How To Make an Eco Tallit From a Scarf
Make Your Own Eco Tallit
When I decided I wanted a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, I decided I also wanted it in line with my other values: sustainable, chemical free, and safe for the workers. My search online for green or eco tallits for sale, however, ended fruitless. I did find, however, directions for making a tallit of my own in which I could choose the fabric.
I can use a sewing machine but I didn't trust my minimal skills for such an important project. I could hire a seamstress to make it for me but I really wanted a hand in its making. I decided, therefore, I would begin with the project half professionally done: by starting with an organic or fair trade scarf.
You can make your own eco tallit, too, by following the steps I took in making mine.
NOTIONS NOTE: Make sure you use the correct sewing machine needle and thread. Since I chose a silk scarf, for example, I need silk thread and the corresponding silk needle.
Other than a sewing machine and fabric scissors you will need:
- Fringed scarf 24-28 inches wide by 60-74 inches long (as desired so than the scarf is long enough to cover your shoulders)
- 1/4 yard fabric for making the atarah (crown) - square corner reinforcements - and tallit bag
- Thread matching the atarah fabric
- Thread matching the scarf or shawl (if you desire contrasting thread)
- A set of four tzitzit
What is a Tallit?
The Jewish Prayer Shawl
Torah commands us to put fringes on the corners of our garments to remind us to follow God's commandments. In Jewish tradition a tallit (little tent) is a four-corner shawl with special fringes, called tzitzit, on each of the corners. Traditionally, men wear a tallit during morning prayers and on the night of Yom Kippur. Today, some non-Orthodox women do as well.
Artisans sell beautiful tallitot online, in synagogue gift shops, and on the streets of Jerusalem, their prices ranging from pricey to very pricey. Making your own tallit from a four-corner scarf or shawl is not only a way to have a custom tallit with your personal touches; it's also very economical.
The Commandment of Tzitzit
Tallitot derived from the desire to fulfill the commandment of wearing fringes on our garments.
Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. Numbers 15:38
You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself. Deuteronomy 22:12
What Makes an Eco Tallit Green?
Choosing a Scarf
Beginning with a large, four-corner scarf or shawl makes for an easy tallit. Many already have fringed ends, and a scarf or shawl is made to look great on both sides of the fabric.
The type of fabric and the chemicals used to weave it can make a fabric environmentally friendly or not. Conventionally grown cotton, for example, is the most chemical-laced fabric in the world, according to Organic Fabric Online. Not only is it laden with chemical pesticides, manufacturers often bleach cotton and other fabrics with chlorine. Many fabrics, such as nylon, consist of plastic, not the best choice unless you find a scarf made from recycled bags or soda bottles.
Some raw natural materials grow faster than others, too. Hemp is considered one of the most sustainable fabrics. Artisans' working conditions also deserve consideration. Fair Trade Certified scarves and shawls ensure artisans receive premium wages and good working conditions.
The perfect scarf is organic or spray-free, sustainable, and fair trade. Make sure to find a scarf or shawl labeled one or more of these.
Making White and Blue Tzitzit Green
Finding Environmentally Friendly Tzitzit
Whether you choose to make your own tzitzit or buy them, the same rules apply. As when choosing a scarf or shawl, choose organic cotton or wool yarn. Dyes should be plant-based and preferably organic. Support a small business, if you can. Some prefer to buy from Israel but buying within your own country makes a good choice, too, as the tzitzit will have fewer miles.
With just a four-corner, fringed scarf or shawl, a little fabric and thread, and a set of four tzitzit you can make your own tallit. Since you start with a scarf the base of this project is finished.
- Wash and press or steam all fabrics including the scarf or shawl.
- Cut a 4"-wide strip of fabric. From this strip, cut one 24" x 4" piece of fabric for the atarah (if you use a particularly thin fabric you may also want to cut and attach an identical piece of interfacing). Then cut four 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" squares. The remaining large fabric piece will make the tallit bag.
- Measure and fold a 1/4" hem on each of the squares, pin with straight pins, and press with an iron. Using the thread that matches the squares/atarah fabric, Sew a line down each side, and remove the pins. Next, if desired, fold the atarah fabric exactly in half across its width and then again across its length. Evenly cut the corners so that the ends come to near point (the ends will come to a true point after hemming). Measure and fold a 5/6" hem on each of the aftarah, pin with straight pins, and press with an iron. Sew a line down each side, and remove the pins.
- Fold the atarah exactly in half and mark the center with a straight pin. Do the same for the scarf or shawl. Align the center of the atarah exactly to the center and to the edge of one side of the scarf or shawl. Pin together and sew along the very edge, using a contrasting thread, if desired. For additional ornamentation, sew an additional, decorative stitch 1/2" within the perimeter of the first stitch. On the same side of the scarf as the atarah, align and pin each square exactly to the corner edges, pin, and sew in the same way.
- Using the button foot on the sewing machine, sew a 1/2" button hole in the center of each corner reinforcement square. Use a scissors or craft knife to cut open the hole.
- To attach the tzitzit, insert the loop of one tzitzit into the front of one corner hole and pull the tail through the loop. Repeat for each corner.
- Trim any excess thread, say the blessing, and don your new eco tallit!
- To make the tallit bag: On one short side of the remaining fabric piece, fold a 1/2" hem, pin, press, and stitch across. Repeat for the opposite side. Now that both ends are hemmed fold the fabric in half, forming the shape of a bag, with the hem on the outside. Stitch each unfinished side 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge. Trip any excess thread, turn inside out, and put your eco tallit in your new tallit bag!
Do not mix linen and wool.
Torah says tzitzit should include a blue thread with a specific dye. Some believe the dye is made from snail, squid, cuttlefish, or indigo. Ask your rabbi if your tzitzit should have a blue thread and from what dye.
Donning a Tallit - Wearing Your Eco Tallit & Reciting the Prayer
Baruch Atah Adonai
Elohenu Melech Ha'olam
Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav
Vetzivanu Al Mitzvat Tzitzit.
Blessed are You, Lord our God,
Ruler of the universe,
who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.
to my husband, Jayszeman, for shopping for each piece with me and for doing the parts of this project that bore me like pinning each hem.