And the Beat Goes On

Rosh Hashannah is behind us and the year 5771 has begun. The air is a bit cooler here even in Memphis, which means that there are plenty of  holiday shows to prepare for. But first I want to share photographs of the finished tallitot taken by my friend and professional photographer, Guillermo Umbria.

The project, commissioned by a large synagogue,  began a year ago in October 2009. First there were meetings with the rabbi, then a design committee was assembled and we discussed colors, designs, and various interpretations. For several months I wove small samples of possible designs and in December presented a formal presentation with photographs, sketches and woven samples and yarn samples. The project was approved, and in January 2010 I met again with the design committee, this time with samples of yarn and we held the skeins up to the walls, rugs, stained glass windows, furniture, and Torah covers (mantles) to find the best combination of colors. Once that was decided, the yarn was ordered and all arrived by February including some hand dyed yarn that was as close to a true match to the colors in the Sanctuary as possible.

There was a problem, though!  I had several Spring shows scheduled for March, April and May, so that the actual weaving process couldn’t begin straight away.  I was able to prepare the warps and thread them on the looms by the end of April. And it was at that time that I slowly started weaving the prayer shawls. The weaving picked up during the summer months and the final pieces were delivered the last day in August. Which wasn’t bad, as I had promised them to be finished by the last week in August. Whew! That was close, but I made it. And it was a beautiful sight to see the three rabbis and the cantor wearing the tallitot over their white robes for the first of several services during these High Holiday Days, or 10 Days of Awe.

"Ner Tamid", Eternal Light. High Holy Day Tallit for a Rabbi

Atarah, neck band for "Ner Tamid"

"Sha'arei Torah", Gates of Torah. Shabbat and daily use tallit for a rabbi

Atarah, neck band for "Sha'arei Torah"

As the song says, “And the Beat Goes On”, because I am once again back at my looms, swinging the beater forward, now weaving scarves and fabric for purses. This time to prepare for several holiday shows and classes over the next several months.  I’ll post these as the dates get closer.  Meanwhile, here’s a look at what will be in store as far as handweaving goes for the Memphis market during the holiday season.

Handwoven scarves by MemphisWeaver

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Hot Off the Press

It’s here! Lark Books’ latest book in the 500 series, 500 Judaica, was just delivered to me yesterday. And it is just lovely. I feel honored to be included in this beautiful visual collection of works by global artists and craftspeople who  create ritual objects for Jewish worship.

500 Judaica - Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art from Lark Crafts, a division of Sterling Publishing Co.

Four of my original design handwoven prayer shawls were selected for inclusion in this book.

Kol Nidre

Asher

The design and colors of Asher were inspired by the stained glass window of the same name by Marc Chagall.  It is one of a series of windows, Jerusalem Windows, installed at the Hadassah-Hebrew Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Marc Chagall's stained glass window, Asher

Tribute to Ruth and Old Jerusalem

Tribute to Ruth on the left includes some handspun yarn that I inlaid into the atarah, or neckband. I created this tallit in honor of the Book of Ruth.  Ruth was recorded as the first convert to Judaism, and she was the great-grandmother to King David. Old Jerusalem on the right of this page had been previously selected to be included in the exhibit “Best of Tennessee Craft” at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.

The book is extremely well done.  And certainly not because of my pieces.  The photographs are all lovely and all craft media are represented here:  wooden arks (which house the Torah scrolls), silver kiddush cups, gold mezuzot, ceramic seder plates, glass Shabbat candlestick holders, bronze and copper jewelry, paper ketubot (marriage certificate) with hand printed calligraphy, a beautifully embroidered huppah for a wedding ceremony.  One not familiar with the beauty of Jewish ritual and worship will also learn quite a bit from the handcrafted objects used not only in a Jewish congregational  service, but also in the more intimate setting of a Jewish household.

And yes, 500 Judaica is available now and can be ordered here.

