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.