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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

Line, contrast, form

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

No, not quilts this time. But I just have to share the sublime work of Cheryl Levin which I caught on the last day of her exhibition at Da Vinci Art Alliance on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the description on DVAA’s website: “Forms for a Continued Life is an exhibition of ink drawings by Cheryl Levin shown alongside sculptures and fragments by her late husband, metal worker Robert Phillips (1962-2012), and their son, Electrical Engineer and Generative Artist Aidan Phillips. This visual art exhibition contrasts weight and form to investigate impermanence, collective grief, and emergence of life from loss.”

Heavy, right? I met Cheryl a few years ago, when she worked alongside her friend DaVid Harari to paint our balconies. DaVid is a highly skilled housepainter; the tall, dark, and handsome Israeli has a flip side: musician and music lover. Cheryl is a warm and gracious, humble, petite and pretty woman who sometimes joins DaVid for some house-painting jobs, and offers custom faux finishes and murals to clients. And, she’s a highly conceptual contemporary artist. I’m dazzled by her backstory of partnering with her late husband in creating big works of public art and the ways she evokes very quiet, private emotions in the work of this exhibit. Learn more about her many dimensions — including her very colorful paintings — on her website: http://www.cheryllevin.org

I’m posting to share my own reaction to this exhibit of tightly curated works. And since this is my quilting blog, I’ll take the privilege of citing the elements I savored which echo the ones that get me jazzed about art quilts:

1–Fine lines (like dense, hand-driven machine quilting)

2–Contrast of delicacy and strength (In contemporary quilts, I’m talking about pinstripe stitching paired with monumental shapes and dimensions.) Oooh, those fine lines hand-inked with a pen in rhythmic repetition vs. the weight of the substantial, seemingly solid forms they fill. And, of course, the absolutely huge contrast of her meditative drawing with the often craggy and robust steel sculptures of her late husband.

3–How being at the exhibit in real life allowed me to interact with it: Moving through the spaces. Seeing how the light hit at different angles. Avoiding the inevitable glare from the glass but occasionally tickled by how spots of track-light reflections occupied the margins. Unknowingly casting my shadow on it, and thereby becoming a part of the art. (OK, that was presumptuous and vain of me).

How fortunate I am to be a member of Da Vinci Art Alliance, which allows me to visit during Covid closures elsewhere — albeit by appointment, masked, with only the executive director of DVAA and my husband present. Kudos to all the people and places that allow us to interact with art and artists in the only ways possible during the pandemic. I’m surfing the net, Zooming with other artists, watching lots of different PowerPoint presentations.

But aren’t we all starving to visit museums and galleries IRL–in real life, to be alongside teachers and students in art classes, workshops, and live crit sessions? There’s just nothing like seeing art — and art quilts — up close and personal. There’s nothing as great as getting together in person, unmasked, with the talented makers, critics, and art lovers to share our stories and perspectives as well as what we make.

Bodil Gardner’s Ladies

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

“I’m just a simple housewife,” she asserts, when I ask Bodil Gardner, if she calls herself a fabric artist or an art quilter. In fact, she is an international star of the quilt world beloved for her disarming, quirky masterpieces. “I just make my pictures, she says.” Her modesty is typically Danish.

As she explains on the website her husband, Peter put together for her, “I have not had any artistic training and was brought up to be the practical one in a creative family, which needed to get the washing-up done. Are my pictures art or not? The question is frequently asked. For me, it doesn’t matter what they are. I make them for my own sake, hoping all the same that you will also like them.”

I have invited myself over, finding myself in her vicinity when the husband and I are visiting our son and his wife in Aarhus, Denmark. My daughter-in-law, Bev, volunteers to drive me over to the suburb of the city, where Bodil and Peter live. “Drive up the road through the garden,” are her emailed instructions, which turn out to be quite the understatement.

As you can tell, Bodil and her husband live up to their surname, Gardner. Like Peter, the garden style is English, transplanted and intermixed with Danish determination. The warmer seasons are mainly for gardening; winter is when Bodil devotes herself to working on “her pictures.” Playing with colors and patterns are the common source of joy.

Bodil doesn’t have a “studio,” and when we visited, we sat at a dining table where she served us homemade apple crumble, with danishes and chocolates and tea. We brought a bottle of red wine, and a packet of various fabric prints. An old, portable sewing machine under its cover sits on the shelf behind the table, and there’s a jumble of fabric scraps on a trunk beside Peter’s computer table. Otherwise, no sign of a work space. Past a large archway, you’re in the sitting room, where appliquéd pillows and patchwork command the lower planes, and books and photos fill the walls from floor to ceiling.

