When Rabbi Debra Rappaport became the spiritual leader of B’nai Vail Congregation in Vail, her proud mother, Susan H. Rappaport, made her a stunning cashmere tallit, along with a matching tallit bag out of silk. The meaningful pieces brought the rabbi to tears, and she cherishes both of them to this day.
Now others will be able to share the joy the rabbi experienced when she first received her personalized tallit and tallit bag because both are showcased in a new book exploring the world of Jewish fabric crafts and the inspiration behind this imaginative work.
Called “Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 288 pp.), the book presents 30 fabric craft projects, created by talented artisans from throughout the United States and Israel.
Compiled and written by Diana Drew with Robert Grayson, “Jewish Threads” delves into the backstory of each of the pieces spotlighted in the book–how and why they were made and what sparked the idea for each one. The artisans whose work is presented in the book freely share the influences in their lives that prompted them to create the pieces contained in this treasure trove of Jewish fabric crafts.
For Susan Rappaport, who lives in Minnesota, making the tallit showcased in “Jewish Threads” was a family affair. In choosing the materials for the tallit, Susan used white cashmere from sweaters worn by her husband, Gary; her daughter, Debra, the intended recipient; her other daughter, Lissie Schifman; and by the artist herself to ground the tallit in a sense of family heritage. Susan sewed everything by hand, making the tzitzit (ritual fringes) from directions she found on the Web.
The directions were very specific about keeping focused on your intention and not being distracted by the things around you,” she points out. “It was a very profound process for me.”
And this magnificent tallit holds extraordinary meaning for Debra, who notes: “Though my mom invited quite a bit of collaboration on this project, I was moved to tears when I received this tallit. The thoughtfulness and love that went into it were profound. I feel deeply blessed, held, and joyful every time I put it on.”
Author Diana Drew spent a year and a half sifting through a myriad of projects from throughout the United States and Israel, choosing those that reflected deep-rooted connections to Jewish heritage and contemporary Jewish life. Each project had to have a compelling story behind its creation, and fit in with the overall concept of the book as both a volume of stories about artisans’ spiritual intention in making these crafts and a how-to book for novices as well as more experienced needlecrafters.
“Jewish Threads” is designed to motivate readers to fashion some of the traditional ritual items as well as more contemporary pieces included in the book–individually or in groups–by offering easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions at the end of each of the stories about the fabric artists and their spiritual intention. Most of the projects are relatively simple, and make wonderful gifts.
Readers are encouraged to draw on their own life experiences to give the pieces they make a distinctly individual flair, a one-of-a-kind feel. So the book can serve as a springboard for readers’ own imagination and creativity.
“Jewish Threads” craft projects range from wall hangings for the home to shulchan (lectern) covers for the synagogue, whimsical pieces for celebrating holidays (a ChanuCats quilt for Chanukah and Dancing Hamantaschen costumes for Purim, for example), and meaningful craft projects to honor milestones in the Jewish life cycle, such as healing and memorial quilts. Some of the crafts presented in “Jewish Threads,” such as challah covers, have roots in Jewish tradition, while others, including Purim puppets and a knit seder plate for Passover, play off centuries of tradition, while incorporating a contemporary spin.
Among the fabric craft techniques represented in “Jewish Threads” are quilting, needlepoint, knitting, crochet, felting, embroidery, appliqué, needle felting, and counted cross-stitch.
Ellen Premack, executive director of the Mizel Museum in Denver, says of “Jewish Threads“:
Bravo for getting us back to our needles, threads, and sewing machines to create beautiful Judaic objects! With this book, author Diana Drew has reminded me of growing up in a small Jewish community and learning our traditions, history, and Hebrew through making artifacts. This book is a wonderful guide for every artsy-craftsy Jewish education-through-the-arts type of person, whether it be for your home, your synagogue, your Hebrew school, or your community Jewish museum!”
Says Drew, an award-winning former daily newspaper reporter and a longtime book editor:
‘Jewish Threads‘ brings together the disparate threads of my own life–Judaism and Jewish observance, sewing and knitting, writing and editing–while stitching together the inspiring stories of fabric artists from throughout the United States and Israel. Collectively, these personal stories, and the projects that spring from them, form a patchwork of modern-day Jewish life. The part openings, written by Robert Grayson, place these crafts in historical perspective, with tales from the Jewish tradition that give these fabric crafts added resonance today.”
“Jewish Threads” is available at major bookstores and online.