Sealed with a kiss

A mother of five leaves the lure of hi-tech to create her cottage industry, Handmade Eco Cards.

Sara Stein 88 224 (photo credit: Meredith Price Levitt)
Sara Stein 88 224
(photo credit: Meredith Price Levitt)
As a girl in Sydney, Sara Stein fondly remembers collecting paper and stationery to trade with friends at school. "I used to keep all the gift wrapping paper I could find and put it in a special box," she says. "I have always loved the texture of paper and making things from it." It brings her great pleasure to form new creations by cutting paper up and sewing fabrics together, too - especially after so many years of working long hours in front of a computer screen in the hi-tech industry. "People today are so entrenched in the virtual world that handmade personal items are becoming more popular," says Stein. "People are seeking more customized gifts." And it was this realization, along with her penchant for art, that prompted her to leave her high-paying job as a technical writer and launch her own cottage industry: Handmade Eco Cards. "I was working in front of a screen all day long and coming home exhausted," she says. "I didn't have enough time to spend with my five girls, and it was becoming nearly impossible to juggle the demands of a hi-tech company with the needs of my family." Stein, now 35, knew that she wanted to one day made aliya since her first trip here at 16. Invited to represent Australia in the annual Bible Quiz, she fell in love with the country as soon as she arrived. "They took us on tours all over the place and everyone was so warm and friendly that I begged my parents to let me stay for a year of high school here." After a few months of going to high school and living in a community near Efrat, she had picked up Hebrew and felt right at home. In 1992, after finishing her degree in Australia, she returned at 19. "I think you can only do crazy things like that when you're young," she says, smiling at the memory of those chaotic early years. Her brother met his American wife on JDate and made aliya four years ago, but her parents and grandparents are still in Sydney. "It's hard raising five girls without grandparents on either side to help," she says. "But we manage." After she completed her degree in English and psychology at Bar-Ilan University, she took some art courses at Beit Berl. In 1997, shortly after her marriage to a Belgian immigrant who she met at Bar-Ilan, she got her first job at Palphot, the country's largest greeting card company. "I was designing greeting cards for them, drawing and painting everything by hand. Then they took my designs and mass produced them, which is not something I wanted to do again." In 2000, she and her husband decided to move to Ra'anana and start a family. She left Palphot and got a job in hi-tech. "In July 2007 I decided to quit my job and return to something artistic." For the last six months, she has been working on three different series of hand-drawn, hand-painted cards that all maintain a signature naiveté and childlike innocence. The first series, for children, births and birthdays, includes delicate fairies, colorful hobby horses and sparkling baby carriages. "The fairies are hand drawn and cut out of paper. I cut tulle out to make their skirts." The cards with hobby horses have little buttons and ribbons, and she says collecting materials is part of the fun. The simha collection features hand-drawn brides and grooms as well as hand-sewn talitot and Torah scrolls with the numbers 13 and 12 made out of puffy Fimo. "Sometimes in the afternoons, the girls help me make things with Fimo. And they love to give me advice about my choice of colors and the combinations I'm putting together. Children are very intuitive." For the nature series, she collects leaves and flowers on long walks in Ra'anana. "I don't drive. I walk everywhere, so I pick things up along my way and then dry them to use on the cards." Delicate green leaves, small flowers and slender stems make each card truly one of a kind. "No two cards ever come out exactly the same because everything is done by hand." She chooses to leave the inside of each card blank to preserve the personal element. "I don't want to limit people by putting words and stock greetings in the cards. I want them to be able to write whatever they want on the inside." In addition to the many different designs and constantly evolving colors of the cards, there are separate cards for Hebrew and English speakers that open in the proper direction. The cards are currently available across the country and in some locations in Belgium and Australia. Stein is happy to be doing something she loves and have more quality time with her children. "We live in such a computer-dominated world. Everything is digital, and I'm really happy to be using my hands again to make something real." [email protected]