Lockdown Diary: The Jewish Blessing of the Child

My eldest daughter is graduating from high school next week. This is what I thought will happen: my mom and sister will cross the ocean to celebrate this important milestone with us. We will all dress up in our finest to attend the graduation ceremony. My daughter will receive her diploma in her new gown and cap. I will give her a special gift I stealthily prepared while she was at school.

High School Graduation Gift: The Jewish Blessing of the Child

For months I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of a meaningful graduation gift for my firstborn, a second before she flies out of the nest. For months I couldn’t think of anything special enough. Until one sleepless night, that is. One of those many nights on which my brain swerms with thoughts, bursting with creative ideas. Sometime between 1:00 am – 2:00 am it hit me: The Jewish Blessing of the Child.

I didn’t grow up in a religious family. My parents never recited the Child’s Blessing. I never heard it growing up. But when I had kids of my own, I learned about it through their school. When my daughters got involved with theater, one of the first plays they participated in was Fiddler on the Roof. One of the scenes that touched me most in that musical, and still makes me cry time and again, is the Shabbat Prayer: The Jewish Blessing of the Child. Perhaps because the blessing touches on every parent’s deepest fears, and expresses their deepest wishes: the desperate hope that their children will always be safe.

That night, it occurred to me that it would be meaningful to make a textile wall hanging with the Child’s Blessing for my daughter. Something to remind her of my love. A gift light enough and packable enough for her to take with her when she moves out of our home and into her college dorm. Something that will symbolically protect her when I’m not there to do so myself.

The Blessing

The Jewish Blessing of the Child is actually the Priestly Blessing. Originally, the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem used it to bless the people. After the Romans destroyed the Temple and exiled the people of Israel to the diaspora, Jews continued to recite the blessing in synagogues. Many still recite it daily. In some communities, it became a custom for parents to bless their children on Friday night, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

Here is the blessing, first in the original Hebrew, then the transliteration in Latin alphabet, and finally the English translation:

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha

May God bless you and protect you.

יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו  אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka

May God show you favor and be gracious to you.

יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום

Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem lecha shalom

May God show you kindness and grant you peace.

In other words: May you always be protected, safe from all harm, and at peace. 

Pandemic and a Slight Change of Plans

Assumptions and expectation are one thing, reality quite another. Or, as the Yiddish saying goes: we plan, God laughs. This is what is actually happening in spring 2020: Covid 19 is raging around the world. Flights are unsafe/cancelled. My mom and sister will not be coming any time soon. The school cancelled the graduation ceremony. We will all stay in our pajamas. My daughter will wear her cap and gown only for a short photoshoot. I made her gift at the beginning of the lockdown, while she was taking remote classes on Zoom in a different room. Unable to wait, I already gave it to her, weeks in advance.

I had a vague picture of how I wanted this wall hanging to look. On my last visit to Fabmo I picked fabrics for it: a grayish blue for the background, a festive silver for the fonts. I even found matching tassels to go with it. I brought them home and hid them in my sewing room, so my daughter doesn’t see them.

The pandemic hit before I started working on it. Those first few weeks of quarantine were quite emotional. Like many others, I was scared and worried. I confronted my own mortality, and felt a deep existential fear for my children’s safety. I tried to stay positive, keep a routine, work on happy things. But I also had this feeling of helplessness. There was little I could do in the face of the universe. I could only protect my kids that much. Suddenly, the Child’s Blessing wall hanging seemed more urgent.

The Making Process

And so, one morning when my kids were busy online with school, I gathered my materials. I had the ones I brought from Fabmo, of course. But in a corner of my sewing room I had another pile of fabrics, one that was sitting there untouched for three years, ever since my mother in law passed away. This was the pile of textiles I rescued from her house. In this pile were some white linens belonging to my children’s great-grandparents from both my mother and father in law’s families. For three years I was unable to touch them. They seemed too precious, not because of what they actually were, but because of who they once belonged to, their sentimental value. Now their time has come. The Jewish Blessing of the Child, sewn during a global pandemic, seemed like a great use for these precious fabrics.

I started by printing the Hebrew letters and cutting templates.

