I wrote yesterday about a beautiful prayer shawl or tallit that fiber artist Felice Sachs made for Ellen Shaikun, using blouses that belonged to Ellen's late mother. I was privileged to be present when Felice and Ellen brought the last and most important part of the tallit into being.
That's the tzitzit, the ceremonial fringes that are attached to each corner of the prayer shawl. Deuteronomy instructs, "Make tassels for yourself on the four corners of your garment which you use for protection." Obeying this command, Jews tie fringes to their shawls following strict procedures that Felice calls "ritual macrame."
After the knot is tied, you hold all the strands together in a bundle, separate out the shamash and use it to wrap around the bundle. To begin, you make seven wraps around the bundle, then separate the strands into two sets of yarn, incorporate the shamash into one so you have four strands in each hand, and again tie a square knot.
You repeat these steps -- winding, then a square knot -- four times. The second winding has eight wraps, the third has 11 wraps, and the last one has 13 wraps. Finish off with a square knot and you're done.
No sooner had Ellen finished the last knot than she was off to synagogue for evening services, almost at the end of her eleven-month ritual of mourning her mother with daily prayers. It was exciting to see her with her new tallit, wrapped again in her mother's arms.