A couple of years ago, as Rosh Hashanah approached, I was reading a book called Traditional Jewish Papercuts; An Inner World of Art and Symbolism,by Joseph and Yehudit Shadur. (University Press of New England, 2002). Here's one of my favorite quotations from this marvelous book, describing this 19th and 20th century folk art:
"It is naive and exuberant, but also disciplined in a haphazard way. It is decidedly baroque in its obvious appeal to the emotions, its fluidity of movement, florid designs, freedom of line, and richness of motifs - all within a formalistic symmetrical composition." (p. 47).
Since I am very highly suggestible, this caused me to become exuberant with naive, yet haphazard ideas for florid papercut-style quilts.
So two days before the holiday ― instead of cleaning my house, coring the apples or milking the bees ― I doodled the virtual design at right, and cut it from a rather lurid green-apple fabric, center. The design includes apples, honey implements, dishes, turban challot, shofars, and a great big star in the middle. With characteristic restraint, I deliberately omitted the kitchen sink.
I machine-appliquéd it to a honey-colored background, and set apple-red prairie points all the way around. It's 18" in diameter, and makes a fine challah cover (for a round challah on steroids) or ―as I use it―a decorative banner.
Alas, the tragic color combination, born of haste, made it difficult for even me to look at.
The following year, two days before the holiday, I starting working on the red-and-white variation, a hand-appliqué. Red and white! Apples and High Holy Days! Right?
Wrong! I was going great guns while waiting to drive the kids home from Sunday school. But then three different moms ―plus, I swear, the RABBI ―stopped dead in the social hall to ask me if I was making a Christmas wall hanging (They all KNOW I'm Jewish!). That dampened my florid exuberance.
So now I own TWO Rosh Hashanah wall hangings that would benefit from a thick layer of paint.
C'est la guerre. Fortunately, making papercut style quilts can be relatively quick and easy. Books and articles (in print or on the web), about Hawaiian quilting, Tahitian quilting, reverse appliqué, simplified stained glass techniques, Baltimore Album quilts, and/or Mola will suggest a range of approaches, from slow'n'meditative (you'll finish by Rosh Hashanah, 5798, assuming your fellow congregants don't compare your work to Santa couture) to fast'n'fun (I finished the green quilt within a week, and made it to services on time, too.)
If you do make a quilt about Rosh Hashanah---and/or a papercut style quilt---we'd all love to see it!
And have a sweet New Year!
One of the cutest (or kitschiest, depending on your perspective) modern Jewish traditions is the Rosh Hashanah postcard, which began in Europe and migrated to the US early in the 20th century. Often adorned with Yiddish mottos and love poetry, courting couples, angels, animals, shofars, Jewish stars, and in the U.S., symbols of American patriotism, these postcards can still be found at flea markets and on ebay. (The first example on the right was found in my spouse's family's photo box - the family photo was inserted in the card. Click on it for some great details!)
Serendipitously, one of the most fun, relaxing and addictive quilter's traditions is fabric postcards. They grew out of the mail art and ATC (artist trading card) movement, and there are now even books about how to make them (which is pretty darn simple - see links below).