"Every little thing that other people see as garbage, I see as a potential craft"
Sara Rikva Dahan lives in Tzfas with her husband and children. She wears many hats as a wife, mother, graphic designer, interior designer, and expert crafter. She runs an unofficial gemach of handmade centerpieces for simchos and community events, cooks up a storm of Moroccan dishes for the groups of yeshivah bachurim they host nearly every Shabbos, and produces graphics and communications for the kollel and chessed organization her husband runs. Mrs. Dahan has a special love for recycling crafts, which she also teaches.
You do so many creative things. How did you get into crafting?
I grew up with parents who weren’t creative but appreciated design and encouraged creativity. In high school, I loved doing needlepoint and embroidery, and I designed t-shirts for our class, but my creativity really took off once I began studying graphic design. After spending hours on the computer, I found a special joy in handcrafting, especially hooked rugs and mosaics.
Once in Israel, I began working as a graphic designer for Mishpacha, and I realized the magazine was lacking a crafts column. I started writing a holiday-oriented column for Family First, which got me thinking about crafts all the time. Due to the dearth of art supplies in Israel then, and my love for resourcefulness (coupled with the fact that there was not yet recycling in Israel), I started focusing on crafts that use items which might otherwise get thrown out.
What's upcycling all about?
I grew up with recycling, so I find it difficult to see so much going into the garbage, especially because this is Eretz HaKodesh. Where does all the garbage go? Every little thing that other people see as garbage, I see as a potential craft. Using these things – boxes, packages, pieces of plastic – for other, creative purposes is called upcycling. I even tear up old bedsheets to make sheet yarn, which I then crochet into washable rugs.
We are generally not consumer-oriented, and recycling crafts help teach us to appreciate what we do have. Truthfully, upcycling is a mindset: instead of throwing everything in the garbage, you start thinking about what you could do with things you already have, which gets those creative gears turning.
The best creativity occurs with the simplest supplies: a few pens, paint, cereal boxes, glue … even the pages of this magazine. There's no limit to what you can do! Life is so much richer when you fill your days with creativity. Give upcycling some thought; you’ll be amazed at how satisfying it is.
Will you share a story from your upcycling adventures?
People bring us all kinds of things they don’t need anymore, but that they don’t want to throw away. We recently (and accidentally) received a big bag of old candles in many sizes, and even I told my husband, “Return them!” Then we learned the owner had passed away.
While I had my doubts about their potential, I felt I must do something with the candles, l’ilui nishmaso. I cut them up, sorted the colors, melted them down, and artful new Havdalah candles were born. The candles came out so beautiful that my husband thinks we should go into the candle business!
How do you save so many craft materials?
I see everything as a potential craft project, and to the dismay of my family, I do save more stuff than I’ll likely ever use. At the moment, I’m collecting plastic techinah bottles for a specific project, and I already have a huge boxful. Of course, there are cereal boxes, aluminum foil rolls, and more…
I’m very fortunate to have a rough basement space, which is very unusual in Israel, and once the stuff is out of the house (in numbered and labeled boxes, phew) I don’t feel badly about saving it.
People who don’t have space can save small boxes, like medicine boxes, which can be opened and stored flat, as well as wine corks, plastic bottle caps, and even matchboxes. It’s amazing how many fun projects you can do with little things.
How do you view creativity as part of your avodas Hashem?
Creativity is an amazing gift. When we create, we are emulating Hashem, the Master Creator and Designer. It’s a beautiful and satisfying way to connect to the world.
Through our creations, we can help other people connect, and through creativity, the world becomes so much more interesting and exciting. When we really start to look at the environment around us, and realize what an amazing world Hashem created, with color and design beyond our wildest imagination, it builds our appreciation for the great gifts Hashem has given us, and strengthens our yiras Shamayim.
Who has encouraged and supported you along the way?
Rav Elazar Koenig, zt”l, was like a father to me in many ways, and his encouragement of my creative endeavors made me realize they had great worth. Through him, I learned that using the skills Hashem gave me was important.
In the early years, I even discussed ideas for Judaica design projects with him, and the rav would listen patiently and make comments. Today I’m embarrassed that I bothered the rav with such seemingly silly questions, and yet I gained so much from his responses, so no regrets!
What inspires you?
Recently my greatest inspiration is the great outdoors, the changing greenery, and the abundant and brilliant design in nature – all of which Hashem created for our enjoyment. Just really looking at the nature right outside your door, at the changing sky and clouds, how can you not appreciate it? Of course, I’m also inspired by other artists and designers both past and present, and I love antique Judaica and handwork from Europe and North Africa.