I ironed interfacing onto the back of the silver fabric, and traced the mirror image of the letters.

For hours, I cut each one out carefully until my hands ached.

I arranged them on one of the cloth napkins. 

Then carefully sewed around each and every letter. This took many hours. 

I attached the napkin to the background fabric, framed it in between two halves of an ancestral doily, decorated with couched ribbon to tie it all together, and sandwiched it with batting and a backing (also from the ancestral pile). I quilted it all together and, at the very end, added the tassels.

When I finished, I was too excited not to give it right away. And so I did. True, the school year hasn’t yet officially ended, but the last day of school was already behind us. 

Making Two More

You might recall the three symbols of maternal love that became a tradition in my family. I originally expected the Blessing of the Child wall hanging to become a fourth, a high-school graduation gift for each of my three children. But that was before the pandemic. Once Covid 19 was here, I started thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to get the remaining two out of the way now, just in case…

And so, in the following weeks, I made two more. I already had all the materials, after all. They turned out similar, but not identical. Three pieces of cloth hangings that carried history and traditions from both my husband’s and my families. A symbolic hug from generations of ancestors, at a time when most hugs are only virtual.

Jewish Child's Blessing

Now, to wait for a vaccine…

Artsy Zipper Pouches Galore

Who would have thought that a week of jury-duty waiting would turn out to be the beginning of a month-long creative adventure?

At the end of last year I was called for jury duty. I checked my status online twice a day, knowing I could be called to court at any moment. I couldn’t make any plans, but had to keep my mind and hands busy. So I started working on small, non-committal stitch meditations. I made three, and on Friday, the very last day, was ready to start the fourth. But then something strange happened.

I looked over the small piles of scraps I had arranged by color on my cutting table. I tried to decide which color pallet to choose for the next textile sketch. My eyes kept going to the fuchsia/purple pile (you might know by now that purple is my favorite color).

When I started selecting pieces, though, I realized that I had a little rebellion on my hands. The magenta scraps simply didn’t want to become a 5-inch-square textile collage. Instead, they insisted on becoming an artsy zippered pouch.

There really wasn’t much I could do.

I just happened to have a long strip of very thin, white cotton fabric that I didn’t know what to do with. Hannah gave it to me when I volunteered at FabMo several weeks before. I took it out and cut a piece, then divided it in two and started playing.

I selected a perfect zipper from my collection.

And found a matching, luxurious-feeling lining in my stacks:

It took a few hours, but by the end of the work day I had a wonderful little clutch:

I loved everything about it! A tactile bonanza, it combined lots of different textures in beautifully-matching colors. It was fun to touch and to hold, and so I adopted it for myself.

Once it was complete, I couldn’t help but see those scraps on my table in an entirely new light! Soon, that little pouch became the beginning of a new series, followed by more textile collages:

I sewed each with three different colors of thread, to blend the color of the different pieces together and add some visual interest:

I matched them with the most beautiful linings I could find, some cotton brocades, some silk:

When I finished them, I made custom zipper pulls out of my selection of wooden beads. These added even more color and zest:

Over the following month, I made twenty eight scrap collages, which turned into fourteen artsy zipper pouches.

They were the ultimate autumn sewing.

They were delightful.

And they made perfect holiday gifts for some of the special women in my life!

Want to make your own artsy pouch? I have a detailed tutorial in my Etsy shop! Don’t feel like matching fabrics yourself? I’ve got you covered with a ready-to-sew Textile Collage Zipper Kit!

When you sew your own, make sure to show me pictures 🙂

A Dragon Quilt for My Beloved Boy

Prologue

I took my first quilting class while pregnant with my first child. Her baby quilt was finished before she was even born. Shortly after she turned one, I made a beautiful album summarizing her first year of life. Then, when she was about four years old and all into princesses, I sewed her a flowing magenta princess cape.

Her little sister got her own cape (but in blue) at the same time. She was barely two years old, and wanted everything her big sister had. Caring for two toddlers didn’t leave me with much free time, however, so my second daughter only got her baby quilt when she was about two and a half and much too big for it. I didn’t get to make her baby album until after she turned three, when my parents came for a visit (giving me some free time). 

