Somewhere Beyond the Sea



My friends have birthdays every year, and still I can never seem to get myself together in time to give them a meaningful gift on time. This year the stars aligned to make me think of a journal idea for my friend and remember her birthday was coming up. Technically, more dilly-dallying was done than was allowed for in the original plan, but planning and assembly still wrapped up just in time.


I feel this is my best journal to date, but even still there were things to learn. Over stuffing is my biggest problem, and I thought I’d gotten the best of myself by using 30 pages—about 1/2 of previous journals. What I failed to account for was how bulky many of my page plans were, and the book ended up quite full. I’ve been sewing together signatures and then creating the pages, but in the future I’ll make all of the pages first, and then see what kind of binding is required.

I was worried working around a central theme would feel limiting, and come out pretentious or cheesy.The theme—a hierarchy of mermaids, followed by kitsch, comics, and surrealism—ended up really helping in keeping me focused. I may try other some other themes if any good ones come to mind. The journal of a vampire hunter always seemed mysterious and enticing, maybe I’ll queue up some Bram Stoker and Vampire Hunter D to get the ideas flowing!

I’ve never really cared for things about the things I like, rather I’d prefer them to be from the things I like. Examp,e: I wouldn’t want a a poster of Hannibal Lecter so much as a mask like the one he wears in Silence of the Lambs. In that same vein, I tried to make this journal less about mermaids, and more like a mermaid’s own journal. I used trinkets that would likely be common pretties for merfolk; sharks teeth, pearls, gold doubloons.

Compasses, locks, scraps of fabric, waterlogged paper and documents; detritus from sunken ships.

I got got to use some great little pieces I’ve been holding onto for a long time. That cutie turtle in the spine was a magnet of my mom’s from before I was born, and has been on my fridge my entire life. I feel like it’s important to include ingredients that are dear to me whenever I make any kind of assemblage project. It helps keep me connected until it’s over.

Vintage seafood recipe cards from a 50’s Betty Crocker collection. What else would mermaids eat?

The sea conjures images of tangled seaweed, vividly colored corals and fishes, and the night sky. What could be more magical than drifting on warm, tropical waters, and looking up into the heavens without a ounce of light pollution to obscure a single glimmering dot in the sky? Pirates and sailors would, no doubt, try to impress any mermaids they encountered with their knowledge of the constellations.

I tried to strike a balance between dressing up the pages, and leaving enough space for photos and embellishments. There are a couple hidden reoccurring themes as well!

page 8

This is my favorite page! Messages in bottles were the first thing to come to mind when thinking of mermaids, and it was a lot of fun translating that to a journal page. The scroll is removable for secrets.

                                            Photo frames galore

Most pages have a tab, and there are lots of journaling tags. Two pages feature baggies for storing treasures.

The chains page is another way to attach and store keepsakes.

The center pages are fabric. I always end up with buttons, pins, and fabrics to include in my scrapbooks and am always challenged as to attaching them. I wrapped several safety pins with thread, and made a little charm for one. The large, lacy circle has a felt back with a brooch pin. The metal disc reminded me of a ship’s wheel, and I oriented it north-northwest (it’s one of my favorite Shakespeare lines) on the lace.

Like every journal so far, a hundred ideas flooded me the moment I finished. Every one should get better and better. I feel like I’m nearly ready to sell a few!

What would you want in a keepsake journal like this?


What do I call these things anyway?


_MG_6569In the interest of chronology I’d originally planned a few posts ahead of this one, but I just finished a beast that soaked up around 15-20 hours of my life and am excited to share it! As the title suggests, I’m having trouble figuring out what exactly to call these books I’m making. Journal works, but doesn’t feel exactly right; I’m making these with the intention of them being a kind of already-visually-stimulating-so-all-one-has-to-do-is-write-their-stuff-and-paste-in-their-ticket-stubs-and-what-have-you scrapbook. Ready made scrapbook? Smashbook with cheese? Suggestions are appreciated!

