06 October 2008

Talkin' 'bout Tallitot

Over on Livejournal's WeirdJews community, folks have been talking about making your own tallit. I threw in my two cents, so I thought I'd include 'em here as well:

I have made my own tallit--twice. (I also have a storebought one, acquired several years ago to replace my very first tallit, which I bought in Israel in 1996: beautifully painted but made of unsuitably light silk, it inevitably frayed at the neck and got torn. But I don't wear the replacement tallit that much now: I prefer the one I made.) You can see #2 being completed here.

These are pretty low-key minimal-effort tallitot: I am not a particularly handy or crafts-oriented person, lack a sewing machine, and possess only rudimentary hand-sewing skills.

But with a little help from my friends, I've turned 1 white silk shawl & 1 piece of striped fabric into 2 friendly tallitot!

Working backwards:

I made tallit #2 while in England this spring because I somehow failed to pack a tallit for my 10-week stay over there. (In the meantime, I wore my husband's blue Gabrieli tallit* to services in Oxford, and he wore one of the shul tallitot, since he's a guy & it's easy for him to do that. Once I'd created my new Made In The UK tallit & given him back his own, our shul friends started asking "Why are you wearing your wife's tallit?", not knowing it was his in the first place! ;) ) A friend who lives in London is a big fan of the Shepherd's Bush market & the surrounding fabric stores, so solving my no-tallit problem by making one from scratch seemed a good solution.

*(He picked it out from the gift shop of our shul in Louisville when he converted in 1997)

I didn't have a definite idea of color or pattern when we went in, so I just let things suggest themselves as we looked. I ended up buying 2 types of fabric--one white/cream-colored with stripes that suggest traditional tallit design, the other a solid burgundy--and decided to use the former for the body of the tallit and the latter for reinforcing corners and an atarah at the neck. (I had thought I might make another one that was the reverse, but that didn't happen. I think my friend still has the burgundy fabric, though.) My friend hemmed the top and bottom edges with her sewing machine, and attached the reinforcing squares with it as well. We left the sides unhemmed, and she showed me how to pull out threads to fringe the sides. (I haven't gone as far as to tie them into those neat little knots you may see on commercial tallitot: at present it's more like tiny tallit dreadlocks...) I hand-sewed the atarah shape onto the neck area (I'd rescued some interesting metal jangly bits from the decorative edging to a giant table-shading umbrella on the theory that I could add them to the atarah, but so far that's just a theory) and added the tzizit, and voila: tallit!

Tallit #1 came about as something I'd been contemplating for a while: the Stealth Tallit... shawl-like enough not to attract attention when worn in Ladies-Don't-Wear-Tallit-Here Territory (not my native climate, but one that I find myself in when traveling--especially overseas--or visiting/celebrating simchas with the Orthodox contingent among my relatives), but able to satisfy my desire for my usual Jewish prayer garment (which I was increasingly tired of giving up in order not to rock the boat with frummy family's congregations).

So in the run-up to Passover a few years ago, when we'd be at Chabad for my cousin's bar mitzvah on the 2nd morning of Pesach, I kicked the plan into action. I knew I had several shawls that might be contenders, of a good size & shape for tallit transformation--I rarely wear them (but my mother loves scarves & shawls & keeps giving them to me), so whichever one I picked would surely see more use as a tallit than as a neglected shawl. An off-white silk shawl, light but with an interestingly varied texture and fringey bits on the ends, looked perfect for the task. I asked around at the Sisterhood Gift Shop in the synagogue where I was working, and got the name of a wonderful tallit-maker in the area; I asked her if she could give me advice about converting the shawl into a tallit, and we arranged a time for me to come over.

She couldn't have been more generous! She gave me squares of fabric for reinforcing the corners & told me to hand-sew them on before bringing the shawl back. When I did, she used her sewing machine to do a buttonhole stitch in the middle of each corner-square, then used a seam-ripper to create a nice reinforced hole for the tzitzit to go through. She gave me instructions on tying tzitzit and guided me through the first one, then watched as I did the next. The last two I did on my own--finishing the final one just minutes before Shabbat, 2 days before my cousin's bar mitzvah, in their neighbors' basement where my husband & I were staying. On the morning of the bar mitzvah, I folded over the corners to keep the tzitzit from flailing about, settled the shawl around my shoulders, and pinned it together as an ordinary-looking shawl. When I got up to the ladies' gallery at the Chabad shul, I unpinned it, unfurled the tzitzit, and donned it as my tallit. Chabad takes all kinds, so it's possible that no one would have given me grief even if I had been davening with something more conventionally recognizable as a tallit--but I certainly didn't want to make trouble for my cousins by standing out as some kind of freaky radical, and I felt much more comfortable this way.

Since then, I've generally used this tallit--I love the way it feels, and it's very light and portable.


B.BarNavi said...

Becca, aren't there Beged Ish issues with wearing M's talles? It's not the issue that women should be wearing tallesim at all (you know my egal credentials here), it's that if it looks like it was designed for a certain gender, (or if apparently gender-neutral, then we go by the owner/normal wearer of the talles), then it's "assigned" to that gender.
Keep in mind I have the same issue when Zach wears his mother's talles when leyning (where he wouldn't wear one otherwise). Which, if you might recall, is the exact same (more or less) as your husband's!
(And then we get into a whole 'nother discussion about shul tallesim, if they're interchangeable, and so forth...)

All in all, still a great looking tallet, and I hope B"H that I may endeavor to make one myself! I first pitched a Chinese-themed one to my talles-making friend (currently in Israel at cantorial school!) way before I entered mikvah.

As for your "stealth tallet", I am extremely supportive of the concept, and perhaps you can use it next time you show up at MDSC. The only issue I have is the using of pins to "hide" the tzitziyot on Shabbat. If you can hide them in a corner pocket, that's probably more shabbesdik.

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

"Becca, aren't there Beged Ish issues with wearing M's talles?"

Not by me -- not any more so than borrowing his sweater if I'm cold. But I'm not generally concerned about the category of "beged ish" or "beged ishah": outside of Really Highly Gendered items (skirt; jockstrap*)it's not something I would give a second thought to.

*Hard to think of Normal Highly Gendered Items for men, since women's fashion has extended to pants, suits, boxers...maybe not so much briefs, but there's definitely an "anything you can do, I can do better" co-opting of most options in men's fashion to a female equivalent -- and you couldn't necessarily tell by looking whether the garment in question came from the women's or men's dep't.

Best of luck with your own talles-making plans: Chinese-themed sounds terrific!

David Gabrieli said...

Thanks for this knowledgeable blog. I have heard alot about Gabrieli Tallit and i really wanted to know about them.