Every year at Passover, a highlight of the season is the traditional unleavened bread, or matzah, that is usually served at meals. Flat and crisp, it symbolizes the dough that Israelite women had to grab before it had time to rise, as they and their families escaped in the night from Egypt. During the eight days of Passover (or seven if you're in Israel), in commemoration of the Israelites' bravery and resourcefulness, this is the only bread allowed in observant Jewish homes.
At the traditional Seder dinner that marks the start of Passover, matzah plays a special role, especially if you’ve got kids: one piece, called the “afikomen,” is purposely removed from the stack, broken up, and hidden for the kids to find. The host must get it back from them for “ransom,” and it is the last food to be eaten at the very end of the meal.
To keep the matzah fresh and protected, many families will have a special cover. Here’s one that you and your kids can make together to celebrate this year, and many more to come.
Note: this project can be done two ways. If you like to sew, we have directions below for how to sew the entire traditional matzah cover from scratch, complete with three inner pockets for pieces of matzah (the middle one will be for the “afikomen”). But if sewing isn’t your thing, you can also purchase a plain cloth bag at most craft stores, which will also work just fine.
What You Need:
- 2 squares of lightweight white canvas, 13 inches square
- 2 squares of lightweight white cotton broadcloth
- 1 pack of blue bias tape
- White and blue thread
- Sewing Machine
- Needle and thread
- Acrylic fabric paint in rainbow colors (or as many different colors as you and your child would like)
- Black acrylic fabric paint
- Table covering
What You Do:
- Start by decorating the top cover. If you’re using a pre-made bag, lay it down on a table, and place a layer of newspaper inside to keep any paint from soaking through to the other side of the bag. If you and your child are making this whole project from scratch, cut one piece of canvas, a 13-and-a half-inch square, and lay it on a plastic table covering. Whichever option you choose, it’s also helpful to set this up near a sink, so that you can easily rinse your child’s hands.
- Gently paint your child’s hand with a light layer of acrylic fabric paint. If you’ve got several children participating—siblings or cousins, perhaps—give everyone a turn, making use of all of your colors. If the hands start to overlap, don't worry, that’s part of the fun, too. However, you may want to let the first layer dry a bit to avoid paint mixing and muddy colors.
- When you’re done, you should have a cloth covered with handprints of all different colors. When it’s dry, you’re ready for the final stage: print out our downloadable template, and make a stencil by poking a scissor through the paper and cutting out the Hebrew letters for Passover. Lay the stencil over the center of the canvas, and paint the letters in black.
- To sew the full cover, start by “binding off” one side of the canvas—the one that you will use for your opening—in order to make a clean edge. You will do this first on the square that you have just decorated. Hold the square so that the Hebrew letters are right side up as you look at them. You will now need to bind off the bottom edge by placing the right side of your binding against the right side of the canvas and pinning it like this:
- Then, sew along the binding fold line. Remove the pins and turn the binding over, so that it covers the edge of the canvas neatly. Use a needle and thread to blind-stitch it down on the other side, like this:
- Repeat this step with the other piece of canvas.
- Now stitch one side of your plain, lightweight cotton so that it, too, will not fray. Accomplish this by turning over a quarter inch of fabric once, and then a second time, and use your sewing machine to sew it down, like this:
- Repeat step the previous step with the other cotton piece.
- Now you’re ready to sew the whole bag together. Lay all four pieces together so that the bound edges are all on one side. The decorated side should be facing up. Then lay the binding down on top of the pile, as you did for the single sheet, but this time you will pin the remaining three sides of the bag.
- At each end of the binding, you’ll want to leave a one-and-half-inch piece of binding unattached. Later, you’ll clip and sew this under.
- Now sew the binding to the bag layers by following the fold line on the bias tape. When you’re done, flip the bias tape over, and use a needle and thread to blind-stitch it down to the back of your bag. At each end, clip the bias tape and gently fold it under. Your work will look like this:
- When you’re done, you will have a bright, unique family table piece that you can use for years to come!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.