Religion & Beliefs

Make Your Own Tallit

I have to admit that I kind of like a plain cotton white tallis with dark blue stripes. On a dignified man, the old classic still rocks. But I think it looks silly on me, and on most women. And … Read More

By / April 30, 2007

I have to admit that I kind of like a plain cotton white tallis with dark blue stripes. On a dignified man, the old classic still rocks. But I think it looks silly on me, and on most women. And I absolutely detest that sad thin silk thing that hang like a limp boa around your neck during davening. I don’t care if the silk is painted to coordinate with your kippah—it’s tacky. And it turns out, a tallit doesn’t have to be white. A tallit just has to have four corners with tsitsit. Most people prefer to have an atarah, an embroidered band at the head of the Tallit as a sign not to switch its upper side with its lower side, and so that the front tsitsit won’t be in the back and vice versa. Lots of people embroider quotes from Tanakh on the atarah, or decorate it with beading, but this is completely optional. If you know a kid about to have a bar/bat mitzvah, a cool and meaningful gift is to make them a tallit. Make it, not buy it. Take them on a trip to a fabric store, and find something they like. If they’re obsessed with the Red Sox, there’s no reason why it can’t be a Red Sox tallit—except maybe that it won’t seem so awesome thirty years down the line. More classic/sophisticated fabrics like wool, linen, and raw silk can totally work, and will generally withstand the test of time. Ribbons can be stripes, but you don’t actually need them, so it becomes a taste thing. In the corners you want a reinforcement of some kind for the place where you’ll be tying the tsitsit. This fabric can be in another color, and often you make the atarah and the corners from matching fabric. If you want the edges to be fringed make sure to choose a fabric that can be fringed (silk, for instance, doesn’t really fringe, but raw silk does). The actually construction of the tallit requires very minimal sewing. Cut it into the size you want, hem or fringe the edges, and sew on the corners and atarah. Make small reinforced holes in the middle of each of the four corners, and then get your tsitsit. Tsitsit must be made out of special string, which you can find at most Judaica stores, or online. Most places will have two options. You can get all white strings, or mostly white with one blue string for each corner. The reason for this has to do with the mitzvah of tsitsit. We’re commanded to put tsitsit on any four cornered garment, and told that the color of the thread should be techelet-blue – like the color of the sky, which is a symbol of purity. According to the tradition, its color was extracted in the past from the blood of a certain snail. Some people say the new blue strings count as techelet, and some don’t—it’s up to you.
Either way, tsitsit must be tied a certain way. There are a few different traditions, so you can ask someone in your community, or you can check out the great and extensive guide online at tekhelet.com. It’s really simple, and way way cooler than those crappy ones hanging on the tallis rack at shul. Get thee to the fabric store!