October 15, 2015

Gifts of Love

I've been busy striking the set of summer and starting preparations for winter camp, which, blessedly, brings me a project of love, for two young lovers.
ignore hearts and initials
 My cousin's daughter is getting married next July. Out of great love for my cousin, I had offered her son and his intended a quilted chuppah (the canopy covering the bridal party at a Jewish wedding ceremony). They were thankfully not interested and I never even thought about making the same offer to Stefanie.

Last month, at her engagement party, my cousin tells me that Stef wondered if I would make her a chuppah. She naturally felt out of place asking me but lucky for her, her mom and I can--and usually do--say anything to one another. I felt so very honored (and mightly ashamed that I had never made the offer). And yet, because I had just recently been paroled from the massive wedding One Block Wonder quilt, I was wary of taking on a project like this.

I learned from my last experience that for me, the gift of my stitching labors is really only a gift when it 1) comes from my heart and 2 ) allows me to express my creativity in my own way. So now what? What if I say yes and it turns out that her ideal chuppah and my worst nightmare look very much alike?  What if I decline and miss this very meaningful way to kiss my dearest cousin and her daughter?


I ran over to Himself, who was trying to hide from my family behind a large chafing dish. I  asked him whether he thought I should say yes. He offered his always astute and penetrating assessment:

"Do what you want to do."

"Yeah, but what do YOU think I should do?"

"I think you should do what you want to do."

"Is that all you have to say?"

"Do you know where the bathroom is?"

 I tried to receive an answer from within my soul, but since we were in a large barn with 100 people and a live country music band, the reception wasn't too great. And then I saw beautiful, brown-eyed Stefanie two-stepping across the room and I knew.

When she wandered over, I took both her hands, looked her in the eye and said, "I am pleased and honored to make you two a chuppah." I think I then choked up, either from emotion or because she was throwing her arms around my neck.

"Only there are some rules," I added fiercely. "We have to talk about what you want and see if its something I can do."

"All I want is for you to do it, Julie."

I wasn't going to give up. "We have to find a color, a design--"

"I love you. I will be so thrilled to have what ever you want to make me."

The perfect answer. And so that is how two gifts of love were exchanged in a gentleman farmer's ersatz barn on a Saturday night in suburban New Jersey. Somewhere in there, the groom was told, as most grooms are, that he had always wanted me to make a chuppah and he thanked me from the bottom of Stefanie's heart.

So that's how I have come to be working on this project. As you can see from my sketch, its going to be a large tree, with colorful circles spreading across and down to the ground. It has to fit onto an existing stand, which required multiple communications with a frantic florist reminiscent of that wacky wedding planner in Father of the Bride. It also required lots of addition and subtraction, which I count as particularly frightening forms of higher math.
I came up with a size--about 7 feet wide by nearly 5 feet high. It will be tacked on to an existing white chuppah by the florist's seamstress (who knew that florists had seamstresses??). After the wedding, Stefanie and Mr. Stefanie can decide whether I should add to it for a bed quilt or just finish it off to put on the wall (or in a drawer).

I am going to do it all by hand onto a background that is in turn backed with harem cloth. That way, there is a better chance that the entire structure will not collapse and send the florist (and his seamstress) to the hospital.

The first step is to make a tree on craft paper, cut it out and see how it looks on the background before cutting up pretty pricey hand-dyed fabric.  Sounds easy, until you remember my previous dissertations on my drawing skills.
These are scary trees, good if your wedding has a nice Zombie theme. Lucky for me, Himself and his magic pencil were in the general vicinity when I was throwing the sketchpad against the wall.
He did it on graph paper so I could enlarge and transfer it onto a large sheet of craft paper that we used to use in kindergarten. I did that all by myself!
Now, the tree trunk goes up on the wall on a rough of the background so I can see how it works.
I will have to add the branches but I am happy with this start. I've been auditioning all kinds of browns and grey hand-dyes and will build a tree from them the size of this template. And then I get to make circles--4, 5, and 6 inches--out of my tentative palette:
 I'm sure lots will change but for now, I'm pretty energized and excited.And any and all ideas are warmly appreciated.


  1. The most important "design" element is already here, the love you have for your niece, the love she has for you and that colors the chuppah with beauty and blessings.

    Now then, you were joking about not including the heart and initials weren't you because that's what people do sometimes, put their mark on a tree, telling the world how they feel about each other. The tree is such a wonderful symbol, rooted in the earth, holding strong, branches reaching to the sky, two people rooted in their love, building a future together, could not be a more perfect symbol. When I think of trees, I also think of birds and we know that you make terrific, joyful birds and a wedding is all about Joy. So I can see maybe two little birds alongside the heart and initials (boy can I get pushy when I think an idea has merit !!!)

    Another idea that floated on down is maybe to embroider a word/wish/hope on a few of the leaves...

    Whatever you decide Julie, this chuppah will be a gift that will be treasured because it all circles back to the love that will be in every stitch.

    1. If we weren't each already married to other people, I would definitely marry you, Marti. I wasn't joking about the hearts because, TA DA, I had planned for two circles to turn into birds! Really! And with any lucky, the fabric from these birds will come from something dear that the mothers have stashed away. The initials--well, they are in the back of my mind, as embroidered handwriting,b ut we will see. And I am in love with embroidering a wish there too..thank you.

  2. you are such a great writer Julie, grinning form ear to ear with a wry chuckle now and then, your tree of life and love and wonder is a work of good magic!

    1. glad to entertain and let's hope you're right about the magic

  3. This has special resonance for me because my son has become engaged to a Jewish girl. They are planning to be married under a chuppah. No one has asked me to make anything, but I am intrigued by the use of fabric to carry such beautiful metaphors, and I must confess I have thought a little about what I would put into such a cloth. I will be following your efforts with great interest, and I am sure, a few laughs.

    1. It has occurred to me, not without some pangs, that despite having two jewish daughters, this might be the only chuppah I make for my family. (I actually made one for myself and Himself, but it was the first month I was learning quilting and it is a great big yawn.) Have you thought about offering, your work is so spectacular on tables that I can imagine how wonderful it would look up against the sky.

  4. big project! Now if it were me, I would have laid down on the cloth with my arms outspread, and had someone trace around me. I think I am a tree sometimes. a small tree. did you get my thank you?

    1. You are definitely a small tree. Me, however, I am more like a a very large gorilla so that would have been kinda weird at a Jewish wedding. Yes to thank you and glad to have my debt to society repaid!

  5. i'd read this before all that happened in my own life and have held it to savor off and on.
    How HUGE this is that you will do this true Act of Love....how so so WONDERFULL
    it will be...all the ideas you are having are wonder full...GRAND...and oh, i just love
    this so so much. It helps me to see my way out from my own place right now...to see
    Love happening

    1. Glad I can pay you back for showing me what commitment to care for someone else looks like.