Embellished Ephemera

Embellished Ephemera

I recently learned that embellished ephemera was a thing. Having consciously moved away from making journals with dangling threads and randomly placed bits of ribbon and lace, I’d moved towards creating ephemera as places to write and store precious ideas. As looked around a noticed a new – to me – concept. This was pieces of embellished ephemera, items that are more elaborately decorated than other pieces in the book. They can be used as a bookmark, or attached to the spine as an external ornament.

While still wanting to stay true to my clean design esthetic, I have to admit the idea of layering multiple items and using mixed media to create a key piece has surprising appeal. With this thought in mind I scoured my paper closet and found my packets of vellum. I used it to print paler versions of the tags I had already printed, potentially to use as a light overlay. In real life I found that if not completely accurately aligned, this gives a slightly unsettling effect, so am now thinking about layering them over blank tags for an ethereal effect.

Then I dug into my boxes of buttons, ribbons, and bits and craft supplies to see what else I might have that I could use. I was astonished (but really shouldn’t have been!) to discover so many potential options, including Washi tape, baker’s twine, strings of beads, and spools of different kinds of ribbon.

So what did I create in my first foray into making these pieces of embellished ephemera? It was harder than I expected not to fall into a design rut, and to try to think afresh as I began to work. Ultimately I made three tags, one flower themed, one sea themed, and one butterfly themed.


embellished ephemera tag 3Flower embellished ephemera tag 

This tag evolved mostly from a flower and butterfly tag I had previously printed and cut out. I overlaid it with a floral vellum layer, and backed it with a card in a similar color palette. Over the top I laid a sentiment, pink pearls and a heart charm to back up the sentiment.

embellished ephemera tag 2

Sea embellished ephemera tag

This tag evolved from a watery scene with a fish on it. I overlaid it with a vellum design showing a shell, then added Washi tape across the lower edge of that paper. On top is another underwater scene. The final elements are green and white baker’s twine tied in a double bow and a starfish charm.


embellished ephemera tag 1

Butterfly embellished ephemera tag

This tag came together mostly by finding items in the beige and brown color range to create a calm tag. It begins with paper with French script on it, followed by a tag with cream and brown elements. I topped it with a butterfly print on vellum and a sentiment. the final pieces are pale gold ribbon and a butterfly charm.




I can see how easy it would be to create dozens of very similar pieces of embellished ephemera, so need to challenge myself to come up with different formats and sizes. Beyond that, I’m pleased with these three tags!

How to use a journal

How to use a journal

People often tell me that they don’t quite understand how to use a journal like this. The truth is that there are no rules to using any journal – do whatever feels right to you – providing it is your journal! I don’t want you to feel you have to start at page one and only move onto page two when that page is full. My journals are there to help you relax into writing, not to stress you out. If you are at all intimidated about “spoiling” a page, take out a journaling prompt and use that as a nudge to write on a piece of scrap paper you can tape in later. If you want to, that is.

sunsetA journaling prompt is intended to set you thinking. It isn’t an exam question, so you don’t have to come up with arguments for or against the topic. Think of it as is if you were having a conversation with me and I just mentioned a gorgeous sunset to you. This prompt is there simply to evoke a thought or memory to get you to start thinking. Not sure what to do? Jot down some bullet point ideas of what it brings up to you, or a time it reminds you about. Where did you see a beautiful sunset? Who were you with? Don’t have any particular opinions or thoughts on sunsets, then move onto another prompt, or try something else!

If you don’t feel like responding to a written cue, there are lots of journaling cards and tags tucked into the pockets and under flaps throughout each journal. Pick one that appeals to you, flip it over, and respond to it in whatever way works for you. With such a small space on the back, it’ll be quickly done!

If you fins you have a lot to say, look through the journal for a lined page. There are often both wider and narrower ruled pages in each journal, so find one you like and start writing. Again, it isn’t an essay, no one is going to grade you on it, and possibly no one but you will ever see it, so let go and let those thoughts out. It may feel odd at first, but you’ll soon find it is very cathartic to rant and rave in the privacy of your own journal.


As another option, while it might feel odd to write on a page with existing pictures or text, they are there so you aren’t overwhelmed by seeing a completely empty page. Pick up a pen that is dark or light enough to write over what is on the page, then start to write around it, over it, under it, what ever appeals to you. Your words can relate to the image or not, there is no right or wrong way to use a journal like this. You are of course free to doodle if you don’t feel like writing anything.

Adding your own ephemera is another way to make a journal more uniquely yours. For a travel journal, for example, pick up travel-related receipts, bags and packaging and tuck them into your journal. Add a few words to capture special memories so you can come back to them and enjoy that moment again and again.

