Monday, September 26, 2016

Some family treasures

Yesterday my husband and I had plans. I woke up sick, so the plans were not followed. Instead I tended to my gross cold and worked on the kittle.

My husband went to the storage locker that houses the STUFF from his parents' home. He came home with a giant bag and told me that I would love what he had brought home.

My husband knows me well. My husband brought home a giant shopping bag filled with photos. I will share just a few with you today.

Some of the photos were really old.
This is Velvel Krupnick, my husband's great grandfather, and his wife whose name we do not know. Velvel was a miller who came from Tulchin which is now in the Ukraine. At first i assumed that both of them were old when this photo was taken, but the longer I looked at their smooth, unlined faces, I realize that they were both probably younger than I am now when they sat for this photograph.

This is Velvel's son, Leib, Louis in English,my husband's grandfather. Louis emigrated to New York with great dreams of becoming a successful businessman.

He was a man who survived some booms and many financial busts. My husband has some memories of his grandfather who suffered from dementia during the last years of his life, probably from his years using lead paint as a house painter.

Here are my in-laws in front of the house the house they bought in East New York Brooklyn at the very end of WWII. The house is still standing.

We had seen very few photos of my mother-in-law's mother, Toba/Tillie. This bag of treasures includes several. I love how she is addressing the camera here. 

One of the items in the bag was a booklet I had put together for my mother-in-law near the end of her life. My mother-in-law suffered from dementia. To tell the truth, we all suffered from her dementia. During my mother-in-law's many hospitalizations she would forget the things that mattered most to her and get anxious.

I made a booklet with photos that reminded her who she was and who the people she loved were.My mother in law liked to know who her relatives were, how old they were and when there birthdays were.   I just looked through the book and see that she added some notes to it. Those months were so full of stress taking care of her that I had no memory that I had put that booklet together. I'm glad that I did.

In that big bag were also two sweet photos of more recent vintage.
Mu husband does a trick for little kids where he can make his face squeak. My older son is attempting to do that trick. Such a sweet image of love.

Here are my two big kids in Riverside Park. We have purchased lunch in the bagel store across the street. Our third child is a newborn. In a few minutes I will take a photo of my big kids holding their new brother.

Friday, September 23, 2016

What I worked on today, and

the sound-track for my labors.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Many years ago my husband introduced me to a friend who could barely read Hebrew and yet he studied Talmud pretty seriously with his rabbi. My experiences in the world of sewing are pretty comparable. I have some skills that most people would think of as being on the advanced side -- I draft clothing, I know lots of high level embellishment skills.

On the other hand. there are lots of skills that any one who took an old fashioned sewing class in high school would have learned  that I have never attempted (and completely terrify me).

The lopsided nature of my sewing skills is what is putting this kittle together so difficult for me.  I make all nearly all of my clothing, but I have never made a shirt collar. I have never made a button stand. I have never made a buttonhole.

The collar has been a big worry.  I have assigned puzzling it out to a corner of my brain and the problem has been simmering away. Today I attacked it.

The collar does not have a separate stand or band. It is a one piece collar. It is made out of three layers of fabric for stability.

I trimmed the collar with text covered ribbon. My commercial kittle had lace edging and the underside of the collar was junky with untrimmed fabric (feh!). I cut the collar at the stitching line and then bound the edge with gros-grain ribbon. I then added the lace to the underside of the collar.

The collar points look pretty even. The collar has enough internal structure to have body and feel rich.

Most commercial kittles are trimmed with lace.  I find it fascinating that a garment that is so typically male is lace trimmed. This lace is Belgian. I like how modern and manly it looks.

My next big worry is the button stand. Many men's shirts have a facing, creating two ( or more) layers of fabric to support  the buttons. The button holes are also made on a strip of fabric that is a few layers thick. The additional fabric keeps the buttons and the buttonholes from buckling under the weight  of the buttons and looks wavy or droopy.

