Bar-Bat Mitzvah / Projects and Tutorials

How to Sew Your Own Tallit

completed tallis

The tallit is the one sewing project (besides the curtains that hung in the Tabernacle and Temple and the priests clothing, I suppose) that arises from a Biblical commandment: the mitzvah to put tzitzit on the corners of four-cornered garments. (And having written that sentence, I realize this blog needs a glossary). We all know basically what a tallit looks like: a rectangular garment with knotted strings on the corners. But to get it halakhically right we went back to the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, and the teachings of the modern Jewish scholar Aryeh Kaplan in his book, Tzitzith.

The additional squares of colored fabric on the corners aren’t strictly necessary, so you could skip them and simply sew circles of stitches to reinforce the tzitzit holes. But I recommend including them. They help keep the tallit fabric from tearing, and they give you an excellent opportunity to personalize the prayer shawl through the material you choose.

The atarah, or neckpiece, marks the top of the tallit so that you always wear it the same way. It’s also optional, but it’s another opportunity for personalization. For this tallit, we added a purchased atarah to point out that such things exist. They give you design options and can make your life a bit easier (this one is the Jerusalem Bracha atara in slate blue from Emanuel Judaica). Another option is to make an atarah from the same fabric as the corner pieces (Update: We’ve now posted a free simple atarah pattern as well as patterns for more personalized versions in the SewJewish Shop).

Completed size: 64″x18″ (1.6m x 46cm), not including the fringe or tzitzit. This is a shawl-size tallit. You can use the same techniques to make a larger tallit, just starting with a larger piece of fabric.

A few words about tallit size: Aryeh Kaplan, in his book, Tzitzith, lays out the Orthodox teachings on the size of the tallit, which specifies using a large tallit rather than the shawl-size tallit specified in this project. If you want to follow the teachings for a large tallit, here are Kaplan’s specifications for the dimensions:

“A Tallith should be large enough so that one can drape it over his shoulders, with two corners in front and the other two in back. A good Tallith should therefore measure at least four feet by six feet and be large enough to cover the individual down to his waist. As an absolute minimum, it must measure one cubit or Amah (24 inches in width).”

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Materials

  • 2 yards white wool suiting. This pure wool will appear slightly off-white. (For halakhic reasons, don’t substitute linen. The Torah forbids combining linen and wool in the same garment, and the tzitzit strings available to purchase are almost always wool.) I found the wool used in this project at Mood Fabrics.
    • Alternative fabrics: If you can’t find wool suiting, other heavy-weight woven fabrics with coarse fibers will work with the tassel-making technique used in the instructions. Good options are heavy-weight silk and polyester broadcloth. (And thank you to the reader who wrote to ask about alternative fabrics!)
  • 1/8 yard blue satin
  • Atarah (neckpiece), pre-made or handmade [Here is a free simple atarah pattern and a more personalized pomegranate atarah pattern for purchase.]
  • Off-white polyester or polyester/cotton thread
  • Blue polyester or polyester/cotton thread
  • Polyester or polyester/cotton thread to match the atarah
  • Set of wool tzitzit, available from local Judaica shops and online

Special Equipment

Embroidery scissors or other sharp-nosed scissors.

Instructions

Make a rectangular pattern, 71″x18″ (180cm x 46cm). You can use pattern paper, Kraft paper, wax paper, or pages from your Econ 101 notebook taped together. But don’t use anything with smudgy ink or pencil.free tallit sewing pattern

Cut one copy from the wool fabric.

On each short end of the tallit, measure in 3½” (9cm), and remove a crosswise thread (a pin will help).
how to make tallis

Now you’re going to remove a square of fabric from each corner. On each short end of the tallit, measure in 3 5/8″ from each corner. Use pins or a light pencil to mark a line up to the removed thread. Cut along this line, and then cut across the line of removed thread just up to the first cut.
How to sew tallith

The middle section of fabric that remains on each end of the tallit will become the decorative fringe a bit later.
Fringe area

With a sewing machine and using off-white thread, finish the edges of the tallit with zigzag stitches, starting and stopping about a half inch inside the fringe area.
Use sewing machine zigzag stitches to finish tallit edgeDiagram tallit finished edges

Tip: If you’re inclined to try on the tallit, this is a good time to do it. Once you create the fringe, you’ll have a four-cornered garment that you shouldn’t put on until after you’ve added the tzitzit. (That’s the halakhah talking.)

