When I was very young, I learned to embroider. My mother was a fabulous seamstress, but sewing was not my thing. Later, around middle school, an aunt taught me how to knit. I picked up crocheting but never really liked it or excelled at it. However, I took knitting to all levels, including a dress for myself, and, later, I returned to various kinds of needlepoint, coming to love them.
On my and my husband’s bedroom wall, there are framed embroidery pieces, each with its history, which I collected in the 1970s. I would have liked to have in my collection some work from Jewish women, who had done embroidery before immigrating to Israel from various countries, but they had stopped doing such work, and all the pieces I have were made by Arab women, who continued the craft.
It was with this background that I thoroughly enjoyed perusing the new-to-me pages of Jewish Threads: A Hands-on Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts by Diana Drew with Robert Grayson (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011). The author explains her journey from sewing to fabric crafts, from editing for the division of Random House that published books on handicrafts to being awakened spiritually while editing for spiritual book publisher SkyLight Paths.
In Jewish Threads, there are 30 projects and 30 interesting stories (written by the author’s husband) about each artist and their project. The contributors come from the United States – Alabama, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington – and Israel.
The book has four parts: at home, in the synagogue, celebrating holidays and through the Jewish lifecycle. For the home, there are wall hangings, a needlepoint and a purse. For the synagogue, there is a runner, a Shulchan Aruch cover, placekeepers and Torah mantles. The holiday section includes challah covers, a quilt, a vest, puppets, a matzah cover, an afikomen holder and a seder plate. And, lastly, the Jewish lifecycle section includes quilts, a challah cover, a tallit and tallit bags. Another five “inspirations” include several chuppahs, a tallit bag, a wall hanging and a bimah cloth.
The techniques include quilting, appliqué, embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet, knitting, felting and needle felting.
Although decidedly not for beginners, each project lists details for getting started, what you’ll need and step-by-step instructions, sketches and how to finish. The “final threads” chapter offers how-to’s for quilt-making, lettering, a stitch guide, resources and projects for sewing circles, parents and children and holidays.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.