Ten years ago, on the hunt for an Eid-ul-Fitr greeting card, writer and interfaith activist Hafsa Arain came away empty-handed. So she decided to make her own. She dived into the world of paper crafting, teaching herself about cardstocks, colors, painting, stamping, and embossing. This month she started Neem Tree Paper, an online Etsy shop offering handmade cards and stationery “for the under-represented,” those of us who celebrate holidays and occasions that are less represented in American commerce.
The cards display a modern, simple sensibility with geometry and texture, and they are painted by hand with watercolors and gold metallic embossing. Arain’s Eid and Ramadan 2017 line of greeting cards features colorful florals. She plans to expand Neem Tree Paper to include cards for holidays from different religions, working with design partners who are Sikh, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Jewish. Have a look at some of Neem Tree Paper’s cards on Etsy and also below and read our Q&A with founder Hafsa Arain.
Another set of Eid cards finished. Looking forward to a Spring Eid this year – lots of #florals happening. #eid #eidcards #flowers #stamp #papertreyink #embossing #wowembossingpowder #colorful #bright #peonies #outlinestamp #inspiration #artsy #etsy #shopopeningsoon A post shared by Neem Tree Paper (@neemtreepaper) on
***Q&A With Neem Tree Paper’s Hafsa Arain***
I got started with paper crafting when I was about 18 or 19. It was a way to be creative while I was a student, and I liked being able to work with different media while creating. I spent a lot of time learning about paints, sketching, cutting, and so forth. You’d be surprised how much I know about glue — it’s boring to everyone but me, but adhesives are one of my favorite parts of paper crafting.
I decided to focus on making cards for people less represented because, for one, I’m Muslim myself. I always felt left out as a kid in school making Christmas, Easter, and occasionally Hannukah crafts. We didn’t celebrate those holidays at home, and I didn’t realize that there exists a rich history of art, artisanship, and craft related to my holidays too. My attempt in making cards is an initial step in reclaiming artistic roots deeply entrenched in Islamic history and culture.
“I always felt left out as a kid in school making Christmas, Easter, and occasionally Hannukah crafts.”
I also wanted to work with people of different faiths — my background is in interfaith activism, and I can’t help but make all of my interests collide. I know Muslims are not the only ones under represented in American commerce.
I started in interfaith work when I was in high school, and continued in college at DePaul university. I was part of Interfaith Youth Core’s college programming called the Chicago Youth Council, where people of different faiths came together to work on a service project. It was a really life-changing experience and it sticks with me to this day.
“It’s about visibility. Making Muslims feel like they are seen, and that they are heard right now.”
Interfaith activism is not done for its own sake, in my opinion. It’s about resistance and coalition building. Especially in times like these, we need to invite resistors to join us. I know that card making seems trivial compared to that, but I think it’s about visibility. Making Muslims feel like they are seen, and that they are heard right now.
The Neem Tree name comes from actual neem trees — which are one of my favorite trees. I was born in Pakistan, where the trees are used for their many healing qualities. I wanted to evoke that sense of healing in my crafting.
“I wanted to evoke that sense of healing in my crafting.”
In terms of colors and designs, I can be limited because I rely on raw material from other sources — cardstocks, stamps, etc. I’m starting to learn how to make my own paper and stamps as well so I can expand on the selections that I have. I try to use bright colors and simple designs. I prefer things to be less crowded and more focused — it’s that kind of design that really draws my eye.
I’m also inspired by the Islamic tapestries and paintings that my parents have owned — even the kitschy ones. My parents used to have these paintings by an artist named Jimmy Engineer — he was a beautiful calligraphist. He had simple ombré backgrounds — I tried to use those for inspiration for cards.
I had never sent out eid or Ramadan cards until I made them myself. We have always received Eidie from our relatives and they were always put into plain white envelopes with our names misspelled on the front — we still get most of our Eidie this way. I think growing up in America, we got used to not seeing ourselves in things like that. We never looked for Eid cards because we assumed they didn’t exist.
“Growing up in America, we got used to not seeing ourselves in things like that.”
My favorite part is always near the end — when all of the different pieces have been made and I carefully have to put everything together. Up until that point in cardmaking — and a lot of other crafting I think — you have each separate element, and maybe a sketch. You have your vision for what it will look like, but you’re also never sure. Sometimes they turn out terrible and I have to make edits and changes. But sometimes, I surprise myself. I love those moments most.
“It’s about telling someone you’re thinking of them — and that you recognize their holy and sacred time.”
I’m glad you asked about digital greeting cards. Not many people ask me that — and I think it’s assumed that paper greeting cards will be obsolete. At least for the near future, I don’t think that’s the case. I think both coexist really — and they’re used differently. The materiality and the enjoyment of the materiality of paper goods is still very present.