Sunday, April 8, 2018

Freemotion Quilted Hebrew Alphabet Postcard Tutorial

How's your Hebrew? Mine could be much better, but that didn't stop me from making thirteen 4" x 6" quilted Hebrew alphabet postcards for a recent exchange.
A little closer: 

One example: This is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 'aleph.' 
Mystics saw its structure as a ladder between heaven and earth (Can you see the ladder on the far left?) The rest of the background is freemotion quilted with objects that begin with aleph, including pears, pineapple, ears, fire, and lion. OK, they're very sketchy, but they're there! 

These cards were made for my Jewish quilting group's "People of the Book"-themed postcard exchange. I was particularly excited about this theme because of my fondness for fonts. New, old, I can't get enough, in any language. The Hebrew alphabet is particularly gorgeous, whether ancient Torah calligraphy, or art-deco influenced mid-20th century. A favorite book on my shelf is this 1950 tome called "Hebrew Alphabets," by 20th century Judaic graphic designer Reuben Leaf. The book offers dozens, and even the cover is a treat: 
For the postcard exchange, I paged through it for ideas, and was stopped in my tracks by this: 
At the bottom, it says it was designed by Siegmund Forst, a groundbreaking mid-20th century artist and graphic designer from Vienna; and the letters were based on the Kafra Haggadah, a lavish 1947 illuminated Haggadah.

The first thing I did was scan the page; then in a graphics program, I resized the letters to about 2" x 3", so they would fit comfortably on a 4" x 6" postcard. 

Since I was swapping with 12 people (plus one more card for me), I cut 13 pieces of stiff double-sided fusible interfacing to 4" x 6". I cut a long strip of a mottled batik fabric and pressed each rectangle onto the fabric (using a non-stick press sheet on bottom to prevent the other side of the fusible from sticking to the ironing board.) 
 Cut back the excess fabric to the same size as the interfacing.
I used Golden Threads tracing paper to trace the outline of the 13 letters I selected for this project. 
 Then I pinned the outline to the center of each postcard.
 Next, I stitched along the edges with gold metallic thread and an open-toe freemotion quilting foot.
After stitching:
 Tearing away the tracing paper was next. First I ripped away the outside.
I liked how it looked with the paper inside, but obviously that's not a long-term solution.  I ripped away the inside, and then went after the little bits. With Golden paper, they're easy to dislodge. (That's not the case for other kinds of paper.)
I wasn't wild about the lack of contrast when the letter outlines were empty - so I filled them in with gold metallic paint. They are all painted by hand, with a small brush, and of course I always wear my magnifying headgear to do this as neatly as I can. 

Next came the research part: I dug up my Hebrew-English dictionary, and also opened a translator online. I looked up Hebrew words that began with that particular letter, that would be relatively easy to freemotion quilt.

I grabbed my tracing paper again, and pinned fresh 4" x 6" pieces of it to each card again. This time, I focused on doodling designs representing Hebrew words that begin with that letter, in the space around the letter. 

For example, the card below shows the letter peh. The sketch shows my brainstorms for the surroundings. Peh has a numerical value of 80, and peh words depicted include bell, skeleton key, unlock, brook, mouth, face, mushrooms, flower, coffee pot, and fruit. 
In order to get the design onto the card, I did NOT stitch through the tracing paper. I needed to see exactly where I was gong, and the tracing paper would obstruct the view.  So I put the sketch next to my sewing machine, and referred to it when freemotioning on the actual card. I ended up doing many things differently from the original! 

Next, the letter 'bet', the second letter of the alphabet, is associated with the number two, and it’s said to be pointing to heaven. Bet nouns on this card include egg; home; banana; peanuts; thumb; and balloons.
This one's 'ayin'. The words I depicted include tree, grass, eye, grapes, clouds, and maybe cookies. 
 And so forth.

After the quilting was finished, the reverse side of these cards was still blank - just fusible interfacing. In my graphics program, I wrote a little essay for each card, explaining each letters and its words, plus the address of each recipient. I could fit three custom 4" x 6" labels like these per page. 
I ironed five 8 1/2" x 11" pieces of plain white fabric onto freezer paper. Then I printed the labels onto the fabric. I cut each one out, fused it to the back of each card, and did a zigzag stitch with invisible thread around the edges to hold the three layers together. They were ready to go! 

If you love fonts - in any language - you can easily do a project like this. Quilted postcards are a great way to exercise creative muscles between large projects, plus they work as fun group activity for farflung people. They're also good mini-presents for all occasions - the recipients can hang them on the wall, or use them as bookmarks or coasters. For much more fun with fiber art postcards, click "Postcards" in the word cloud on the right. 


  1. Cathy, these are beautiful, and that they are labor intensive says you value the friendships of the others in this group. What a nice gift with deep meaning.

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for the description of the process, including the painting of each letter. Nice touch with the freemotion!

  3. Cathy, I’m sorry I couldn’t participate this exchange. I love how you did the letters & great idea for quilting the background. My initials are up there דל Dina (Diane)

    1. Diane, I hope you get to participate in a future exchange! So much fun!

  4. Theses are great. Would be terrific placecards for the seder table as well...though lots of work.

    1. They're pure play!!! Good idea about the seder table placecards....or coasters...