For a non-themed journal where you simply want to record memories and thoughts, make it personal. Look around to see what you have nearby that you might want to stick in, such as a birthday card, note, photo, or a business card you want to find again. Use Washi tape, clips, or staples to fi the item in your journal. Feeling creative? Add stamps or use paper cutters to accent the pages to your taste.

The truth is only way to use a journal is to open it and interact with it. Settle into using it as you would into a room in a new home. Find a pen you enjoy writing with, gather stationary supplies to make the journal more your own, and then commit to adding a thought a week – or more often if you feel like it! I hope you have a wonderful time using your journal, and in the way that suits you best.

Design Inspiration

Design Inspiration

As a graphic designer I probably find design inspiration for my journals differently from some other makers, but then we probably all find inspiration in different ways! The nature of these journals is that they utilize all kinds of found objects, so what I find out in the world and online tends to set me going in the direction for my next journal.

A selection of images from Pixabay with the search term “Wildflowers”.

I’ve long loved the idea of finding materials in the public domain. These are books and materials that are no longer protected by a copyright, patent, or trademark, so that they have entered the arena where anyone can reuse the image or text. Many libraries have started scanning and putting their materials online, and you can easily search for the images that are in the public domain, and so are free to download and use. There are also a number of sites that offer public domain images, either because the creator has placed it there for anyone to use, on sites like Pixabay and UnSplash, or because the site owner has done their due diligence to believe that all the images they offer are in the public domain, such as The Graphics Fairy and the Old Design Shop. Add to that images from the Library of Congress collections, and you will see that there are a huge number of places to go to find materials to find your design inspiration.

Once you have found items that inspire you, and you’re sure they are OK to use, then you can start to plan your journal. I begin by collecting all the images for the topic into one folder, then check that they have enough pixels per inch to look good when printed. It is always possible to make images smaller, but there isn’t much that can be done to make a tiny picture that was only intended for web use into printable quality. I then sort the images into those that would look good as page backgrounds, either with lines on the opposite page or spreading across two pages, and the smaller images get separated to be used as ephemera. These smaller images I arrange on letter sized pages, then print them out on white, cream, or colored card, depending on what colors I have selected for the journal. It is oddly satisfying to cut them out while binge watching Netflix during the evening! As I look through the larger photos I keep my eye out for one I’d like for the cover design.

Journal covers and inside covers laid out ready for upload to Spoonflower ready for printing.

Once chosen, the cover image is sized to work for the anticipated depth, height and width or the journal. I then add text, often the word “Journal” in a font that reflects the era or theme, then add this file and a paler version for the inside cover to a 1 yard template file I keep for the fabric I buy from Spoonflower. (You can see one layout on the left.) If I only need a couple of covers and insides I arrange them to make a “fat quarter”, then upload that file to Spoonflower and order the fabric I need. It usually arrives in about a week, but when they do special promotions fat quarter orders can go to the back of the line, so factor this into your total making time. (Or one reason why I have many journals in various stages of construction at any time!)

The pages get laid out in a Photoshop file set to 10.25″ by 7.25″ to include a printing .125″ “bleed” beyond the expected edges of the pages. This means I can cut the pages to the finished 10″ x7″ size without getting white edges where the printing didn’t quite reach. It is at this point that I add Photoshop overlays, including “stamps” or small images that go with the theme or text in a color drawn from the image. I used to work out a color scheme before I began, but now it evolves from the cover colors – and gut instinct. Each new image is a layer in the file so I can then print them out one by one, centered on letter sized paper. Then I flip the block of pages over to add lined pages or more images to the other sides of the pages. Once you have all the pages printed (with the backs and fronts facing the same way up!), get a decent paper cutter to trim the pages down to the finished size of 10″x7″. Fold each page carefully in half using a bone folder, then sort and nest them in groups to make the number of signatures you need. This is where your design inspiration combined with what you have found starts to tell your story.

Pages folded and ready to arrange and assemble.

I also look for old books in thrift stores and online to use to add more images, or related text. I always find it odd to have pages in sideways, so look for smaller books so the pages can be in the correct orientation. How many pages or signatures you create will depend on the amount of material you find, and also your enthusiasm for the topic. If the muse goes, then let her, and put that journal to one side. If you force it to be finished, your disinterest will be clear to the viewer.