After dessert and far-ranging discussion, Bodil displays some of her pieces the same way she composes them: on the floor.

Lots and lots of delightfully funky portraits. Like Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, Bodil points out, each one has a unique personality. Fabulous hairstyles, flower accents, funky colors. Friends bring her fabric, and she uses what she has. No fusible web for her. She chooses from her assortment of scraps, cuts each piece freehand, assembles elements as she goes on larger background pieces, pins pieces to secure them in place temporarily. Only when she is satisfied with the entire composition does she moves to the sewing machine to satin-stitch over all the raw edges. Quilting and finishing details are minimal. Larger works elaborate on women at home, of generations, taking tea, counting sheep, gentle pets, and children, either confident or shy.

It’s easy to recognize a Bodil Gardner art quilt, isn’t it? And to feel the warmth and friendliness, and yes, a bit of zaniness embodied in each and every one. Far from quilt shops, shows, classes, she retains her own signature style, and doesn’t travel far, so relatively few students can learn from her way of working and her genius for face values, so to speak. Pamela Allen of Canada got her to join the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA), and Peter Gardner encourages his wife to respond to more of their calls for entry. Her work has been showcased in many top-drawer, juried exhibitions, within and outside of Denmark. But in many cases, a juror chooses a cohesive collection of sophisticated abstract and painterly tour-de-forces; Bodil’s pictorials stick out as being too different, and so don’t make the cut. That was the case when Bodil entered the piece below for the SAQA show for which the theme was Tranquility. Her reclining woman with cat, book, and teacup didn’t make it into the exhibit….yet SAQA saw fit to feature the piece on the cover of their magazine.

There’s not a whit of pretentiousness in these portraits of wise, nurturing women. I can easily imagine each one a sort of self-portrait…the alter ego of their maker. There are probably hundreds of them, a treasure trove of joyful folk art, with many more to come from from Bodil Gardner.

Mali Medallion

Monday, August 12th, 2019

It’s my favorite thing: art quilts as advocacy.

So I was quick to answer the call from Quilt for Change and The Advocacy Project. Under the initiative, known as Sister Artists, survivors of gender-based violence created embroidered blocks depicting scenes of their life in Mali. Quilters — mostly American — were invited to choose a block and turn it into an art quilt. The plan is for the quilts to be posted online, exhibited, and auctioned. And then all proceeds will go to support the artists in Mali and Sini Sanuman (“Healthy Tomorrow”), a Malian advocacy program for women’s rights.

That sounded totally worthwhile to me. I especially liked the roundhouses on the block shown at the upper left, and below. For reasons of safety and policy, the young woman, i.e., Sister Artist, may not be named. Nevertheless, my priority was to honor her and her work.

I immediately envisioned the lovely, pictorial embroidery surrounded by geometric designs used in Mali villages. A good friend, artist Janet Goldner, visits Mali quite frequently, and shared pictures she recently took of a house painting festival that takes place once a year in Siby, a village about 30 miles from Bamako (the capital and largest city in the country). Women draw from the local clay colors for their color palette. Wow, right?! So with the embroidery at the heart of my art, I set out to build around it, log-cabin-style.

The embroidery background was not square, so I went with an assymetrical medallion setting, sketched out on graph paper. Now, I invariably depart from my original plan fairly quickly, but this time — surprise, surprise — I basically stuck to it. Oh, I didn’t keep to a specific scale, nor did I measure, cut, and sew precise patchwork or applique circles as dictated by the sketch. Instead, queen of the quick and dirty that I am, I used freehand-cut fused triangles and patterned fabric from my stash of African, batik, and hand dyed and printed fabrics. There was quite a bit of seat-of-the-pants fudging-it as I added rounds of borders. Conveniently, African beads camouflage spots where angles and corners lack sharp points.

I hope my piece does justice to the embroidered block. I hope it calls attention to the need for human rights, justice, and equality in Mali, as they are needed and deserved everywhere in the world. My efforts here are a small show of support, relatively insignificant. If I could, I would pin a medal on each courageous woman anywhere who struggles and strives and supports her sisters. For now, my Mali Medallion will have to do.

