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!


  1. Looks like a GREAT exhibit. It will certainly get you known to visitors.
    How do you make letters with dishwasher gel and freezer paper. I've never heard of that trick. That little quilt is also my favorite.

    1. Thanks, Ann. Dishwasher gel can work for "discharge" because it contains bleach - but there are also less toxic agents sold in quiltshops and by, like Decolourant, which I didn't know about and/or didn't exist when I made the quilt. I printed out the letters either onto freezer paper (or onto regular paper and then traced them onto freezer paper), and ironed them firmly in place to the black fabric. Then discharged, then rinsed, voila! I did a bunch of test strips, because it's easy to make errors. The strip on the left side of the quilt was stitched on. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi Cathy, these are lovely quilts. Congrats. It`s great to be able to quilt in your traditions - it makes them even more special.

  3. Cathy, This is a terrific exhibit! Wish I lived closer so I could see it in person!

    1. I wish you lived closer too, Shellie!!! Thanks so much!

  4. These are all wonderful! And all so different. I must have gone to the same flea markets and fabric stores because I have that same green lace and even the same teal grapevine fabric. Mine is still stuffed away somewhere.
    Love the challah bread!

    1. You have that same lace? What are the odds? Great minds think alike!
      The challah breads are "built" using log cabin techniques - fun and easy!
      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Your work is full of beauty and humor--a great combination! I esp. love the napkin piece; the text says it all. Keep up the good work.

  6. I am going to check out the SGPV Jewish Federation office in Monrovia. Great style... so much fun!


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