Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Kids Are All Right, with an Appliqued Rock and Roll Prayer Shawl

For me, the most fun thing in the world is making a custom quilt, prayer shawl (tallit), and/or wedding canopy (chuppah). This is the story of an appliqued and pieced prayer shawl I just finished for a 13-year-old who I still haven't met or talked to. It was a wild and wonderful trip from beginning to end. Specifically, a trip on a Yellow Submarine.

I was contacted by the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy in early July. They live maybe a half hour away and found my custom tallitot. The father wanted to surprise his son with a British rock & roll and electric guitar-theme prayer shawl.

Brilliant, as they say in England! I was thrilled! But there was bad news: The event was in early August, I had a one-week vacation plus a complex commissioned chuppah (wedding canopy) due at the same time. I almost said turned him down - but gee, he was such a lovely person, and how the heck could I resist the theme?

His initial vision included a British flag on the tallit, large enough and centered so that it might actually enwrap his son,
(When I told my husband about this, he was ecstatic; with his encyclopedic memory for classic rock and roll trivia, he immediately demanded that I look up the following album cover and put it on the tallit: 

Right about now, you're probably wondering whether a British Rock and Roll tallit is kosher. My client told me right off the bat that he'd described his vision to his rabbi, who replied that anything that gets a kid to wear a tallit is kosher, even dissipated rockers. The rabbi didn't specifically agree to the use of sleeping/stoned members of The Who, but he did agree to my client's desire to use logos like these: 
Is that a gender symbol?
Is tongue a Jewish food?
The Hindenburg wasn't exactly Jewish.
As in Esther?
Happy New Year!

He also wanted guitar manufacturer logos, like these: 

And more. The candidate images multiplied. But wait, back to the first problem - where was I going to find a British flag fabric? I found nothing in online quilt shops, so I posted inquiries on my chat groups. Quilters sent all kinds of interesting suggestions - one directed me to a specialty British boutique, where I could order bubble and squeak with my genuine UK flag.

Not all my cyber-correspondents were enthusiastic. One fretted that Brits might feel that a flag on a prayer shawl is disrespectful towards the flag. (I told her I thought the opposite was just as likely - some Jews might find a British flag disrespectful to a prayer shawl?) 

(But then she looked up British rules regarding their flags, and it turns out the they are a lot less particular with what you do with their flag than Americans. [Brits don't seem to mind if it touches the floor]. Phew!!!! I'd hate to have all the local Jewish Brits storm out of the Temple when the tallit came in, or vice versa.) 

Several people sent me to, a custom-fabric making site that I knew about but hadn't checked yet. Sure enough, I found several variations on a British flag, printed onto cotton, like this one and this one. I sent my clients over to look at them, and this launched him on his own Spoonflower scavenger hunt. He fell out of love with the British flag fabric, and fell into love with:  
...a wonderful Beatles fabric that the artist calls "She Loves You". It even includes little UK flags as you can plainly see. 

He also loved this fabric:  
(Buy here)

And then he wandered over to ebay, and found this:  
It was a yard long, inexplicably 17 inches wide strip. It's a long out-of-print commercially manufactured Beatles novelty fabric. I happened to  have some other fabrics from this same collection, including a Yellow Submarine fabric (we'll get to that).

I wasn't sure those looked good together, but I imported thumbnails into my drawing program and started playing around with layouts. (The small circles and squares, including those in the corners, represent the guitar company and rock band logos):

Any variation on these four designs would be quick to sew up and we'd meet the deadline easily. I wasn't happy that the fabrics didn't really go together in variation 1 - but time was ticking. 

 But then, on July 19, I got a new email from my client. Attached to the email were images of not 1, not 2, but 18 electric guitars. 

I won't show you all 18.  He wrote, "I thought maybe you could randomly intersperse small pics of these different guitars. ...[T]he funny thing is that [my son] can actually identify each of these guitars instantly.  The kid is obsessed with guitars.  It would probably be a lot of work too, but let me know what you think."

