquéd to a genuine lace-edged napkin. The holiday names - Purim, Chanukah, and Passover - are appliquéd to the lace along the bottom.  In hindsight, it's quite a bit messier than I would like, but the idea has potential! (I'd love to see your interpretation!)

And speaking of lace, what are you supposed to do with green lace? When I started quilting, I bought every flea market embellishment I could find, without thinking it through. This green lace was probably intended for negligées or mermaid brassieres. I've only found this use for it:

People like this one, but I keep thinking "negligée".

Next, one of my paper-pieced Hebrew alphabet quilts.
The font is based on Torah calligraphy. It took me months to wrestle all the complexly-angled Hebrew letters into paper piecing patterns. How complex? Here's the pattern for one of the more challenging letters, the tzaddi:

That's 17 pieces for one letter, but who's counting? I was pretty proud of myself when I'd finished creating patterns for all 27 letters including five final consonants (which only appear at the end of words and are not in this quilt), plus a couple of symbols. (Commercial break: The pattern is available in my Etsy shop, or Judaiquilt page. For advanced paper piecers, only.)

Up next, another challah (Sabbath bread) cover, with the clouds containing the bread blessing. It's never been photographed.

Those five layer reverse-appliqué clouds were sooo labor intensive.
At least they're raw edge appliqué - turning under the edges before stitching would have been just plain crazy. (Last commercial break: I later simplified it into the pattern that's in my Etsy shop and Pattern page.)

I call the next one "Semi-Amish Dreidels," because of the solids-and-blacks color scheme. We display it every Chanukah. The last time I hung it, I was trying to recall how I made it. I thought I'd strip-pieced it, but after dredging through old files, I discovered that it's paper-pieced!
It's octagonal (I photographed it on a black background). Those are prairie points around the edges. Each dreidel has one of the Hebrew letters from the dreidel game quilted into it. 

Next, 'Shabbat Shalom', for a peaceful (pieceful?) Sabbath.
For six days (i.e. the top six rows of cubes), we run back and forth like chickens. On the last day, we rest, take a deep breath, try to perceive the divine. (Or at least the yellow.)

The lettering is done with dishwasher gel and freezer paper templates. I ironed freezer paper letters to black fabric, then painted around them with the gel. Let it sit a few minutes, and then gradually rinsed it off, starting at the top, so the bottom would be the lightest area, exposed to bleach the longest. (Don't try this at home without using Bleach-stop or its ilk when you're done.)

Next, one of my wedding canopies (aka chuppah).  "Seven sisters" is the name of this design in American quilt history, adding layers of meaning to six-pointed stars. 
Corner detail, with the word "chai" (for "life") quilted in gold thread.

Next, my "nine of anything" menorah quilt, blogged a few years ago, here.
There's an ice cream menorah.... Elvis menorah...
 ... a butterfly menorah, and more.

Finally, my response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, blogged here. 

Seeing most of these pieces hanging in one hallway was an out-of-body experience. Even though the office wall was painted an intense turquoise, and there's barely a scintilla of turquoise in any of these quilts, it seemed to work out quite nicely!
Next week: my Passover matzoh covers for the show. There were a lot to choose from. I have in my home enough matzoh covers for at least a month of Passovers.

These quilts will be at the  Monrovia Jewish Federation office, here in Southern California, for three months, and they welcome visitors during their regular business hours.

Update: Part II of the show, my Passover items, are blogged here.

Public service announcement: Are you interested in making and/or learning more about stitched Judaica? Find inspiration and like-minded people in the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, an international organization with chapters across the US and Canada, and independent members around the world. The Guild has a members'-only archives with hundreds of needlework patterns, ideas, and articles about Jewish art, tradition and culture.

We also have a Facebook page and Yahoo discussion group. And you don't have to be Jewish to join! Go to for more information! And consider coming to our 2017 Convention in Atlanta! You will make friends, and beautiful things, and soon be able to decorate your own hallways with your own  Judaic art!