A Tale of Two Tallitot

Tallitot is plural for tallit.  For those of you who are wondering what a tallit is —  it is a prayer shawl worn for Jewish worship. The shawl has special twined and knotted fringes called tzitzit attached to its four corners. There are more than two tallitot involved here, but I really liked the alliterative reference!

This previous post described one of my long term projects – a commission to weave eight ceremonial tallitot, prayer shawls for a large synagogue.  The project is currently on my loom and looks like this.

Tallit on loom - Right and Left sides are woven separately and at the same time

This is the first prayer shawl in a series of four. These are ceremonial tallitot and so are narrower than standard prayer shawls.  They will be worn around the neck  much like a scarf and with a seam in the back.  The tallitot will be lined and taper to a width of about  four inches at the seam at the back of the neck.  Here is my sketch for one side of the tallit.

sketch of tallit design

The reason that I am weaving a single tallit side by side is so that the pattern bands are equal in length as these will lie in front of the wearer and for the congregation to see. Ideally the pattern bands should line up with each other.   This means that I am weaving with four shuttles at a time:  each side has one shuttle for plain weave and one shuttle for the pattern weave. I will also be weaving a separate neck band or atarah which will be sewn over the back seam and whose design will extend onto the front of the prayer shawl. This is the blue green band that is at the top of the design sketch.

Detail of tallit on loom

The warp and plain weave weft yarn for this project is an undyed  natural 8/2 tencel yarn.  The pattern weft is Bambu 7 in solid colors and also a handpainted 5/2 tencel.  The pattern design is a variation of  a honeysuckle twill.  The weave pattern for the atarah will be in a different design. The imagery of the twill weave reminded me of a flame, and so this collection will be titled “Ner Tamid” the eternal light above the Holy Ark that houses the Torah and thus is a symbol of God’s ever presence.

This first  set of four prayer shawls should be completed by the time of the Jewish New Year, or the High Holy Days which this year occurs the first week of September.  And at this time as well, Lark Books will introduce a new book: “500 Judaica:  Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art.” This is one of Lark Books’  “500 series”  of publications showcasing collections of contemporary design by an international array of artists in varying media.

Lark Books' "500 Judaica"

And it just so happens that four of  my original design handwoven tallitot have been selected for publication in this book. This book will be available in September and can be purchased at all book stores and online shops.  To find out more visit Lark Books.

Planning Ahead

When I first met Mr. MemphisWeaver, one of the things I remember him saying was  “Man plans, God laughs”.  This from a well known Yiddish proverb,  Mann traoch, Gott Lauch. We’re all laughing now, because at that moment we weren’t planning on marrying and being together for at least 26 years.  But it’s true. Yes, it’s true.

And now I am planning ahead for some projects that will keep me busy for awhile.  Short term are two art and fine craft fairs where I will be selling my handwoven scarves, accessories and handbound books.  One is happening this weekend, February 20 at the Hutchison School in Memphis. The second show will be at Christian Brothers University in Memphis the last weekend in March (26-28).

Some of the items that I have been working on to include in these shows are handwoven scarves woven with bamboo, cotton and ribbon yarns, and also a series of handbound books made with hand made paper.  The book bindings are varied ranging from herringbone, coptic and long stitch.

Handwoven bamboo scarves

Handbound books with Thai mango paper covers

The long term projects I will be working on are the eight ceremonial prayer shawls that I will be weaving  by commission for a large synagogue.  The shipments of  yarns required for this project recently arrived, and I will be warping my looms as soon as my production for the art/craft fairs has calmed down.  The warp for this project will be 8/2 undyed natural tencel yarn from Webs.

16 pounds of undyed 8/2 tencel yarn

The background weft will be the 8/2 tencel, and the pattern weft will be Bambu 7 from Silk City Fibers and a luscious hand painted 5/2 tencel from Yarns Plus. The friendly folks at Yarns Plus were especially helpful in guiding me in the preparation of the hand painted tencel, particularly in light of the fact that I will be weaving it with undyed tencel.

