Sublime Stitchery - Susan`s Needlepoint



Sublime Stitchery - Susan`s Needlepoint
Miriam Liebermann
Sublime Stitchery
B I N A H • M AY 5 , 2 0 0 8
Weaving art through the fabric of tradition
“Darshah tzemer u’fishtim vatas b’chefetz kapehah — She seeks out wool and flax and willingly does the work of her hands,” (Mishlei
31:13), sung every Friday night as part of Eishes Chayil.
Zahava had never demonstrated any particular interest in needlework. As teens are wont to do, she would begin projects
and never finish them. When she became engaged, her grandmother, Mrs. Susan Sutton, suggested to her that she might
want to make a tallis bag for her chassan, Chaim. Zahava’s reaction was very positive, and according to Susan, she did not put
that needle down for three and a half weeks until the tallis bag was completed. Three and a half weeks — record time, any
way you look at it! This was not just any needle project, this was truly a labor of love. Much emotion was invested in every
stitch. Hopes and dreams for the future were threaded into every line.
Zahava presented this gift to her chassan at their swanee.1 Chaim’s delight upon receiving this gift was almost tangible.
The entire evening, he did not put down his exquisite personalized gift, but carried it around showing it to all those present,
asking so proudly, “Did you see what my kallah made for me?”
Many a kallah has presented her chassan with a personalized needlepoint tallis bag, the canvas for which is designed by
Susan Sutton.
hese tallis and accompanying
tefillin bags may be Susan’s
most popular projects, but there are
many more beautiful projects that she
has helped to create and bring to
fruition. Challah covers, ataros for
talleisim, bris pillows, tapestries of
Yerushalayim, even a chuppah —
Susan’s repertoire is vast enough to
include them all. Susan has designed
chair cushions and wall hangings, still
lifes, florals, mizrach signs, birchas
habayis signs, and more. Susan designs
these projects together with her
clients, encouraging their input.
Every Wednesday, Susan’s two
daughters, Batsheva and Shani, join
her in her studio. By appointment
only, clients who wish to create
becoming bar mitzvah, and
she visited Susan, along with a
friend. Never having done any sort
of needlework, Debra arranged for
her friend to work on the tefillin
bag for David. Yet, sitting there in
the studio, Debra was inspired to
do a project of her own. While
Debra’s friend is creating the
tefillin bag for David, Debra is now
creating one for her husband, to be
presented to him in Yerushalayim
on the morning of the bar
mitzvah! What a joy; what a thrill
for both husband and wife! A gift
Ultimately, it strengthens the
bonds between husband and wife,
mother and son.
chassanim with handmade tallis and
tefillin bags. Using different Judaica
motifs, with names beautifully drawn
out and complementary colors
carefully selected, each project is a
call came in last week, a call
that moved Susan to tears. A
mother had visited Susan with
each of her four daughters as they
each, thank G-d, became engaged
and were preparing to embark
upon this new stage in life. Each
daughter stitched a tallis and
tefillin bag for her chassan, while
the mother stitched a challah
cover for the young couple. An
emotionally laden period in the
life of every young woman, and
certainly for the mother too, this
experience for this wise mother
and each of her four daughters.
Now that all the daughters were
married and established within
their own homes, they decided to
embark upon a joint project for
their mother. Together, they
crafted a challah cover to adorn
their parents’ Shabbos table. One
stitched the challos, one the floral
border, another the goblet of wine,
and the last, a bouquet of roses.
The mother’s love and devotion
was hereby acknowledged and
validated. And the love traveled
full circle.
BINAH • 30 NISAN 5768
e have a precedent for this
in Tanach. Chanah created a
beautiful garment for her son
Shmuel, a miraculous garment
that grew with him, year after
year. (“Ume’il katon taaseh lo imo
v’haalsah lo mi’yamim yamimah…”
[Shmuel I, 2:19.]) The Midrash tells
us that Chanah imbued each and
every stitch with love and
devotion for her beloved child, as
well as with love and fear of the
Al-mighty. Each strand was drawn
and threaded with hopes and
dreams for her son — the crafting
of an individual who would do
great things for his people.
personalized embroidery first join
Susan, designing the project and
deciding on a color scheme. At times,
husbands, too, will visit the studio to
voice their opinions regarding colors
and designs. Susan’s well-stocked
studio provides all necessary canvases
and threads. Then, Batsheva and
Shani join in and provide personal
instruction regarding the different
stitches needed in the particular
project. On a typical Wednesday, from
10-4, Susan will see up to 30 clients.