While making this book I learned a valuable lesson about leaving enough space inside. I thought when I made the paper signatures that I’d left enough space for embellishments, but I was overcome with the need to really make every page unique and special, and ended up over-stuffing by a lot. The decision to remove an entire signature proved harrowing, but worth it. The book is still just a tad full for my taste, but it can at least be added to now.

There are tons of folders, pockets, and tabs for slipping things underneath. The front cover opens to an original book page, and an accordion-style folder.

Pockets, pockets everywhere

The title of the book, “The Girl Scouts at Singing Sands,” helped me direct the theme for both this book and the one that will follow. I used ephemera and techniques that reminded me of the woods, the nostalgia of yesteryear, and childhood summer camp. I wanted to keep it eclectic and fun, but stay within a kind of unified theme.

Some of my favorite pieces of ephemera live here now, including this page from a vintage typesetter’s font book, and a postcard from 1904!

Attached to the spine are five charms on ribbons. Four are meant to be book markers with the remainder-a porcelain birdie-left out to decorate the spine. Birds are a subtle reoccurring element as what is a forest without birds?


There are three hinged, and two open-faced lockets that have been intentionally left blank. Adding tiny narrative pictures was a temptation, but ultimately I decided that to add personal tidbits to these secret little places is really what will make this book a treasure once completed as a scrapbook.


As mentioned earlier, this journal is way too big. The next one will have less pages, but more attention spent on the details within those pages so the quality will actually improve! When I look around for inspiration on Pinterest, the altered books that really catch my breath are so ethereal and dreamy, and I find myself irresistibly attracted to the sort of “layers of negative space” they exude. Those artistic beauties are wonderful to look at, but I’m not sure if they quite lend themselves to having anything new added-as a scrapbook would need to be. My focus for the next project will hopefully move more in the same direction of those journals, but stop short of becoming unusable.

The original library check-out card from the 50’s, and original book illustration

Some typical pages

A pocket of lace

I love that black ribbon so much. It reminds me of Grimm’s fairy tales and the deep, dark woods!

Thanks for slogging through the photo-bomb. I’m contemplating making a video to show all the pages but that sounds like some serious work. Let me know what you think! What do you look for in a journal?

End Transmission.


I have to admit, after I mailed the When Rome Burns journal to my friend Erin, I was extremely anxious about how it would be received. It was a little bit of how disappointed I was with the errors I’d made, but also there was that anxiety unique of sharing something you “made” that is a lot like standing around naked in front of people who have quite intense stares. There are many reasons that, despite several states worth of difference in proximity, I consider Erin one of my road dogs. One of those reasons is that even if she actually feels like I mailed her a turd, she is being extremely generous about not showing it.

Yeah! Suck on that, bucket of nerves!

In the meantime, I have been prototyping away. Not as much as I’d like to have been because, really, how the hell does anyone get everything done in a day that they need to? The tail of my to-do list keeps wrapping around to the next day and I just feel sleepier and sleepier thinking about it.

I got two slightly different prototypes completed so far. They are full of mistakes, but most of them are completely different mistakes so I take that as a sign of improvement.

I wanted to work on an open binding and just make a very basic book to practice the fundamentals of the process. Mostly basic, at least. I wrapped the cover and signatures in comic book paper just to see how it affected everything. I cut the flaps a little large and left  them unglued to add a little visual interest but next time I think I will glue them down. Plain grey cardstock in a red cover.

The next was an experiment with cover material and envelopes. I cut apart a wooden cigar box and drilled tiny holes, then I just sewed it right onto the signatures. I choose red sulphite paper because I liked how it plays up the colors of the cover art. The envelopes are cut from laminated sheets of an edition of a 1896 New York newspaper. I sewed them into the signatures along the inner seam before assembling them, and punched holes for a ribbon loop to tuck the flaps into. Because the back cover is slightly longer than the front cover I lined it with paper and just fastened a binder clip to the top to make good use of the space. First prototype: no storage. Second prototype: All storage. Sounds about right.