I had found a bag of these great crystal embellished silver colored buttons at Paron. the nice folks at Paron just tossed them in for free.  I think they are perfect. This button has been buttoned through a hand worked button hole. It was my second.  It is not perfect, but not bad.

I think I now understand how to work a buttonhole and how big to cut the button hole.  I have been making eyelets for  tallitot  for years, a buttonhole is the same as an eyelet, only rectangular.

There is still lots of work to do, but I no longer feel like I am drowning.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Working in fits and starts

Yesterday I began  the scary task of attaching the ribbons of text to the kittle. I tend not to be someone who uses pins. I know that most of the world will pin stuff that needs to be sewn straight before sewing it in place. If I use pins I am guaranteed to stab myself in a horrible way. Most of the time I manage by holding things tightly, and most of the time, that method works.

My hold tight method failed miserably. It failed when I chose to do a complicated multi part stitch that ended up being sewn completely crooked onto the shoulder yoke of the kittle.

It took over an hour to unpick 21 inches of sewing. Let me repeat that, it took over an hour to unpick 21 inches of sewing. That was not a fun hour.

I then turned to the emporium that saves me from nearly all emergencies, the dollar store downstairs from my apartment. The dollar store always carries iron on hem tape. I thought that I could baste  the ribbon to the kittle with the hem tape.

Well, the dollar store had double sided hem tape. rather than the iron on kind. On the plus side it works great holding the ribbon in place. On the negative side,(and it took me entirely too long to figure this out)  the needle gets gummy from the sewing through the hem tape. A gummy needle skips stitches.

 I have spent lots of today unpicking bad stitches and removing the needle from the sewing machine, wiping all of the adhesive off with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol and then reinstalling the needle in the machine. Yes, it is exactly as annoying as it sounds.

And yet....
by the time I had completed appliqueing the text onto the yoke, I was pretty pleased with the result.
I then decided to begin applying text to the back of the kittle. I need to add pleats to the to kittle back. I assume that the pleats will be above the shoulder blades, just like on a dress shirt.

I decided to add the block of text in a V shape. I pressed the V into the back piece and began the process of stitching and needle cleaning.

Yes, you can see some
of the skipped stitches if you look closely. Yes, I plan to repair those.

I have a few more rows of  to add to this unit. Below you can see my trusty rolls of hem tape.

I plan to outline this V with additional ribbon. Don't worry, it will look tidy by the time I am done.

Now you can see the yoke with the kittle back. 

Now I am switching topics. I drive my husband crazy when I do that without warning. So feel warned. 

After finishing today's work I walked towards the living room. Our living room faces west.  On evenings with especially wonderful sunsets the yellow painted  living room glows- that's actually why I chose that color for the room. Tonight the room glowed. 

I checked out the sunset, and it was indeed spectacular.

Tomorrow more kittle work awaits me.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Many Kittle thoughts

I am known in the sewing universe for being able to whip up a dress quickly. This is not a Trumpian exaggeration but most of my dresses have been whipped up in less than 30 minutes. A few of them have taken a couple of hours to make and some have been made in 15-20 minutes. I tend to cut into fabric without a pattern and just make the thing work.

This kittle is a very different sort of a project. I have made two muslins so far. I have drafted and re-drafted the pattern. I keep thinking about issues of fit, how men's bodies are built and how a kittle is actually used and worn. One complication for me is that this is a garment for a man. this is not my usual wheelhouse. the other issue is that the recipient is a man who cares about is particular about fit. A kittle is by it's nature big and floppy. 

The paradox of creating a well fitting  kittle  ( loose but not) was making me crazy. I had tried a close fitting draft of the kittle and knew it was entirely wrong. A high close fitting armscye ( arm hole- for people who don't sew) was clearly completely wrong. A kittle is an overcoat, a shirt like garment that fits over the clothing needs to be loose fitting, but my client adores good tailoring.

