Torah's mantle holds stories
Swatches of fabric stitched together connect the stories of many women in a mantle for the first known Torah written by women.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Across the table were piles of colorful pieces of fabric — each with a life story woven into the threads.
One sheer embroidered organdy was taken from a sari, part of a collection of fabrics donated by the family of a notable Snohomish quilter. A piece of black velvet is from a shawl worn by a woman who died in the 2006 Jewish Federation shooting in Seattle. And there are swatches from curtains, coats, gloves and wedding dresses.
There was even bright magenta fabric from a muumuu belonging to the artist's grandmother.
By Wednesday the fabrics, linked to about 50 very different women, had been stitched together into a whole and sacred piece of art — a mantle for the first known Torah to be written by women. As fabric artist Sooze Bloom deLeon Grossman, of Vashon Island, sewed the cloth, she connected the stories.
A hearty, quick-to-laugh woman whose hair is top-knotted with red-, yellow- and blue-felted wool "dreadlocks," Grossman padded across the wood floor in her stocking feet, navigating around the olive green fabric on the floor. It was covered by a template where a beige velvet pomegranate eventually went.
Pomegranates are common Judaic symbols because the number of seeds is believed to correspond to the number of laws in the Torah, and they come with a natural crown.
For Grossman, Saturday's reading from the Torah will be the culmination of the seven-year project.
"It will be a cry fest," she said.
Like the Torah, the mantle holds something of the women in each piece of fabric. Pamela Waechter, former President of Temple B'nai Torah, who was killed when a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Federation on July 28, 2006, will be memorialized with the black velvet.
Material from a wedding dress, which a Colorado woman also used to swaddle her infant daughter during a naming ceremony, was given.
Two women donated a silk, hand-painted chouppah, or canopy, from their wedding in Quebec.
Grossman honored, with hand-woven fabrics created before World War II, her husband's grandmothers, who lived in Eastern Europe during the war.
Grossman held up a sweater sent by Nicole Barchilon Frank, of Arcata, Calif. It was once owned by Frank's grandmother, Isabelle Bernstein Redman.
Frank wrote the following note: "Isabelle was a woman of profound kindness in harsh circumstances. She exuded warmth ... and love.
"I send the swatch from my grandmother because she was a woman who was not ever able to do what she dreamed or wished for herself. She wanted to be a nurse but had to drop out of nursing school before she was finished to care for her dying father ... Her sweater having a moment ... in this Torah cover is a profound offering about women's lives mattering."
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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