Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

I’m not exactly sure what this one is. It says festiggiandosile nozze at the top; looks like a poem, or perhaps a song, but it’s in Italian so I don’t know really. For a wedding, I know nozze.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

I’m dispatching it here because I liked the multimedia aspect. You can see the poem part is handwritten on paper, but then the paper is pasted to a satin frame, and the join is covered by fabric leaves and ribbon roses.

Note how the leaves have held their green colour but the roses, once red or pink, have faded almost beyond recognition. Lightfast red dyes were jolly hard to do before advances in chemistry in the nineteenth century.

Anyway, something to consider for you fabric artists.

The call number’s nsh2, from drawer 4 again.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jul. 10th, 2012 10:28 pm)

So I did this ketubah recently. It’s round, which is a new thing for me, and it has twelve-fold radial symmetry, and it’s scrumptious (Click the image to see a bigger version).

Once it was done, it occurred to me that it would make a pretty awesome clock. You’d scan the ketubah and photoshop out the middle, and put in the numbers instead. You’d get it printed. Then you’d make a wooden base, cutting it to the shape of those pretty peaked edges. Then you’d stick the print onto the wood (I don’t know the best way of doing this–decoupage techniques?) and seal it, and then add a clock mechanism. Which would be totally yummy.

I commented as much to the happy couple, and they were unexpectedly, gratifyingly, enthusiastic.

This is where you lot come in. I know how to get a scan done; I know how to use Photoshop, and I know how to get a print made. I don’t have woodworking space.

Does anyone have the skills and wherewithal to take it from there? I don’t have woodworking space, but I’m betting there’s at least one person reads this blog who does. Speak up if you want a commission!

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 10th, 2012 12:31 pm)

Thing about being an artist: you make stuff, and you make more stuff, and sometimes you don’t have space for some of the stuff any more.

On sale: Alef-bets; papercuts; Tefillin Barbie.

Struck-out items=claimed already

Bibbly-bobbly alef-bets

Torah ink, parchment-look paper, alef-bet going forwards and backwards with pleasingly organic curves. 4*6 inches each, framed. The pair are yours for a $25 donation to the egalitarian yeshiva of your choice (or homeless aid organisation).* Leave a comment to claim it and include a contact email.

Seasonal davening

These are the four insertions to the Amidah which vary with the season. You have two of them on the wall at any time. They’re pretty awesome, actually; papercut window-frames over a gouache background with seasonally-appropriate foliage. 8*10, framed; again yours for a $60 donation to the egalitarian yeshiva of your choice (or homeless aid organisation).* Leave a comment to claim it and include a contact email.

Tefillin Barbie

Computer Engineer Tefillin Barbie is on sale; a steal at $60. Quantities limited. Purchase at Etsy (follow the link).

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For my job-hunting boyfriend.

Find a six-inch square shadow box. Good luck with that; I made this one. Make sure it’s deep enough to hold a shot glass. Drill holes in the back to take the wires which will hold the contents and a hanging loop of some sort. Paint it fire-alarm red and varnish it.

Apply lettering to glass. I used Letraset because I am so fabulously retro. You might also use stickers, etching, custom-printed decals, or glass paint.

Secure inside the box a mini bottle of whatever and something to drink shots from. These are held in place with wire collars.

In event of awesome job offer, break glass!

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The boyfriend works on glioblastoma. Which is a cancer that happens to astrocytes, so he says. has neurons, but not astrocytes, so I made a plush astrocyte. With a wire skeleton so that all its tentacles are posable, because who wants a non-posable astrocyte, really?

It’s purple because all the pictures of glioblastoma are purple.

Look, cute little tail!

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Everyone has a challah cover that says “Shabbat v’Yom Tov,” don’t they? It’s a compulsory wedding gift, I believe. But not many people have one like this. Bwahahaa, geekery.

I might post a pattern at some point, if anyone wants it.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Oct. 18th, 2011 07:51 pm)
I've just posted a photo album of awesomeness over at It's got captions and so on, which don't cross-post very well. Please clicky over and go see! It is full of utter cuteness like this: Go see!

ceb1The original Tefillin Barbie was a 2006 model with a long denim skirt.* She’s getting increasingly difficult to find, but people are still buying Tefillin Barbies. So I’ve bought a dozen Computer Engineer Barbies to play with instead.

