A Problem of Iconography

The atara/neckband of Joshua's tallit  is to be made out of the central part of a belt that was made out of units of Hmong work.  I have seen lots of this work which is made by the Hmong of Cambodia. Their traditional handwork is a combination of reverse applique and embroidery. I have never seen the work done on such a refined scale. It's a really beautiful piece.

The central panel and the two outer ones presented something of an iconographic problem. The geometric design is one of crosses. If I were making something for Josh's home I would have no problem with having something that wasn't meant as a religious cross, but was simply a geometric design  that resembled a cross .

I had brought the issue up to both Joshua and his mom. They were fine with the crosses. I was ok with the crosses in theory. But the closer the tallit comes to completion, the more it looks like a religious garment, but not one for Josh's religion. My husband took one look and said, "Wow!! that looks like a preist's garment !". He was right. It looked like a stole for a priest serving the Hmong community. If that were what I was making, that would be fine, but this is a tallit. I didn't want the people who sit behind Joshua in synagoue to say to themselves, "Why is Joshua wearing a Catholic preist's garment at services?"

I needed to do something that preserved the integrity of the beautiful Hmong work, but allowed the tallit to be a fully Jewish religious article.  My first thought was to create a diamond of gold embroidery to break up the grid of crosses.

. The gold was too light . It just didn't work. My youngest nixed the fix.  So I undid my work last night, something I just detest doing, and tried again. This time I satin stitched a back diamond that bisected all of the crosses on the diagonal. I then outlined the black with gold straight stitching, it relates to the orange stitching that is in the center of each of the black crosses.
I added a foil lined yellow glass bead to the center. The crosses seem less cross-like but the center seems too weak against the neighboring red panels.

The red bead did the trick.

I hope that Joshua and his mom understand why I made the decision I did. I wouldn't normally tamper with old hand work, especially work as lovely as this is. A tallit is a religious garment incorporating the central religious iconography of another religion into a tallit is just not the way to go.

Now, it's time to sew it all together.


  1. Good way to handle the issue. I'll bet they love it when it's done.

  2. good save. The crosses read like a grid now, and yes, I did see a crosses in it before. Not so cool for synagogue!

  3. I emailed Josh's mom and sent her a link to this blog. She understood and was happy with the fix.


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