My third child turned five without getting any of the above-mentioned markers of motherly love. By then he understood what getting the short end of the stick meant, and so he pestered me about it continuously. “When will I get my own cape?” (although he fit into his sisters’ old ones); “when am I going to get an album?;” and “what about MY quilt?”

I suspect he might have overheard me confessing my guilt to whomever was willing to listen, and that his words reflected my own bad conscious. But there is was, nonetheless.

So I finally sewed him his own cape–a knight’s cape, complete with sword and shield. I pieced a baby-quilt background, and took an applique class to learn how to applique the vehicles I wanted to put on it. But I never got to the actual appliqueing… Several months into his kindergarten year, I spent my free mornings combing through his numerous baby pictures, carefully selecting the best ones. For over a month I lovingly printed them, glued them, wrote nice captions beneath them. I kept thinking of how happy he will be to finally have his own baby album.

Then, on his sixth birthday, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the wrapped album in his hands, holding my breath to see his reaction. He tore the wrapping, glanced at it, and … burst into tears. This was not the birthday gift he wanted. He much preferred a set of Legos…

Needless to say, I never finished that quilt. It still lies buried, to this day, somewhere deep in my Unfinished Project piles… My son doesn’t even like vehicles any more, and yet that quilt has been sitting silent between us, all those years…

Fire-spitting Dragons

A few weeks ago my son, now in fifth grade, came by to show me a drawing he made:

I loved the composition, the lively colors he chose, the meticulous details. I immediately sent a proud picture of it to my mom and siblings.

And then I kept thinking about it, and thinking some more…

Finally, I enlarged his drawing, and printed it on four sheets of paper:

I taped them all together to form a bigger version of his creation:

My sewing room is pretty low-tech, but sometimes necessity is the mother of all inventions…  I put the enlarged print against the window, and traced the outline of the drawing’s different parts with a pencil:

Now I had all the elements separated:

I cut each piece out:

Then, I selected a fabric for the background. I had several light-blue swatches that seemed perfect, but they were all too small. There were less options among my bigger pieces, but I finally found something suitable. I went on to choose additional fabrics from my scrap boxes in colors matching his work (they do come handy, those scraps!):

Putting the paper outlines on top of the fabrics, I carefully cut the pieces out:

I laid them all on the background fabric, then pinned them down:

Two of the clouds proved problematic: the cloud behind the wings, and that behind the head. Somehow, they just didn’t look right when translated into fabric. So I exercised some artistic freedom and moved them elsewhere…

I zigzagged all around the pieces, using black thread to mimic the drawing’s outline:

Then came the exciting part… When my son was a baby, I once took a free-motion quilting class. That was very long ago. I wasn’t good at it then, and I haven’t practiced since. In fact, I haven’t even used my free-motion foot in all those years, and barely remembered where I put it. But now I had to fish it out and use it to draw the scales. So I did.

It was nerve-wracking. I was so tense, that my arms started shaking after a while. But I kept at it. I put scales on the tail, on the body, on the head. Even on the legs. But I decided to leave the wings unscaled, diverting from the original drawing, because the fabric I used already looked scale-like. I was pretty happy with the result, and quite proud of myself, too! This is how it looked from the back:

I decided to add a border, since the blue alone looked too pale against the wall. My son loves red, and red matched the fire. So I added a red frame. I sandwiched the quilt, using a checkered fabric for the backing:

Then I started quilting. I used wavy horizontal lines to quilt the background since they gave it a bit of movement, and also somewhat mimicked the lines of the folder paper my son originally used. Finally, there it was: a dragon quilt for my beloved son!

At first, I though I’ll wait until my son’s birthday to give it to him. Turned out I was too excited for that… So I decided to give it right away instead, as an early birthday gift. I could hardly wait for my son to come home from school. When he finally did, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the quilt, back-side up, in his hands. My heart was pounding hard. I didn’t know what to expect. I held my breath…

My child opened his eyes and read the dedication I wrote on the back. Then he turned the quilt over. His eyes expanded in wonder. “How did you do it??” he asked once, and then again. “How did you do it?”

