By Michelle Kempner
Photography by Jeff Reeder
In Jewish weddings, there is a ceremonial signing of the ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract. Millennia ago, ketubah were very contractual, but since then have evolved into a more ceremonial aspect of a Jewish wedding. When I got married in 2004, I had never heard of a ketubah before. I did research and found plenty of sites where you could buy ketubah with artwork and poetic text ready to go. None of the available options were personal enough for me or my husband-to-be, so we decided to make our own in the style of a Calder mobile.
Lightweight metal sheet
Files and sandpaper
5-minute epoxy or solder
Nibblers or metal saw
String or fishing line
Transparent sticker paper or photo emulsion
This is an example of a ketubah featured at Ketubah.com.
This project was made over 6 years ago and there is a lot I would do differently now. In all the excitement of getting married, we did not document the process, so I am going to describe how we made the ketubah and also give tips for how you could make your own.
Step 1: Choose your shapes for the mobile pieces. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time dealing with balance, and I had a fixed deadline, so I started with my favorite artist Alexander Calder. I approximated shapes from a mobile of his I like and made paper templates.
Step 2: Transfer the shapes to metal sheets and cut them out using a tool called a nibbler. The nibbler leaves very rough edges so you need to do a lot of sanding with finer and finer grits of sandpaper.
Step 3: For the text, the groom adapted text from a favorite poem of his by John Donne, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. I scanned in the template shapes and arranged the text distributed across the mobile pieces. I printed the poem out on transparent sticker paper and affixed it to the pieces. At the time, I was stumped for better methods. If I were to do this again, I would investigate using photographic processes or silkscreen to transfer the text to the metal. You could even hand-print the text on with paint or permanent marker.
Step 4: Use needlenose pliers to bend the wire to attach the mobile pieces. Anywhere that a vertical piece intersects with a horizontal piece of wire, bend a loop into the horizontal piece of wire. This requires quite a bit of balancing in order to determine the proper length of wire. We used 5-minute epoxy to affix the wire to the mobile pieces. A better approach would have been to either solder the wire to the mobile pieces or drill a hole in each piece and loop the wire through the hole.
As an alternative, you could design the mobile in software and send it out for fabrication. If you are not set on using metal, you could send the design to Ponoko and have it laser-cut from a material like acrylic.
Despite all of the things I would have done differently in fabricating this ketubah, I was glad to have a unique marriage contract that reflected my husband’s and my own DIY and open source values. When planning a DIY wedding, it’s important to pick and choose elements to make that will really matter to you in the long run and remember that you never have as much time as you expect. A wedding is one deadline that you cannot easily extend.
About the Author:
Michelle Kempner’s goal in life is to have as little free time as possible. She works in technology at an interactive agency in Los Angeles during the day while sewing, knitting, baking, blogging, running, swimming, and biking her weekends away. You can find her online at www.digesetla.com.