Computer Engineer Barbie wears leggings, which is a bit of a change from the frummie skirt. Still, I do know legging-wearing women who lay tefillin, even if it’s not my thing personally. So it’s ho and away for Definitely-Not-A-Rabbi Tefillin Barbie. She also wears a phone headset, which I’ve removed, because who wears a phone headset while they’re davening, for heaven’s sake? Finally, she has Bright Pink Glasses; please note the Very Correct Placement of the tefillin strap, behind her glasses.

ceb2She comes with a laptop and a smartphone; I’ve adjusted the laptop so that it shows a daf gemara from, and the smartphone so that it has shacharit.

This Barbie comes with a chunky pink wristwatch, but I’ve tossed that, because the time shown on the watch is 10.59, and this Barbie would totally be at work by 10.59. Unless it was Rosh Chodesh and a public holiday, maybe, and her minyan had had the longest Hallel ever, but as your basic everyday thing, Computer Engineer Tefillin Barbie’s going to be done davening by 8, maybe 8.30, and off to the office. She probably arrives ten minutes early so that she can eat the granola she keeps stashed in her desk drawer. Except on Tuesdays, when the old guys at shul have breakfast with herring and bagels; she stays for that because the old guys are pretty awesome and she likes herring.

*For those new to the saga, all Barbies are Mattel dolls, fitted out by me with tallit and tefillin. Media links here at wikipedia. They’re available for purchase at my Etsy store.

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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


The hardest part was getting the braid around the outside right. I wanted it to be just one line, going round and round, but if you just run a sinewave around the edge, you get either two or four lines, and I very much wanted only one line, because I only wanted to have the one text in the border.

It frustrates me no end that I no longer have the mathematical vocabulary to articulate the problem and thus find the solution easily. I contemplated asking a certain chap I know who works with knot theory, but didn’t want to admit defeat, and eventually figured it out the painful way, by drawing it on squared paper.

If you look carefully, you can see that there are eleven troughs along the top border but only ten along the bottom border. This is because a one-strand braid works if your border isn’t a whole number of wavelengths but is something-and-a-half wavelengths. The easiest way to do that is remove one of the troughs on one of the short edges and stretch the others a bit to make up for it – you could say, ok, the border is 100cm and the wavelength is about 4cm which would come out to 25 phases so let’s make it 24.5 okay divide 100 by 24.5 that’s 4.08 rightio let’s make the wavelength 4.08cm and figure out how to centre that so that the side borders are level with each other…but that’s very tiresome, so I didn’t bother.

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Part 1, Part 2

One of the clever things about piyutim is all the little linguistic tricks they use. Rhyme, of course; I tried to use white space between stanzas to show the rhyming structure, but I think I didn’t use quite enough of it. So, there’s rhyme.


Then there’s alphabetical acrostic, which I’ve indicated with little pink-highlighted squiggles, and anadiplosis. Anadiplosis is also called שירשור, and it’s when one line begins with the same words as the previous line. I’ve used bigger squiggles for anadiplosis, coloured in pairs. See how the alphabetical poem connects to the verse block, which connects to the last stanza, which connects to the blessing?


The squiggles are from an old sketchbook, which I take to exhibitions and things for the express purpose of collecting squiggles and patterns and whatnot. The note in the sketchbook says “Ramban, Rome, 1469,” but I looked that up on the JNUL site (cheers, Gabriel) and I didn’t see my squigglies in it. So they must be from something else. I’ll find them one day.

The border elements are a combination of something I pulled from a museum catalogue (Adoration of the Magi, Fitzwilliam Museum) and New York City ironwork (always buy the catalogue, if it’s pretty, and always carry a sketchbook). The little coloured bits are the same colours as the writing nearby.

I used three weights of Pigma Micron pen for the border, that’s all. You can have a lot of fun with contrasting-weight pens. The coloured parts are my beloved sparkly watercolours, which shine and gleam and are HAPPY. Yay art supplies!


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I like a bit of a challenge now and again.

Here’s a community that wants to honour its rabbi by giving him a piece of artwork.
Since the rabbi is well-beloved by the families with children, the Surprise Committee wanted to have the children participate in creating the artwork.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually result in something you want to frame and hang on the wall.

Enter a fun, bubbly style of calligraphy. These letters are outlined with marker, and they’re intentionally idiosyncratic. The children can help colour the letters in, and if they overshoot the edges, the outlines can just be thickened to compensate, and it’ll still look fine because it’s designed that way. Each letter can have several colours, increasing the number of possible identifiable contributions.


I provided the calligraphy, as an ex-member of the community. I left a lot of room around the edge; a current member of the community provided the border, in much the same style.

Then the community had a Making The Surprise day, and they made the surprise, and here it is:


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Here’s a video featuring a very tiny totally kosher Torah scroll.

