Category Archives: Aramaic

Finished embroidery – my Shlama bag is finally completed!

The finished Shlama bag

This has taken me almost a year of so-called ‘spare time’ to complete, but I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out. It’s a drawstring bag to keep my MP3 player in, and measures 7 inches high by 4.5 inches wide, not including the fringe. I did a previous entry here about the progress of the stitching, when I was about half way through. ‘Shlama’ is Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for ‘peace’ – it is the word that is embroidered across the lower part of the front panel, and is read from right to left.

Detail of the stitching

The stitches used include chain stitch, split stitch, long and short stitch, fly stitch and french knots. The gold Kreinik braid is couched down with silk thread. I added a few blue and gold seed beads and sequins, too.

I couldn’t quite decide how I wanted to finish off the assembly of the bag, which is why it sat in the hoop on my tapestry frame for far too long! Eventually, I just had to get on with it, as I was fed up with seeing it sitting there, very flat and not at all bag-like.

The front and back panels stitched along the bottom seam only

So, the first thing I did was cut out the front embroidered panel, and make a plain back panel the same size (lined with batiste, like the front, so that the weight would be the same). Then I stitched the bottom seam of the bag by machine, and pressed the seam open, grading the seam allowances.

Guidelines for the fringing, marked in pencil along the seam allowance

Next, I marked guidelines in pencil, to show exactly where the fringe needed to be stitched on.

Making the fringe, with saucers to hold each type of bead

I made each fringe length separately, attaching it to the seam allowance exactly through the bottom seam.

Detail of the fringe

I more or less made up the fringe pattern as I went – the pattern of gold/blue/gold/red etc. stayed the same but I just added a few gold beads each time to the beginning of the fringe length to make the  bottom edge shape graded.

The bag with the side seams stitched

Then I stitched the side seams – the first two inches of each side I stitched by hand, in case the fringing might get caught in the seam, but after that I finished it by machine.

The beaded loops for the drawstrings

I marked three points on the front and three on the back, an inch down from where the top edge was going to be, and stitched on two short lengths of seed beads at each of the three points, to make carrier loops for the drawstrings. Doing it at this point meant that no untidy stitching would show on the inside.

The scarlet silk lining, slip-stitched in place

Then, I put the lining in the bag, turned down the top edges, and slip-stitched them together. The lining was made from a small piece of scarlet shot silk which I’ve been hoarding for about 15 years for just such a purpose!

The plaited drawstring, and beaded tassel

The drawstrings were made from three lengths of Anchor thread, plaited together and then knotted to stop the ends from unravelling. The tassels were made by wrapping the same three shades around a piece of cardboard and then cutting the pieces all the same length, to make a bundle of two-inch pieces that I tied to the knotted plait ends, spreading them evenly around the plaits and folding them in half before tying them off again to finish the tassel, so that each completed tassel is about an inch long. The tying-off thread was then hidden by stitching a ring of gold beads around the head of the tassel.

With three layers of fabric on each side, the finished bag feels almost quilted, which is the effect I wanted – I need it to give a little protection to the MP3 player that I keep in it. I had originally intended the bag to have an inner pocket of some sort, to hold notes on the meditation tracks that I listen to on the player, but as I was putting it together, I realised that if I drew up the ties, then anything paper placed inside would get crumpled unless it was very small, so I abandoned that idea. I’m planning to make some kind of embroidered envelope folder, now, just for the meditation notes – any excuse to embroider something else!

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Embroidery ‘Work in Progress’ – my hand embroidered ‘shlama’ bag

 

'Shlama' hand embroidered bag, in progress (front panel, 5 x 8 inches)

I have been working on this bag on and off throughout the summer – I’m just about to have another spurt of activity on it, so I thought I’d post a couple of images here, before I do that.

The fabric is a golden yellow shot silk, which I’ve backed with cotton batiste, to strengthen it, as areas of the stitching will be quite dense. I’m using Anchor stranded cotton for the stitching (two strands most of the time, and just one for the finer details), with Kreinik braid for the gold outlining. When the embroidery is completed, I’m planning to add tiny beads and sequins, and possibly a beaded fringe, in colours that echo the stitching.

'Shlama' embroidered bag detail, showing gold braid couching

The motif was inspired by an Indo-Persian panel on a building, which I have ‘coloured in’  in deep jewel shades. The word embroidered in red along the base of the front panel reads ‘shlama’, which is Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for ‘deep abiding peace’. The word is read from right to left. The ‘dots’ indicate vowels. When it’s finished, the bag will have a drawstring about an inch down from the top.

This Aramaic word is 'shlama' - it means 'deep abiding peace'

I haven’t yet decided what to embroider on the reverse of the bag – I may leave it plain, or I may stitch just the barest outlines of the main design again, simply outlined in split back stitch.

I want to use the finished embroidered bag to keep my MP3 player in. This might seem quite a large bag (5 x 8 inches) to keep an MP3 player in, but that’s because I want to be able to keep notes in it as well. I tend to use my MP3 player to listen to guided meditations and body prayers, so I need an index of what I have stored on the MP3 player, so that I can choose a relevant one – brief titles aren’t enough. So, I intend to make an inner pocket for the bag, so that the notes can be kept separate from the player itself. I haven’t yet worked out quite how to assemble the bag to incorporate that, but I’m sure it’ll work, somehow 🙂 !

