Southwest Community Connection, December 1998
by: Joan Rutkowski
Sara Harwin says her art is about celebrating life, whether it's a life cycle event, ritual or Hanukkah.
She recently displayed the ritual garments she sews at November's Festival of Lights Hanukkah Gift Fair at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
If you missed the fair, you can find Harwin's work in . her large home studio in the Markham neighborhood. To visit her studio, call Harwin at 245-8900. Her work is also sold in Judaica shops throughout North America.
By creating personalized, feminine ritual garments, I Harwin said she is helping Jewish women express their growth.
"Women are now looking to find their role within the religious practices of Judaism," she says. "Not only to do the same things that men do, but to find their own voice and ritual and ceremonial garments."
Near Harwin's sewing machine, hang a few dozen prayer shawls created especially for women. Prayer shawls were traditionally simply-colored garments worn by men in synagogues. Many of Harwin's shawls are swirling seas of turquoise, rust, royal purple and green. She hand-stencils designs on the shawls' suede corners and sews on brightly-colored ribbon for the required neckbands.
She has adapted many of the shawls from sarong material.
"Here is this women's piece of clothing that fits the bill, but is totally artistic," she said. "Women see it and it speaks to them. It's personal."
A person wears a prayer shawl when praying at home or in synagogue.
"It helps you to transcend if you have a special place and special garment to do it," Harwin says.
She also sews brightly-colored ceremonial hats for men, women and children. The hats, worn in synagogue and at home, have a unique pill-box shape and are kidproof, she says. They stay on easily and can be washed.
All stages of Harwin's work fills her studio, which encompasses an entire floor of her family's home. Colorful challah covers and prayer bags are tucked away on Harwin's shelves.
Filed in a corner are silk screen paintings backed by a wall full of intricate, geometric paper cuttings. Harwin points to a framed paper cutting celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah. On beige and greyish blue blocks, she has combined Hebrew letters, dreidels and a phrase from the story of Hanukkah.
Prints and paper cuts were her focus before she moved onto sewing nearly six years ago.
"This is my job, other than my family," she says. "It's the sustenance of my life."
"When I work it's a transcendent experience," she says. "When you talk about the creative process, you are talking about participating with God to create something that hasn't been before."
Return to articles