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.
Flower 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.
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.
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!
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.
A 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.
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?
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!
The idea to make these journals evolved from finding a concept I didn’t really like! I kept encountering junk journals, but found them to be too fussy and messy for my taste. I don’t like messy sewing and dangling threads, and don’t really want to include junk paper from irrelevant mailings. That didn’t sit well with me. I also found the idea of using paper or light card covers to be a bit impractical. It seemed as though they wouldn’t survive many uses, and wouldn’t cope with having extra bits and pieces added to the journal. During a bout of bronchitis last winter I let my mind roam around and think what i would do differently… Pretty much everything it seems!
The cover conundrum got solved first. As a long time dress maker it frustrated me no end to find a fabric design I liked but in a color or size I didn’t really want for that project. When I learned of Spoonflower, a fabric print on demand company, I felt as though all my fabric design dreams had come true! I have created many designs and projects using them to print the fabric for me. At present only my purple fabrics are publicly available, but have also created tea towels, embroidery kits, and latterly, these journal covers. It dawned on me that if twill fabric was sturdy enough for a tote bag, then it would withstand being carried around and opened and closed repeatedly. My sewing background suggested that interfacing would further strengthen the fabric, and an extra heavy strip down the spine would help protect the stitching.
As journal concepts came to me, I researched old books and image repositories to find related ideas and images. Gradually the direction for each journal would evolve, and I’d select and image for the fabric cover and inside cover, adding text and overlays as I felt they were needed. It takes anywhere from a week to 10 days for the resulting fabric to arrive, which gave me time to design the page layouts. With so many images to choose from, I had to determinedly curate them to collect a selection that had a common theme, even when it meant ditching a beloved image because it didn’t belong. I began to lay out the pages, leaving blank pages, creating all lined pages, as well as making specific journaling areas on other pages. As I worked on the page designs, the look and feel would evolve, helping me decide what to keep and what to leave out.
The pages completed, I created templates for making the little pockets and ‘tuck spots’ for holding the ephemera. I would select two to four images that had a good color palette and which would look OK from different directions. Often I had to manipulate them so that text or flower stems didn’t randomly appear upside down. After printing these pages out, I would cut out all the shapes and store them. I then set about selecting the images to use for the ephemera or journaling cards. Here I allowed myself a bit more latitude, adding in quirky or slightly offbeat images because they amused me, and hoped they’d also amuse the person who bought the journal. I made the decision not to include images of anything frightening or potentially triggering. Everyone has their own sights they dislike, but there is nothing in any of the journals that should offend either your grand daughter or your elderly great aunt.
Again, after laying the images out, I printed and cut them out, sometimes rounding the corners or adding a tinge of sepia to the edges. By now I had a humungous concertina file to hold all these bits and pieces while I waited for the fabric to arrive. Once the fabric arrived, some of the designs hadn’t rendered quite as expected, so these have become my sample journals, and testing grounds for the making processes. I cut out the cover pieces, ironed on the interfacing layers, then sewed around the edges leaving a gap to turn them through. This was more fiddly than I anticipated as the fabric was surprisingly stiff and disinclined to cooperate with me. After turning them through, I hand sewed the opening closed and ironed them smooth.
Finally I got to the book making part! I use heavy Irish linen bookmaking thread, run through beeswax to make it slide through the pages more easily. I designed a template for the sewing holes, which I then transfer to the spine of the cover, and matching holes in each of the four ‘signatures’ mini books within the journal. I sew each signature in from back to front, pulling the threads tight to secure the pages. The next task is to stick in all the corners and tuck spots, usually deciding I need more than I had created at first. When they are dry, I add the journaling cards. I create two square envelopes that I also stick together, and into one put a series of journaling prompts to help you decide what to write. I also cut out a series of tabs and file tabs to use to make your journal your own, and so you can find sections more readily. Lastly I sort through the little charms to find four that seem to reflect the topic or user, and attach them.
