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Sacred Scarves

Inspired by a lineage of clothiers before him, Matthew Schildkret’s ‘undercover tallit’ take their cues from a higher purpose: mitzvot

Rebecca Spence
April 14, 2017
Rebecca Spence
Matthew Schildkret.Rebecca Spence
Rebecca Spence
Matthew Schildkret.Rebecca Spence

Stepping into Late Sunday Afternoon, an artisan-made clothing store in Venice, Calif., you’d never know that the colorful scarves nestled on a hand-built redwood table took their cue from religious tradition. But were you to unfurl one of Matthew Schildkret’s one-of-a-kind creations, you’d find four tiny knots tied at the fringes. “It’s the undercover tallis,” said Schildkret, referring to the Jewish prayer shawl he wore as a teenager.

Schildkret, 35, has been tying four knots on the corners of his hand-made scarves and blessing them with the ideals of love, happiness, adventure, and mystery since 2012. That winter, he was sitting in his beachfront studio, trying to figure out what to do with the long fringes his artist brother had deemed scrappy, when inspiration struck. “When I used to daven when I was younger, the prayer book we used had the 613 mitzvot in the back, and the mitzvot correlate to the tallis blessings,” Schildkret said. “I wanted to finish each scarf I made with the energy that I was calling into my life, so I tied four knots and chose those blessings.”

At the time, Schildkret was fresh off of two months as a member of the Occupy Venice camp. He and his fellow campmates had been freezing at night, so he’d snuck into the back of Fabric Planet, taught himself to use their sewing machine, and produced 12 scarves. Prior to that, he’d worked in the Obama White House as an urban planner for the Council on Environmental Quality.

But it wasn’t until Schildkret began knotting and blessing his scarves that he found his calling. He soon began traveling the country, selling his wares at handmade craft and trade shows. And while Schildkret built his brick-and-mortar store in 2015, he still makes the craft show rounds, asking every customer he meets to bless themselves when they wear one of his scarves. This month, he’ll be featured at Chicago’s One of a Kind show, which takes place from April 28-30, and includes 300 hand-picked artists and makers.

At Late Sunday Afternoon, Schildkret doles out his sartorial blessing on a daily basis. “Every scarf I sell, I tell people, ‘We knot and bless this for you, so you can learn to bless yourself,’” he said. “We’re giving people permission to be spiritual.”

Schildkret is not the only member of his family to dabble in the garment business. In fact, he said, he comes from a long line of industry folk, whose spirit imbibes everything he makes—from scarves and ascots to repurposed vintage army jackets. “It’s clearly in my blood,” said Schildkret. “My family have been loomers and tailors and buyers and furriers for at least 150 years.”

It’s fair to say that Schildkret is probably the first of his line to bless his clothing to love, happiness, adventure, and mystery—and use each sale as an opportunity to ask people to bless themselves. So is it good for business?

“It’s not a matter of whether it’s good or bad for business,” said the scarf-maker. “It’s why I’m in business.”

Rebecca Spence is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is currently at work on her first novel.