Yesterday a reader wrote to ask for advice on how to make a tallit katan, the small tallit typically worn under a shirt for daily use. It’s something I had been looking into although I haven’t written up a project, so I thought I’d share with you what I know. Because making a tallit katan involves performing a mitzvah — a commandment in the Torah– I’ll touch on the basics of Jewish law on the subject and give you some resources for getting more details so you can take these laws into account as much as you choose when making your own tallit katan.
* Size: The minimum size to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit is 18″ x 36″, although 24″ x 48″ is preferred. This comes from Tzitzith: A Thread Of Light by Aryeh Kaplan, who is one of my go to resources for the details of traditional Jewish observance (as well as spiritual insights).
* Aryeh Kaplan recommends making a T-shaped neckline. He doesn’t mention the rounded neckline seen on many commercially available tallit katans. I think this might be because the T-shaped neckline preserves the dimensions of the tallit. Some sources hold that on a tallit with a rounded neckline, you measure the length from the bottom of the neckline. I’ll tell you straight out I can’t find my source for this idea, but the implication is that if you start with a tallit katan that is the minimum size of 18″ x 36″ and then cut a rounded neckline, you’d have to start measuring the length from the bottom of the neckline instead of the shoulder, and the tallit katan would be too small to satisfy the requirements of the mitzvah — at least according to strict interpretations of Jewish law regarding tzitzit.
* The typical commercially available tallit katan seems to position the corner pieces on the inside, the side facing the body when the tallit is worn, so that’s what I’d recommend.
* The most traditional fabric is wool — this is Aryeh Kaplan again.
* Don’t use both wool and linen (because shatnez). Since most commercially available tzitzit strings are made with wool, avoid linen in the rest of your fabrics and threads.
* Use thread of a different fiber type than the fabric (Kaplan). For example, if you use cotton fabric, use polyester thread.
* You can finish the edges with zigzag stitches or a serger as in our original tallit project or another approach that works for your fabric. If preserving the minimum dimensions of the tallit is important to you, be sure to cut the tallit large enough to allow for the length and width you’ll lose when you finish the edges.
* The tzitzit holes should go about 2″ from the bottom and side edges, to comply with the laws of tzitzit (Kaplan explains this, but you can find more info and details in the Shulchan Aruch: The Code of Jewish Law, Sivan 9). See our free corner piece pattern and the method we developed to easily sew neat holes for tzitzit strings with a regular sewing machine.
* An online source for tzitzit strings is aJudaica.
* For a tutorial on how to tie the tzitzit strings, we recommend our favorite tzitzit tutorial video on the subject by Jewish Pathways.
If you make a tallit katan, we’d love to see a pic!