Traditional Karaite Tzitzit Tying Instructions

We start with the basic method of plaiting used to make any Karaite styled tzitzit.  This is followed with  information on the cut sizes for string lengths.  Then the instructions for how to start any Karaite styled tzitzit are given.  Now that you have learned how to tie in this style, the actual Traditional Karaite Tzitzit pattern is given.  Finally there is a video showing some of these steps, providing a good demonstration of the actual movements of your hands and fingers.  At a last resort, if you are having difficulty, try asking someone who is skilled in crafts such a knitting or crocheting to try to understand the method of tying.  My daughters were able to figure it out from an older video and then showed me!



The Method of Plaiting;


Each hand holds two separate strings or two separate groups of strings, while the other hand holds the same amount. There is a twist of the wrists that is necessary to move the strings to the other strings' position in that same hand. Twist both wrists in the same direction, to the right. The top string goes to the bottom while the bottom one goes to the top. Now you have to arrange your fingers back to their original position while keeping the strings in their new position.  When you get better you will find that you are skipping the step of twisting your wrists and your fingers just move the strings in one motion from top to bottom.


Now you are ready to pass them through, so transfer them through to the other hand's position. The top string of the right hand passes over the top string of the left hand and the bottom string of the right hand passes over the top of the bottom string of the left hand, as they move to the opposite hands. Pull the strings to tighten them. The basic motion is twist, pass through, pull tight and then repeat.

Each hand holds two separate strings or two separate groups of strings
Twist both wrists in the same direction, to the right. The top string goes to the bottom while the bottom one goes to the top. Now arrange your fingers back to their original position while leaving the strings in their new position
The top string of the right hand passes over the top string of the left hand and the bottom string of the right hand passes over the top of the bottom string of the left hand, as they move to the opposite hands


    Tips;


    1.  At the beginning of each section of plaiting, your first plait does not need to have the twist, just pass the strings through to the other hand and count this as the first plait.


    2.  To avoid tangling; each time you pass the strings through, run the fingers of your right hand down the strings in that hand to separate them from the strings in the left. While doing this, use your left hand's fingers to hold the plait tight to avoid it loosening. If you don't do this you will have a tangle by your second passing through!


    3.  As you get more comfortable with this you will then need to make sure you are pulling the plait tight after each passing through. This will make the plait even and match the others that you will be making in the set.  


    4.  As you progress with plaiting, reposition the tzitzit up on the hook. This helps the tension to be even through out the tzitzit and ensure that the tail of the tzitzit is not shortened.


    5. Do all four tzitziot in the same manner. Use the same hook, and position of plaiting. Don't make one with the hook on the back of a chair and next time affix it to a table. You will have unmatching lengths of tzitziot!

To avoid tangling; each time you pass the strings through, run the fingers of your right hand down the strings in that hand to separate them from the strings in the left
Make sure you are pulling the plait tight after each passing through
As you progress with plaiting, reposition the tzitzit up on the hook


    String Lengths;


    Today's traditional Karaite tzitziot are made with mercerized cotton strings, size 5/2. These are a fairly thin string. The following are the cut sizes for this string size. The white ones are the longer ones as you need extra to make the beginning loop. There are three sizes of Tzitziot, with the 8 stranded large one being the thickest and longest.


    1. Large, for Talit Gadol, 8 strands of white @185 cm long and 8 strands of blue @160 cm long.*

    2. Medium, for Talit Qatan, 4 strands of white @140 cm and 4 strands of blue @ 120 cm long.*

    3. Small, 2 strands of white @ 120 cm long and 2 strands of blue @ 100 cm long.*


    *   These are not suitable cut sizes to use with the 8/4 Woad Blue strings, see below for their cut sizes.


    The strings we use for Woad Blue are thicker at size 8/4. These are the only suitable strings we have found so far that take the Woad dye well and there are only two sizes of tzitziot. With the thicker strings, half of the number are needed for the lengths of the cuts. The cuts are similar, but we have made adjustments for shrinkage of the woad strings during their scouring. You can use other coloured strings to be opposite the woad strings. If they are 5/2, try using twice as many to the number of woad, but keep them each in two groups, in each hand. If trying 3/2 strings, they might be able to be used in equal numbers to the woad strings.  We would love feed back from any one trying this so we can pass the info on to others.


    Cut Sizes for 8/4 Size, Cotton Woad Blue;

     

    1. Large, for Talit Gadol, 4 strands of white @185 cm long and 4 strands of blue @160 cm 

    long. 
    2.  Medium, for Talit Qatan, 2 strands of white @160 cm and 2 strands of blue @ 140 cm long.