Over the last ten years, it has
become customary in the Sephardi
community for kallos to present their
unique work of art.
This custom has now spread to the
general Ashkenazi community, as
well. You’ll find mothers creating
tefillin bags for their husbands and bar
mitzvah boys. There are women who
are carefully crafting tallis bags for
their fathers and even fathers-in-law.
For daughters, women often make a
beautiful siddur or Tehillim cover. Is
there any more meaningful gift than
one which is crafted lovingly by hand?
Susan is an artist who has
mastered various mediums. Her
artistic career goes back many years,
to her childhood. Her father had a
fabric factory and would often bring
home remnants of fabric. Her mother
would make bed linens from this
material, while Susan would make
ponchos with fringes — as was in
vogue then. Aunt Esther taught her
how to use a sewing machine.
By the age of 12, Susan was already
sewing her own clothes, following
intricate pre-cut patterns, as well as
her own designs. Aunt Esther soon
taught her how to knit and crochet, as
well. For her 16th birthday, a neighbor
bought her yarn. Susan graciously
accepted the yarn and searched for
the most complicated pattern to
follow. She was a natural.
Painting came later. Married with
one child, Susan thought that a
painting class might be a good outlet
for her. She found an art class in
Brooklyn, and studied with the teacher
there for several years. Today, Susan’s
paintings generously adorn her own
home, as well as her children's’
homes. They span the gamut of
subject matter: nature scenes, still
lifes, and portraiture. Susan recently
built herself a beautiful studio in her
consideration, of course, the angle of
the sun.2
B I N A H • M AY 5 , 2 0 0 8
Susan points out that artistic
pursuits are within absolutely
everyone’s realm. Even if you
feel that you don’t have talent,
give it a try.
The Sutton family, thanks to their
devoted wife and mother, is
surrounded by beauty both indoors
and outdoors, 24/7. In addition to her
works of art decorating the home,
Susan has created a magnificent
garden in her backyard. A real handson gardener, unlike the great majority
of us city people, there is nothing
Susan enjoys more than planning and
then planting her garden.
She was originally fearful of bugs
and worms, but that fear has long
dissipated and she determinedly digs
the soil, planting her glorious flowers
with love. Pinks and purples are her
favorites, along with the wisteria vines
boldly climbing up the arbor, which
finally began to blossom after a long
stretch of seven years and now
produce abundant, gorgeous flowers.
In a relatively small area, Susan has
remarkably incorporated many garden
elements in order to create the perfect
bucolic setting. The fountain takes
center stage amidst the glorious
flowers; the rustic swing invites you to
soar above your cares; the bridge
awaits you, calling you to saunter
across and explore further. There
stands the beaten old weather vane
along with the quaint bird feeders.
With her songbirds providing a
background symphony, Susan hosts
her grandchildren early Shabbos
morning in her garden, serving them
cake and milk in the most serene
setting (weather permitting, of
course). A garden party lichvod Shabbos
kodesh! Splendid indeed!
Susan points out that artistic
pursuits are within absolutely
everyone’s realm. Even if you feel that
you don’t have talent, give it a try. You
may be surprised to discover some
hidden capabilities in yourself that
have been lying dormant all along. We
should regard art as a rewarding
pursuit for its recreational value. If it
brings one joy, it is certainly
worthwhile. Do you find it relaxing or
fulfilling? Then go for it.
Artistic pursuits encourage us to
Many find this sort of work
therapeutic. The repetitive
motions are soothing. Focusing
on the artwork, everything else
fades away and all is serene.
gifts, sharing her talents with others
and enhancing their lives. When these
challah covers adorn our homes and
bring us joy, Susan has a part in our
Shabbos table. When we present our
dear husbands with a lovingly made,
original tallis bag, Susan has indirectly
enhanced our shalom bayis. When our
bas mitzvah girl gasps with surprise
and utter delight as she holds her new
siddur complete with its gorgeous
cover — Susan has helped us bond
with our teenage daughters.
Susan greatly enjoys meeting with
women of all ages and backgrounds,
from many different communities.
From the Five Towns, Teaneck,
Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, as well as
the greater New York area, they all
flock to her studio.
Susan warns her clients that
needlework is addictive. Once they’re
hooked, they will find themselves
going from one project to another,
handiwork. Many find this to be the
ultimate stress buster. A mother of the
bride can be seen doing her
needlework on the wedding day as the
bride is having her makeup and hair
done. There are many women who will
not board an airplane unless they have
a project with them.
