Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A "Chuppah" Under Construction: process and progress

I've recently been commissioned to do a chuppah for some friends who are about to tie the knot.

"What's a chuppah?" you may well ask.

It's a Jewish wedding canopy, a structure that forms a roof over a bride and groom during their wedding ceremony.
Although the chuppah symbolizes many aspects of love and marriage, it's most often described as representing the couple's future home. It's openness -- no walls surround it -- symbolizes the hospitality and generosity that the couple hopes will be a hallmark of their home.

Fortunately, my friends prefer simplicity. A good thing since the wedding is at the end of January and a highly complex design might have put me in a tailspin.

Since I've never made a chuppah, I thought it might be fun to document the process:

So where to begin? I wound up being inspired by a Celtic chain that forms the borders of my friends' ketubah (a traditional Jewish marriage contract) and abstracted the chain into a series of braided designs.

The braided theme seemed apropos. It's reminiscent of braided challah bread that's served for Sabbath and festival meals. But it also seemed symbolic of the marriage: two friends weaving the individual strands of their very full and active lives into a new, even richer, life together.

The couple chose the 2nd design...shown
here with the strands of the braid shaded.

The basic design seemed "okay," but I wasn't quite satisfied
with the dark strand. It seemed too clunky...

So back to the drawing board for revision:

I decided to add a couple of twists to the darker braid and this has become the final sketch....

and here's the mock-up with fabric in the couple's chosen colors: deep blue, claret red, and harvest gold.

The only problem here, the braids seemed too "flat."

So back to the drawing board one more time to add some dimension with some lighter colored fabrics.

Here's the pencil sketch mock-up for the "final" final draft...

and the "final" final mock-up in fabric...

Well almost...the braids need to be lowered a bit so that the design is more or less centered on the vertical.

And I'm still pondering the top and bottom borders (shown here in blue)...

We've all (bride, groom, and me) decided not to use a border on the sides. We wanted nothing to restrict the flow of the braids and the life that my friends will share together.

But perhaps the border should contain all three colors? or maybe just the blue and claret (since a light gold will form the background for the piece).

I'm on my way with this...and I'll post the finished product...*eventually.*

But in the meantime...suggestions for my border conundrum are welcome. Please feel free to leave a comment!



  1. Very nice design, wonderful and loving gift. At first I wondered about the "third person" represented in the braid of three strands... and then I realized God is the important third part that holds the marriage together! Well done! I wish you good luck in completing this project and I wish your friends very joy, happiness and blessing.

  2. Thanks Lillian, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and will send your well wishes to my friends. Your interpretation of the third braid is both touching and beautifully stated. Some other folks have seen that strand as symbolizing the life that the bride and groom will build together (the other two strands being the individual talents and strengths that each bring to the marriage). But I think I'm leaning towards your vision.

  3. Debbie, love the design. But a simple design has become a bit complex in its final rendition. Nancy

  4. I can't wait to see this, Debbie. I love the three-dimensionality you added with the lighter tones. It is going to be beautiful!

  5. Thanks Nancy and Susan...

    Nancy's right, the simple has gotten a bit more complex -- although I guess it doesn't hold a candle to a parade of pomegranates, grapes, and Hebrew inscriptions marching across the surface! :)