    To Begin;

    The number of strings should be, when folded in half, able to be four separate strings or four separate groups of strings. Karaites divide the four groups into equal blue with equal white. In non traditional tzitziot, the second colour does not have to be white.
    Take the group of blue strings and fold them in half and then the group of white strings and fold them in half. Now link the two so that the fold of one is linked into the fold of the second. It will be like two links in a chain hooked together.
    Anchor the blue strings to a hook on the edge of a flat surface, or to a string, or hook, tied to the back of a 'kitchen' type chair or affixed to the edge of a table with a clamp. Get ready to plait just the white strings.  

Link the two colours together in the middle
Anchor a hook to a chair and knot the blue to the hook
Getting ready to begin plaiting with just the white strings for the top loop


    The Pattern to Make Traditional Karaite Tzitzit;


    You start with the white strings, divide into four groups of white with 2 groups in each hand. As above in the first tip, your first move can be just the pass through without the twist, and this counts as the first of 25.  


    Next pass, twist your wrists, readjust your fingers and pass the strings through, each to the opposite hand.  Continue til 25 pass throughs are complete. This forms the top loop. 


    You next untie the blue, adjust the strings on the hook so that the start of the blue and the bottom of the white plaiting are even and get ready to plait the blue and the white together. So, put the white in one hand, divided into two groups of white, and the blue in the other hand, divided into two groups of blue. Now plait 12. If you lose count, you can count the blue alternating with the white bumps to equal 12. Then secure one colour, with a knot, or a twist tie, and plait 13 with the other colour and secure. Take the other group and do the same.


    Optional For Non Traditional; At this point Matthew has added a twist to these two small chains. Take the strings in your right hand and pass them over the left hand and then under the left hand and back to the right. The one colour of strings should make a full circle and arrive back in their original hand. This gives the chains a little more character.


    Returning to the pattern, now plait both colours together for 12. Continue like this till you have 3 sets of 12, and 3 sets of 13. 


    Then finish with plaiting the two colours together for 6 plaits and then take the two different colours and tie them in a single knot, 3 times.  The picture from the official pattern below shows 3 knots at the end, but some do 6 knots.  Since this is the last part of the tzitzit you can change this at any time by adding or subtracting your preference.  Any kinks in the strings can be dampened and smoothed out.


    The bottom lengths of string should be trimmed to equal about 1/3 of the total length of the entire tzitzit. The plaited part is 2/3 and the bottom strings are 1/3. The very bottom of the strings should be given a little knot in each, to prevent fraying.


Start with the white strings, divide into four groups of white with 2 groups in each hand
Your first move can be just the pass through without the twist, and this counts as the first of 25
Continue til 25 pass throughs are complete
Untie the blue, adjust the strings on the hook so that the start of the blue and the bottom of the white plaiting are even and get ready to plait the blue and the white together
Put the white in one hand, divided into two groups of white, and the blue in the other hand, divided into two groups of blue and plait 12
Secure one colour, with a knot, or a twist tie, and plait 13 with the other colour and secure
After plaiting 13, secure with a knot and plait the remaining colour 13 times
Now plait both colours together for 12 times
The first pass through on this section on a tzitzit without a twist
Joining the individual plaits after twisting them together using Matthew's twist variation
First of 3 or 6 knots, depending on your preference
The very bottom of the strings should be given a little knot in each, to prevent fraying
Part of the offical pattern given for Traditional Karaite Tiztzit
This is a diagram which is part of the official pattern for Traditional Karaite Tzitziot.  Note that the number of plaits is double what I have given.  This is because they are counting two, (one for the set of strings in the left hand and one for the set of strings in the right hand) for every pass through or knot.


Video of Tying Tzitziot;


This is a video done last year with Matthew and Azriel in California.  The back ground is noisy, but now that you've seen the above pictures, this video will show the actual hand motions in action.   

In this video, Matthew and I actually tie differently, with the twists going in different directions. Matthew's plait spirals to the right, downwards and mine to the left, downwards. We have discovered since, that the Traditional Karaite pattern goes to the left, downwards.  I have only given instructions, above, for the Traditional Karaite spiral, which is to the left, downwards.  If you desire to do the reverse, just twist your wrists to the left and cross the stings in each hand over, with the strings in the left hand going over the strings in the right hand.

Thanks to Ken Lane of okiehebrew.com for producing this video.