The Invention of Wings, from a quilter’s POV

Saturday, November 19th, 2016


The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, is a wonderful book for lovers of literature, history, and quilts. The author explains:

“I was inspired by the quilts of Harriet Powers, who was born into slavery in 1837 in Georgia. She used West African applique technique and designs to tell stories, mostly about Biblical events, legends, and astronomical occurrences. Each of the squares on her two surviving quilts is a masterpiece of art and narration. After viewing her quilt in the archives of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., it seemed more than plausible to me that many enslaved women, who were forbidden to read and write, would have devised subversive ways to voice themselves, to keep their memories alive, and to preserve their African heritage.

“In the novel, Charlotte is the Grimke’s rebellious and accomplished seamstress, and I envisioned her using needle and cloth the way others use paper and pen, attempting to set down the events of her life in a single quilt. She appliques it with strange, beautiful images—slaves flying through the air, spirit trees with their trunks wrapped in red thread—but she also sews violent and painful images of her punishments and loss. The quilt in the novel is meant to be more than a warm blanket or a nice piece of handiwork. It is Charlotte’s story. As Handful says, ‘Mauma had sewed where she came from, who she was, what she loved, the things she’d suffered and the things she hoped. She’d found a way to tell it.’

“Above all, I wanted Charlotte’s story quilt to speak about the deep need we have to make meaning out of what befalls us. I wanted it to suggest how important it is to take the broken, painful, and discarded fragments of our lives and piece them into something whole. There can be healing, and power, too, in giving expression to what’s inside of us, in having our voices heard and our pain witnessed. As writer Isak Dinesen put it, “All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them.”

Bet many of you will agree that putting sorrows — and joys — and deep feelings — and memories — into quilts can be equally therapeutic.


Quilt-scape Album

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Sad but true: We never print those photos anymore. Whaaaa. We are captives of our electronic world. And a captive audience for anyone who shoves a smart phone in front of us to thumb, er, swipe through a batch of pics. Fight back, quilters! Just as folks enthusiastically welcome your quilted table runners, pillow covers, and tote bags, they’ll love looking at your vacation pics in a handcrafted format, and they’ll be overjoyed to receive their very own brag book with a cover handmade by you. Here’s the how-to lowdown:

1. Get a plastic photo album that holds about the number of 4 x 6 photos you want to include (12, 24, 36). Dollar stores have ’em. For a dollar.


2. Open the photo book out flat and measure across the back cover, spine, and front cover, then measure the length of the spine. Make a little quilt (or quiltlet) 1/2″ larger all around than these dimensions. By my book, 11″ x 7 1/2″ were the final dimensions. OK, woooo, that sounds like a Star Wars commercial, the “final dimensions.” I was inspired to borrow from Karen Eckmeier’s techniques explained in her Accidental Landscapes book (which I was privileged to edit and which you can get from her website) and also in the masterpiece “By the Sea” which Karen contributed to my Skinny Quilts & Table Runners book).  I started using her layered/topstitching method,  pressing edges under and topstitching them to a background— you’ll see that below where the sea meets the sky, for a crisp horizon line, and in the sand of the foreground. Then I threw caution (and patience) to the wind. I abandoned pressing edges under and just tore fabric. The raggedy fringes suggest frothy waves, as do couched ribbons and lace (Karen’s ideas).


3. Pin a looped strand of elastic to the middle of the left side edge. From fabric, cut two rectangles the same size as the little quilt made for the cover. Set one aside for the backing. Cut the other crosswise in half (along the spine). Then fold each crosswise in half again, and place on top of quiltlet so raw edges are aligned at top, bottom, and sides. Pin to hold in place temporarily.


4. Place the backing on top, with right sides facing. Stitch all around, 1/4″ from edges and leaving a 4″ opening at the center of the bottom.


5. Clip corners, and pull the quiltlet through the opening. Use a pin to pick out the corners. Turn the edges of the opening 1/4″ to the inside and stitch them closed. Insert the covers of the photo book into the side pockets.


6. Stitch a button to the front cover to correspond to the loop.


7. You might want to knot a length of ribbon to the elastic loop — for decoration, or to wrap around the photo album.


Eh voila! Nice, old-fashioned way to capture vacation memories, latest escapades of the grandchildren, or hilarious costumes you forced your pet to wear.

Do leave a comment: what images and techniques would YOU showcase on a photo album cover?



Ode to 2015

Friday, January 2nd, 2015


It’s here: the year MMXV
Ushered in with jubilee
Ball drops and fireworks on our screens
To welcome in two-oh-fifteen.

The hub and I had a vaca Caribbean
Enjoyed adventures near-amphibian
Took warmth from sun and sand and sea

Spending, tipping, napping, touring
Eating, drinking, smorgasbording
You’re on vacation, just indulge!
Never mind the tummy bulge!