I am fortunate to live in the Old City of Tzefas, which has amazing old shuls, and a wide variety of architectural inspiration. All these provide external inspiration … but the greatest inspiration is the feeling of satisfaction that results from creativity, as well as bringing joy to others through creativity. I feel truly blessed that I can do chesed by doing what I love, and that is the greatest inspiration of all.
What’s your advice to aspiring crafters?
Each person has their tafkid in this world, and it’s very important to figure out how to use your time productively. Personally, I know my tafkid is in the area of creativity, whether it involves teaching or bringing joy to others through my art and design. I’m just davening I have time to do it all before 120, as I have so many dreams …
Every aspiring crafter or artist should push away any doubts or negative thoughts and just create. The key to improvement without frustration is consistently doing little creative exercises, even just 15-20 minutes a day. It could be drawing in a sketchbook, or building skills in a specific craft. If something doesn’t come out well, it doesn’t matter. Creativity isn’t always about the result; it’s most importantly about what you learned along the way.
It is also really, really important to realize that everything you create doesn’t have to be beautiful. And you don’t have to share it with others if you’d rather not. The creative process of making something uniquely yours develops all kinds of skills. When you start to have “ah hah” moments and the ideas flow endlessly, you’ll know you’ve tapped into your own creativity!
Sara Rivka Dahan can be contacted at email@example.com.
A hooked rug: A rug made by using a crochet-like hook to pull loops of yarn or fabric through a stiff woven fabric base
Mosaic: a picture or design created by arranging small colored pieces of stone, tile, or glass together
Let’s Make Havdalah Candles
Remember the story about old candles that ended up at our house? Well, those candles that were destined for the garbage became festive, striped Havdalah candles! This activity must be done with adult supervision.
-Small paper coffee cups
-Old candles, colored and white
-Old wax crayons to color the white wax (if you don’t have enough colored candles)
-Wicks, two for each cup, about twice the height of the cup (I recycled the wicks that were in the old candles)
-Empty tin cans (from pickles, corn, and so on), as many as the colors you will use
-Small recycled containers for sorting and holding wax
-Large, shallow pot (like a frying pan)
-Portable electric burner or kitchen stovetop
-Toothpicks, for poking a small hole in bottom of cup
-Electrical or duct tape
-Freezer (or a large tub of ice) or lots of patience
How to do it:
- Use an old cutting board and designated knife for candle crafting. Cut candles, sorting by color. Many candles have a colored outer layer and a white center; peel the outer layer of these. Be careful to preserve the wicks when cutting.
- Place tin cans in pot, as many as can fit. Each can will be used for a designated color.
- Fill cans with wax. If using white wax, colored with crayons, fill each can with wax and add a peeled crayon (one color only) to the can. Once wax melts, add another half-crayon to deepen color, as desired.
- Carefully add water to the pot without getting water in your cans.
- Heat pot on stove (or use a single electric burner outside, to avoid mess). The hot water will start to melt the wax.
- Stir wax with skewers to speed up the process.
- While wax is melting prepare cups as follows:
- Mark the center of the bottom of the cup with a dot.
- Use a toothpick to poke a small hole through the dot.
- Insert the tip of one length of wick through hole.
- Pull through a tail of about 2 inches.
- Carefully insert second wick through hole. Try not to enlarge the hole!
- Twist the two tails together and tape to the bottom of the cup. making sure the hole is covered by the tape. This will be the top of your candle.
- Turn the cup over. Twist together the wicks that are inside the cup.
- Cut 2 slits opposite one another in the top of the cup. Insert a piece of skewer into those notches.
- Wrap the wick around the skewer. Tape in place if necessary.
- The first layer of wax you pour, at the bottom of the cup, will be the top of the candle. Choose colors accordingly. If you have more white than colored wax, use the colored wax first for the nicest effect. I recommend pouring layers that are no more than 1/2 inch deep, so that cooling time will be as short as possible. Each layer needs to be cool before pouring the next, to avoid colors mixing. Patience yields the best results. Carefully remove a hot can of wax from the pot using an oven mitt, and pour roughly 1/2 inch of melted wax into the cup, being careful to pour the wax in the middle of the cup.
- Place your cup in the freezer, or in ice.
- Once the layer is mostly hardened, pour the next layer. If you end up pouring too soon, and the layers mix, just wait longer next time!
- Continue pouring layers and cooling them to fill the height of the cup.
- On the last layer, cut the wick off the skewer and carefully embed it in the layer before wax hardens. Set cup aside to cool completely.
- Once the candle is cool to touch, peel off the cup. It’s hard to wait, but if you peel off the cup too soon, you may damage your candle.
- Save your tins for your next candle-making session and check with your local kashrut Rabbi as to whether you need to kasher the pot if you need to return it to the kitchen!
- Enjoy using your Havdalah candle, and consider making a bunch to use as gifts. Happy crafting!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 823)
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