Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Torah Mantle (Part 1)

After a couple hiccups, I am finally making great progress on my Torah mantle!

To refresh your memory, a Torah mantle is a cloth cover that is placed on the Torah when it is not in use in order to protect the parchment from debris.  They are usually ornately decorated, often using goldwork and applique.

As my first commissioned piece, it was very important for me to create what the customer wanted.  He had requests for symbols, some Jewish (lions, crown) and some personal (scales because he is a lawyer).  He wanted an emphasis on red, yellow, green, and blue colors.  He is also a fan of Marc Chagall, a 20th Century Jewish artist who is best known for more abstract, expressionistic work and stained glass.

With all this in mind, I found images that managed to represent the symbols he wanted without being too realistic in style.  I altered the pictures so that they were black-and-white outlines, then used printouts of these pictures to trace the design onto colored fabric.  I enjoyed using my light pad and discovering that it worked just as well with colored fabric.

I'm going for a fairly simple style with these pieces.  I'll use one color thread for each picture except for the family name, which will have a multicolored floral design.  The outlines are done in backstitch, with some other stitches for decorative details.

This is my take on a Judaic symbol known as the "Lion of Judah."  Animal imagery in Judaism has an interesting history.  It is against Jewish law to worship idols or make graven images, but Jews could never agree on whether representational art of people, animals, and plants counted as graven images.*  Sometimes, disagreements erupted even between Jews in the same community!  In Europe it was a common occurrence for a rich man to donate an item like a curtain for the Torah ark decorated with deer, only for the town's rabbis to argue over whether they could actually use it in the synagogue.

The only exception to this debate was lions.  The Twelve Tribes of Israel are each represented by a symbol, and the lion was the symbol for the tribe of Judah.  This association traces back to Genesis 49:9, when the patriarch Jacob blessed his son Judah by calling him a "young lion" (gur aryeh)  Tradition dictates that most Jews are descended from the tribe of Judah, and this is where we get the term "Judaism."  Because of this history, lions have been a popular symbol for Jewish ritual objects.

Another symbol I've made is the crown (keter).  Lots of torah mantles include this at the top of the design as a symbol of learning and G-d's majesty.  I played around with the details on this picture, using chain stitch for the band of the crown and buttonhole wheels for gems.

Once I am done with each symbol, I will sew them onto the torah mantle.  I've learned a lot at every stage of this process.  I am grateful for the opportunity to not only try doing a hobby I love professionally, but for the opportunity to grow as a Jewish artist.

*My favorite example of this issue can be found in one of the synagogues in Venice.  The walls of the sanctuary are decorated with famous Biblical scenes, but they tried to find ones where they could get away with not depicting people, flora, or fauna.  One picture is of the Red Sea after it drowned the Egyptians, with chariot wheels poking out of the water.  Another is of Moses beating a rock with his staff to bring forth water, but Moses is holding the staff from "off-stage."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Far Away Place

Most of the embroidery patterns I buy now are fairly affordable.  It is usually $8-20 per pattern, depending on whether it is just a PDF document or printed on fabric.  For me, it's my affordable luxury.

Last weekend, though, it veered into ACTUAL luxury.

I follow a needlework company called The French Needle, which imports embroidery and cross-stitch patterns from France.  Their patterns are beautiful, but pricey.  Besides, my current style is patterns that are cute and/or related to pop culture.  I never really saw myself buying one in the near future.

Last week, however, one of their new patterns grabbed a hold of my imagination and did not let up until I bought it.  ABC "Les parisiennes" is a pattern of every letter in the alphabet, featuring women standing in front of Paris landmarks and wearing mid-century fashions straight from Dior or Mad Men.  It was stylish and complex, using advanced cross-stitch techniques to create a scene that was as far from old-fashioned patterns as a 1930's Hollywood movie star is from a dumpy fishwife.  I suddenly had to have it, even though it is the most expensive individual pattern I have bought so far.  (That was without shipping!)

You might be wondering why anyone in the world would buy patterns that require translation.  Really, the language barrier isn't that much of an issue.  The cross-stitch world largely speaks the language of DMC floss, and the color numbers are the same everywhere.  What little French is in the pattern is easily overcome with Google Translate.  "Point de croix 2 brins" means "Cross stitch 2 strands."

It is also fun to discover a world of needlework patterns beyond the US, with different countries having their own sense of style.  The French Needle began when the owner took her French sister-in-law to an American embroidery shop.  The SIL complained that she wasn't seeing any patterns in the style she wanted to make.  Each country has a different sense of color, line, and space that makes their style unique, and these patterns are worth seeking out.  (Japanese designers are also gaining popularity among American crafters for their inventive-yet-traditional knitting and embroidery patterns, but that might be beyond my Google Translate capabilities.)

Honestly, though, I bought it because it made me think of my great-aunt, this blog's namesake.  Auntie stuck with stamped cross-stitch patterns on plain weave fabric, so she would have never made a pattern with this much detail.

