I live by a few simple rules. One of my rules is that when I am at a charity auction, and a Knitting or Needlework-related Item is on the block:
Always Bid on the Fiber Arts Item.
The legislative history of this rule goes back to my own donations of handknit, and even custom-knit, items to charity auctions. If nobody bids on it, or it goes to a low bidder who really didn’t expect or want to win it, it’s kind of a downer, for the donor and also, in my opinion, for my beloved needle arts. A custom-knit sweater should not be getting less love than a mani-pedi at the local salon. That hurts my feelings.
My rule came into play a couple of Marches ago, at a silent auction to benefit my synagogue.
Browsing the auction tables with a cup of wine in one hand and a ballpoint pen in the other, I stopped in my tracks when I beheld the sheet of paper describing Lot Number Whatever: Custom Needlepoint Tallis Bag.
(By way of background: a tallis or tallit is a prayer shawl worn during morning services. You can either borrow one from the synagogue’s collection—reminiscent of the spare sports jackets they used to keep at fancy restaurants—or you can BYO tallis. For transporting the tallis safely to and from synagogue, people have zippered cloth pouches, which can be plain or fancy, handmade or storebought.)
A congregant I’d never met, Paula Kramer Weiss, was offering to make a custom needlepoint tallis bag for the highest bidder.
I bid on it. I may have gone back and topped up my bid to get back in the lead.
I won the tallis bag.
Fast-forward to later that spring. Paula and I met at an Upper East Side needlepoint and yarn shop, Annie’s, to look at their selection of tallis bag canvases. Paula, it turns out, not only is an ace needlepointer, she is also a knitter. At the same auction, she had joined in a group bid for the item I had donated: a blowout knit night at my house. So, not only did I win the tallis bag, I made a new friend.
Perusing the pre-painted needlepoint canvas at the shop, Paula mentioned that she’d made a tallis bag for herself and one for her son, using custom-painted canvases based on the old stained-glass windows in our synagogue’s sanctuary. Would I like my bag to be like that?
Yes! I sure would like that!
We simplified the design so that it focused on the geometric central motif of the synagogue windows. We picked out embroidery floss colors in a slightly brightened palette. Paula insisted on adding in a fine metallic thread, for sparkle.
And that was that. I was happy to wait as long as it took Paula to make it. Occasionally, at knit night (predictably, that first knit night turned into a monthly group), I’d get a report on how the tallis bag was coming along.
Recently, Paula texted to say she was in her car in front of my building, and could I come down and get my tallis bag so she didn’t have to hunt for a parking space?
Is it not the most wonderful tallis bag you’ve ever seen?
It is even more beautiful than I expected. Paula’s work is impeccable, and the image of the windows, on which my eyes have rested so often during the long standing prayer, in good times and bad, is loaded with meaning and emotion.
Inside, a silk lining:
I will try, but probably fail, to be humble about my very special tallis bag.
I highly recommend following the fiber arts auction Rule for Living. It is its own reward, and sometimes comes with an heirloom.