As promised, a quick little post about a quick-and-easy journal/notebook project–


Back in August, a local store had composition books on sale for $.50. Two for a buck! Normally they’re several dollars each, so I scooped up a bunch of them. I wanted to make pretty notebooks. Why? I don’t know. I’m not much of a notebook person, but I just had a hankering. Maybe it’s that I want to be a notebook person?

I began looking for ways to make covers for notebooks. There are all kinds of posts out there that involve sewing and such. I’m sure I lost a couple of good hours looking and pondering and imagining. But then it was September, which is always a very busy month for us, and the notebooks got put away in a cupboard in the garage, and…you know.

It's hard to do crafts sitting on the soccer sidelines.

It’s hard to do crafts sitting on the soccer sidelines.

This December, one of the reasons I put aside the napkin project was so that I could make some notebooks for a friend. I’m not sure if she is a notebook person, but I’m pretty sure her daughters are. They are whip-smart, creative, all-around amazing girls, and their mom is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. I don’t give many gifts in December, but I really wanted to give all of them just a little token of my affection.

Look at this wonderful thank-you note I received from Elizabeth last month!

Look at this wonderful thank-you note I received from Elizabeth last month!

So, I went back through the posts I’d bookmarked. I knew I could easily fall down a rabbit-hole of time trying to do something wonderful–and I just didn’t have time for some kinds of wonderful. I went with a tutorial that was easy, this one from CraftyPod:


(The tutorial is simple and clear, and I am not a fan of re-creating perfectly good wheels. Please click over there if you want to make your own.) All you need for this project is:

  • Composition books
  • Enough fabric to cover the cover of the book
  • Fusible webbing
  • An iron
  • About a half-hour of time

I’d never used fusible webbing–which is a fancy name for plastic-y stuff that makes fabric stick to things. It’s awesome–and I want to use it everywhere now.


You simply iron the webbing onto your fabric, then iron the fabric onto the item you want to stick it to. Once I did one book and figured the process out, it was really fast and easy to do the other books.

At first I thought I would use fabric scraps I already owned, but they didn’t coordinate very nicely and I wanted the books to look nice together. This gave me an excuse to go to the fabric store, which (of course) is always a bonus. I shopped the fat quarter section, where you get a fifth one free if you buy four. They already had coordinating fabrics grouped together, so it was pretty simple to choose some that complemented each other.

One warning, though:  The original post warned against using light fabrics, as the dark cover will show through. I did not take that warning to heart, and I wish I did.


I gave them as-is anyway, because I was out of time and I knew my friend wouldn’t care one bit about that. (The kind of thing about her that makes her my friend.) So, if you are going to do this, I urge you to heed the warning of two bloggers and use a dark fabric.

Also, one tip not in the original post: I found my covers starting to curl from the heat of the iron. I found that putting a heavy book on top of the notebook for a few minutes helped keep them flat.

Oh, I loved this book! A sweet, funny, old-fashioned book for younger YA readers or mature middle-grade readers. Highly recommend.

Oh, I loved this book! A sweet, funny, old-fashioned book for younger YA readers or mature middle-grade readers. Highly recommend.

And what might you use this notebook for? Well, we are entering the season of new intentions and habits and all that. If journaling is something you do, perhaps you need a pretty new journal to do it in? But about all that, I’d like to share two things:

I get a weekly email from the smart, funny, and feisty feminist Kelly Diels, and this week she wrote about “New Year’s resolutions and the unbearable pressure to be someone else.” She cautions us not to fall into the trap of thinking that making some external change (becoming thinner, richer, whateverer) will magically make us into someone we’re not. So, if a journal is part of your quest to make some kind of change in the coming weeks/months, I hope it will not become a place of self-punishment or a symbol of perceived failings (should the change fail to materialize as you hope). And if part of your intentions involve creative work, I really do hope you’ll read her words about women and creative work and issues of time. Really–especially if you beat yourself up about not being able to find/make the time to do the intellectual creative work you want to do. 

