Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Pieced Prayer Scarf by Any Other Name (Quilt, Tallit, Stole) is Just As Sweet

I've made many Jewish prayer shawls (aka tallit) during my time as a quilter. Prayer shawls are usually what quilters would classify as applique projects: Stitch a design to the front (or not), decide whether you want a lining, a collar rectangle, stripes, or corner squares, and you're almost done. (Few people want batting). They can be as simple as one  piece of fabric (like the spectacular hand-painted fabric below, made by quilter Ricky Tims, modelled by my DH, with my Mom looking on:) a simple background white background with the stripe and lining fabric selected by the client: a more intricate cutout - this one's made from six shades of hand-dyed cotton....

...and this one's in dupioni silk... something really complex involving photographs and piecing, like this tallit for my son, with NASA space photography...
...and this one for another young man, a Beatles and rock guitarist, modeled by my DD...
....guitar photos served as stripes. (The whole story).
Once you've done the appliqueing/piecing/stitching, all that remains is tying a fringe - called tzittzit- in the corners.

I've made so many tallitot (the plural), that you can imagine how excited I was to get an assignment from a different religion!

My friend Marian Sunabe attends the historic Evergreen Baptist Church in Los Angeles, founded by the  Japanese-American community in 1925. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a notice of eviction was posted by the government on the church's door - and many of their members were shipped to internment camps in remote, harsh locations. Sensitivity to this shameful episode made this church outspoken during the Civil Rights era and to this day, as it serves a diverse Asian-American community.

A happy occasion was coming up this summer: installation of their new pastor Jason, a delightful person, who is also one of my Artist Trading Card swap partners. (He made me a lovely woodburned tree ATC a couple of years ago, here.)

Marian asked me if I would help her make what she called a "stole" - a word I always associated with last-century mink neck wraps worn by my elderly relatives! But as it turned out, a stole is just a variation of a tallit!

The downside was that they needed it soon, I was about to go on vacation. I would be returning home on Friday, and the installation was Sunday. Marian was rightfully anxious, but I wasn't - barring flight delays, and with a little preparation, I knew that we could churn it out in an afternoon.

Jason wanted historic photos on his tallit, er, stole, and I was out of pretreated photo fabric sheets (my favorites are favorite EQ Printables Cotton Satin sheets), so I asked Marian to buy a bunch. I was expecting her to come back with a pack of flat sheets, but she bought this:
It's an 8.5" x 100" roll of Blumenthal Crafter's Images PhotoFabric, cotton poplin. It runs about $25. I'd never used this product, but it worked out very well. You have to cut the 120" roll down to the size you need - in this case, 8.5" x 11" sheets to feed into the printer.

The stole would need to be 92" long - far longer than my longest tallit (they usually run about 70") - and merely 5" wide - way narrower than any tallit I'd ever made. So I sized the photos to 4.75" square (to fit two on a page), and printed them onto the fabric sheets. Here are some of the historic images Jason wanted on the scarf. First, the civil order removing Japanese Americans from their homes.
Next, a harrowing image of the Japanese community lining up for trains to the camps, an image which resonates so deeply with me as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, 
This picture of Sunday School at an internment camp,
 The American flag flying high over the Manzanar camp, an iconic Federal government photo:
 A Christmas image from an internment camp:
Having lived in Tokyo, I've always felt the Japanese and the Jews had a great deal in common - but this project, and specifically the photos - really brought home how much, in America, a history of discrimination unites us.

I arranged the photos two to a page in my graphic design program (CorelDraw, but you could do it in Word), and then printed them out onto the Blumenthal sheets, before I left on vacation. Marian also brought over a stack of  glorious Japanese fabrics - most from vintage kimono - that one of the congregants donated to the project. OMG I was in love. We made a tentative plan.
The trip went fine, we returned Friday night, and Saturday afternoon we set to work. We had already cut one piece of grey/blue kimono fabric to serve as the lining - 93" x 5 1/2". We lay that on the floor as our template. Then we arranged the images and fabric strips on top of it. Marian is a gifted artist with an incredible eye - her medium of choice is usually collage, paint and paper - so I put her in charge of deciding which fabrics to use where. She was the art director, I was the technical consultant.

Marian came up with the color scheme, dark navy with shots of burgundy-reddish-purple - so elegant in subdued, spectacular Japanese prints and wovens.

It probably took us about 4 hours. Once the top strip was stitched together, we pinned it right sides  together against the backing, sewed all the way around with a quarter-inch seam allowance, leaving a turning hole of 5" along one edge.

Then we turned the whole thing to the right side, pressed it, and did a topstitch all the way around the edges. The sun was still up when Marian modeled the results. 
She sent me pictures from the installation ceremony the next day: 
What could be sweeter?
Joy-wise, it's not a whit different from what I see in bar and bat mitzvah pictures, when children are presented with their prayer shawls, we all think deeply about tradition and history....

   Good heavens, I love my life!


  1. FABULOUS piece of work. I can not even imagine putting that together as quickly as you did. STUNNING results. I think you have become an expert at this Prayer Shawl/Tallit work. CONGRATULATIONS.

    1. Ann, you are too kind. We couldn't have finished faster if I hadn't printed out all the photos in advance (and rinsed them, as directions specify). Some of them had to be done over, due to my own errors. Also, this stole didn't have many of the details that Jewish prayer shawls can entail, like the "atarah", embroidered collar, or the ritual fringe, or stripes. It also helped that it was so narrow! If it were a fully lined, appliqued and pieced, 72" x 36" prayer shawl, a couple more weeks would have been required!

  2. So interesting! I’ve never even seen a prayer shawl and love how each one is unique and special to the wearer. The treatment of the Japanese Americans was an embarrassment and a shame. Which is why they have so successfully covered it up. I would love to see this topic be the next ken burns documentary. He did Vietnam so well, another sweep under the rug affair.

    1. You are so right about the treatment of Japanese Americans being a scandal and a shame. The actor George Takei was imprisoned with his family as a kid. He recently did a play on the subject.

  3. A great story of how to respect and support another religious community.

  4. Hi Cathy!
    Your work on my stole was tremendously beautiful. I love the fact that a "tallit artist" crafted my pastoral stole. I feel honored that our Jewish and Japanese histories, cultures, and faith traditions are interwoven (pun intended) in this. To me, it makes everything even more sacred. Thank you so much for your work, artistry, and heart.

    1. Jason, you are an angel, and so is Marian, the shawl's art director! Congratulation on your new position, and thank you for entrusting us with this wondeful task!


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