Never mind expense and guilt!
The unsent cards, the un-made quilt.
Now back to productivity
To Mac/PC captivity.

Back on the wheel, one of the cogs.
New lesson plans, new posts for blogs.
News and views, make ’em halfway clever!
Offers to guilds for gigs wherever!

Back to eating healthily,
Chemical pesticide- and hormone-free.
Neither vegan, heathen nor yokel be!
(Though nothing’s fresh now locally.)

Back to winter chill and freeze
Nowhere outside reached with ease.
Forced marches grimly to the gym,
Feign that claim to vigor and vim!

Oh woe is me, my vaca’s over.
There’s bills to pay and I’m cold stone sober.
I’ve muscles that ache, and rashes that itch.
…Can you believe I’m such a bitch?

I’m fortunate as all get-out!
Got NO excuse to rant or shout!
My life ain’t perfect, but my deal’s hardly raw,
One can’t avoid hassles or prevent Murphy’s law.

Any Crazy Quilters still following this thread?
Then I wish you a bright patchwork year ahead.
No Spider’s Den, no Rocky Road,
No need to have stitches ripped out or re-sewed.

May you grow the techniques in your repertoires.
No whine, all Roses, all Pinwheels and Stars,
May your Shadows be brightened by lots of Sunshine,
And may your aggravations be as minor as mine.

All the best for 2015!

Guilty Pleasures, Quilty Art: Part I

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Hold onto your soft, cushiony seats, folks. Over the next  month, Philly is a contemporary quilt-lover’s paradise, but if you cannot get here, I’ll guide your armchair-travels via this blog post and the next one.

Here, I’ll share three of my faves from the Fiber Biennale, now showing at the Snyderman Works in Philly. Think fiber is a  field for females? Think again. These pieces are all by men, and each is a legend in his own time.



I’ve never seen a John McQueen that wasn’t a shapely vessel. But this sculptor/basketmaker bar none has created a comparatively flat piece from poplar, pine, and birch bark. For me,  I’m reminded of a contemporary applique quilt…just not soft. “After Dark Comes Calling,” 2011, 36″ x 42″




Warren Selig, professor in the Fibers/Mixed Media program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia–who calls Rockland, Maine home– insists on redefining textiles.  Just as quilting stitches produce a play of light and shadow, so do the stainless, intersecting rods with clear acrylic spheres that extend 5″ from the wall. Titled “Shadow Field/Crystal Path,” it extends to 83″. Gallery co-owner Ruth Snyderman stands alongside for a sense of scale.

selig w Ruth

selig detail

Finally, no show, no collection of top-tier quilted art could be without a piece from Michael James. Professor in Textiles at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, James gives a nod to the traditions of cloth, piecing, and quilting stitches. Yet he soars by using digital textile printing to play with pattern in ways that reference dreams and memories. What a calm feeling washes over me as I study “Lands End: Quiet Hour,” 2014, approx. 51″ x 54″. Full view and detail:




Neither my photos, nor the greatest, most professional photography can come close to seeing these pieces “in the cloth”…er, or steel, or bark. Go to snyderman-works.com for more info. I must caution you, seeing only makes you want to touch, and you can’t touch–unless you buy. And these masterworks will cost a pretty penny. And why not? For all their humble materials, these pieces, and dozens of others in this extraordinary show that is always two years in the planning, represent the best contemporary art. The fact that it’s categorized as fiber art doesn’t make it less worthy of our esteem as any of the fine arts. In fact, for me, it holds a much greater interest. This show will challenge you to question what is fiber? What is art? And leads to that perennial discussion (and my next blog post) of what is a quilt? Man, oh man, oh man, we’re having fun in Philly.






Gingko = Memory

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Who doesn’t love a gingko leaf? Possibly the most graceful form to be found in nature.  Each as unique as a snowflake, its veins radiating out from a sinuous, curvy stem into a blade that’s rippled or notched.  Of course, the essence of its beauty is its fan shape, conjuring up timeless Oriental serenity.  Which makes sense when you realize that the ginkgo is one of the oldest forms in nature. Fossils of early versions date back 270 million years–now doesn’t that make you feel young?  The  species survived the Pliocene age only in a small area of central China, where it has been cultivated for a very long time.  The proof is in the garden: there are some gingkos at Chinese temples that are thought to be over 1,500 years old.  And Europeans found gingkos in Japanese temple gardens more than three centuries ago.

