My older daughters go to Hebrew School at our synagogue three times a week. They learn to read and speak Hebrew, they learn Jewish prayers and Jewish history, they learn about holidays and about Israel. Most of all, they develop a strong, positive identity as Jewish people.
When Hebrew School started up again this fall they requested that I make them new tote bags. Their old tote bags were canvas ones they’d decorated in Kindergarten which were both worn out and covered in “baby drawings.”
In response to their request I began searching for some Hebrew-themed fabrics I could use to make the bags. This search led me to two discoveries. First, I’ve realized that there’s a serious lack of sophisticated, modern, tasteful Jewish fabrics on the market.
I get it. Jews make up just over 2% of the American population. It’s not a big market. But we live in an age of self-publishing so I felt surely Spoonflower would offer a better selection of print-on-demand Judaic fabrics. I found just one that was really lovely, but it had a pretty strong Hanukkah theme.
Spoonflower fabric designed by Alicia Vance.
So my first conclusion was that the selection of Jewish-themed fabrics on the market is very poor. My second discovery was Fay Nicoll. Fay owns Sunshine Sewing, a quilt shop in Margate, Florida. A few years ago she began designing Judaica-themed quilts and selling the patterns and kits in her shop. She also had a fabric line.
Here she is in 2009 at spring Quilt Market in her first booth. I love this video.
And I love her work. This quilt is really beautiful and a far cry from the tacky, old-school stuff that seems so common.
Judaica Rising quilt designed by Fay Nicoll.
She’s got an Etsy shop. I bought a yard each of her cotton Aleph Bet prints in different colorways, perfect for Hebrew School bags.
Why is all of this important? There’s a wonderful concept in Jewish culture called Hiddur Mitzvah which says that beautiful things contribute to our enjoyment of life. I think this can apply to anyone’s life, no matter what culture or religious background you come from.
Let me show you something that exemplifies this idea.
This is the matzah cover we use at the Passover seder (it says “matzot” in Hebrew, the plural of matzah). You can tell it’s been on the table at many, many seders. Charlie’s grandmother, Victoria (whom he called Gonga), made it. She died long before I met Charlie so I never knew her, but our eldest daughter’s middle name is Victoria for her.
These are Victoria’s stitches.
And that is one way that I know her, that our daughters know her. It might seem romantic, but the things we stitch with our hands are the tangible things that we leave behind, and they’re a big part of how we’re remembered. Using this matzah cover makes our Passover seder more beautiful. Having a handmade Hebrew School tote from mom makes going to Hebrew School feel good.
If Jewish women in 2014 are going to sew our own Judaica to use every day, and on special days, we need to breathe fresh life into the available fabrics and patterns. We need tasteful prints that we truly want to sew with, and modern patterns for objects ancient and new. I hope that in this new age of self-publishing we’ll start to see PDF patterns and print-on-demand fabrics that speak to modern tastes and inspire us to sew the Jewish objects that we’ll be remembered by.