Bambu 7 Yarns to be used for the prayer shawl project

Handpainted 5/2 tencel yarn

I’ve wrapped the yarn and color sequence around a foam board as a way of planning the pattern design.

Yarn and color sequence for 2 sets of prayer shawls

The first set of four prayer shawls needs to be completed in time for the High Holy Days in early September. My goal is for this to happen! These are my plans and I hope no one laughs…

Diary of A Mad Weaver

Like realtors whose mantra is “location, location, location”, the weavers’ mantra is “sample, sample, sample”. But as a weaver for 30 years, I’m very bad at this.  I just don’t have the patience to weave a small sample to represent a larger piece, and my attention is so short, that by the time the sample is off the loom, I’ve changed my mind completely as far as pattern, colors, yarn, textures, etc.  With my limited production of handwoven scarves and purses that I sell at fairs and shows, I like to design directly on the loom. This gives me creator’s license to make one of a kind items.  Even though my loom might be set up to weave a dozen scarves for example, each one will be unique.  When I see the weave pattern develop as I  throw the shuttle, that is the time when my creative juices flow most freely.  My stash of yarns is within my visual field while weaving, and my eye always seems to rove in that direction. I see nubby yarns, metallic yarns, blended yarns, exotic yarns, and I like the idea of “contrasts” in my weaving:  dark/light, thick/thin, smooth/nubby, dull/shiny etc.  And so I prefer designing directly on the loom rather than sampling beforehand.

But  (and there’s always one of those) I also weave commissions for the religious community here in the Memphis area.  And because I often work with a committee representing the church, synagogue, or clergy I have to create samples to show before getting a final design approval.  And when I do, I usually go overboard, creating many more samples than necessary!  Currently I am working on a commission to weave two sets of 4 tallitot, prayer shawls with a neckband used in Jewish worship, for a large synagogue.  After a brief presentation with the senior rabbi, I decided to use bamboo and tencel for the warp and weft of the prayer shawls.  My decision was largely based on  the clergy members’ requests that they won’t get hot from wearing the tallitot. So my usual materials of a silk and wool blend yarn was out of the question.  I had previously woven a tallit for a girl’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony with a bamboo warp and weft.

bamboo tallit

Handwoven Tallit (prayer shawl) woven with bamboo yarn

This prayer shawl was woven in a diamond twill pattern.  The twill weave structure really lent itself to the light weight of the bamboo and this combination created an elegant drape – something that would be appropriate and attractive for a tallit.

And so I set out to order samples of both bamboo and tencel yarns in varying weights.

yarn samples 2

bamboo and tencel yarn samples

Sample yarns and color cards began to pour in from a number of suppliers and manufacturers.  There were yarns of several different weights:  16/2, 10/2, 8/2 and 5/2.  There were solid colors, variegated, mill dyed, hand dyed.  It was time to get organized!  No more designing on the loom – I had to create samples and decide on some successful patterns that could be presented to the design committee. All the sample cards were given their own sleeve protector which were all filed in my new loose leaf binder from Office Depot.

I threaded my looms six times to get an elegant twill weave that would also create a natural drape.  Most of my samples proved to be useless – the pattern was too small, or too detailed, or did not match any of my visual preconceptions of a final design.  So sampling turned out to be a good thing!

weaving samples 1

Handwoven samples in twill and overshot weave structures

With the materials I was using- a 10/2 tencel yarn in the warp and Bambu 7 in the weft, a variety of twill weaves packed down too much and became a dense fabric.  Not at all what I was looking for.  With much procrastination I rethreaded my looms once again with a few overshot patterns, not my favorite weave.  But it turned out that I really liked the way the fabric draped and the look of the overall designs.

Here are some of the overshot patterns that I am considering to present to the design committee for a decision on the final tallitot designs.

weaving samples 6

Honeysuckle Twill Overshot Pattern #1

weaving samples 7

Honeysuckle Twill Overshot Pattern #2

weaving samples 2

Double Diamond Pattern

My instructions from the design committee were to make these prayer shawls “colorful” and “grandiose” in a design that would represent this synagogue for the twenty years that they expect these tallitot to last.  Not too much pressure there, right? So as I continue this journey, I will try to post more about this project and possibly dear reader, you will watch me descend into madness…..