Before the journal is ready to leave, I add a card at the front to explain what the aim is of the journal – in case the journal was given as a gift. I have written a letter to the new owner, explaining that the journal is now theirs, and they can use it however they see fit. I explain what the elements can be used for, but leave it in their hands to decide what they want to do. As a dyed in e wool romantic, that letter is put in an envelope and sealed with sealing wax.
So that is how a journal is made, and why it takes so long to create. It is a mixture of graphic design, curation, bookmaking and sewing skills, so my journals, while still technically ‘junk journals’ are very different from the others you will find.
I might not spend too much time on Instagram or YouTube, but I am still aware of the phenomenon of videoing the opening of a box. Since these journals are probably going to be given as gifts, I wanted to make the experience of unwrapping them something to anticipate and enjoy.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a deep, rectangular box to use, however I persisted and found these corrugated card boxes with a fold down lid. The journals nestle neatly inside the box, on a bed of shredded paper to keep them safe in transit. The journal is then wrapped in tissue paper and sealed with a sticker saying, “Handmade with Love”.
It still seemed a little too predictable, so as a final flourish I wrote a welcome note to the new journal owner, with suggestions for ways to use the journal. The letter is signed by me, then sealed with gold wax and stamped with a bee symbol. There will be a layer of plastic to keep the boxed journal safe from the rain while in transit, but I am hoping the recipients of these journals will enjoy the experience of unwrapping them.
After deciding I would be more efficient if I did all the elements of one part of the journals and then the next, it seemed like an eternity before any finished journals came into existence! Finally this past week I got to the fun stage of sewing the pages in and adding all the goodies I’ve been collecting to add. As of now there are four new journals in the etsy shop, making five in all.
The Bohemian Journal was my first fully finished journal. It has all the elements I have come to include in each journal, but most journals will also have additional items specific to that theme.
Now the Bohemian Journal is finished, this is what I wrote about the direction it takes:
This journal reflects some of the world of the Bohemians. The name emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to move into the lower-rent, lower class, neighborhoods, and the reality was much less romantic than we now think of it as being – think of the story line of ‘La Boheme’. Nowadays we are apt to think of the art from the era as being romantic and colorful, and this journal is perfect for the artist who dreams of living a Bohemian life!
The second journal was the Black and White Animal themed one. I had tried a black and white journal, but the topic was too wide, and it felt more chaotic than I wanted. It became the Black and White Animal Journal, and there will also be a Black and White Flower Journal.
Now the Black and White Animal Journal has taken shape, here is what I wrote about it: The journal has many images of animals, domestic and wild, but nothing scary. The ephemera includes adverts from the past that used images of cute animals to sell some unlikely items, as well as retro ads for dog food evoking memories of childhood.
As I have previously created more conventional gratitude journals, a fabric variation was my next project. A Gratitude Journal seemed like a good entry point for people who aren’t used to writing each day, as there is a prompt written at the top of most of the pages asking the owner to write down what they are grateful for.
Here is what I wrote about the journal: Starting with an image of a woman jumping, this bright and breezy journal has many pages prompting you to write down what you are grateful for today. The images are all cheery and uplifting, and curated to encourage different directions to consider in being grateful. There are a few lined pages for use for whatever the journal owner feels like writing, their intentions for the journal, what has brought them to this point, and what they hope to achieve from this practice.
As an ex-pat Brit, a journal about England was next on my list! There are so many journals about London, full of red, white and blue, that I went in a different direction. The people I know who go to England want to see more of the countryside and travel a bit further off the well-worn tourist trails.
As I wrote on Etsy: “The photos I curated for this journal are often bucolic and romantic, country lanes, thatched cottages, and seaside vistas. They are overlaid with a haze of sepia and smaller images i feel add to the image. There are also images of classic fabrics, gingham, woven designs and Argyle, as well as more contemporary images of modern England. So much of England is a blend of how we wish to remember it and how it actually is in the 21st century, and this journal is my homage to the country of my birth.”
