With Elena Solomon: on shpanyer arbet, a special part of Hasidic garment art

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.

Machine made silver atarah


Hand-made silver atarah

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.

Image from “Little Known Handicrafts of Polish Jews of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” (1975) by Giza Frankel

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.

If anyone has any information about the making of the shpanyer arbet atarahs today, please leave a comment or reach out. It would be incredibly cool to get pictures of the making of, interview someone, and further round out this great story.
  • Leah
    Posted at 17:22h, 12 January Reply

    Both are sold. It depends on minhagim. I believe Satmar wear the style you grew up with till today.

  • Jojo
    Posted at 13:45h, 22 February Reply

    You forgot challah covers!

Post A Comment