Revisiting old work

Arona was one of the first wave of women to take on the mitzvah of tallit in the 1970's. She took a length of cotton poly eyelet, hemmed it and then tied tzitzit/ritual fringes into the eyelets in the corners. I had made her an atara/neckband about twenty years later.

Earlier this year, I made Arona a new version of that tallit. She had purchased some really high quality beautiful  white cotton eyelet in Colombia.  After wearing her new tallit for a while, Arona realized that it was too long. She isn't a very tall person, and she felt overwhelmed in the tallit. She suggested that I simply cut the tallit and make it smaller.

I don't like the idea of cutting up a tallit. ( We cut the corners off of a tallit and bury it  with the person who wore that tallit while they were alive.) I also didn't like the idea of a random seam in the middle of the tallit. It seemed like an ugly and clumsy solution to Arona's problem.

Instead, I decided to do a series of tucks across the width of the tallit. I used the eyelet pattern as my guide and sewed a presser-foot awayfrom the edge of the fabric. It is a joy to not have to measure and mark  but to use the fabric to help guide me. Each tuck shortens the tallit by about 1/2 an inch.  I will have Arona come by to see if I have shortened the tallit enough, or if I need to make a few more rows of tucks.

I have done three sets of tucks, a set of five near the neck, another set near the bottom of the tallit and a narrower set of three tucks  in the center of the tallit. The stripe pattern looks like an expanded version of a traditional tallit stripe. When the tallit is draped over the shoulders the stripe pattern becomes evident and looks really pretty. It makes the eyelet look more  tallit-like. I also like how the tucks work so comfortably with the eyelet. It is an embellishement that you might see on an eyelet blouse or  dress.

My youngest looked at the tallit as I was working. I asked him what he thought. He said, "It's pretty, but it's a little like a table cloth." I could see what he was saying. Many of those first wave tallitot were very table cloth like. Women were still working out the language of a woman's tallit. How much like a man's tallit ought it be? How do you make it feminine?

I think the answers to those questions are a bit different now than they were thirty years ago. I also talked to my son about how when you make something for a client, it isn't just about what I like. A big part of my job is meeting my clients needs. My esthetic judgements are just part of what goes into a tallit. A big part of  what goes into one of my tallitot is what suits my clients.

 I am not a girly girl, ruffles tend to make me look like a drag queen, Arona is a really feminine sort of a woman. She collects old hand made lace. It is displayed and used extensively in her apartment. Eyelet resonates in a powerful way for Arona. It suits her.

I told my son, that if  I were making the tallit for myself, it would look very different. But because it is being made for a client, it is being made to meet her needs, and not mine.

People assume that artists work to put their vision out in the universe. I suppose that some artists do work that way. The great artists of most of hostory didn't exactly work that way. they worked in conjunction with their clients or patrons. When Iwas studying Art History in college, I felt sorry for the poor artists who had to compromise their brilliance for the needs of their wealthy clients.

Now that I work with clietns I see that relationship in a very different way. Meeting the needs of my clients is very much part of the artistic process.  I live with a piece during the time that I am producing it. My clients have to live with a piece long term, for decades. For a tallit or a torah mantle to really work it can't just satisfy my needs , it needs to satisfy the needs of my clients., otherwise, it won't be used.

Meeting the needs of my clients , both the mundane ( making a challa cover fit a table of a particular size) and the spiritual. Makes my work far more interesting and powerful than it would be if all I were thinking about were my own needs.

Yes, it's Friday. But aside from baking challa, dinner is being pulled out of the freezer from the Passover excess. i assume that Food Friday will be reinstated next week.


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