For a split second I felt like a magician, with textile art as my magic. How did I do it indeed?

My son ran to his room and brought his original drawing. He put the two side by side, drawing and quilt, and looked them both over. 

My work passed the test. He absolutely loved it!

And me? I loved being a magician, if only for a little while…

Quilt debt paid.

 

Gypsy Robe: How My Family Became Part of an Evolving Community Canvas

The tradition of passing on a Gypsy Robe in musical theater productions apparently started on Broadway in 1950. It’s now a part of the Broadway production routine, with clear rules that everyone respects.

This tradition is also followed by other theater companies, including the youth theater group that my children participate in. In this company, the Robe is always given to a supporting actor who manifested a positive attitude throughout the rehearsal process, and who contributed to making the overall experience pleasant for everyone. In the previous show, A Christmas Story, which ended last November, my daughter was the proud recipient of the robe!

I’ve heared about the Robe over the years, of course, but I haven’t actually seen it until my daughter brought it home. When I laid eyes on it, I immediately appreciated the idea. A gypsy Robe, you see, is an evolving communal piece of art, onto which different people keep adding their mark over time!

This specific robe has already seen many shows, and had a great vibe of numerous kids’ fabulous experiences:

Patches representing different musicals covered it all over. These displayed different levels of artistic ingenuity, as well as varying degrees of sewing skills. Some were complex and well executed. Others were rather simple, both in idea and execution. But together they told the story of the youth theater, and represented the fun memories of the many kids who participated in those shows:

When the Robe came home, I assumed that the task of adding A Christmas Story patch to it would fall on me. I am, after all, the textile artist in the family! I was pleasantly surprised, however, when my daughter took responsibility for this. My husband enthusiastically came to her aid.

Of course, in a typical way, those two just couldn’t keep things simple!

They decided to make a patch with the show’s memorable leg-lamp. Not a regular patch of an appliqued lamp, but rather a three-dimensional one. They wanted to build a lamp that actually works!

My daughter made a paper prototype and attached it to the robe to see if it fits:

Then my husband did some research on materials that could lighten up. He ended up buying an Electroluminescent (EL) Light Panel:

It came with a wire on the back:

My husband cut it to shape:

The two then asked me to find a trim to go on the lampshade’s bottom. This was a great excuse to visit FabMo (and return with a little more than just a trim…)!

Little trimming

My daughter asked me to sew a leg based on the following model:

I found skin-colored fabric and cut a leg out:

I covered it with fish-net type tights that my daughter picked from a selection of sheers I found for her (she chose the black):

This is what it came out like:

I helped them connect the lampshade to the robe with Velcro, then sewed the leg on:

It came out exactly the way they hoped it would:

Once the lamp was in place, I had to sew a thin sleeve onto the inside of the robe, to hold the wire that went all the way from a battery (placed in the robe’s pocket) to the lampshade:

My daughter printed the name of the show on an iron-on paper. On the first try it came out mirror-image, as she forgot to read the instructions. The second try was successful. I ironed it on for her:

I didn’t realize (until it was too late), that there is a wire underneath, in addition to other bumpy patches. The surface, therefore, was not completely flat. I didn’t press the iron too hard, so as not to melt the wire. In addition, while ironing, the glue on one of the patches on the other side of the sleeve started melting, seeping into the fabric and smearing all over my ironing board! As you can imagine, the transfer didn’t come out so well:

My daughter was not happy AT ALL! She was upset it came out ugly. I was upset it ruined my ironing board.

She concluded it was all my fault, and hardly spoke to me for two days. Eventually, she decided to make a new patch, on which she wrote by hand with sharpies:

She wanted me to sew it on, but I wasn’t about to take on any additional risks. I made her do it herself.

This is how it turned out, glowing in the dark!

It was a collaborative family effort, in the end. Despite the few bumps along the way, I hope that after a few years my daughter will think back of the experience fondly.

Earlier this week my daughter passed the Robe on to the happy recipient of the current production. During the ceremony, she showed the glow-in-the-dark effect to the production team, and was oohed-and-aahed. Soon, the new recipient will put her own mark on the robe, and pass it on to someone else. Traditions, memories  and art will keep intermingling!