Now I panicked!! Shalommmmmmm. I strove to breathe deeply. My top priority is to make the bar mitzvah boy happy. But do you have any idea how much time it would take to transfer all those guitars to fabric and then stitch each one to the background? Not to mention expense. I use Electric Quilt brand premium cotton satin photo transfer sheets - it's pricey, and with all the other images he wanted - at this point we were up to 28 photo transfers  -  I might have to buy extra packs that I hadn't factored into my expenses. But mostly the issue was where in the world to fit all those images and fabrics.

On the other hand, I visually adored those 18 idea popped into my head that I couldn't shake: Use the guitars as stripes. So we culled the number of favorites down to 12.  

My client also made an excellent decision that strewing guitar company logos all over the tallit made it look kinda like an advertising page from Guitar Player magazine.  So all those logos were out. 

On one visit, I showed him my Yellow Submarine fabric. He decided he wanted to use that as the atarah (collar.)
Plus, at the last minute, he wanted photos of his son playing the electric guitar on both the tallit and the bag. 

Wait, one last request before I started sewing: the guitars in the stripes should be properly aligned, with the the necks pointing to the wearer's left hand. 

And he needed reassurance that the stripes would be precisely straight. 

I won't go into too  many more details. Suffice it to say that I accidentally discovered that putting a dark blue  frame around the novelty fabrics and printed guitars brought the diverse fabrics together and gave the tallit a more traditional/polished look. My client agreed. Here's what we wound up with (modelled by my 15-year- old before delivery. She plays acoustic guitar.)
Here's the back, and some of the lining. 
When we received the fabric from Spoonflower, both of us were surprised that the guitars were so big. But that was okay - they're dramatic! 
The photo of his son is on the lining, as you can see above.

 We decided to put band logos in the four corners. The guitars are printed onto fabric and pieced between the blue strips.

 Here's the atarah, made from my Yellow Submarine fabric. 
We ended up not fitting the fat quarter of 'She Loves You' onto the tallit. So we decided to use it for the bag instead.  I make my tallit bags quilted, envelope style. The front of the bag has a vintage button with a peace symbol bead glued on. I put a horizontal guitar on the flap so the young man can play air guitar when services start to drag. 
On the back of the bag, lower right, I worked in the other photo of the young man. It fits right in. 
We bought colorful blue-and-gold nylon tzitzyot (ritual fringe) from a truly groovy vendor my client  discovered in this Etsy shop. To my astonishment, the tzitzyot came pre-tied - it never occurred to me that this could work! (You just loop the top loop through the hole and pull the knotted part through the loop - duh!). This saved me a lot of time, which I was able to spend on other things like precision-measuring the stripes. 

In the the end, it took us 80, yes, eight-oh emails and at least three studio visits, but we finished, with time to spare. Despite the twists and turns - or maybe because of them - I loved the process. The results were way better than if either of us had worked alone. The better I got to know my client, the more  I realized the force is strong with this one - with his creativity, zest, newfound love of fabric, and yes, his pickiness, he had all the characteristics of a fine quilter - I recommended he start quilting immediately. It's never too early to start on his son's high-school-graduation tee-shirt quilt. 

The whole family was thrilled with the tallit. It never in a million years would have occurred to me to make a British rock and roll tallit, but thanks to my client's and his son's passion. I can now check this off my bucket list. And I am grateful. Now I'm just waiting for someone to ask me for a Tardis Tallit! 

Want to make your own tallit? Here's my web page with more details and a free Hebrew prayer atarah pattern. Want my help? Contact me! 

UPDATE: My client read this blog post and wrote this: "Thank you again for making this very special gift happen.  It was a labor of love for me (even though you did all the work!) and my son has told me that it is the nicest gift he's ever gotten. He's only had the opportunity to wear it once since his Bar Mitzvah, but he got rave reviews! Everybody loves it! I can't wait for him to wear it during high holy day services next month." 

I love happy endings! My client is being modest - he did a lot of the deciding, which is always the hardest part! 


  1. Amazing! You are so talented. I always love to see what you've been working on.

  2. Love hearing about the process and the resulting product is clearly the amazing outcome of a successful collaboration. It was a lot of hours and a lot of editing but well worth it. congratulations!

  3. You're too kind, Vivian. My client made me do it!


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