Deborah Katchko-Gray is a professional cantor and accomplished needle artist. When she’s not weaving melodies with her voice she’s weaving embroidery thread, creating Judaica with a technique called Swedish weaving.
Swedish weaving is a type of embroidery in which the stitches are worked on the surface of the fabric. Rather than the needle passing to the wrong side of the fabric, the needle picks up threads from the fabric, creating an effect that resembles weaving.
Deborah explains the technique and provides inspiring photographs in her new book, Prayerful Creations: Creating an Heirloom Tallit or Challah Cover Using Swedish Weaving (available from Amazon and Indiebound).
In a recent email conversation Deborah shared more details about the technique, her new book, and her group of “Mother Huckers”:
Sew Jewish: What is Swedish weaving and what attracted you to it as a technique?
Deborah Katchko-Gray: Swedish weaving is a technique that uses the floats that lay on top of the material and the needle goes through the floats and not the material. It is much easier than cross stitch!
Another name for the technique is huck embroidery because it’s traditionally done on huck fabric, which is made from cotton or linen and has a distinctive weave.
When my mentor/teacher/friend Ellen Temkin attended at National Embroidery Convention she saw the technique being used for curtains and saw the horizontal patterns on a cotton fabric, and she realized it could be used for a tallit –prayer shawl. She created the idea, and I’m so lucky to have learned from her! I love the technique. It’s soothing, relaxing, almost meditative as you complete row after row. I always add something extra, change the pattern that I found in a huck embroidery book.
What about Swedish weaving lends itself to Judaica?
Swedish weaving is a technique, and I see it as a way to enhance Judaic items like prayer shawls, challah covers, table runners, placemats. When you add Jewish symbols and holiday symbols, including music, it can become a Jewish ritual object that enhances the mitzvah of celebrating. Hiddur mitzvah is a term in Hebrew that means “enhancing the mitzvah” or creating something beautiful to make the act of celebrating a holiday or life cycle event even more special. Using art to elevate the experience- Swedish weaving helps to do that for me!
Is Swedish weaving easy to learn as a novice to hand stitching or as someone with only a little experience?
Swedish weaving is very easy. I’ve taught dozens of people how to do it. Using a dull tapestry needle size 18 or 20, you can easily find the floats on top of the fabric that I love- 7 count popcorn or Stockholm fabric. It is easy on the eyes! My book has simple patterns and basic stitches to follow and create on your own.
You’re a professional cantor. When do find time to sew and do needlecrafts? How do you fit it into your life?
HA! I love finding time for this when I can. Meetings are perfect, train rides, plane rides, waiting at the airport. I love airplane delays, “two hour delay,” That’s a gift! My boys didn’t love it when I brought stitching to their basketball and football games, but I just love being busy with my hands when I can. When my husband watches a movie I’m not interested in, I love sitting for 2-3 hours and stitching at home. Snowy days are also great for it!
It’s very relaxing – when you are stitching you can’t worry, stress, you’re focused on creating and it is like meditation- clearing your mind. I am totally addicted!
When I taught a workshop at a Women Cantors’ Network conference, which I founded in l982, one funny woman said we were all “Mother Huckers.” That joke is still being used.
I have a group called Stitch n Kvitch. It’s a wonderful gift to yourself to find time to create something beautiful that will be meaningful and a precious heirloom.
Photo: Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray with bat mitzvah girl in her custom tallit matching her dress.