Hot on its heels was a nostalgic journal about the seaside of my youth. It had few tourist shops nearby, so playing on the sand, in the water, and running up and down the cliffs was my primary experience of being on the beach. If you also prefer a more peaceful time at the beach, then this journal is for you.
As I wrote on Etsy, “The photos I curated for this journal are older, many are Victorian and Edwardian when people were first able to have holidays by the sea. There is a 1907 music hall song called “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” which I realized was my theme, so you will find phrases from that sone scattered across the top of some journaling pages. There are adverts flaunting the sea’s health-giving benefits, children’s and women’s bathing costumes and beach wear, plus drawings of some of the flotsam and jetsam you may find on the beach if left to your own devices. Return to your child-like wonder of being on the beach and record your thoughts and memories in this journal.”
I keep finding that each journal I make seems to suggest another topic to be added to the ever-growing list of ideas. I have temporarily shelved many of the flower journals I initially planned, and have kept just the wildflower and black and white flower journal concepts for now.
The wildflower journal kept coming to the fore as I realized how much I admire flowers that grow wherever they land. So often as humans we rale against the location we find ourselves in, so thought wildflowers may have something to tell us.
The other journal that made the cut is the black and white flower journal. I have found so many beautiful images that I decided they should have a journal of their own. This journal will be for the beauty of the images, so you can write about whatever inspires you that day, or color the sketches if that appeals, or try to copy them if you are feeling brave.
I’m sure more topics will come to me, but for now am working on getting the journals made that I have already started!
I thought you might be interested to see how I create my journals. It is quite a lengthy process that occurs both on the computer and in the real world.
I begin by thinking about topics or themes I’d be interested in researching. Having got a theme, I create a color palette and if it requires specific fonts, than I source those. I create a digital cover design as I have the covers printed by Spoonflower, and it can take a week or so for the fabric to arrive. It is in the process of finding a photo or drawing and fonts that the concept for the journal really starts to solidify in my mind.
I look for sketches and public domain art that could possibly be incorporated, then start to lay out the pages. I often use drawings as brushes in Photoshop, so you may notice an image is used several times and in different ways. As these journals are intended to be used, I also look out for pieces of my own art and papers I’ve collected over the years that might fit in with the theme. I have created a number of templates for creating ephemera, so open those files and slide in designs and drawings behind to see which ones work best. Finally I print out all the pages on nice paper and trim them to size, then print the ephemera on card and cut that out and fold it as needed. Below you can see pages, words, cards and some tags I created for the black and white journal.
With the ephemera and pages cut out, I create the cover. The designs are printed on canvas, but to make them sturdier, iron on heavy interfacing and additionally reinforce the area where the pages will be sewn in. I add a loop of elastic to hold a pen, then sew the parts together, turn them right sides out and sew up the gap. Here you can see the finished cover before the pages are sewn in.
The next task is to create a pattern for sewing in the sets of pages, or signatures. I have decided to add 4 signatures, each holding 10-12 pages depending on the thickness of the paper and card. I punch the sewing pattern into each central page and also onto the cover. I use bookbinding thread to hold the pages securely and sew using five holes so each page is securely fastened inside the journal. Below you can see the journal when the pages are sewn in and also the view from the top:
Now comes the fun part, deciding what to add to the pages to create secret places to write or tuck in =notes, cards, or mementos of your own. I want you to make the journal your own so while I aim to add all kinds of elements for you to enjoy, I don’t want to set it up so you can only use it in one way. My goal is to create a journal that is personal to you. You may use the elements I add, but want you to choose how to sue them. This journal has a number of sketches and designs I created for coloring books, so if you like to do small colorings, there will be little treats scattered through the journal for you to find.
Next time I will show you how I add to the pages and create places to encourage you to write and preserve your memories. Since this book is all black and white – except for the beak and feet of the puffin on the cover – if you like color, there is plenty of space for you to add it!