January 12, 2022 With Elena Solomon: On shpanyer arbet, a special part of Hasidic garment art
In this video post, I explore a very interesting part of Hasidic clothing: the silver decorative strip found on the men’s prayer shawls. I talk to Elena Solomon, who, together with Lily Homer is writing an encyclopedia entry on the special craft involved in making these decorative garments. It’s an art style unique to Ashkenazi Jews, and it’s called ‘shpanyer arbet‘.
When I was a child, the atarah was actually not made by sewing but by creating a chain fence of small silver shells. It looked like this:
After I spoke to Elena, I was surprised to find that the shops now sold a very different kind of atarah, which is sewn either by hand or machine. This is the shpanyer arbet technique.
The shpanyer arbet work is sewn in a special way that builds the threads up into a three-dimensional loop or squiggly so that the silver threads get built into a special larger piece. This technique was used not only to decorate men’s atarahs, but also other garments, like women’s bonnets or shirt-toppers.
Both Elena and Lily study and practice various forms of handcraft. This is Elena’s wedding-canopy in the making.
Lily has a beautiful collection of fiber work arts on her website. She tells me, “I inject elements of the lace into the work. Sometimes it’s just a conceptual connection like wrapping, binding, or braiding.” Here’s a lovely piece of hers titled shituf. It’s made of polypropylene rope, burlap, thread, and copper wire.