Before she can finish stacking a few samples of her most recent spiral-bound notebooks on the small, round table, Tami Vardi is interrupted by an excited waitress. "Wow! Where did you get those? Where can I buy one?" chirps the server as she comes to take our order. After responding to her new fan, Tami turns to me with a smile and says, "I didn't pay her to do that." Vardi, who studied jewelry design at Bezalel and then ventured into carpentry, making children's furniture, has always had a propensity for artistic design. But it wasn't until recently that she started her latest endeavor: hand-made spiral-bound notebooks and photo albums decorated with photographs and images from her collection of prints. The idea for garnishing notebooks with "snapshots of the past" came to Vardi as she was vacationing in New York. "I saw all kinds of diaries, notebooks, albums and paper-related items everywhere, and we don't have these things in Israel. So I decided to try to make my own designer notebooks," she recalls. The process starts with collecting images. Vardi, who enjoys evoking nostalgia and using things from her own childhood in Israel, says she gathers everything from old advertisements to stickers to antique book covers for her work. "I love the Golden book series, the 1950s style 'cmo shel pam' [like in the old days]," says Vardi. "I think it reminds people of their past and brings back good memories." From colorful astronauts walking through fields of giant flowers to black and white family photographs, Vardi's covers usually appeal to either the older generation or to younger people who like retro style. Vardi uses Photoshop to adjust the sizes and shapes for the covers of her own books, prints them out in a few different formats and then affixes them to the cardboard by hand. She has both lined and unlined paper in her products, and she uses a machine to clamp the front and back covers together, binding them with the spiral coil. The materials for the process are simple: plastic, cardboard, paper and spirals. After making a large selection of notebooks, Vardi started marketing them across Israel. Over 15 stores now sell her items, and she hopes that as the trend grows, more and more will want to carry her things. In addition to selling in stores, Vardi makes customized notebooks for friends, putting images they request on the cover - from bar mitzva albums with a family photo to birthday gifts with hand-drawn scenes. She also collaborates with other artists a few times a year and sells her things with them at market stalls. This gives her more exposure and a chance to get direct feedback about her products from customers. Putting the notebooks together is time-consuming, and Vardi says that without the help of her parents, it would be a lot harder. "My studio is in the house in Aseret," says Vardi, "so my parents, who also live on the moshav, are often around to lend a hand." One of the causes of her optimism about this specific project is that it fulfills her desire to constantly learn new things, she says. "In the past, I always got bored with things I was making because I felt that once the technique was mastered, the learning process got stifled. With bindings, the potential for making new things is huge," explains Vardi. "I still have a lot to learn." And with these limitless possibilities, Vardi has a lot left to do. "People can use the notebooks for phone directories or for school work or personal diaries, and the photo albums make great gifts. Just about everyone needs a notebook for one thing or another," says Vardi, who says she hopes that with her help, the popular American "notebook" craze will begin to expand in Israel. For more information, e-mail Tami Vardi at [email protected].