I’ve just got back from a spiritually uplifting weekend course on ‘The Hidden Gospel’, with Neil Douglas-Klotz

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz

I have just got back from a great weekend course, at the Othona community near Burton Bradstock in Dorset. It was led by the Aramaic Biblical scholar and Sufi Neil Douglas-Klotz – see his website www.abwoon.com for info on his books, CD’s and other stuff.

The course was based around themes from his book ‘The Hidden Gospel’, and looked at how the Bible’s meaning in English can be ‘unpacked’ in different ways from the usual ones, if you go back to the original Aramaic language (the language that Jesus spoke), and translate this very fluid, multi-levelled language straight into English, rather than the way it has been in the past – via Greek, Latin and German, into English. It was so interesting to hear about well-known but ‘limited’ English phrases taken from the Bible, such as the line from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This would be better explained as ‘Do not let us enter a state of forgetfulness of the Sacred in our lives, and keep us from unripeness.’ (NB There is no word in Aramaic for ‘evil’, by the way.)

As well as the teachings, we did some body prayers, and Dances of Universal Peace, based on the words of Jesus, which were wonderfully uplifting, as the Dances always are for me.

Othona, with views of the sea in the distance

Othona, with views of the sea in the distance

The people we met (my husband and I, that is) on this course were lovely – very interesting people. Othona itself is a gem – a peaceful place to stay for a few days, a short walk from the beach, with comfortable sitting rooms and bedrooms, and great home-cooked food. Does this sound like an advert for it? You bet! Check out the Othona website  for more information about the courses they run all year round, on subjects as diverse as birdwatching, the enneagram, and ‘mind/body/spirit detox’.

The dining room at Othona

The dining room at Othona

About a year ago, I wrote a book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel’ for a magazine, so I’ve copied it here to give a flavour of this wonderful book.

Book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus’, by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Published by Quest Books, 1999.  Paperback £11.99.  ISBN: 0 8356 0795 Z

I have had this book on my ‘Amazon Wish List’ for over two years, but only got around to buying a copy a few weeks ago – now I wish I’d bought it earlier, as it’s a life-changing read.

Neil Douglas-Klotz has a very readable style, and manages to make what could be a dry subject become something not only interesting, but relevant. He is a practising Sufi, and has lectured and written books on the theme of the basic unifying principles of the Abrahamic faiths for the past twenty years.

His rationale for studying Jesus’ words in the Aramaic language is that this is the language that would have been spoken in Palestine at the time, and that those words have power of their own (both in the original language, and in translation). Aramaic translations emphasise the spirituality of Jesus’ teachings (NDK has little interest in doctrinal issues). This is where the idea of the ‘hidden gospel’ of the title comes from – listening to words from the Bible in this format is like finding a ‘new’ gospel, because the ideas seem so refreshingly different when presented in this way.

This book takes ten main themes, and arranges them into ‘Key Insights’, which are then illustrated with phrases that Jesus is quoted as saying in the Bible. As NDK works straight from the Peshitta (the Aramaic version of the Bible, as used by Christians from the area around Syria), his direct translations are more accurate than the more familiar translations that have come down to us through the ‘traditional’ route in the West – that is, Greek to Latin to German to English. This is the reason why his translations offer so much more – they are able to highlight the many shades of meaning that have been lost over the years through either mistranslation or deliberate alteration. He is a poet and musician, so his translations are beautifully expressed and very meaningful.

For me, this book has cleared up many a ‘meaningless’ phrase from the Bible. I suspect many people have struggled to find meaning in the Bible, due to poor/misleading translations. This book can help to explain those phrases in new, poetic ways. For instance, the passage from John 3:16, in the KJV, says

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NDK explains that in Aramaic, ‘begotten’ can also mean single, solitary or united in all aspects of being. ‘Believe’ can mean a sense of confidence or trust. ‘Perish’ can mean decay, fade away or lose. So, another way of expressing the passage could be:

“For Unity so loved Diversity,
all the worlds of form,
that it brought you a child of Unity,
fulfilled in all aspects of self,
so that whoever would have
the same confidence in their own fulfilment,
like the earth underneath supporting all,
would not fade with their form,
but continue, from world to world,
with and in the ever-living Life.”

At the end of each section, he offers a meditation or a body prayer (nineteen altogether), so that the reader can incorporate the deeper meanings into their daily life. He puts great emphasis on the breath – most meditations start with calming the mind and focussing attention on the breath, then an Aramaic word or phrase is either spoken or ‘breathed’, or sometimes intoned on one note, or sung. Then there is an idea to contemplate for a few minutes, such as the idea that all our breaths link us together all over the world as part of Sacred Unity.

As well as this book, there is an accompanying CD/digital download, available from www.soundstrue.com  for around 20 US dollars. This audio version is great too, because it is not just a spoken version of the text from the book. It lasts three hours, and has NDK explaining the key insights, sometimes with examples that are different from the book. The best part, though, is that the CD contains many chants and body prayers. These make for compulsive listening.

For those who may be coming from a liberal Christian standpoint, I feel that the ideas contained in this book will not come as such a surprise as they might to ‘mainstream’ Christians. Liberal Christians may be more likely to be open to considering ‘new’ ways of relating to the figure of Jesus and his teachings, and to welcome this different approach. If you are at all interested in meditation and contemplative prayer from a progressive Christian standpoint, you will find this book and CD great additions to your collection.