When it comes to visual arts, I’m not the most creative of people. (The only creation I ever dared hang on my wall horrified so many friends that it was quickly taken down and thrown out.) But I do enjoy fabric and fiber arts. I feel a sewing machine or a set of knitting needles can be more accessible, and the product more forgiving, than some other art forms. It was with this hope that I approached Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts.
In her introduction, editor Diana Drew conveys that we can not only replicate these crafts, but make them our own. She explains that for her,
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 pastiche of modern-day Jewish life.
And she extends that bringing together to her readers, hoping we will learn, be inspired, and create. Each section of Jewish Threads is accompanied by “historical perspective, with tales from the Jewish tradition that give these fabric crafts added resonance today.” As such, each of us is encouraged to make these crafts our own, putting our own personal touches on the designs and making them relevant to our own Jewish lives.
Thirty crafts, each collected from a different artists, are explained within this anthology, accompanied by instructions and images to help readers re-create the pieces themselves. They’re conveniently categorized into four sections: At Home, In The Synagogue, Celebrating Holidays, and Through the Jewish Life Cycle. In actuality, all but a few crafts are for home use. Even those in the synagogue section could be adapted to home use: the tree of life runner (chapter 6), meant as a pulpit cover, could be a table runner or wall hanging.
Probably of most interest to casual crafters (or, recreational crafters?) are the sections on holidays and life cycle events: smaller projects, common ritual items found in many Jewish homes… there’s something for everyone. Challah covers? Yes. Tallis bags? Definitely. But there are also crafts that are less obviously Jewy, including puppets, purses, and quilts. There are crafts meant more purely as art (wall hangings), crafts meant to be used (matzah covers and seder plates), and everything in between.
Regardless of how ambitious the design, the contributors reassure us of our abilities along the way. Heather Stoltz (chapter 14), in her craft’s instructions, reminders readers,
As you start to sketch your piece, don’t worry about how it will be made. Keep in mind that there are no rules in fiber art, and anything you imagine can somehow be created. Try not to overthink the design. Go with your first instincts, and concentrate on overall colors and shapes. The design process will continue as you create the piece; this sketch is just a starting point.
Tips like Stoltz’s are reassuring to us amateurs, and thankfully all of the expert crafters are just as helpful.
Pick it up, take a look, and start creating!