Remove all the crosswise threads from the fringe areas. A pin can help. This step can be a bit fiddly, but take heart. It won’t take that long.
Remove threads from tallit fringe

Use pins to mark off seven fringes, each a little more than 1½” (3.8cm) wide.
Measure tallith fringe

Gather the threads for each fringe, twist them together, and tie them into a knot. As you tighten the knot, make sure the tallit can lie flat, and try to position the final knot about 1″ (2.5cm) away from the body of the tallit.
Tie knots in tallis fringe

Now for the corner pieces. Make a 4½” (11.5cm) square pattern. Cut four squares from the blue satin. Using the blue thread, baste ¼” (6mm) away from the edges. Press under the edges of the fabric along the basting.
How to make tallit corner pieces

Pin the squares to the corners of the tallit, being sure to place the wrong (back) sides of the squares on the right (top) side of the tallit. (Note: If you’re making a large tallit rather than the shawl-sized tallit featured in this post, place the squares on the wrong side of the tallit.)Machine stitch the squares to the tallit, using blue for the top thread and off-white for the lower thread. Keep the stitches close to the edges of the squares.

At each corner, determine the location of the hole for the tzitzit by measuring 2″ from the edges of the tallit. Be sure to measure straight across from the edges of the fabric, not diagonally from the corner. Mark the spot with a fabric marker or light pencil mark. Around this spot, draw a circle with a radius of 1/8″ (3mm).
Where to put tzitzit hole on tallit

If your sewing machine has an eyelet feature, use that to sew an eyelet around the circle. Otherwise, trace the circle with a line of close, medium-width zigzag stitches. To make the tight curves, pick up the presser foot every two to three stitches, with the needle in the fabric, and rotate the fabric. For the best results, rotate the fabric while the needle is positioned on the outer edge of the circle of zigzag stitches rather than on the inner edge of the circle. For the best control, you might want to walk the machine through the stitches (that is, turn the manual control to move the needle up and down rather than pressing the foot pedal).

Tip: If you have trouble with this free-style approach, we’ve now posted a pattern and placement guide and video for sewing the tzitzit holes.

reinforced tzitzit hole

Working from the back of the tallit, fold the fabric at the circle. Being careful not to cut any of the zigzag stitches, use embroidery scissors to snip through the layers of fabric inside the circle. You don’t need to cut away all of the fabric inside the circle. You just need enough of an opening for the tzitzit strings to get through.Cut tzitzit hole

Tie the tzitzit to the corners using the video reference here.
tie tzitzit

Now that you’ve added the tzitzit, try on the tallit. Looks great!

Now finish by adding the atarah. Pin the atarah to the middle of one of the long sides.
pin atatah to tallit

Using thread that matches the atarah as the top thread and off-white for the lower thread, sew the atarah to the tallit, staying close to the edge of the atarah.Sew atarah to tallit

Congratulations! You’ve made a beautiful tallit.

We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

Did you like this project? Please share it on Facebook or your favorite social media! Scroll down for the share buttons.

Alternate spellings: tallis, tallith

Updated: To include the information on large tallit sizes from Aryeh Kaplan’s book Tzitzith (1/26/14) | To include corner piece placement for a large tallit (h/t Ben Slobodkin) (2/5/14)

Maria BywaterMaria Bywater is the author of Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She teaches hands-on Judaica sewing workshops.

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17 thoughts on “How to Sew Your Own Tallit

  1. I was shopping for a tallit gadol online, to no avail, frustrated by lack of turn-around time (many ship directly from Israel which is great, but not when you need it in less than 2 weeks!)

    Since I crochet my own kippot, a friend of mine randomly suggested, “why don’t you sew your own?” The thought never occurred to me; it is a pretty simple garment – but it’s sacred as well, and I wanted to “get it right – er, Kosher.” So I figured I’d leave it to the experts. Still… I perused the internet looking for any possible guidance for this task. I fell into your other blog, through an image search, which had a post explaining “sew Jewish” was “coming soon.” I did a search for “sew Jewish” and here I am!! Todah Rabah for this information! I feel I can now create something my own, and that I’ll “get it Kosher.”

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    • Hi Emily,

      We’re so glad you found us and that you found the instructions useful. We’re encouraged by all the people who have found their way here, even in our early days of building out the site. (If you notice in our Twitter feed, our logo is also under development by a fabulous illustrator.)

      We are going to put a lot of effort into making sure that all the projects at Sew Jewish comply with Jewish law so that you can sew them and use them with confidence. The devil is in the details, as they say, but we believe you can find God there, too.

