Designer Wendy Light Helps People ‘Say Yes to the Tallit’

December 16, 2019
Photos courtesy of Wendy Light

Tallit designer Wendy Light recognizes that no two people are alike, so why should their tallitot be similar? 

For more than 30 years, Light has been capturing the essence of people and placing it on their shoulders. Her company Holy Thread Designs creates intricate prayer shawls for men and women with whatever materials she can get her hands on. Not only can Light create a tallit for a wedding ceremony, she also recycles wedding dresses, turning a bride’s ceremony gown into a tallit. 

The tallitot Light creates are nothing like the traditional versions you might be used to seeing. She has manifested tallitot using vibrant dyes, silk, wool, cotton, jean jackets, antique napkins, ties and, of course,  old wedding dresses. 

Her journey into tallit making began after United Synagogue closed its Department of Education. Light, who acted as a national education consultant for the Conservative movement for 15 years, realized she needed to do something else with her time.

Creativity had always sprung from her fingertips, whether in school when she was learning from renowned artist Larry Rivers, or designing stained-glass windows, sculpting metal or teaching art at schools and Jewish camps around the country. When she started to wear her one-of-a-kind tallit to synagogue, people noticed and started to ask for Light originals. From there, she found her new purpose.

“As a woman, I probably have been wearing a tallit for 35 years,” Light told the Journal. “When I put my tallit on, I feel like I’m being embraced by God and I wanted more people to have that experience. Women don’t have a lot of choices in choosing a tallit.”

Light said that whenever clients come in to look around, she treats it like an episode of the TLC wedding show “Say Yes to the Dress,” where she creates piles of tallitot clients love, like and don’t like.

Light has made about 15 tallitot out of wedding dresses 

but also creates tallitot for wedding chuppahs. One was 

for a couple coming out of a long-distance relationship. She hand-stitched the words ‘Meet you at the chuppah’ in the tallit for the two to stand under. 

Through this method, Light discovers the client’s essence and can help them find the tallit that is right for them without even having to design a sketch. From there, she can help personalize it so it is unique to them.

“They come in usually with their families, their grandparents and sometimes even their friends, and they try on every single tallit in here,” Light said. “I make them tell me what they like about it and what they don’t… They go through all of them and then we go back to the ‘I love it’ pile. By the time they do about 40 try-ons, they have a much better idea of what they want.”

Light has crates and crates of fabric and tallitot in her studio — and garage — for people to try on. She has made hundreds of tallitot for men and women who are preparing for their b’nai mitzvot and those who want an updated look from when they first chose their tallitot as a teenager. Light has even redone tallitot for men who have outgrown their original prayer shawls.

Over the years, she has made tallitot for Jews all around the country and members of the Los Angeles community, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, and all the members of her family. Light notes she has even created sets of tallitot for the b’nai mitzvot and a camp version so people can pray with a tallit made from a fabric that is more nature compliant. 

Although she can be working on several projects at a time, her recent tallit designs have come from specific borrowed and gently used fabric: old wedding dresses. Light had been thinking about the idea of repurposing wedding gowns because it was a shame they would be worn only once after women spent so much money on them. She wanted to create something meaningful out of an object that held so much meaning to a specific family.

“It’s so much fun. I did one for a woman. I made for her, her husband, for the bat mitzvah girl and two of the boys,” Light said. “Everyone is very, very different but it was made from her wedding gown that was sitting in a box in the closet for years.”

It may be hard to believe, but Light said she might not have enough fabric to work with when she receives wedding dresses in the mail. She said it all depends on the style of the dress and which parts are still in good condition. She almost always uses very little of the bodice so she tells the clients to repurpose it by dunking the bodice of the dress in decoupage to make a planter out of it.

“Sometimes there is beautiful beading so I use that,” Light said. “Whenever I get a dress I just take it all apart.”

Light has made about 15 tallitot out of wedding dresses but also creates tallitot for wedding chuppahs. One was for a couple coming out of a long-distance relationship. She hand-stitched the words “Meet you at the chuppah” in the tallit for the two to stand under. 

Light added that she has received requests for tallitot years in advance or 10 days leading up to the event itself. Regardless of timing, she will make it happen. She likes to think of buying a tallit in the same way you buy a wedding dress: You start looking for the tallit after you have your Torah portion assigned. That leaves room to find the one that fits the personality best.

One of the most memorable cases of last-minute tallit designs came 10 days before a boy was having a bar mitzvah. “I got a call from a man, he was crying on the phone,” Light recalled. “He said, ‘You don’t know me, I don’t know you … my father just died, I’m still in shloshim (30 days of mourning), and my son is refusing to have his bar mitzvah because his grandfather won’t be there. If I send you something could you use it?’ I said send it to me.” 

Within days, Light had designed a hot-pink striped tallit in honor of the boy’s favorite colors out of a jean jacket his grandfather wore. “It was unbelievably special,” Light said. 

Every tallit that Light touches includes personality and detail that makes each unique to her customers. “I just want to do something different,” Light said. “It has to be what I like. … For people to be proud of who they are and show it in their clothing. That’s bold and I love it and I want to support it.” l

To see more of Holy Thread Designs, visit Wendy Light’s Etsy page.

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