Having said that, though, I do like the whole idea of fresh starts and setting intentions and being purposeful about nurturing our own growth. Jen Allen pointed me to Susannah Conway’s free set of materials to work through the process of choosing a word to set your intentions for the coming year. I’ve sort of done this in the past (chose a word), but I’ve never really done it. It’s a five-day process, which is about as many days as I have left on my winter break. So, I signed up this morning and I’m going to use one of my 50-cent notebooks to do the work in. Right after I put a pretty cover on it. 🙂

Got myself a gift this holiday season. Couldn't resist a pair of Ghinger scissors at 40% off.

Got myself a gift this holiday season. Couldn’t resist a pair of Gingher scissors at 40% off.

25 thoughts on “Journals

  1. Marian says:

    The notebooks are so lovely, Rita — and such a thoughtful gift for your friend and her daughters. I am not a notebook person either, but my gosh, I SO WANT to be a notebook person. And I suppose that admission speaks volumes about where I am these days. Thank you, Rita, for this post — both for making the time to show us your notebook project, and for including the link to Kelly Diels site.

    • Rita says:

      So glad you clicked over to Kelly’s essay. What she says about the need for chunks of time is so true. And now you have me thinking about what it means to be (or not to be) a notebook person…

  2. Katherine says:

    I started a book journal in September and was able to use one of the many notebooks I have collected with good intentions. The book journal is just a list of the books I have read this year, but someone could add to it with book descriptions and ratings, etc. (I suppose that is what “Goodreads” is for but I wanted a physical notebook and not another internet black-hole.)

    The notebooks are very cute and I am sure they will be enjoyed!
    Katherine recently posted…What Worked in 2015My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Hi Katherine! I loved your list of what worked in 2015. Read it last week, but didn’t comment for some reason. I’d so like to get back on the meal planning wagon. Maybe next week…

      I love digital just-about everything, but I also really love paper. Paper is more durable. It’s more tactile. I have thousands of photos (literally), and maybe it’s good that my kids won’t have boxes of physical photos to sift through (judging by the piles of old photos I see in some vintage shops), but I think there’s something not quite right about having thousands of photos that might never really be seen again. I dunno. I’m sure there’s some middle ground. Anyway, I totally get why you’d make your book list on paper. It’s the kind of thing you might look at again in 10 or 15 years–but I bet you wouldn’t do that with your Goodreads list. If it’s even around in 15 years.

  3. HeatherL says:

    Those are a great gift! I’m sure your friend will have a use for it. The are great for joirnalling/rambling for a more creative person or list making/ project planning for a more practical person.

  4. Gretchen says:

    Lovely gift! The only notebook I used with any regularity is the one where I jot down funny/adorable things Abe says. Sadly, it has a plain black cover that says “Minwax’ on it…..

    • Rita says:

      But I so wish I had a notebook like that for each of my kids. Instead, I relied on my memory. And because they are twins, most recollections begin, “One of you said…” #momoftheyear

  5. Kate says:

    I love notebooks. I’m attempting a modified bullet journal this year so I don’t have 50 million notebooks flying everywhere (my grocery list/meal planning notebook, my datebook, my journal, my daily list of things I want to accomplish notebook, my lists of books to read and movies to watch and Netflix shows to check out notebook, my house projects notebook, etc.) I started working on it last week and I already think I’m going to struggle with it because while I like the IDEA of having one notebook for every thing, I don’t actually like having one notebook for everything.

    I love the idea of grabbing composition notebooks on sale and covering them with fabric so that they’re all the same size and coordinated but not the exact same. And I do love your fabric choices!! What a thoughtful gift!