 

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Why I don’t Make Costumes for My Kids

Halloween came and went, and once again I felt the pang of guilt that washes over me every October. Another year had passed, you see, without me sewing unique costumes for my kids. This year I felt guiltier than ever, for over the past twelve months I’ve spent more time than ever hunched over my sewing machine. I sewed many items, but costumes weren’t amongst them.

When I was a kid, my parents set a very high bar. For years they made my siblings’ and my costumes, all ingenious and unique. One memorable year in preschool, for example, they turned me into a dwarf sitting on a mushroom.

My upper body was the dwarf. Somehow my parents attached a doll’s arms to my shoulders, inserted my arms-turned-dwarf’s-legs into small doll’s pants, and shoved my hands into little shoes. My lower body became the mushroom, with a stiff skirt serving as the mushroom’s top. My own legs, clad in white tights, acted as the mushroom’s stem. I am quite sure the world has never seen such a feat. Another year they dressed my sister as a doll in a box. The pictures of these and other costumes were something we kids kept going back to.

So when I had kids of my own, it only seemed natural to me that I should make their costumes, too. On their first Halloween we even attempted a family costume: my husband, myself and our toddler daughter were black cats, while my second daughter, still a infant, was dressed as a cute white mouse. I assembled the clothes and hand-sewed all our ears and tails. Shopping for the fabrics and accessories, measuring, figuring it all out and stitching took hours. We wore these costumes one evening. For most of that time we wore coats over the costumes, for it was a rainy Halloween, as many Halloweens tend to be. Then they were tossed aside.

A week later, on a visit to Target, my toddler spotted made-in-China rabbit ears that cost less than a dollar. She forced me to buy a pair. She and her sister ended up playing with them for years, until they fell apart.  I learned my lesson right there and then: The kids couldn’t distinguish between handmade costumes that took hours to make, and the cheap, store-bought stuff. They couldn’t care less how much planning or time went into preparing their garb. They were just as happy, if not a little more so, with the flimsy, sparkly Chinese stuff.

To make things worse, it turned out that the main attraction of the holiday wasn’t the costumes at all. What my kids really cared about (and later remembered) were the piles of candy, and the excitement of collecting them. I realized then that my life was plenty busy as it was. That was the end of my costume-making attempts.

Since then my kids have been responsible for putting together their own outfits. They have been deciding what they wanted to be, and have been in charge of making sure they have everything they needed. Sometimes they used things we already had around the house, or costumes from years past. Sometimes they asked me to buy something new. At other times they made the costumes themselves, often together with friends. Every now and then it was a combination of the above. And yes, when necessary I did help make a prop or two, or helped a kid attach one thing to the other. This year, for example, I got away with cutting a simple, Pikachu tail out of yellow felt.

Over the years I noticed how much the kids actually liked being in charge of their own dress-up. They loved planning their own costumes. Making them themselves brought out their best creative energies. Working together with friends on a combined outfit encouraged cooperation, strengthened friendships and sharpened negotiation skills. I realized that leaving this responsibility to the kids was actually good for them.

But while my brain knows that it’s perfectly OK–and even advisable–for me not to interfere with Halloween preparations, my heart still feels guilty. And I still greatly admire super-moms like my sister, who, despite being extremely busy, still find the time (and energy!) to come up with family-themed costumes, and then make them all from scratch. I just realize this doesn’t quite work for me.

Despite being Halloween veterans, my kids are still mostly interested in the loot. They collect mountains and mountains of colorful, cavity-causing sugars, and enjoy sorting, arranging, comparing and exchanging them.

My kids' Halloween loot

 

A Little Late but DONE! The Sunflower Purse is Finished!

Despite all my good intentions, I was unable to finish my mother-in-law’s purse before the school year ended. Some of the distractions I should have anticipated: Election Day fell right on that last week of school. Reading through the election materials and filling out the forms took some time. Helping with my daughter’s eighth-grade middle-school graduation likewise required attention. There were a couple of primary-school rituals I just HAD to attend. Finally, I also had to shop for, and drive to, three different end-of-year parties.