Weaving is Alive and Well and Living in Memphis!

Twenty five.  That is the number of new rigid heddle weavers in the Memphis area.  The Memphis Botanic Garden hosted a one day workshop in rigid heddle weaving at the beginning of February.  Eight participants registered and seven were present at the class.  There is a waiting list of eight more interested students, and the Garden plans to offer another one day weaving workshop later this Spring.  Everyone finished weaving a scarf using knitting yarns.  Some wove faster than others, so in the alotted time, students walked away with seven scarves of various lengths.  Everyone enjoyed weaving in such a beautiful setting.

Rigid Heddle weaving at the Memphis Botanic Garden

Rigid Heddle weaving at the Memphis Botanic Garden

Students wove on Schacht rigid heddle looms.  One enthusiastic weaver purchased a Kromski “Fiddle” soon after the class ended and has started a new project on that.  When she brought it to show me, I immediately fell in love with it! The fiddle weaves a width of 16″ and it has so many options such as an additional mount for a second heddle, solid wooden bars with openings for clamp attachment, and it comes with a shuttle, threading hook and warping peg.  And did I mention that it’s really cute?  Looks like it would be a good loom for someone with limited space or someone who likes to take a weaving project when taking a trip.  At $131, it’s a great price too.

I am also teaching two six week classes at the Tipton County Commision on Aging in Covington, TN.   The first class filled up so quickly that they are now offering a second class.  My class size limit is eight, and so now there are a total of 16 students.  The first class is being offered through Creative Aging Mid-South, a non-profit organization which funds music and art programs for senior citizens throughout the greater Memphis area.   This organization also provides Beka looms, accessories and yarn for students taking this class.  The Commission on Aging is sponsoring the second class.  The Commission owns a few Schacht rigid heddle looms and I am providing the rest.  The theme of these two classes is recycling.  Students are weaving with plastic bags, sheets cut into strips, and used t-shirts to make purses and tote bags.

Kathy weaving with t-shirt strips

Kathy weaving with t-shirt strips

threading rigid heddle looms in the afternoon class

threading rigid heddle looms in the afternoon class

Since the classes are six weeks long, and everyone has proven to be fast weavers, several students are already starting their second projects.  Many students are also knitters with their own stash of yarns, so these students plan to weave scarves as their second project.

But these numbers only add up to 23!  That means that I have two private students.  One student is a junior sculpture major at Memphis College of Art.   About two years ago, the College decided to close their Weaving program and auctioned off all their looms and weaving equipment.  My student Molly had always wanted to learn to weave and the College connected her to me.  It may be that I am currently the only studio weaver in Memphis that also teaches on a regular basis.  I feel very lucky that I have a student intern who is happy to be learning weaving and who is also able to assist me with various projects for upcoming shows.  I am hoping that is the beginning of a new tradition!

The other private student is weaving two prayer shawls or tallitot for her friend’s daughters’ B’nai  Mitzvah ceremony.  I have worked with many students both teenagers and adults from Temple Israel in Memphis in the weaving of prayer shawls either for themselves or a friend or relative.   It is customary though not necessary in Jewish tradition for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah (son or daughter of the Commandment) to wear a tallit during this religious service. Below are a few photos of prayer shawls that I have woven in the past for various exhibits.

Handwoven prayer shawl

Handwoven prayer shawl

Handwoven multi-colored prayer shawl

Handwoven multi-colored prayer shawl

And so, a lot is happening in the weaving world in Memphis, Tennessee.  This is an exciting time for weavers, and all fiber enthusisasts living in the area.  Just because our local schools no longer teach weaving, doesn’t mean that a community can’t rally to revive something truly creative and meaningful!