So it stands to reason that many quilters who look east for inspiration find the gingko leaf to be a most evocative motif.  One such extraordinary talent is Lonni Rossi (LonniRossi.com), who often incorporates Asian inspiration  into her commercial fabrics for Andover, her one-of-a-kind silk screened fabrics that she creates in her studio and sells in her shop, and in her masterpieces. Here’s the art quilt Lonni made as a gift for her sister’s 50th birthday:

Harmony, by Lonni Rossi

How I envy the recipient!  But you know, any quilter can have a Lonni Rossi design: Her Seasons of the Moon is on the cover of my Skinny Quilts & Table Runners II (click here) and her Pocket Masterpiece is one of the cover models in my Unforgettable Tote Bags (click here). Check out Lonni’s website for other patterns and kits. And for more pure inspiration from Lonni, take a long look at this triple panel wall hanging that simulates a kimono. Lonni used her own hand-painted silk, and planted a gingko leaf for a focal point:

Triptych #1, by Lonni Rossi

Gingko leaves in the free-motion quilting, with decorative threads

Back to botany: The genus, sometimes spelled ginkgo, means “silver apricot” in Chinese and later in Japanese. The species is Biloba, bi-lobed, or two lobes. Strange names, and if you find them hard to remember, you may be one of many folks who take a form of Ginkgo Biloba to enhance memory. Knowing this, you’ll understand why I have often used the leaf motif in my Memory quilts. Here’s one about family, and if you knew the very skinny genus—er, genes of my peeps, you’ll get why this Skinny Quilt is called Stringbeans:

Stringbeans, by Eleanor Levie

If you happen to live on the internet and you see my blog today, you might think Memorial Day compels me to commemorate  memory, specifically lives lost in war.  And that would be most appropriate, as my father is a proud WWII vet, and these days, everyone I know hopes and prays that our military sons and daughters return safely from deployments overseas.

But what actually brought me to blog about gingkos is much closer to home. To be perfectly candid, it’s standing  in front of my home, on the side of our very narrow, historic street.  As you’ll see in the photos below, a curtain of green and then yellow leaves outside my home office window, and as the leaves fell, an autumnal yellow carpet on the streets are high on the list of reasons we fell in love with and bought this Center-City Philadelphia townhouse a year and a half ago.



Alas, lumberjacks working for the city took it down a few days ago. It was decided that it was too big, breaking up the sidewalk and street. But serendipity sneaked in. Months ago, we had asked the city to gift us a new tree on our side of the street.   Reasoning that we had the gingko, and that a different tree wouldn’t grow so big, we gave our preferences for three other options. But what do you know, another gingko was chosen for the site and recently planted with the help of volunteers from our civic association. This time around, it’s a clone of a better species that won’t grow as tall, yet will branch out high, to soar above our four-story building.  A happy ending…as long as I’m willing to wait until this blog is but a distant memory!

Tribute to Moms

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Just in time for Mother’s Day! I’m sharing 3 of my fav art quilts on the subject (plus, one of my own).

“The Stove / Empress” by Susan Shie, 1999.  48”x 74”. An art quilt in her Kitchen Tarot series.  Lucky, as she’s affectionately known, describes her piece: “Here  the Stove is a big, warm, nurturing Mama of love and feminity! There are real “lucky” bottlecaps along the stove’s front, as well as many moonstones embellishing its surface.  The stove clock is a coffee can lid, and the burners are CDs. The stove control knobs are some kind of weird Indian things that resemble shisha mirrors.”

Pamela Allen works her usual magic with enchanting Picasso-esque faces, found objects, and a tap on the funny bone. This piece, “Single Parent Family,” looks back as her hard-working mom returned to Pamela and her sister, latch-key kids at a time when it wasn’t frowned upon.


We can all relate to the domestic crises Moms and other female heads of households face, as illustrated in this quilt by Pauline Saltzman. The title of the quilt says it all; it’s called:  All Stressed Out…No One to Choke…So I Might as Well Eat.”

Here’s a quilt I made for my mother:  A tribute to her as a potter and a Torah scholar. The Hebrew is a verse from Jeremiah, which says,

And if the vessel (s)he was making was spoiled,

as happens to clay in the potter’s hands,

(s)he would make it into another vessel,

such as the potter saw fit to make.

Jeremiah 18:4

My mother always says, if a project isn’t going well, I can always mush it down into a lump and start again.  And we quilters, if we’re not happy with our quilts, maybe we can make like the potter and cut them up and turn them into something different, right? or maybe there’s a mother- in-law or a daughter-in-law we’re not so fond of ? Well then, we can give it to them!