The problem was making me anxious. I finally realized that my daughter has a friend who could help me. Ben is a graduate of FIT in menswear.  He is also observant and knows his way around a kittle. He is observant but open enough to talk to someone (a woman) who is making an art-piece kittle.

My daughter met Ben during her stint working for a custom tailor. In the way that there is really only two degrees of separation between Jews, Ben's mother is a dear friend of my college buddy Helene. When Helene was visiting us a few months back she mentioned over dinner that the son of a friend was studying tailoring at FIT. I immediately asked, "Is his name Ben?". Of course it was Ben. 

Ben was kind enough to be willing to talk me through my kittle issues last night. He thought that my idea of creating a fitted yoke and having deep pleats on the back of the kittle was a good one. He gave me some useful tips about how to create the illusion of height in a man who does not have that much height.

Ben approved of my fabric choices. We talked about the horrors of a skimpily made shirt. We were both revolted by bad cotton poly shirting with the dreaded bluish tinge to the white. We talked about kittle as a garment worn by the dead. He made some elegant suggestions that were beyond my tailoring skills.

By the end of our conversation, I was much calmer. I dreamed about the kittle all night and then today with Ben's wise words in my head I cut out most of the kittle out of the beautiful Italian shirting I had purchased for the project. I felt the glow of Ben's approval for the figured white cotton as i cut into it.

Ben is the same age as my kids. Ben has become my teacher.

Clearly this kittle and all of it's moving parts have been in my head for a while.  When I first came up with the design for the kittle I spoke to my client about wanting masses of stacked Hebrew text decorating the kittle.

I had a visceral sense of how the masses of text was a deeply Jewish thing. I couldn't exactly pinpoint why, but I just knew. One of the Jewish genealogy sites I am a member of mentioned  Carved Memories, a book of photographs of Jewish tombstones from the Ukraine.

I immediately bought the book. My grandfather was born in the Ukraine. my father in-law's parents came from there as well.  As I flipped through the pages I realized that these tombstones used text in the very same way that I was hoping to on the kittle.

This weekend I will start applying some of the ribbons of text to the kittle. The sleeves the yoke and the collar still need to be cut out and constructed. 

Some elements of this project have made my head hurt. Ultimately though I have loved how it has used so many different parts of my brain, and has involved so many different kinds of problem solving. I am grateful to Ben for talking me off the ledge about drafting the kittle.

Tomorrow's Haftarah

A few weeks ago I got an email from the Torah reading coordination at my minyan. They needed someone to read tomorrow's haftara,  The reading from the prophets that follows the Torah reading. I took a look at the haftarah and realized that it was deeply familiar.

The reading is short, only 9 verses, ( Isiah 54, verses 1-9). It is a haftarah that is often given to kids with learning issues. I claimed the haftarah only to be told that someone else had grabbed it before I had responded.

Last week I got another email. The person who had made their first dibs on that haftara was unable to to do it. Was I willing to to take it on. Of course I was!

So now a bit of my history with this haftara. There was a boy in my community who was born with developmental disabilities. When he was ten or eleven, his grandparents approached my parents and said that they wanted to be sure that Barry had a bar-mitzvah.

My mother began teaching Barry how to read Hebrew.  I was three and often sat at the kitchen table along with my mother and Barry. I knew that my job was to be quiet and let my mother teach Barry. Barry had learning issues and sometimes the reading came hard for him. I felt badly for him I sympathized with his struggle. At one point I decided to help Barry by finishing reading the sentence for him.

My mother then realized that I could read. My mother  worked with me on my own  also teaching me how to write in Hebrew on machberet paper folded into 1/4's the long way with a letters or later words written one in each colunm of the paper.

Once Barry had mastered reading Hebrew, it was time for my father to teach Barry how to chant his haftarah. My father also had one of the slightly older kids, tutor Barry.