Then there were the unanticipated obstacles: my four-year-new washing machine chose to break down right at that time (of course!). This left me with piles of unwashed clothes, and required two different technician visits (one to diagnose the problem, the second to change the broken part). Once the technicians fixed my machine, I had two-weeks-worth of laundry to deal with all at once. As you can imagine, this took hours…

In the end, I had a lot less time for sewing than I expected. Still, I managed to at least start that green-and-yellow summer purse before school was out.

As Expected, the first few days of summer were busy. But today my husband’s company had a “Take Kids to Work Day,” which gave me just the break I needed to finish my own project. We will visit my mother in law latter in the summer. I hope she likes her new sunflower purse!

Eco-friendly sunflower purse

One Last Sewing Project Before Summer: Sunflower Handbag

In three days the school year will be over, and my sewing season will come to an end. I am looking forward to spending relaxing summer days with my children. We’ll enjoy lounging around in pajamas until mid-morning, eating breakfast late and not having to live by the clock. It will be nice not to rush and be rushed constantly.

I’ve lived through enough summers to know to expect the occasional squabbles, as well as the many “I’m bored” complaints. Overall, however, I feel like we could all use a break. Knowing my kids, I am quite sure that I will not be able to get even close to my sewing machine all summer long. I know I will not be able to work on even a small sewing project.

Therefore, I need to take full advantage of the three days I still have left. There is one last project I need to finish: a gift for my mother in law. A while back she asked for a summer purse, and I promised to make her one. I haven’t had time for this so far, and will therefore need to act fast. The next couple of days will be dedicated to this one last project of the year!

My mother in law LOVES sunflowers. In the summer, she goes to the farmers’ market every Saturday, and buys huge bouquets of sunflowers. She then places them in a prominent location, right at the entrance to her house. Whenever I see sunflowers, therefore, I think of her.

Sunflowers

And so, I decided to sew a sunflower handbag just for her! Miraculously, I found a fabric that had a sunflower print. I bought it for the lining of her bag, and selected the outside fabrics to match it:

Fabrics for sunflower Handbag

I will do my very best to finish this sunflower purse before the last bell of the school year rings!

Inspiration: A Quiet Place in the Galilee

On my family’s recent visit to Israel we spent a couple of days relaxing in a beautiful, quiet zimmer (guest house) in the Galilee. The guest house, Hemdatya, is located in Ilaniya, the first Jewish agricultural settlement in the Galilee, which was established in 1900.

The guest rooms are converted old structures. They were a part of a farmhouse complex built at the beginning of the previous century. The current owners lovingly restored them, paying much attention to detail and  sound ecological practices. The resulting accommodations are fully up to modern standards, yet keep the old atmosphere intact. The place is a truly magical sanctuary where three generations of my family were able to relax together.

I arrived in Israel with a suitcase-full of handmade gifts for all members of my family. These gifts looked very much in place in everyone’s respective rooms in the Galilee.

This is the laptop bag I made for my sister. I love how it looks on the beautifully-painted tiles of the floor in her room:

For my mom, I made a purse with a matching cell-phone case. Both her gifts looked very much at home on the old, roughly-woven stool we found in my parents’ room:

The handmade i-pad cover I made for my father likewise looked nice on the wooden counter:

All the guest rooms shared a courtyard covered with wild, tall and gorgeous annuals. These amazingly big flowers shone in many different shades of pink:

Each of the rooms had a little patio or terrace outside. There we relaxed in the evenings, enjoying a glass of local wine. This, for example, is the grapevine-covered patio outside my parents’ room:

The floor in their room, my dad said, had the same pattern his grandfather’s house featured in Jerusalem at the turn of the previous century. The mud-covered walls and restored fireplace added a nice touch:

I liked many of the little details and special decor throughout the complex:

And the furniture, too:

Most impressive of all were the amazing breakfasts. Local Circassian women prepared the food from scratch, using  locally-grown vegetables (some from Hemdatya’s very own vegetable garden!). The breakfasts included fresh cheeses made from milk collected from the owner’s goats. Well, let’s just say that I am sure I will fantasize about THOSE for many months to come…

 

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