Special Techniques Blog Post

Spanier Arbeit

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A Spanier Arbeit is a little-known technique and the only specifically Jewish textile technique. Ceremonial textiles and garments, was and are made with shpanyer arbet technique. tallit is a rectangular piece of fabric with fringes (tzizit) at the four corners.

Until fairly recently, it was worn as a prayer shawl exclusively by observant Jewish males over the age of thirteen. In Ashkenazic lands, primarily Germany and Poland, a limited range ofmaterials was used to make a tallit. It was made ofwool or silk, and was white or off-white with a black stripe. The center ofone long side ofthe tallit was often distinguished by some form ofdecoration. This decorated area would be worn at the neck, functioning as a neck band. The decorative band was called the atarah (pI. atarot)! meaning crown or diadem. Its decoration usually consisted ofa panel ofembroidery, sometimes incorporating metal thread. The subject ofthis paper is one variant of decoration for the atarah which incorporated metal threads and was known as spanier arbeit. It is characterized by a lavish use ofmetal strips, usually silver or silver coated, sometimes gilded, wrapped over or wound around a cotton or linen core in dense schematized floral or geometric patterns.

Arbeit means work. Combined with the Yiddish term spanier, the term spanier arbeit has been translated as both "spun work," derived from the Yiddish word spinnen, and as "Spanish work," work of a type produced in Spain. The latter interpretation implied that the craft oflace making incorporating silver and gold threads practiced by Jews in fifteenth century Spain was the direct ancestor ofspanier arbeit.

While Jews of Mallorca, Barcelona and Toledo produced gold and silver lace in twelfth and fifteenth centuries, we have no evidence at this time to connect them to the Eastern European nineteenth century Jewish producers ofspanier arbeit. Furthermore, the essential similarity ofspanier arbeit to contemporary Russian5 and Eastern European passementerie and bobbin lace suggests that one need not look to far countries or distant periods for its origins.

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How is it do

Spanier arbeit was created on a table which held a drum rotating drum and a wooden framework from which hung four bobbins. The bobbins were threaded with cotton or linen, which was woven to produce a cord. Metal thread on shuttles was woven across the cotton or linen. The resulting cord was coiled, following a paper pattern resting on the drum, and secured to itself with a crochet needle. A surviving example of a machine used to produce spanier arbeit, exhibited in the Lvov Municipal Museum of Artistic Crafts in 1933 at an exhibition ofJewish Artistic Crafts, is now in the collection ofthe Museum ofEthnography and Crafts, Lvov, Ukraine.

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The Lake Constance Radhaube, a wheel-shaped bonnet, is unique due to its ornaments, which are made of golden and silver threads of equal quality on either side. The bonnet is typically worn in combination with traditional (Austrian) dress (“Tracht”) on festive occasions such as dance performances or festivals.

This technique was kept a secret for more than 200 years. Nowadays, this headdress is made in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. However, no written records or instruction manuals on the production of the bonnet can be found. For a very long time, this elaborate technique did not have a technical term for the gold tip in Vorarlberg. The term “lamé tip“ is a neologism.