I remember Barry's bar-mitzvah. I remember sitting anxiously hoping that he could get through his haftara smoothly. I remember the knot in my stomach. Barry had inherited the terrible singing voices of both his parents. He was hesitant and careful and got through his haftarah. One of my sisters remembers my mother weeping throughout Barry's chanting.

My mother had once taught this haftara to a kid in Halifax as well. She loved it, and used to sing the first couple of verses by heart.

I learned the  haftara with great pleasure. Wednesday I received an-email from our rabbi. because of vagueries in the Jewish calendar, I would have to do a longer version of the haftara. I had to learn 12 verses in two days.

The longer version is the haftara  is alsorecited on Parashat Noach.  It's Isiah. The language is wonderful. I keep practicing my now longer haftarah.

A memory then bubbles up.  My father died at what is now called Hebrew Senior Life in Boston. In the old days it was called Hebrew Home for the Aged.  My parents always called it The Hebrew Hilton, it was a nice place. My father was there for the last couple of months of his life.

One of the other patients at the Hebrew Hilton was a rabbinic colleague of my father's, someone a few years older, a brilliant rabbi . He and his two siblings had all succumbed to Alzheimer's. Occasionally, when my mother had the emotional strength, my mother used to visit Al.

Al's memory was mostly gone. My mother used to introduce herself and then do one of the things that she was amazing at, connecting to someone whose brain was mostly far away. She reminded Al that it would soon be Rosh HaShanah. Then she asked him if he knew the Haftarah for Noach. My mother began to chant the haftarah by heart. Al soon joined in. Al then chanted the entire haftara from memory with just a couple of prompts from my mother.

Tomorrow I will chant the haftarah.
Tomorrow my head will be filled not only with the sound of my own voice but that of my mother and Al and Barry.

Monday, September 12, 2016

End of an era and some other bits of randomness

I begin this post with a bit of lovely.
I was struck by this beautiful spot of light on my kitchen floor when I realized that the source of the light was 
Sun shining through this bottle half filled with water. This bottle began life as a whiskey bottle. It now holds water to fill my iron. For the past few decades I have used the little plastic pitcher than came with an iron that has long since bit the dust. it was a nice shape for filling the iron but had an unpleasant tendency to tip over. The whiskey bottle is much more attractive than the plastic pitcher and is much too bottom heavy to tip. I think that the incidents of my cursing during ironing has been reduced to just a fraction of what it was before.

And now, the end of an era. One of the first fabric stores I ever shopped in in New York was Paron. They used to have more than one store. I used to shop at their store on 57th street when there used to be several fabric stores just east of Carnegie Hall. I was a big devotee of their half price store, which then morfed into their half price nook.

I bought most of my copies of Burda at Paron. I followed them when the rents became too high on 40th Street and they moved to 39th Street. I went today for my last visit and shop..
The store was crowded. There were small design houses buying up stock for next season's clothing. There were women who sew buying special fabrics that otherwise they might not splurge on.

I saw Kini from Project Runway fame, he looked, but did not purchase. No, I am a New Yorker and did not speak to him.

When I paid for my last purchase I took a photo of the woman who has been selling me fabric for the past 26 years.
Behind her you can see thecertificates for trees planted in Israel by the owners and a Yahrzeit reminder from the same funeral home in Queens that buried my mother in law. 

This is what I bought 
From top to bottom, a light weight striped stretch denim. it's for the New England girl in me.

Then this blue and grey striped jersey. The stripe is really subtle. This will be a season-less dress, the sort of dress you wear to death.

This navy blue lace came in several different colors, a melon, a magenta and a red. The other colors looked a little cheap The navy blue is pretty elegant looking.This will probably be a fancy dress for me.

I have already made two muslins of the kittle . I plan to make the final muslin out of this beautiful shirting. Actually I plan to turn this version of the kittle into a dress for me once I get the fit all tweaked.

Finally I got this soft rayon knit  that will become either a nightgown or a sundress, or perhaps both if I cut cleverly.
Part of my sewing life is now over.