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Stitches in Time

Barbara Bensoussan

From a basement in Brooklyn, Susan Sutton creates masterful needle works with passion and purpose.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As the mother of several children who married into Syrian families, I’ve attended quite a few swanees, pre-wedding parties where the chattan and kallah regale each other with gifts for their new life together. A kallah will receive a pair of silver candlesticks, siddurim inscribed with her new name, a challah cover, and personal gifts like perfume and a purse; the chattan receives his Shas, a becher, articles of clothing, cuff links, and so on. In recent years, a must-have item has been added to the list for chattanim: a koracha, or tallit bag, with a matching tefillin bag. “Koracha” comes from a Ladino word for bag, and today every chattan hopes for a needlepoint bag with his name on it, lovingly hand-stitched by his kallah (at least partially, since busy kallahs often enlist the assistance of mothers and aunts). Intrigued by this minhag, I wondered about its origins. Did the ladies of Aleppo and Damascus needlepoint a century ago, like their Victorian counterparts in England? Do the designs have any particular meaning? My queries ultimately pointed me to a basement needlework shop in the middle of Syrian Flatbush. Susan Sutton, the proprietress, laughed when I asked if sewing korachas was an old Syrian minhag. “Not at all!” she says. “Nobody was doing needlepoint korachas back in Aleppo. I was the first person to start making needlepoint tallit bags in my community, 35 years ago. Then it just caught on.” It wasn’t only bags that went viral in the community.Susan found herself the go-to person for advice, teaching stitches, and procuring supplies. The Ashkenazic friends she’d taught to needlepoint in the bungalow colony —Susan comes from an Ashkenazic family herself, and married into the Syrian community — continued calling once the summer was over. “I had to start charging, because it was getting too overwhelming spending so much time with people!” she says. She’d been creating her own designs for some time, and decided to open a shop in her basement where people could buy what they needed and receive instruction. Today, two of her daughters help in the store, and another artistically talented daughter,BatshevaCohen, runs a branch in Lakewood.

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