I love to endow such wacky folk wisdom in my presentations to guilds. Think about bringing me in next April or May for my “Not Just for Mother’s Day”    presentation. I wear an “I Love Lucy” get-up that ensures the laughs outweigh the tears of  nostalgia.

But as for this year–today in fact, Happy Mother’s Day to one and all!

Aprons to Reflect Who You Are

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When I was growing up, aprons had a really bad rep.  They were the pitiful junior high school Home Ec project meant to be your maiden voyage into Sewing-Machine Land. I was fortunate to have a mother who sewed, and who had taught me the ropes back when I was in fourth grade.  I already knew how to insert zippers, make buttonholes, fit sleeves into armholes.  I had skirts, dresses, and jumpers to sew. I had no need for aprons.

From college on, I was a feminist set on making my mark, if not saving the world. Aprons symbolized “the little woman”–submission, domesticity, a denial of your strengths and talents.

In the ’90s, I certainly identified with Cynthia Myerberg’s tongue-in-cheek Kitschen Help series. She used the apron shape with all its demeaning meaning. And photo-transfers from 1950s advertisements that brainwashed women into believing that domestic life could be so joyful, as long as you had the right appliances.  Plus chains as the occasional neck strap. Cynthia’s aprons, which I originally saw at the juried exhibition Art Quilts At the Sedgewick (AQATS–now Art Quilt Elements–more on that show soon!), were the delicious attire of satire. [Check out more about the advent of art quilts in America in my book: American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000, available elsewhere on this site.]

But just when you thought we’d all string aprons up by their, well, apron strings, flash forward to the new milennium.  Vintage aprons suddenly have panache.  They’re collected–I couldn’t resist buying a few sweet ones at flea markets myself! They’re oohed and aahed over at the quilt guild show ‘n tell, worn when hosting coffee klutches with your quilting friends, hung as charming valances in retro kitchens.  Young women in Modern Quilt Guilds make them up in contemporary fabrics and wear them everywhere, layered like tunics or back-wrap dresses over tank tops and skinny pants. Very cute–if you’re young.

Well, ladies, tonight I saw the humble apron rise on up in respectability–way past cute.  Launching the Fiber Philadelphia 2012 weekend events was my very own synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Shalom. There, we were treated to a spectacular one-person show, The New Sacred: Ritual Textiles by Rachel Kanter.  Rachel is a young, innovative fiber artist, yet she seems incredibly secure in her traditional family roles as grand-daughter, daughter, sister, wife, mom of 3 young children. But it’s her Judaism that pervades her life and her art. Once she decided she wanted a tallit–prayer shawl–for herself, she set out to create a uniquely feminine one. On her website RachelKanter.com and in person, Rachel explains that her inspiration is the four cornered robes worn by priests in biblical times. However, in using vintage apron patterns from the 20th century for her designs, she finds “a means of connecting her story as a woman with her story as a Jew.”

My favorite piece in the exhibit was this apron/tallit with stitches outlining the demarkations on patterns for darts, shortening and lengthening the shape. Like all the ritual aprons, it has the knotted fringes common to every tallit, with a knot or twist for each of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Called God’s Aspect, it’s made of sheer fabric, so that God’s image may be glimpsed in the wearer herself. (Rachel’s preaching to the choir on this one: for me, God is definitely female!)

Other aprons depicted the environs of Jewish female farmers. Huh? Who knew they existed in America today? Nice to see that environmental and ethical concerns color their lives, as they color these pieces. Especially nice that one of the farms is a wind farm!  (See the  pole and blades of the wind mill on the natural linen apron.)

Rachel’s art in this exhibit extended to wimpels and mikvehs, themes of binding together, of renewal, of family and community. I snapped the artist in front of one of her ritual tablecloths (below). She elevates the kitchen table to altar-status by appliques of cherished family objects, imbued with food, feasts, conversation, and memory.

She accomplishes the same thing with the lowly apron, don’t you think? Still, you wouldn’t wear these out in public, let alone to a worship service. Progressive Judaism relegates “Sunday Best” –or in our case, Sabbath Best–for the High Holidays.  Rachel herself admits that she doesn’t wear these tallit-aprons, at home or in synagogue. She’s successful as an artist, and her work is widely exhibited. Wouldn’t do to get them stained. So these aprons will remain as ritual objects…the new sacred.

Rachel Kanter, in front of her Mikdash Me’At, a ritual tablecloth in the exhibit.