Many find this sort of work
therapeutic. The repetitive motions
are soothing. Focusing on the artwork,
everything else fades away and all is
Creativity plays itself out in many
different venues, as it is passed down
BINAH • 30 NISAN 5768
see the world with different eyes. We
learn to appreciate the colors, shapes
and textures of our natural world.
Susan finds inspiration all around her
— in her son-in-law’s argyle sweater,
in her granddaughter’s knitted coat.
She looks at her daughter and is
drawn to the shading on the side of
her face. Susan gazes upon the tree
that stands guard over her house, and
while you and I may see green, light
greens and darker greens, Susan’s
artistic eye will see lavender and even
blue! The trained eye can perceive that
in every color it processes there are
millions of tints.
Susan’s business evolved quite
naturally. For years, wherever Susan
went, she would take along the
needlework project that she was
working on at the time. Her friends
would approach and ask her to design
projects for them. And so, Susan’s
Custom Needlework Studio was born!
Susan emphasizes constantly that
her talent is G-d-given; she personally
will not take credit for her
accomplishments. She shared with
me a moment that made a huge
impact on her and her approach to her
talent. A woman complimented Susan
on one of her projects, “Susan, this is
just gorgeous! How did you do it?”
Susan responded, “It’s nothing. It was
easy.” The woman replied in turn,
“Don’t say ‘it’s nothing.’ This is
certainly not ‘nothing.’ You have a G-dgiven gift and you must acknowledge
it. Don’t ever say ‘it’s easy.’”
Susan appreciated this woman’s
comments and takes it a step further,
stating emphatically that each and
every person is gifted in some area. At
times we may have to invest real effort
to expand our horizons and delve deep
into ourselves in order to tap into our
talents. And when we do — wow! A
whole world opens up to us. We learn
to recognize the gift, acknowledge the
Donor of the gift and give thanks
The greatest thrill for Susan is
having found a way to channel her
hen women embark upon a
tallis/tefillin bag project,
Susan gives them a lovely card
with the following printed upon it:
The Gemara discusses the
question: When does a tefillin case
become holy? After considering
the options (upon placing the
tefillin inside vs. with the last
stitch), the Rabbis conclude that if
a case is designated for tefillin,
then it becomes holy with its first
use (Sanhedrin 48b.)
With the correct intent and
participate in this mitzvah, which
is not a woman’s obligation. What
a privilege!
Whatever our project, let’s use
our hands, which symbolize the
act of giving and chessed, to bring
peace, beauty, love and joy to our
homes and to each other.
to the next generation. While Susan’s
artistry is clearly in the fine arts area,
her eldest daughter Batsheva is very
musical, composing her own original
melodies. Margalit has become an
accomplished interior decorator.
Shani does incredibly beautiful
stitching and is often commissioned
to do projects for those who are
themselves. Naomi, home with her
decorating, and happily shares her
expertise with her friends and
neighbors. Susan’s granddaughter
Rivka has become an illustrator for
story books. With encouragement,
everyone is delving within to unleash
her particular talent.
Susan particularly enjoys being
challenged by novel, unusual projects.
Although the more original projects
may be more time-consuming, in the
long run, they are also more
rewarding. There are so many different
styles, so many options, so many
variations on each theme; an entire
world out there to explore.
Patience. Joy. These are all qualities
that evolve within Susan’s clients as
they invest much effort and love into
their projects. What a delight it is to be
able to present one’s nearest and
dearest with a meaningful gift, one
which speaks to his or her very
essence. And what a fabulous feeling it
is for a woman to sit at her Shabbos
table and see her handiwork, her
challah cover, as the focal point of the
seudah. “Willingly doing the work of
her hands” — carrying on the tradition
of centuries back — can only enhance
a woman’s life. B
Susan’s Custom Needlework Studio,
located in Brooklyn, NY, can be reached at
1. The Sephardi community has a most intriguing
custom. Upon the engagement, the family and
community joins together to celebrate. The kallah
and her family prepare a table with gifts for the
chassan; the chassan and his family prepare a table
with gifts for the kallah.
The origin of this custom is quite interesting.
Generations earlier, the mother of the groom
would present the bride with a token sum of
money as payment for her preparations for the
marriage. The mother-in-law would place the
money in a lovely little purse and present it to
the bride on a platter adorned with candies and
trinkets. This tradition evolved over the years
and today we have the more elaborate swanee
2. The northern exposure is considered optimal
for artists, as it does not change drastically
during the day. It is the most natural of lights,
certainly preferable to incandescent, florescent or
other household lights. The light cast by the
other angles of the sun, such as the southern
exposure, are more extreme and uneven, and
may make colors appear too bright. The northern
exposure is the most even.

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