Like the first go at book making/altering/whathaveyou these projects didn’t feel like work, even when I was learning from a particularly infuriating mistake. And learn I did. I feel totally ready to start making “real” altered journals to potentially sell. My Mother-in-Law scored a box of the most perfect ruined old books to use as covers so I have about 12 to make as my first batch. I’m taking them two at a time; making slightly similar ones with every pair to stay efficient with the materials prep and focused on the theme. I even did some planning that translates as a (very) loose blueprint for me to use when designing others!_MG_6490

Because the two prototypes are so flawed I decided to just keep them and use them for Lulah’s scrapbook project. I inadvertently ended up with a theme of red covered journals in her scrapbook series, and using these guys would fit right in, in their own way.

I haven’t began cutting anything, but I have assembled the papers and ephemera for the first two hardcover altered book journals that have been on my mind for weeks now. “Woodland,” is what I’m calling them in my head, but I have no idea if that’s how they’ll actually translate.

Working on getting the old process streamlined. I know one of the next steps will be actually putting together this crap-pile of a studio in a way that it can actually be used. Right now any time Tallulah wants to play with play-doh, I have to clean up my book project stuff from the craft table. Oh all-seeing Pinterest, tell me what is in my future.

End Transmission.

A Place In Time

From Wikipedia:

Saudade is a word in Portuguese and Galician (from which it entered Spanish) that claims no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

Folks used to believe (and maybe still do? I don’t know. I don’t know where one would keep up with these things) that a person is born with a temperament that permeates and governs the course of their entire lives. If it’s true, then my temperament lies firmly in saudade-land. The feeling of nostalgia pervades almost everything I do in life, and is no where near so evident as in the stuff I make.


Last year my incredible sweetheart of a daughter picked a flower for me at her Oma’s house and brought it home to me. I was so touched! The first flower my sweetie picked for me seemed like something that required saving. Maybe it’s all the years of video game playing, but things that have so much meaning within them feel kind of like relics, full of magic and strange side-effects.

If I ever had to pick sides in a culture war I’d have a terrible time choosing between The Geekdom and HorrorLand. I’m not a vivisection queen or anything, but if it’s disconcertingly creepy and possibly sinister it is my bag. While many eras have their own particular flavor of wtf?! going for them, an era more into death, snake-oil, seances, and general Addams family charm than the Victorian I’ve yet to learn about. When deciding how to preserve and display my priceless relic the memento mori fashion heavily influenced my decisions.


The structure is a wooden box one of Lulah’s toys came in. Originally I painted the entire thing a kind of dusty aqua, but it seemed so god-awful generic that I went back and gave the exterior a few coats of “Emperor’s Gold.” I love this color so much–it reminds me of the spines of Little Golden Books. The little lace square came from a parcel of lace and hankies my mother bequeathed to me that I believe were my grandmother’s, or possibly even her mother’s.


Hubs and I decided before Lulah was born how we were going to parent her, and part of that included deciding we weren’t going to do anything like cut her hair or pierce her ears unless she wants to do those things. Unfortunately curly hair is the devil to keep groomed (and Lulah isn’t super into grooming in the first place–she’s a wild thing!) and we ended up with a snarl one day that no amount of detangler and gentle coaxing was going to eradicate. I hated snipping off that adorable little end curl, but it had to be done. I wrapped satin ribbon around the ugly snarl part, and mounted it on silk brocade. The frame is a resin dollar-store find painted a shade of aubergine that I immediately became obsessed with after finding it in a spray can.

I don’t think I’m overly sentimental about my kid. I’m quick to toss the toys she doesn’t play with anymore in the donate pile (except for the rare heirloom that goes into her “Pass-down” box) and all of her too-small clothes go to her best buddy who is a year younger. I do save all of her paintings and drawings, but that’s because I intend to turn them into signatures and make her scrapbooks out of them once I have enough! I thought it would be a special touch to have the pages covered in her early art. And I’ll probably save all of her baby teeth, but that’s the creep part of me talking there. I’m going to use them in art projects, no doubt. Also, my mom saved all of mine so if I’m a creep then she is too!


-End Transmission