The video’s more concerned with the accoutrements, a little aron kodesh and the usual silver ornaments for a Torah scroll, than with the scroll itself. They’re made by Bezalel School-trained artist Shuki Freiman, and they are breathtakingly beautiful, utterly and completely. Seeing them is a treat. I’m just a bit sad that they don’t talk about the scroll; they just say that it’s less then five inches tall and written by a sofer in Bnei Brak. No close-ups.

Shabbat shalom! Hope you bought your sushi this week. I bought mine. California rolls, yay.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Mar. 18th, 2011 04:06 pm)

This Purim, I was commissioned to write a megillah for the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, and not just create a megillah, but also a case for it to live in. The Center’s rabbi asked if I could make a design that drew on the Center’s existing artwork, and that’s what you see above.

The Abramson Center has stained-glass windows by the artist Mordechai Rosenstein. I used elements from the Book of Numbers window, pictured here.

Why Numbers? Well, the book of Esther is quite interested in numbers, have you ever noticed? Listen up when you hear it this year – you’ll see. Also, in Numbers, the Israelites complain about המן, which is part of the Purim narrative also.

More seriously, the Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zachor, because it is on this Shabbat that we remember what Amalek did to the Israelites in the wilderness. The Amalek story is also brought up in the Book of Numbers, in Balaam’s oracle: Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction – and the future of Amalek is (albeit obscurely) what the Purim story is about.

So it is appropriate that the Megillah case draws its colouring and background elements, these energetic stripes of oranges, green, and purple, with white accents, from the Book of Numbers window.

The letters are inspired by another Mordechai Rosenstein piece at the Abramson Center, pictured here, where they spell out והדרת פני זקן – honour the elderly.

What are the letters on the Megillah case spelling out?

The Numbers window depicts an amphora, and on Purim an amphora means one thing – wine. The rabbinic dictum is that one should drink עד דלא ידע – until he can no longer distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.”

The Megillah case takes the words ברוך מרדכי and ארור המן, and adds the pairing “Blessed be Esther” and “Cursed be Zeresh” from the piyut Shoshanat Yaakov – and then mixes all the letters up, all over the case, until it’s all jumbled and scrambled and עד דלא ידע indeed.

The word translated “honour,” above, has the Hebrew root הדר, which we know in another context, הידר מצוה – hidur mitzvah, beautifying or honouring a mitzvah. This Megillah and its case were donated in memory of Eugene Winston, by Ira, Flaura, Andrew, and Zachary Winston, and they will have the satisfaction every year of knowing that the Center’s Megillah reading is beautified in Eugene’s honour. We wish them joy.


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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Dec. 31st, 2010 02:46 pm)

Wow, you people are the best. Following a post containing some uncertainty about the availability of wool tank tops and cotton tzitzit (the one for the stringent, the other for the allergic-to-wool), Rebecca links us to a wool tank top, which even has wider shoulder pieces rather than spaghetti straps, to please both the large-chested AND the Mishnah Berurah – and the marvellous Yellow Hobbit, Jew With Spinning Wheel, is buying cotton in order to spin cotton tzitzit. Sign up here for your cotton tzitzit!

Talk about efficient. You people are IT. This should be a good omen for the year ahead. Shabbat shalom and happy new year, all.

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Girl-shaped tallit katan

Girl-shaped tallit katan

I couldn’t get to Limmud this year because of the snow closing all the airports. This is one of the sessions I would have given.
Wearing tzitzit under your clothes isn’t just something men do, but commercially-available tallitot katanot are definitely man-shaped. Bring a strappy top and come learn how to make a tallit katan that fits your body. Sewing skills not necessary.

Basically we’re going to go through the steps detailed in Danya’s classic post: take a strappy top, turn it into a four-cornered garment by removing stitches, make holes in it, and attach tzitzit.

(Translation for speakers of American English: strappy top is what you call a tank top.)

We’re assuming that you want to wear tzitzit, and that you’ve got over your “but that’s a MAN’s thing!!!” wibbles. People are welcome to discuss their wibbles, but that’s not the focus of the session, so I’m not providing sources on that here. Email me if you want sources.

Strappy top: fits under girl clothes, and is not a man’s garment.

Now, the Mishnah Berurah (16:1) says that the shoulder parts should be wide, and davka shouldn’t be straps: ויעשה הכתפים של הטלית-קטן רחבים כדי שיהיו נכרים ויהיה עליהם תורת בגד ולא שם רצועות. He seems to be saying that anything with shoulder-straps is not a garment and therefore doesn’t qualify for tzitzit. I rather think that, certainly in women’s clothing, the statements is a garment and has shoulder straps are not mutually exclusive, and therefore it’s probably okay to make a girl tallit katan out of a strappy top.

