I was honored to be commissioned to make a large white-on-white Tallit for the High Holy Days.
I had limited time to get the project done - just under 3 weeks total time - but I set a schedule for myself to keep things moving and with much help, I was able to get it done on time (even delivering it two days early).
I absolutely love working with wool. It holds a wonderful, tight weave, it has a fresh and finished-look, and it feels differently from most of the yarns I often weave with. Working with wool also has its down-side - it sticks to itself, especially if there is any humidity in the air, which can make it extremely difficult to work with. The end results are always worth all of the stress while working, but that doesn't make the work any less exhausting (mentally and physically).
The wool yarn that I use for Tallitot is very thin, which means a lot is used for a project this large. For the warp I needed 1,488 strands of yarn. It took me a full day just to measure the warp. Thanks to fairly high humidity, setting up the loom was difficult and turned into a family-affair. At one point, my husband, four of our kids and I were all working together to set up the warp. After three full days of work, the loom was set up and ready for weaving.
Weaving was slow-going. Partly because when making a Tallit, you want it to be perfect with no flaws, and partly because it was so humid that even after being on the loom the threads were sticking to each other.
A large Tallit is woven as a folded piece of fabric meaning it is really two layers of material on the loom but attached on one side. I have found that a small hand-held mirror is just the right tool to use to make sure all of the threads are where they need to be while weaving - especially on the under-side of a double-weave fabric. (It is certainly better than constantly climbing under the loom or leaning my head upside-down to check thread placement.).
Weaving is done in three "parts" - the first set of stripes; then the long, plain center section; then the second set of stripes woven in a reverse-pattern from the first set. I had limited time to complete the project, so to keep things going I set a daily length-woven goal for myself which kept the project moving and the entire length was done in a set amount of time.
Once the weaving for the actual Tallit is done a set of "spacer" fabric is woven in before weaving a smaller piece of fabric which will be used for reinforcing corners (and an atarah or extra layer for the underside where the head will fall).
There is still plenty of work left after the weaving is completed. Finishing-work can take several days. The small pieces of fabric that will be used to reinforce areas have finished edges sewn to keep them from unraveling, then they are sewn onto the appropriate areas of the Tallit (using a thread the same color as the wool yarn so they don't stand out when looking at the finished piece).
The fringe is hand-tied in the style chosen by the customer. For this Tallit, I was asked to tie using Yemenite knots. When this was requested I thought I had a decent-idea what was wanted.....I was wrong! Part way through the project I had looked on the Internet for photos of Yemenite knots and was a bit nervous by what I saw. After studying a bunch of pictures and attempting to draw-out a pattern to use for the knots I started working on them -- still not certain of what I was doing. Thankfully, once I got a few inches into the fringe, it clicked and was pretty smooth-sailing from there on.
The last part of this project for me was sewing the holes for the Tzitzit to be tied through - the client was going to tie the Tzitzit himself. This process, once again, employs an item that I don't think is a common weaving-supply.....knitting needles. I have found that punching a knitting needle through the layers of fabric in the corners makes the perfect-sized holes for Tzitzit. I sew the holes by hand, around the knitting needle, using the same yarn as the fabric.
After all the finishing work was done, the Tallit was ready for the customer.
I enjoyed the project very much and was very pleased that the customer liked it as well.