It was a tough Fall and Christmas. This is measured in the absence of any journal entries after October 29th, a few days before Ninja went in for the appointment that would determine, once and for all, that she had polycystic kidneys. With Thanksgiving and Christmas looming, as well as writing my novel and the prospect of taking care of a terminally ill cat, it is hardly surprising that my journal took a back seat to everything else. Besides, it had only a few pages left, and it was nothing special. Journaling had become inexplicably boring.
I had this feeling that anything I wrote would be lines lamenting some tiny thing that wasn’t going right with the novel, or going on and on about Ninja’s reluctance to eat her cat food and how sad it was to stick her with needles. I backed away from the page and focused on more important things.
With that season behind me, and the new year open and mostly clear, I knew it was time to head back to a journal. And I also knew I’d be making it this time.
I’ve stitched together journals before, keeping them in a refillable journal cover. But I wanted something different… something with an actual cover that could exist on its own. Something that was brightly colored and full of possibility. So I reached into my everlasting stockpile of writing paper and craft paper, took out the tapestry thread I’d used to stitch Christmas projects together and bent a thick needle in a candle flame (for lack of a curved book-binding needle). Said needle is photographed above before I took a candle to it.
Journal-making is still a bit new to me, so I don’t have a tutorial of my own to share. Maybe some day. What is essential is having a journal that is entirely my space – not just the words or any stream-of-conscious doodles, but the journal-book itself. There is nothing like stitching together every signature, every page and tightening them, making them ready to accept words in a sequence.
For me, creating my own journal is like preparing a canvas, setting a stage. It simply would not satisfy me to buy a notebook at my favorite shop, no matter how pretty the cover or how straight the lines. My journal is a bit loose, even though I tightened it as much as I could. The holes I punched in the front cover are slightly off, so it looks funny when I open it. But it is mine, and that’s what makes it perfect.
The last pretty journals I bought and used were so perfect, so awesome that I wrote in them gingerly, afraid of marring the pages with my imprecise, uncertain scrawl. Even then, the pages ran out and the journal went on the shelf or in a box in the closet, and the pretty thing was done, spent.
I want the journal to reflect the writing (and therefore the writer), not the writing to reflect the journal. The covers, the pages, the stitching is as much a part of the accomplishment as the daily journey with a pen and words.
Stitching together the pages makes me think of the early days of books. This Coptic-style binding is an old method, tried-and-true. It means the journal will lay flat when I write. It means I don’t have to worry about gluing a cover down. It remains elegant, yet simple.
I am already writing in it, and I feel more freedom somehow to do things differently, to embrace whimsy. And that’s what I’ve needed all along. I’m even writing on the pages sideways and using colored pencils. That star below? Ugly and asymmetrical at first (and maybe still a bit ugly… oh well), but I kept working at it until it shone. Now, that’s a journal.
In case you’re interested in putting together your own journal, here are the online tutorials I used. Mine was a combination of both, which are excellent and easy to follow.
- Tutorial: How to Make A Journal Using Coptic Stitch Binding by Isabel Moseley. Canada Arts Connect Magazine.
- Chain or Coptic Stitch Book Binding Tutorial by TLieu on Tortagialla.com.