So, strappy top.

  • I don’t believe you can buy wool/linen blend strappy tops, but just in case: don’t buy a wool/linen blend.
  • Some say you shouldn’t put tzitzit on cotton or certain types of synthetics; if you’re of that camp, buy a mostly-wool top (Good luck with that. You might have to make one). If you’re not of that camp, go right ahead with your cotton or synthetic top. If you’re not sure, ask your rabbi or your google or read this and make a decision that’s consonant with your other values.
  • Some say there’s a minimum size for a tallit katan. Others don’t. Women’s clothes are generally smaller than men’s clothes; compare childrens’ sizes of tallit katan, which apparently hold that it’s all relative to the body size. You might care to find out which way your community holds on the minimum size for a woman’s tallit katan.

cece's tzitzis
Turning into four-cornered garment: slitting the seams 51% up the side.

  • The straps don’t count as part of the 51% reckoning.
  • Either rip the stitches or just CHOP THEM ALL OFF, WAHEY.
  • Optional sewing part: hemming the edges and putting in a few stitches to stop the seam tearing any further.

Reinforcing the corners:

  • With sewing, like a buttonhole, to stop the holes ripping open.
  • If the holes rip open, it’s still ok to wear, but it’s shvach.
  • I find that the armpit part goes yucky long before the corners start ripping, so I tend to skip this step. Then again, if I wore the tzitzis hanging out more often, they’d catch on things, in which case reinforced corners would be a good idea.
  • You can also reinforce the corners with awesome things like a certain JTS rabbi does.

Cutting holes:

  • They’re supposed to be two etzbaot from each side. 5cm gives you a bit extra to allow for stretching and such.

hannahstzitzitTying tzitzit:

  • There are about a billion squillion explanatory videos, blog posts, photos and websites out there explaining how to do it. Here’s the Jewish Catalog version.
  • When pulling halakha off the internet, often a good idea to compare several independent sources and make sure they’re all saying the same thing.
  • Remember to say leshem mitzvat tzitzit, that you’re doing this for the purpose of the mitzvah of tzitzit.

Girl Clothing:

  • There is a stringency to have the tzitzit be the same colour as the garment, but Ashkenazim (dunno about non-Ashkenazim) don’t bother with it any more. Still, girls’ clothes tend to be colour-co-ordinated, so if you like dyeing things, you might consider it, like this Hadar fellow has.

The order’s important. First make the four corners, then attach the tzitzit. Not the other way round.

On wearing them – depending how you view womanhood and tallit katan and the intersection of same, you may or may not want to be making a bracha when you put the things on. Again, ask your rabbi, ask your google, ask your friends.

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Tefillin Barbie is on Regretsy, people. Given that Regretsy exists to mock the living daylights out of dreadful things on Etsy…lucky old us.

The comments are particularly fine, I must say. It’s good to be reminded of how the world thinks from time to time.

For the record, I sell scalpels and blades because I teach scribes, and one thing scribes learn to do is erasing, and erasing takes the edge off a blade quicker than you can say “knife,” so to speak.

Also, I charge $130 for her because she’s fiddly as all hell to put together and I don’t have a factory full of Korean six-year-olds to do it for me.

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hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Oct. 30th, 2010 11:44 pm)

I may have spent the evening putting artwork onto mugs. Click mug images to buy at Zazzle.

My cup runneth over: This one’s particularly fine, I think, for hot drinks on chilly Shabbat afternoons at seudah shelishit, when people are singing “kosi revaya” anyway. Also good for people like me who tend to overfill their teacups from an excess of enthusiasm.

mug - my cup runneth over


Aleph and A: These are just pretty. I also have reish and shin, but not other letters. Maybe if someone were to ask nicely for a particular letter, I could do it.

mug - aleph


Procrastination: Because I totally am, and so are you.



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hatam_soferet: Fractal zayins (zayin)
( Oct. 21st, 2010 11:54 am)

First of all, I fish out my Full-Colour Sourcebook of Historic Ornaments. I have a shelf of books I use for inspiration, and this is one that never fails. Highly recommended.

koran carpet page

Turn to the Mughal India pages, because I’m in that sort of mood and I’ve got that sort of budget. I’ve been wanting to do something from this particular starting-point for ages. I know very little about Mughal India, except that it produced these kind of fantastically intense designs which I love.

