When looking for Jewish design inspiration, illustrated Jewish manuscripts offer a treasure trove of themes and forms. And now, the British Library has made dozens of illustrated manuscripts from the Middle Ages accessible online through the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project.
Within the digitized collection you’ll find hand calligraphed Passover Haggadahs, daily prayer books, Kabbalistic texts, and Megillah scrolls with the Purim story of Esther. Accompanying the text in each document are wonderful hand-drawn illustrations, sometimes in the same plain black ink of the text, sometimes in colored inks, and sometimes overlain with gold leaf.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent probably too many hours immersed in the British Library’s new online collection and found myself thinking about how the illustrations could be recreated in embroidery and applique.
As part of my deep dive into the collection, I brought back a gem to share: a six-pointed star formed with arching lines, originally hand drawn in the margin of a 15th century Italian siddur. The prayer book was created by scribe and artist Joel ben Simeon for Menahem ben Samuel and his daughter, Maraviglia.
This particular prayer book makes a unique treasure because it includes rare illustrations of women performing Jewish rituals. In the pages of the prayer book a woman is seen bowing during the Yom Kippur service, holding matzah during the Passover seder, and making the blessing over wine during the Havdalah ceremony at the end of Shabbat.
The star is a wonderful variation on the typical Star of David, and it would make a great alternate choice for a modern Judaic needle craft project, so I created a formal, geometrically balanced version of the star to share here. I’ve posted the design as the Maraviglia Star Pattern in PDF format that you can download or print.
A six-pointed star made with arching lines like this might have an official name in the world of classic geometric design, but I’m calling this embroidery pattern the Maraviglia Star after the woman for whom the prayer book was created and who perhaps was the model for the woman in the book’s remarkable illustrations.
The star would work especially well as an embroidered element on a tallit corner piece, or on the outside of a tallit bag, or as a needlepoint design. The pattern is sized for a four-inch square tallit corner piece, but use it for whatever inspires you!
[Top image: Siddur prayer book (Add MS 26957), page 536, from the British Library’s Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts. Public domain. http://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts/articles/the-illustrations-in-maraviglias-prayer-book]
Maria 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.