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In the fall of 2015, I was one of 11 women who responded to a “calling all quilters” ad in the bulletin of Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA. The congregation encourages families to select plain pine coffins for their loved ones. Several years ago, when the Bereavement Committee wanted a pall, or coffin cover, for families to use during the funeral, the committee chair reached out to a quilter, Evy Megerman, the congregant who placed the ad and spearheaded and coordinated all facets of the project.
We had varying levels of quilting experience and were mostly unknown to each other so at our first meeting, in addition to getting acquainted, we decided we wanted to create a quilt with a peaceful, calm, and meaningful design that would provide comfort at a time of loss. We learned that generally the pall provided by funeral homes is black with a Star of David in the center and fringe around the edges. Based on the size of a standard coffin, we calculated that our finished pall would need to be approximately 102 inches by 48 inches.
We met several times to discuss ideas for the pall, which we envisioned as comprising several shades of blue cotton with a large patchwork star in the center and a row of smaller stars around the border. Sewing the fabric triangles by machine through a paper pattern, we decided, would provide a way for everyone to participate – regardless of quilting skill or experience – and ensure all the blocks would be the same size. Based on our conversations, I created several designs using Electric Quilt software before we met with the clergy to adjust and finalize the design.
In mid-December six of us went to a local quilt shop to buy three shades of blue fabric. The group’s deliberations could be the subject of a whole separate blog post – and the shop’s owner still chuckles over the scene – but we did finally select our fabrics.
Then it was time to get down to business!
With the fabrics washed and ironed, four of us met to cut all the pieces, putting enough pre-cut pieces and a paper foundation for one star in individual plastic baggies. The baggies and a sign-out sheet were placed in a box in the temple mail room where the quilters could pick them up, complete the sewing, and return them within five weeks.
I cut and machine stitched the triangles in the large star in the center, and when the border stars were finished, three quilters took them home and pieced the four borders. Evy then assembled the quilt top. In April, she and I shopped for the back fabric, a white-on-white print, and cotton batting. After Evy machine quilted the top and back together, with the batting in the middle, our group sat together to tie off and bury the loose threads. By May, I’d made the binding and finished it by hand on the back; in June Evy printed and sewed a label on the back that tells the story of the quilt and includes the names of everyone who helped create it. We also made a tote bag to transport the quilt and a storage roll to prevent creasing.
In September, the quilt was presented to the members of the Bereavement Committee and the clergy, all of whom loved it. It hung in the lobby for a few weeks before Yom Kippur, so congregants could see it and learn about the project. At the yizkor (memorial) service on Yom Kippur afternoon, the senior rabbi called our group to the bimah to hold up the quilt while he recited a blessing.
Perhaps most significant of all is that in the process of fashioning a unique pall that the Temple Isaiah family will use for years to come, the members of our quilting group grew close and had a lot of fun creating something meaningful and useful for our congregants and our community.