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The weave is all black and white on Adi Yair’s loom

A Jerusalem textile artist learns her craft in an Old City prayer shawl shop

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Adi Yair weaving on the loom of a prayer shawl shop in the Cardo of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter in 2015 (Courtesy Adi Yair)
Adi Yair weaving on the loom of a prayer shawl shop in the Cardo of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter in 2015 (Courtesy Adi Yair)

Handwoven clothing? It often connotes images of bulky sweaters and scarves, harking from the Himalayan hilltops or Peruvian lowlands.

Not, however, if it’s made by Adi Yair.

The Jerusalem-based textile artist creates one-of-a-kind collections of T-shirts, dresses, tunics and sweaters featuring her handwoven work, and it’s all in basic black, with the occasional touch of white, yellow, gold or silver threads.

“Black and white is all I need,” said Yair, pointing down at the black-and-white rug on the floor of her shop and at the monochrome tones surrounding her. “It’s easy to buy presents for me.”

But no, she’s not a New Yorker.

One of the graphic, black-and-white designs from Adi Yair's loom (Courtesy Adi Yair)
One of the graphic, black-and-white designs from Adi Yair’s loom (Courtesy Adi Yair)

The native Jerusalemite had recently graduated from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design with a degree in textile design when a friend told her about an available loom at a gallery in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

It wasn’t just any loom. Located in a prayer shawl shop in the Fifth Quarter, a section of the Cardo — the refurbished ancient mall situated under the Jewish Quarter that is home to galleries selling art and Judaica — the loom was used to demonstrate to customers how the handwoven prayer shawls are made but it was “more for show than anything else,” said Yair. “The prayer shawls being sold there are made elsewhere.”

The storeowner, Yosef, had no objection to Yair sitting down to use his loom, and showed her the ropes, or warp and weft, as it were, of the wooden instrument.

Yair spent four months working on the loom in the prayer shawl shop, including a period of time last fall when stabbings were becoming a regular occurrence in Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City.

The loom, however, drew Yair, who took the ancient weaving tool to a contemporary edge and introduced sharp, graphic patterns.

“From the second I started weaving, I entered a niche that didn’t exist,” she said as she wove wide, gold ribbon into a black sweater.

Within a few months, Yair began searching for her own loom, and she found one up at a kibbutz up north, which she moved home to Jerusalem and renovated with the help of her father.

It takes Yair an hour or two to weave most items, each one about 60 centimeters in size, using cotton and synthetic threads that range in width and thickness.

Adi Yair learned to warp and weft on a loom in an Old City prayer shawl shop (Courtesy Adi Yair)
Adi Yair learned to warp and weft on a loom in an Old City prayer shawl shop (Courtesy Adi Yair)

That kind of investment of time has limited the size of her collections and raised its prices, which currently range from NIS 500 (around $133) to NIS 1,700 (around $450).

Yair would like to hire someone to weave alongside her, or better yet, run her small business while she spends her time weaving and developing new ideas. She has hired a seamstress to put together the simple black T-shirts, tunics and shifts that form the background of some woven pieces.

An all-white, handwoven white shift for the upcoming high holidays, made by Jerusalem artist Adi Yair (Courtesy Adi Yair)She set up shop a few months ago in Jerusalem’s First Station, alongside two artists and underneath a hairdresser at the northern end of the station complex.

With a modest grant from Mifal HaPayis that helps new designers with potential, she’s branching out slowly, selling some pieces to other boutiques and setting up her online store.

“I’m making money, but I work all the time,” said Yair, who is 30.

The warp and weft, however, are still worth the time and effort, she said.

Like many creative types, Yair said she never knows what will emerge from her loom when she’s trying out a design.

“I never know what comes first,” she said, “the design or the weave.”

Adi Yair, The First Station, near the Beer Garden. Also sold at Razili stores around the country.

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