A Jewish prayer shawl (called a "tallith" in Hebrew or a "Tallis" in Yiddish) is an essential ritual accessory for Jewish prayer. During daily morning prayer services, Jewish men (and some Jewish women, depending on the congregation) wrap themselves in a tallith in response to Numbers 15:38--40, which states that Jewish people must wear fringes on the corners of their garments as a reminder of God's commandments.
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Design your tallith. Traditional tallitot (the plural of tallith) are made of wool, and have blue or black stripes on a natural or white background, but nowadays you will see a rainbow of colours in the synagogue, especially among women and younger men. Choose a fabric you like, in wool, silk, rayon, or even cotton. Try a solid colour for the body of the tallith, and a patterned fabric for accents, such as stripes, reinforcing at the corners, and the atarah. Another option is to embroider decorations onto the fabric.
Cut your fabric to size. Traditional tallitot usually measure 72 or 80 inches long (although feel free to make yours to match the length of your arms from wrist to wrist), and vary in width from 36 inches for a small bar or bat mitzvah child to 72 inches for a tall man. Your tallith should be no wider than the distance from your neck to the back of your knees, and many tallitot are considerably narrower than that. Hem the sides so your fabric does not ravel.
Sew on your accent fabrics or embroider the body of the tallith for decoration. The atarah (Hebrew for crown) is a rectangular band of fabric that is sewn along the top edge of the tallith to show you which end is up. It is often embroidered with the blessing for the mitzvah of tallith on it as a reminder, but can also be merely decorative (try glass or metal beads for an update on the old-fashioned metal atarah your rabbi wore when you were a kid). Reinforce the corners of your tallith with squares of accent fabric, so the tzitzit don't rip the tallith.
Use the buttonhole setting on your sewing machine to create the holes for the tzitzit. Place a small buttonhole three or four fingerbreadths from each corner.
Tie the tzitzit. Buy a package of tzitzit from a Judaica store; it will come with detailed instructions for wrapping, tying, and counting coils. Each tzitzit will be tied from four threads doubled to make eight, and the longest thread is wrapped around the others in this order: start with a double knot near the fabric, then seven coils, a double knot, eight coils, a double knot, 11 coils, another double knot, 13 coils, and a final double knot.
Tips and warnings
- Tying tzitzit can be tricky, so use yarn or embroidery floss to practice on the buttonhole of an old shirt first.
- Because of the laws of shaatnez (mixed cloth of wool and linen), make sure your tallith does not include wool and linen together.
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