The real connection is that she was a world traveler.  I grew up hearing her tell the stories of her experiences, the same stories she told my mom and aunts.  One of my favorites was about her going to Paris with a group of friends.  One day, the group split up for separate activities.  Auntie and one friend went to buy opera tickets, while the rest of the group went glove shopping.  As Auntie approached the box office, she realized that they did not have enough money to cover the tickets.  A man in line offered to buy the tickets for them as long as they paid him back later.  Their only solution . . . ask the rest of the group to return the fancy gloves they had just bought.

When I saw the pattern, it made me think of Auntie as a young professional woman.  She was born into a poor immigrant family in Chicago, and through her hard work managed to earn enough money to visit one of the most exciting cities in the world.  Maybe she preferred the opera over gloves, but did she dress with just a little bit more glamor?  What other sites did she see?  What people did she meet?

My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was six.  In high school, I discovered the world beyond knit and purl, and I enjoyed showing my grandmother all the new projects I did that went beyond the skills she taught me.

Today, I sometimes feel sad that Auntie will never see my work.  She'll never see me learn new stitches, never see my projects of increasing complexity, never see the ribbons I win at the State Fair. ( I know she and my grandmother would shout "Hooray!")  I can take comfort in the fact that she still inspired me to explore this new world that brings me joy--a world that includes both the thrill of visiting a foreign land and the thrill of completing a beautiful piece of art.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Project Round-Up--7/8/2014

Nothing much happening except some diligent stitching.

My polar bear is in the home stretch, with the scarf and small flowers completed.

I originally thought I could do the scarf in a variegated thread, but the lessons specifically called for picking out three threads of one color in dark, medium, and light values.  By using these colors in satin stitch, it gives the scarf a "rounded" appearance, as if the light is hitting the scarf in a certain way.  The result actually looks like a scarf, and not some sort of Elizabethan white ruff that everyone thought it was before it was completed.  

If you look at this closeup picture, you can see some light white threads stitched over the scarf, as if some fur is poking out over the scarf.  I love how this gives the polar bear a slightly scruffy appearance.

Just this morning, I finished the next square of the Once Upon a Time Sampler.  This month is Thumbelina.  I guess that means Hans Christian Andersen stories are a possibility.  Hopefully they won't chose "The Little Match Girl" for December . . .

She is sitting in a walnut shell.  I got a lot of good practice with backstitching, which is often used in more complex cross-stitch patterns.

I can't believe it is over halfway done!  Now is when I start wondering what the Frosted Pumpkins will go with for a theme next year . . .

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Put Your Money Where Your Hoop Is

I never intended to let politics seep into this blog, but yesterday's SCOTUS decision made it unavoidable.

I first encountered Hobby Lobby in college, where there was a location nearby.  It was ok, with no discernible difference in quality from Michael's or Joann's.  Someone gave me a gift card for it.

Then a few years ago, I found out that Hobby Lobby was printing full-page ads in newspapers on the 4th of July.  An example of one ad is below.

The print is pretty tiny, so I will give you the gist of it.  This ad tells me, in no uncertain terms, that Hobby Lobby doesn't think I am really an American because I am Jewish.  I was born here, my grandfathers and other relatives fought valiantly for this country in WWII, and my great-grandfather carried his citizenship certificate around so much that it had to be held together with tape.  None of that matters to the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby.  Apparently, America is only for Christians--specifically, only certain kinds of Christians.

After finding out about these ads, I sent the corporate office a message saying that they have made it abundantly clear that they do not want me as a customer, and I would be taking my embarrassingly large craft budget elsewhere.  I have not spent one cent there ever since.

The information that has come out since then has only solidified my decision.  The store refuses to cover certain types of birth control, allowing their beliefs to trump scientific facts about how those types actually work.  One store got flack for telling Jewish customers who wanted Chanukah decorations, "We don't cater to you people here."  The Green family also has ties to Bill Gothard, a cult leader with the belief that fundamentalist Christians should rule America.  (You might have heard of him because the Duggar family of TLC's 19 Kids & Counting are his most famous followers--and he is currently embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal for taking advantage of young women at his organization.)

The recent SCOTUS decision perpetuates ideas about birth control that are factually incorrect.  It continues to stereotype birth control, and women's health in general, as optional or "not really medicine."  Most troubling, it places importance on some religious beliefs over others, and gives power to a group of people who do not want to stop until everyone believes what they believe (or at least, until everyone is following their rules.)

But what does all of this have to do with crafting?  On Ravelry, there is a Hobby Lobby fan group that specifically does not allow political posts because the controversy "doesn't change the yarn itself one tiny little bit."

The yarn might not change, but the money paying for the yarn should.  While I personally have boycotted Hobby Lobby for years, I was always reluctant to bring it up to other people.  When the students I worked with came in with craft supplies in Hobby Lobby bags, or a knitter at Warm Up America talked about buying a new skein of yarn there, I would cringe inside and stay silent.  Not anymore.  People are going to hear about why the store shouldn't get their money, and this court case will make it easier.

Here's a handy list of other craft stores to go to for supplies.  This list appears to be centered on the Pacific Northwest, so I also encourage you to check out your local craft stores and sources.

It's not realistic for all of our consumer decisions to reflect our values, but this is one case where it is important to me.  Make your crafting purchases send a message.