by Courtney Jason
2012 has brought an unusual increase in religious artifacts arriving at Museum Textile Services, in particular Jewish textiles. These revered objects are used and preserved by families and many have traveled thousands of miles over the course of their life span.
A tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl, made almost exclusively of white or cream-colored silk with purple stripes. At the four corners are fringes, or tzitzit, the purpose of which is to remind the wearer of the laws of God. The tallit we recently treated also bears an embroidered panel on the atara, or collar, containing the prayer that is to be recited before putting on the shawl: “Blessed are you, God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves with the fringed garment.”
This tallit is in good condition with the exception of the purple stripes, which are shattering due to the combination of poor dye chemistry and UV-light exposure. We vacuumed it to remove any particulate matter, then humidified the folds that had set in from storage. Once treatment was complete, we hand-stitched the tallit to a muslin-covered mount, sewing around the perimeter and along the fringe line. We then pressure mounted the tallit in an UV-filtering acrylic box. Pressure mounting is the ideal treatment for this textile because it provides overall support to the fragile, shattered silk and eliminates the need for an adhesive lining or extensive repair stitching.
The family what owns this tallit also brought two tefillin when they emigrated from Russia around the turn of the 20th century. Consisting of two small leather boxes on leather straps, one tefillin is attached to the head and the other to the arm. The leather boxes each contain the same four passages from the Torah, with all four passages written on one scroll and placed in a box with a single compartment on the armpiece, and each passage getting its own scroll and compartment in the head piece.
The leather boxes are painted black, as is one side of the leather straps that connect the boxes. In treating the tefillin, we consolidated the black lacquer on the boxes, which had started to come up in places, as well as the paint on the straps. The tefillin was then mounted on a padded board covered in cotton, and secured into an UV filtering acrylic box. Both the tallit and tefillin were given to the owner's son, who has just been appointed Rabbi of a large synagogue in New York.
Upon the client's request, we enlarged the chuppah by adding silk fabric to all four sides so that it now measures 6 feet square. After the wedding, the chuppah will be returned for additional treatment. We will remove the silk additions and return them to the family for a future craft project. A new Velcro hanging system will then be attached to allow the original chuppah to hang safely in the owner's home once again.
Chuppah after conservation.
It has been a pleasure working with these families to ensure their textile heritage remains for generations to come