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A New Kittel To Provide Hope in the New Year

My childhood memories of this festive season are mixed with being ridiculously inappropriately dressed for the weather. Insisting that I wore my new winter clothes, I would swelter in the heat of an Indian summer. But having new clothes was, and still is, a part of Yom Tov. Rosh Hashana/Sukkot are conveniently placed in the calendar for kitting out growing children with the new season’s wardrobe, but the connection is also encoded in Jewish texts. New clothes are part of the festive celebration.

Putting on new clothes is ritualized. The blessing for new things “shehecheyanu” is said, because, as the Shulchan Aruch writes, new clothes make us happy.

The blessing says:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the world, who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time.

While some argue that today we should only say this blessing over particularly special garments, it does acknowledge that dressing in new clothing has the power to make us feel good. They can transform and change our mindset.

A few years ago I did this series of drawings exploring the idea of the promise of new clothes and the hope of change and transformation that they can offer. It was really about those strange thoughts that pop up alone in the changing room. And yet I am still seduced by that promise of the new. And occasionally I actually manage to find something that makes me smile.

There is something enticing about new clothes. Especially when they are packaged up beautifully. They are clean and pressed, shiny, unworn and unspoiled. Unlike the items in the wardrobe, all the buttons are there, no sign of wear and tear, life hasn’t touched it yet. It is all to come. A friend said that she likes seeing herself in new clothes, because for a split second she doesn’t really recognize herself. She sees someone else, some new, without all the baggage of self-criticism (obviously this is after all the ‘does my bum look big in this’ self-criticism in the changing room….). This time of the year is heavy with hope for a new beginning, a new life that is better, shinier, unspoiled by the damage of the previous year.

The form of this kittel is a simple women’s white long shirt. Gold thread is embroidered in lines reminiscent of the fold lines seen when a new shirt is taken out of its packaging. It has a tag with the words of the blessing for new clothes also embroidered in gold thread. The collar support is still in place, and unlike the other pieces in this kittel collection, I chose to photograph the piece still on the hanger. (Incidentally as I was doing the final hand-finishing bits on this piece I accidentally pricked my finger and bled on the collar. I could have dabbed it off, or checked if it was in a place that wouldn’t be seen but for this piece, which is all about being unblemished, I knew that wouldn’t do and had to start again.)

Chag Sameach.

Jacqueline Nicholls is a London-based artist whose “The Kittel Collection is being featured on The Sisterhood. Her website is www.jacquelinenicholls.com.

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