An excursion into DIY Judaica

I am in the process of making tzitzit (debka_notion, can I take you up on your kind offer to find the old ones a home once I get to that step?).  This fills me with glee and happiness. The basic idea behind them is that there should be ritually tied strings attached to all four-cornered garments.  This, incidentally, is the main origin of the tallit to which I am going to attach them — at a certain point in history most garments became tube-based rather than rectangle-based, thus there needed to be specially-arranged four-cornered garments to have something to attach tzitzit to.  More specifically, tzitzit need to be spun and tied by a Jewish adult expressly for that purpose (I can’t just go out and buy some wool twine and use that even if I tie it right), made out of wool (unless it’s a linen garment), linen (unless it’s a wool garment), or the same fiber the garment is made of.  In this case, I have a silk tallit onto which I am attaching wool tzitzit.  I’m not making silk tzitzit because I can’t spin silk that fine.  Also, technically the silk has to be thrown (unwound from the cocoons) with the intention of being used for tzitzit, and while I do actually have the equipment to do it, that sounds way too messy and I bet it takes a lot of practice to do well.  

More detailed ritual fiber-geekery continues under the cut…

The strands themselves are normally 8-ply cabled cord, but I’m doing 4-ply since as far as I’ve been able to tell the 8-ply isn’t a requirement and even with this lovely long-staple stuff I have, I can’t spin wool that super-fine with enough regularity to do 8-ply (there’s no maximum diameter requirement or anything, but if the yarn is too thick it would look kind of silly, and they’re not supposed to be so long that they drag on the ground).  Cabled means that instead of each string being four (or eight) singles piled together, there will be two 2-ply strands that are then plied together to make one 4-ply (I *think* the ones on my tallit currently are two 4-plies rather than something more complex, but I can’t quite tell and I don’t want to unravel them by accident).  I’m going to try to make the string all today so that the strands lose as little twist as possible before they get into their final ply.  Then I can take my time practicing the knotwork and such before actually tying them onto the tallit.

I plied the 2-plies the same direction as they had been spun, which really adds to the strength of the finished yarn.  It does, however, mean that I had to put a lot of tension in the lazy kate when I made it into 4-ply so that the ultra-high-twist 2-plies didn’t jump off and attempt to eat things. 

End Result: Approximately 96 yards of balanced cabled silky-smooth 4-ply.  It’s definitely bulkier than standard tzitzit yarn, but not to an unreasonable degree.  And my drive band decided that I was obviously done spinning, so it could break now.  Just the knot has broken, so it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.  And this will remove the temptation to court carpal tunnel syndrome by spinning anymore today.

Pictures forthcoming…..

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    debka_notion said,

    I’ll be thrilled to give the old ones a new home- either with me, or I’ll find them somewhere else where they can continue fulfilling their mitzvah. *grins* I’m really excited about your project. (Also, I managed to shock my Talmud professor when discussing the production of fiber in class- we’re learning about the categories of work forbidden on Shabbat- when I mentioned that I had friends who spun…

  2. 3

    Sarah said,

    I spoke with my brother about spinning wool for tzitzis and he spoke with his rabbinic authorities (a Chabad Rabbi) and said, nah, not kosher. I don’t know why not.

    I’d still do it. I just haven’t. I’m glad you did.

    Have you read up on Techelet? Some people think they’ve found the right snails to make the right blue. Of course some people don’t think it’s right. Or they say better to be on the safe side and not use it in case it’s wrong.

    My dad, recently, said that in our family we pick the mitzvot we want to follow and don’t follow others. If you use that reasoning then I think I *can* spin the tzitzis for my daughter’s tallis and that would be just plain cool.

    Sorry for rambling all over your post.

    • 4

      limesarah said,

      Oh, I like rambling :-)

      Interesting…I’m really curious now to know why he didn’t think it would be kosher, because it’s not like the sources I was looking at are crunchy liberal modern ones.

      I did look at techelet, and decided that I just really don’t have the background knowledge yet to decide on whether I think that’s the right dye, and don’t have the cultural/ancestral background to make going with one authority or other meaningful for me. I figure that if I want to get into that at some point, I can always make new ones (the P’til Techelet group does sell the dye itself online, and I kind of want to get some just to play with anyway, because murex was used all over the place in the ancient world whether or not it was techelet) and for now all-white ones are still ok.


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