Ask the letters how they want to be arranged. Let that dictate the shape in which they are enclosed. Sketch looks really dodgy at this point. If it’s a commission, this is what I send to my client along with whichever bits of artwork inspired me most, and I hope and trust that they can make the necessary leap of imagination.

Pen-outline main sections, for encouragement purposes, also for accurate painting.


And blue and cream…

And the beginnings of flowers…

Almost everything…


Clicky image to see bigger

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Yahrzeit candleIt's the time of year again when we use a LOT of yahrzeit candles. What to do with the pots afterwards?

This is a post about how to jazz up yahrzeit candle jars using glass paints, wrapping paper, and ingenuity.

Save up your yahrzeit candles. After yom tov, boil a kettle of water, and pour the boiling water into the pots. This makes the wax melt and float to the top; as the water cools, the wax will harden, and you can take it all out in a nice neat lump instead of scrubbing at it for hours or getting wax caked under your fingernails.

Then wash the pots inside and out with soapy water just like for dishes. Nice clean surfaces are better for working on.

Yahrzeit candle jars reusedWrapping paper jars are the easiest ever. You take out those scraps of wrapping paper that you saved because they were too pretty to throw away, you cut a strip the width of the jar, and you glue it on.

If you're feeling extra fancy, you can glue on a strip of contrasting paper by way of trim, or some lace, or some such.

When the glue is dry, varnish the paper with a couple coats of acrylic varnish. This makes all the difference. Makes it even shinier and happier, and stops it getting scuffy.

Yahrzeit candle jars reusedGlass-painting pots are scrumptious too.

For glass painting, you need a tube of fake lead for glass-painting, and some colours (unless you're inspired to use drippy designs, then you don't need the fake lead). You're going to have a lot of yahrzeit jars if you have one for each day of yom tov, so it's fun either to use a variety of colours in the same design, or a variety of designs in the same colour. Makes them look like a set.

What design? Basically anything you can draw with a Sharpie and colour in, a total beginner can do on glass. Flowers, stripes, dots, bubbly letters, stars...

You might choose to sketch your design first on paper. Then put the paper inside the glass and trace over it with the fake lead. Helps keep things straight in your mind.

Following the instructions on the tube, now you let it dry. This is why it's cool to do a lot of jars all at once; the first ones dry while you're doing the others.

When the lead is dry, you get out the paints and colour in the design. This makes a mess, so use lots of newspaper, and use Q-tips instead of paintbrushes, because this stuff ruins paintbrushes. The paint has a tendency to run, so lie your first glass on its side and paint the side thus rendered horizontal; then go on to the others, then give the first glass a quarter-turn and paint the next side.

After you're done, follow the instructions on the paint pot - you generally bake them in the oven for a period of time, which hardens the paint and renders the jars washable. The wrapping-paper ones you can't really wash out, but glass-painted ones you can, so you can use them for flowers or salad dressing or kiddush or -- novelty -- candles! or whatever.

My new idea this year is using wire and lumps of glass like Rav Elie's kiddush glasses, all coils and squiggles of wire, and pretty chunks of coloured glass, all glued on - mmm!
hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 28th, 2010 01:32 pm)

This is the piece of artwork I was working on the week before last, a little piece of illuminated poetry. I had the most glorious time with it; waking up in the morning and bouncing out of bed going “ooh!” with anticipation, working long, long days at it because it was so delicious I didn’t want to stop.

As you can see from the text, it was for the wedding of Aryeh Yitzhak and Tamara Hana – if you’re reading this, I hope your marriage will always be as filled with delighful anticipation and fulfilling potential as this artwork was.

Clicky image to see bigger

I love it. I love how the blue and cream balance each other; I love how the flowers dance through the bands of background colour. I love how the edges of the bands are so bubbly and graceful. I love the curves and curls of the foliage, and how it looks so colourful but yet so light and fresh. I love the little touches of greenery, and how those are echoed in the border. I love the border, how it’s so rich and regular but also so simple. I love how the symmetry plays against the dense knot of golden letters in the middle. I love how the letters flow and snuggle together and together stand forth in glory.

I’m especially happy with it because when I look at it I have the sense that my eye is being led into a state of pleasureable befuddlement, which I think is the point of this sort of artwork – it’s commonly used in Islamic contexts, where it induces the slightly meditative state of mind contingent on being sensually overloaded. I feel as though I’ve really achieved something artistically.

Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I am going to make one for myself, just as soon as I choose a suitable text. And I am going to make a maximum of three more, for prices which are not inconsiderable, but also not insulting; email me for more info.

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