      If you need to finish the project in 2 weeks, I would recommend that you plan on making the atarah instead of purchasing it. You’ll find links to an atarah pattern in this post. Making the atarah to save time might sound a bit counter intuitive, but an atarah can also take time to arrive by mail, since many U.S. suppliers order them from Israel.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. We’d love to hear from you when your tallit is finished.

      All the best,
      Maria

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    • Hi, Sharon. There’s no kashrut issue with using cotton for the tallit. In fact, the type of tallit worn under a shirt, a tallit katan, is often made of cotton. So if that’s your preferred fabric, go for it!

      The issue I refer to in the post has to do with the Biblical prohibition against combining wool and linen in the same garment. (The combination of the two in one garment is called shatnez). The prohibition is stated in two places in the Bible: Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9–11.

      I didn’t want to complicate the post with a lot of details, so I only pointed out where the issue comes into play for this project. But I think I’ll write a post about it in more detail.

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  2. As a fulltime tallit dealer (Ben’s Tallit Shop), let me first say that I was very impressed with this post. Sometimes I even deal with established professional tallit makers who don’t seem to know how to adhere to the simple halachic requirements described very clearly in this post.

    Let me add two small comments:

    Emily, regarding your comment on turnaround time from Israel: Israel Post just introduced a new international express mail service (“ECO Post”) that’s quite affordable and cuts down shipping time to a week or less. And then there’s always the EMS option, which will cost $20-$30 (or more) to the U.S. For those who do have enough time, registered airmail can be just $10 to Europe and the U.S./Canada.

    Regarding the atara, note that it should not be sewn on the same side as the corner patches – which is counterintuitive. The reason is because the fringed edges of the tallit are usually flipped up onto the shoulders (especially on a full-size traditional tallit). The corner squares are sewn onto the underside so that they show on top when worn.

    And a quick tip: If you make the tzitzit holes too small, or for some other reason have trouble inserting the tzitzit strings, just use a darning needle (or a little safety pin, if necessary).

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  3. If you are making a traditional Tallit which is 4 feet by 6 feet, How do purchase fabric larger than a yard by a yard?

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    • Hi Joe. Look for fabric that is at least 48″ wide (you’ll find fabrics in standard widths of 54″, 60″ or more). Purchase 2-1/4″ yards. That will give you 6 feet plus additional length to make the decorative fringe like we did in this project.

      Good luck with the project!

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  4. You are so incredibly talented… can not even begin to wrap my head around the work that must go into such a beautiful tallit, 🙂

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  5. Thanks Maria, I am weaving my first Tallit for my Grand Son. Your information on the Atara, and Ben’s information on putting the Atara on the opposite sides have saved me from making a big mistake. I also would like to know how to hand sew the hole for the Tzitzit. Since I would like to make this without using a machine. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. From somewhere else I found measurements of 44×73 for someone who is about 5’5″ and I think that will be a good option as he will probably be about 5′ plus at his Bar Mitzvah, and I want him to be able to use it at least until I have to make a larger one for his Chuppah. I did silk painted Chuppah’s for my son’s weddings and appliquéd leaves on the Trees. They came out very well, and one now hangs framed in their house.

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    • Hi Peggy,

      The tallit and chuppah sound lovely!

      I’ve never sewn the tzitzit holes by hand, but my recommendation would be to use the buttonhole stitch –generations before us used it to reinforce buttonholes, after all.

      Having guidelines to mark the depth of the stitches can help in keeping them even. So my recommendation would be to draw an inner circle that will be the diameter of the hole and an outer circle to mark the depth of the stitches.

      I find that the inner hole should be a little more than 1/4″ in diameter–making it at least 5/16″ (8mm) helps get standard tzitzit strings through the hole without fraying the ends.

      The outer hole should be at least 1/8″ away, but choose a depth that will work with your fabric and heaviness of the thread.

      When marking the holes, use light markings. You may even want to cover the markings with the stitches to hide them.

      Stitch the reinforcing holes before you cut the snip the fabric away to make the hole. And when you snip the fabric from the center, you don’t need to cut the fabric all the way to the stitches. If you cut away most of the fabric, you can insert the nose of your scissors into the hole (with the scissors closed!) and push the remaining bits of fabric to the buttonhole stitches.

      This video shows how to make the stitch (note that for your tzitzit holes, you’ll need to sew the stitches close together, and the part of the thread that crosses from one stitch to another should be on the inside of the tzitzit hole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teaveB9y0MY

      I hope this makes sense and is helpful.

      – Maria

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