The next step is to make coffee or tea stained pages to add texture and interest to your journal. Begin by turning the oven on to 275, then get out your cookie trays and a lasagne dish. In the lasagne dish make some tea or instant coffee. I’ve also found that herbal teas give a lovely, but usually very pale color, which is ideal if you have a light color scheme and don’t want the more intense color you’ll get with tea or coffee. Now collect up printer paper, the thinner the better, as good paper seems to tear more readily, any pages from books you’d like to dye, plus grid paper or lined paper if you’d like that dyed. You can also dye pages you’ve already printed on, but only if you use laser toner! Crumple each sheet up tightly, then unfurl it slightly before putting into the pan of tea or coffee. I tend to stop at about 8 sheets as some paper gets very fragile if left soaking too long. Let the pages soak for a moment or two until completely wet, then pull out the first set and place onto cookie sheets. Put the first sheet into the bottom of the oven. Repeat for the other two sheets and put them in to the oven as ready. I set the timer for 10 minutes, but check part way through as the amount of moisture in the paper can make the time variable, and you don’t want a fire in your oven. when the paper is turning up at the edges and feels dry, remove the trays with oven mitts, then put the dry pages far away from any wet stuff. Keep going until you’re bored, or have all the sheets you think you’ll need for now. When completely dry, trim the pages down to the size you need, and keep any offcuts with lovely curly edges for patching torn edges, or to create tuck spots.

Pockets and tuck spots

With all these pages made, think about tuck spots, pockets, and other such pieces you’d like to use. Again, I use Photoshop and create a layout over different photos in a way that I can print them out as on card, then cut out all the pieces. I used to add these elements to my pages before sewing them in, but it makes the pages heavy and rather unwieldy, so my recommendation would be to wait.

A cover sewn up and turned through to the right side.

I use firm interfacing to line my covers, then add an extra strip that covers the spine area to reinforce it. Every so often I get out my sewing machine and sew up a pile of prepared covers, then turn them through, iron them flat, and hand sew the place I left open to turn them to the right side. On this one to the right I also inserted a small piece of folded elastic to the back cover edge to use as a penholder.

Sew the pages onto the cover, then take all your pockets, tuck spots, and pieces and fill the inside.

With the cover sewn and turned through, I fold it in half to find the middle. I then reopen the cover and center a template on it, with all four rows of dots shown so I can mark the location of the sewing holes along the spine. I then open each signature and mark a single row of dots along the center of each one, then punch through them with an awl. This makes it is easier to align all the holes and sew a neat line down the spine, as well as being much easier to get your needle through the many layers of paper and fabric.

I use waxed linen thread to sew the signatures into the journal, starting from the back signature and working towards the front. This is easier than having to flip earlier signatures out of the way as you sew in subsequent ones. I also check frequently that I am still sewing along the correct line of holes, and that the signature is the right way up. (Don’t ask how I know these things!)

Now is the fun time when you get to stick all your tuck spots and pockets into the journal, along with any extra elements you have found along the way. Let your intuition be your guide as you work, if it feels too busy, take something away, you can always re-add it later. Lastly put your ephemera into the pockets, and add any personal touches that makes the journal yours. So that is how I use design inspiration to create my journals, what do you do?


Advertising Journal Process

Advertising Journal Process

This video tries to explain how I come up with themes for the journals I make. In this case I had found a huge trove of old adverts and found them so evocative of another time that I decided to create a journal to showcase the most interesting ones. Having decided on a theme I looked for a photo to use for the cover, and settled on an image of an American High Street. I have curated some adverts to use on the printed pages, in addition to printing and cutting out reams of adverts. Now I need to decide what else to add to the journal, then get making!

Christmas Planner Walkthrough

Christmas Planner Walkthrough

I do know it is February, not Christmas, but it is never to early to start thinking about Christmas!

This handmade Christmas journal and planner is just for you to help you get stuff ready, even when you are feeling overwhelmed by what you have to do! Preparing for Christmas can be exhausting, so this is journal is planned to count you down to Christmas by minimizing choices you have to make. It would make a great gift for someone who will be planning Christmas for the first time this year, as it is has lots of checklists and plenty of encouragement.

There are pages to write your own lists, complete with prompts, take out lists for gifts and things you need to buy, plus stickers and a coloring book to calm you while you plan. There are also Christmas cards and tags, plus words of encouragement to read when the process feels overwhelming. There are Christmas charms to use as book marks so you can find where you left your notes. Generally it is a way to reduce the prep to a manageable level so you can enjoy it, and not just dread it!

The cover is made of beige Kraft-tex that looks like leather, but is man-made and very strong and durable. The outer cover has an allover design on it, and has been made wipeable with the addition of several layers of sealant.

Click here to see the planner.

Memories Journal Walkthrough

Memories Journal Walkthrough

As we age we often become reflective, and realize we want to pass on stories and experiences to the next generation. It can be difficult to know where to start so this journal includes photos in gold envelopes to help remind us of things and times, as well as memory prompts on the pages. There are also many lined pages to write longer memories. This would also be a great way to create a family memory book for a special gift, or to use with an older relative or friend to help them recall times that mattered to them.

Click here to see the journal.