Sarah Resnick’s tallits are made with love from start to finish.
First, her design inspiration comes from the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.
Next, women spinners and weavers from a rural Indian Village make the tallit fabric. Then it’s all sewn together in Cape Cod by a women’s cooperative that is dedicated to bringing high-quality manufacturing jobs to Massachusetts. Sarah puts the finishing touches on the tallit by tying the tzitzit (made in Israel) before shipping it out to its lucky owner.
Sarah’s tallits are literally wrapped up in a beautiful story. I know you’ll love learning more about her inspirational journey, just as I did during our interview.
How/when did you start making tallits?
I learned how to weave in 2008 and was immediately hooked. Only a few months after taking my first class, I was hauling a full-size floor loom up the steep steps to my third floor apartment in Toronto, and shawls and scarves started flying off my loom.
When my brother Caleb had his bar mitzvah a few years ago, he asked me to weave a tallit for him. First, he asked for a tallit with a skull on it, and when I declined he asked for one with an American flag…this led to a conversation of what we could create that would last him his whole life, and through that process we chose colors and a design that he was proud to wear on his bar mitzvah. After that, I realized that making tallits was a lot more meaningful to me than simply weaving scarves or shawls, and I was lucky enough to start finding people in Boston who commissioned me to make custom tallits for them.
My first customer was an incoming RRC rabbinical student looking for a new tallit to start her journey. It was such a blessing to get started with someone who was so deeply excited about the ritual of tallit and who gave me full artistic license to dream and create based on her initial concept. After that, the rest is history!
When making and designing tallits, what is traditional/fixed and where are you allowed some creative leeway?
Great question! I get asked that a lot because my tallits look different from what people have traditionally come to recognize as a tallit.
There are really only a few requirements, and most of them have to do with the tzitzit (the fringes tied to the four corners). The tzitzit must be certified Kosher (I purchase mine directly from Israel), and when they are tied onto the tallit, they must be tied with the intention to engage in the holy act of tying tzitzit. There needs to be an atarah (neckband) so you can distinguish between the top and the bottom. And finally, you must follow the rules about shatnetz, the ancient prohibition of mixing linen and wool. Because I use wool tzitzit, I never use any linen in the fabric of my tallit.
Other than that, the sky’s the limit! I just spoke with a rabbi yesterday who used traditional wool tartan fabric from a weaving mill he visited in Ireland and then attached the tzitzit to the four corners. The most holy and important part of any tallit is the tzitzit, which remind us of the mitzvot we follow. The tallit is really just a vessel for the tzitzit, so I strive to bring fresh and creative designs into my tallits while still meeting all of the traditional requirements.
You may notice that many tallits have stripes. While this isn’t a requirement, it has become traditional, and this is a tradition I chose to incorporate into my current line of tallits. The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai has a beautiful line about these stripes: “And why is the tallit striped and not checkered black and white like a chessboard? Because squares are finite and hopeless. Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go, like airport runways where angels land and take off.” This idea of infinite stripes is what inspired me to continue with the motif of stripes in my tallits while incorporating new colors in unexpected ways.
Where do you source your fabrics? Where do you make your tallits?
After weaving custom tallits for a while, the requests I was getting started to exceed the capacity I had to weave on my own loom. Some stores started reaching out to see if they could carry my work, and I realized there was a real demand for unique, contemporary designs for tallits and chuppahs. So I started thinking about how to find other textile-producing communities and artists who I could partner with to create a new line of tallits and chuppahs. I built a relationship with a fantastic social enterprise called Indigo Handloom to create the cloth for the tallits. They employ spinners and weavers in rural Indian villages, and they make this special fabric for us that are a blend of silk and handspun cotton. It’s heavenly soft and so full of character, and the first thought I had when I saw it was: this is holy cloth. So fitting for the tallits it becomes.
Once the fabric is woven, it comes back to Massachusetts to be sewn together by five women at Good Clothing Company, a new business on Cape Cod dedicated to bringing high-quality manufacturing jobs to our state. Finally, they come back to my studio in Boston, where I tie the tzitzit and then send them on to people looking for a special tallit to mark an important moment in their lives.
Whether we know it or not, everything we wear tells a story. Some are stories of abuse, unethical labor practices or wasteful production. When I started Advah, I committed to making sure that the stories of my work would be different, but I had no idea how hard that would be. When you walk around the garment district in NYC and start asking wholesalers where and how their fabric was made, they look at you like you’re crazy. It took me a year to find my partners and set up a supply chain that I was proud of. Now, I’m thrilled to share that our tallits are handcrafted from start to finish and made with love for our communities near and far. When you stand in synagogue with your community to pray in an Advah tallit, this is the sacred story you are joining.
Why/how did you decide upon the name Advah Designs?
Advah is the Hebrew word for ripple. I’ve always thought that taking the time to make every moment in life just a little more beautiful has an uplifting and rippling effect in our lives and on our communities.
This is why I choose to make Jewish ritual objects, and so Advah Designs seemed a fitting name for my business!
Where can readers buy your tallit?
My tallits are available in twelve stores throughout the U.S. You can see the full list on my website, Advah Designs. My chuppahs are available for purchase directly on my website.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions from customers (especially b’nai mitzvah students!) asking if I would make a custom tallit. I’m currently in the process of designing an Advah Tallit Kit, where a person will be able to design their own heirloom quality silk tallit that is 100% unique and customized with their own designs. I love that there is so much interest in engaging directly with the ritual of making tallits and tying tzitzit–it’s such a great way for kids to feel connected with Jewish ritual and excited to share their creation on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. If you are interested in hearing when these kits are available for sale, you can sign up on my website, Advah Designs!