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November 24, 2011 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-11-24

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arts & entertainment

Spinning Yarns

New tome inspires Jewish fabric crafts.

Gail Zimmerman
Arts Editor


he world of Jewish fabric crafts
and the inspiration to create
imaginative work brimming
with tradition and
Yiddishkeit is explored
in a new book, Jewish
Threads: A Hands-
On Guide to Stitching
Spiritual Intention
A Hantis-Olt
into Jewish Fabric
Stitching Spiritual
Crafts (Jewish Lights
jovial% Futsrit Crafts
Publishing), compiled
and written by Diana
Drew with Robert
The book presents
30 fabric craft projects,
created by talented arti-
sans from throughout
the United States and
fabric crafts
Some of the crafts presented, such as
Torah mantles and challah covers, are
deep-rooted in Jewish heritage, while oth-
ers, including Purim puppets, an Ushpizin
(Visitors) quilt and a knit seder plate for
Passover, play off centuries of tradition
while incorporating a contemporary spin.
Jewish Threads craft projects range
from wall hangings for the home to shul-
chan (lectern) covers for the synagogue,
whimsical pieces for celebrating holidays
(a ChanuCats quilt for Chanukah and
Dancing Hamantaschen costumes for
Purim) and meaningful craft projects to

honor milestones in the Jewish life cycle,
such as healing and memorial quilts.
The book delves into the backstory of
each of the pieces spotlighted in the book
— how and why they were made and what
sparked the idea for each one. The artisans
whose work is showcased
share the influences in
their lives that prompted
them to create their
"When I'm felting,
, I feel a definite spiri-
- -,„,,
tual connection',' says
Barbara Levinson of
Dayton, Ohio, who cre-
ated a Felted Grapes
"Felting is an ancient
form of fiber art, dat-
ing as far back as 6300
B.C.E. After my adult bat
mitzvah three years ago, I
knew I wanted to include
Jewish symbols in my work. The grapes
on this purse remind me of my family,
Kiddush, the peacefulness of Shabbat and
our wonderful heritage."
Most of the projects in the book are
relatively simple (and make wonder-
ful gifts). Easy-to-follow, step-by-step
instructions at the end of each of the
stories are meant to motivate individu-
als — or groups — to fashion some of
the traditional ritual items as well as
more contemporary pieces included in
the book.
Readers are encouraged to draw on their



R !,k.
awME t



Right: This Ushpizin
(Visitors) quilt was

created to enhance

the meaning of

gathering in a

Above: This ChanuCats Quilt

for Chanukah won second place

in a national Seasonal Holiday

Celebration Contest sponsored

by Simplicity patterns.


own life experiences, as
well, to give the pieces
they make a distinctly
individual flair, a one-
of-a-kind feel.
Ruth Lenk, currently
of Israel, has built up
a collection of hamsas
— the good-luck symbol used to war' o
the evil eye — from all over the world. Her
quilted Hamsa Wall Hanging, arrayed with
four different hamsa designs, shows some
of the myriad styles of hamsas seen in far-
flung countries.
"Each hamsa has its own meaning," she
"For example, the salamander symbol-
izes safety from fire, and the letter hey
represents the number five — a number
with echoes across Judaism, including the
Five Books of Moses. I chose colors that I
thought complemented one another."
Details, like bells from India, tassels and
mirrors from Israel and a glass eye from
Turkey give the piece international appeal,
reflecting Lenk's travels around the world.
Among the fabric craft techniques rep-
resented in Jewish Threads are quilting,

needlepoint, knitting, crochet, felt-
ing, embroidery, applique, needle
felting and counted cross-stitch.
A section titled "Inspirations"
presents stories of five more proj-
ects that inspired the author to
write the book, including a quilt-
ed chuppah, created collabora-
tive y y members of a National Council
of Jewish Women group in New Jersey, of
which Drew serves as co-president.
"Jewish Threads brings together the dis-
parate threads of my own life — Judaism
and Jewish observance, sewing and knit-
ting, writing and editing — while stitching
together the inspiring stories of fabric art-
ists from throughout the United States and
Israel," says Drew, an award-winning former
daily newspaper reporter and a longtime
book editor.
"Collectively, these personal stories, and
the projects that spring from them, form a
patchwork of modern-day Jewish life.
"Section introductions, written by
Robert Grayson, place these crafts in
historical perspective, with tales from
the Jewish tradition that give these fabric
crafts added resonance today." I 1

observer, somehow between two worlds but
belonging to both.
Fittingly, her films are full of shots from
doorways, and her camera position often
seems coincident with exactly where a
fourth wall would be.
Some of these "dedramatizing" techniques
might well express her experience growing
up as a second-generation survivor — sur-
rounded by the inescapable presence of a
story that is not always elaborated upon and
so remains to be broached and understood
for oneself.
Yet even as these experiences shadow so
much of her art, Akerman, who today lives
and works in Paris, has always resisted cat-
egorizing her films.
Her latest project, a French/Belgian
co-production, is La Folie Almayer

("Almayer's Folly"), a film adaptation of
Joseph Conrad's 1895 debut novel about a
Dutchman searching for pirate treasure in
Malaysia. Relocated to the 1950s, it is above
all about a father's love for his daughter
"I'm not making a cinema for women.
I'm not speaking to anyone specifically,' she
told a French interviewer a couple of years
ago. "I'm not even trying to reach Jews."
But if Akerman is cautious about the
meaning and reception of her films, they
breathe the many facets of her identity
— as a Jew, as a woman, as an artist. Her
multilayered works speak for her, and for
themselves. P1

Phantom Memory from page 49

Akerman and her mother discussing the
camps. (The curious title refers to both a
French idiom and food neurosis.)
From one daughter to the next, to the
next, a lineage of stories and reflections
is maintained. Akerman's creation builds
on the unfulfilled aspirations of both her
grandmother and her frustrated mother.
Akerman's installations have allowed
her a new way to revisit and retrace both
the past and her own works. (They're also
easier to fund than films.) A 2009 traveling
compendium exhibition, which appeared at
the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis,
reconfigured her old works, including D'Est,
into multi-monitor installations.
Besides two films looking at the American
South and Mexican border towns, a third
one had appeared in film form as recently
as 2006: La bas ("Down There"), a largely
housebound rumination in Israel during her
ambivalent stay there as a visiting teacher.
(The title refers to her family's term for
where those who left Europe for Israel went.)
Akerman has also employed a gallery



November 24 2011


space to perform a previously published
monologue about her father's death, A
Family in Brussels, written in the overlap-
ping voice of both her mother and herself.
It's also possible the installations are an
extension of Akerman's preoccupation with
the Second Commandment, which crops up
in the D'Est installation and elsewhere.
"Jews have a big problem with the
image," she said in a 1979 interview."You do
not have the right to make images; you are
transgressing when you do, because images
are linked to idolatry."
Akerman uses the stricture to explain the
head-on frontal perspective she often uses
when shooting: In her view, watching on a
one-to-one level, face to face as it were, ban-
ishes the possibility of idolatry.
Hence the tableau compositions in
Jeanne Dielman and elsewhere.
And so, too, does her use of triptychs
of monitors in the installations prevent a
submission to the flickering images. The
aim isn't a studied remove or a passive res-
ignation; it feels like the view of a sensitive

This was reprinted from Tabletmag.com , a new

read on Jewish life.

The Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts will show Jeanne
Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, in French with English sub-
titles, 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26. $6.50-$7.50. (313) 833-4005; tickets.dia.org .

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