Monday, August 25, 2008

How to make a journal

Handmade Journals and the Corps of Discovery
(Originally published January 2, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

When Lewis and Clark explored the northwest from 1804 to 1806, their long list of provisions included ink powder, pens, and numerous bound journals for recording the day’s events and all that they observed. Their journals consisted of numerous small notebooks, approximately 4 x 6-inches, of the type commonly used by surveyors in field work. Some of the journals were bound in rich red morocco leather and others were simply bound boards covered in marbled paper. Lewis and Clark carried their notebooks sealed in tin boxes to protect the relatively fragile journals from the elements.

The pages of their journals combine words (penned in marginless, slanting script) and pictures—maps and drawings of birds, fish, plants, trees, and native peoples, their tools, crafts and dwellings. Other members of the Corps of Discovery kept illustrated journals as well.

I suppose if Lewis and Clark had set out on their historic journey of exploration in 2008, they would have blogged their way to the Pacific Ocean. Their written observations may have been identical (assuming their laptops stayed charged), but significant information would have been lost without their drawings. (Spell-check would have also ruined William Clark’s creative spellings.)

Although a blog may be today’s virtual journal of choice, I believe there is still interest in creating journals of more tactile and visual variety. Two recently published books that confirm my suspicions are, “The Decorated Journal: Creating Beautifully Expressive Journal Pages” by Gwen Diehn and “Visual Chronicles: The No-Fear Guide to Creating Art Journals, Creative Manifestos & Altered Books” by Linda Woods and Karen Dinino.

Diehn’s book also has instructions for creating your journal from scratch, so that even the cover and the binding are expressive elements of the journaling process (much as Lewis and Clark’s were). The project titles such as “The Three-Minute Pamphlet” or “The Thirty-Minute Multiple-Pamphlet Journal” made me smile in hindsight when each took me significantly longer to make. But the books themselves turned out very nice, and perhaps, with practice, I’ll get faster.

All three of the books I made have pages which lie completely flat when the book is opened. This is especially important if you’re going to make entries with any media that could run before drying such as watercolors. This also gives you the option of treating two pages as one large page. I’m not certain how Lewis and Clark’s journals were constructed 200 hundred years ago, but here are instructions for the most successful of the three books I made. (Also see, “The Essential Guide to Making Handmade Books,” by Gabrielle Fox.)

What you need for the multiple-pamphlet journal

  • Nice text paper, thick or thin, 8 x 6-inches or larger (to make pamphlets more quickly, use paper already cut to size)
  • Cover paper about 5 times the width of the text pages (to recycle, you might use an old poster or wrapping paper, or even a shopping bag)
  • Sewing needle with eye large enough to accommodate thread
  • 1 yard heavy thread (buttonhole twist, waxed linen, embroidery floss, or dental floss)
  • Pushpin
  • Telephone book
  • Ruler for measuring and tearing paper
  • Craft knife, paper cutter, rotary cutter and mat—whatever you have on hand
  • Pencil
  • Bone folder and/or paperclips

What you do for a 4 x 6-inch journal

The pamphlet. Tear or cut the text papers into 8 x 6-inch sheets. (The width measurement--8-inches--is double the finished page-width.) The number of pages is determined by the thickness of the paper—for example, 8 for computer printer-weight, 3 for watercolor-weight. Fold each sheet in half widthwise, using a bone folder or paper clip to smooth the crease of each sheet. Then nest the folded papers inside each other to form a pamphlet or “signature.”

The cover. Assemble more pamphlets (an odd number in total) until the pile, when lightly compressed, is about ½-inch tall. Cut or tear the cover paper to 6 ¼-inches x 18 ½-inches. Lightly score to create seven sections with these widths: ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½, 4 ¼, 4 ¼, ½. Fold at each score, adjusting as necessary, to create the cover. The ½ sections on either end will overlap on the inside of the spine. The middle ½-section will form the outside of the spine.

The pattern. Make a hole-punching pattern with a 2 x 4-inch piece of scrap paper. Fold the scrap paper in half vertically. Open, fold horizontally, reopen. Using the needle, make a hole in the center of the pattern where the two folds intersect. Punch two more holes along the vertical fold, ½-inch from either end of the pattern. Make the last two holes equal-distant from the outer two holes and the center hole, for five holes total.

The pamphlet holes. To punch holes for sewing, open the telephone book to a page near the middle. Center the hole-punching pattern along the crease of one pamphlet and then press the pamphlet firmly into the crease of the telephone book to hold it in place. Using the pattern as your guide, use a pushpin to punch holes in the pamphlet at each mark. Mark holes in the rest of the pamphlets.

The cover holes. Place the cover flat on a page of the telephone book (not in the crease) and place the first pamphlet opened out flat with its crease centered into the exact center of the spine section of the cover, both horizontally and vertically. Using the pamphlet holes as a guide, poke holes into the cover, making sure it still folds nicely into a book shape without any buckling.

The sewing. Cut a piece of thread (I used wax linen and dental floss, alternately) about 36-inches long and thread the needle. Numbering the consecutive holes #1 through #5, poke the needle into the center #3 hole from the outside of the pamphlet. Pull the thread through leaving a 4-inch (or longer) tail. Next, from the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole, and gently pull the thread tight, being sure to pull each stitch parallel to the plane of the paper. On the outside, poke the needle into the #5 hole and pull tight. From the inside, poke the needle out the #4 hole (this time going from the inside out), then into the #2 hole, out the #1 hole, into the #2 hole, and finally out the #3 center hole. Attach the other pamphlets in the same manner, spacing them evenly across the spine.

The finishing. Tie the tail and the thread of each pamphlet together in a square knot close to the hole. Trim the threads to one-inch or leave them longer for threading beads or braiding. (I left mine long enough to braid across the width of the book and tie together, holding the book closed.)

A final note. Whether you call it a journal, a diary or even a manifesto, recording events or observations can serve a variety of purposes. A journal can be a record of your travels, whether they are literal, psychological or spiritual. It can be an archive of significant events. It can be a cathartic effort to work out personal difficulties and frustrations (see It can be a field journal of notes and sketches for later, more polished literary or artistic inventions. Or, it can be a world-altering historic record, ala Anne Frank, Charles Darwin, or Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and Clark journal photos courtesy of the American Philosophical Society
Lewis and Clark kept meticulous journals of their trip, recording each day's events and sketching items that caught their interest. The drawing of a eulachon, or candle fish, decorates Lewis' entry for Feb. 24, 1806, in one of 30 original expedition notebooks stored at the American Philosophical Society library in Philadelphia, Pa.

1 comment:

candy said...

this is very inspiring! i have to try this!