    I’m going to go check out those links now. Because I should be preparing for my family that is coming over tomorrow and I need to procrastinate. 🙂
    Kate recently posted…I keep meaning to writeMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      So happy to assist you in productive procrastination. 🙂 I did start using one of the notebooks (though I haven’t yet covered it), and I’m liking it. I love the idea of a page for Netflix shows I want to check out. And books, too. Somehow, electronically bookmarking for those things isn’t really working for me. Even here. There’s a book Marian has recommended to me twice, and I keep forgetting the title, and I know it’s here in the archives somewhere (twice!) but going back to find it feels onerous. So I haven’t.

      • Marian says:

        This made me laugh … and now has me racking my brain to try to figure out what book I would have recommended twice! (Because I usually try not to be that pushy! 😉 ). I wonder if it was here, and then also on my site (with my WWII book post) — could it have been Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson…? I know I recommended The Signature of All Things, but you said you couldn’t get into that one, and then recently, I recommended Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy when we were talking about Kristin Lavransdatter. (And I feel like you would LOVE The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I know I haven’t specifically recommended that one to you).

        • Rita says:

          Well, I’m not sure now–but I’m going to write these down in my new notebook! (I knew if I dropped that hint, you’d do just what you did here. I’m smart like that. ;-))

        • Kate says:

          You two make me smile! I got quite the chuckle out of this.

          I feel down the rabbit hole a bit with those links yesterday and found a few new bloggers to add to my reader. I have to admit Kelly Diehl’s link made me feel a little guilty/lazy (which I’m sure is NOT her intent, that’s on me) because the truth is I’m NOT the overworked woman who really has very little time to herself because she’s raising a family and taking care of domestic responsibilities and working and I’m still not accomplishing very much in the way of creative endeavor.

          And I’m writing down a few of those title’s too, Marian. Though I have read Life After Life. It had such an interesting premise!!!

          • Marian says:

            I absolutely LOVED the premise behind Life After Life … and I almost entirely loved the execution of the premise as well — there were a couple of plot turns that I thought were a bit iffy, but overall I thought it was a fantastic read.

            And I have to say that I too, found myself feeling a bit guilty/lazy after reading Diels’ post. (And I too, would agree that was not her intent; it was purely my feelings of inadequacy — a SAHM who has no kids home during the day so why the heck haven’t I been able to write my novel yet?! — kicking in). I felt she did make some really valuable observations though, and it’s given me a lot to ponder.

          • Rita says:

            I don’t think you should ever feel guilty/lazy! (See my response to Kate’s comment about why). I don’t know how Kelly is able to write at all. That many kids would do me in! I don’t think we need to be care-taking to that level, though, for her points to be valid. Even one child changes the whole fabric of our time.

          • Rita says:

            Oh, I am sure that’s not her intent, either. First, because she’s all about women building each other up. But, more, that the demands she describes apply to women doing the work of raising children and managing a household–especially if the children are young. That kind of work creates constant interruptions, the very thing that makes flow impossible. I remember a few summers ago (a time when I’m not working at school), and it seemed like I just could not get anything done. My kids were teen-agers. What was the matter with me? Well, they were teen-agers and far more self-sufficient than younger kids, but it seemed liked they needed to be driven everywhere, constantly. Some days I made 4+ trips. I’d get back from one, and have maybe 40 minutes until I had to leave again. Enough time to feel like I should be getting something done, but not enough to dive deeply into anything. It was the constant starting and stopping that drove me a little crazy.

  6. Lisa says:

    That is a lovely, thoughtful gift!

    I have an inordinate number of notebooks, but they all contain my to-do lists, not deep thoughts. And as soon as my children see a notebook open to a to-do list, they take it and run off with it and color in it, so I have three notebooks at any given time with multiple versions of the same, colored-over to-do list. I like to buy fancy small notebooks for my purse. I should do this instead.

    I loved the Kelly Diel article–my first thought upon reading the “I have 48 minutes of free time every day” was “I bet they aren’t 48 consecutive minutes. And that’s not long enough anyways.”
    Lisa recently posted…Sufficient unto the dayMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      No, 48 minutes isn’t enough, even if consecutive. When my kids were young (before elementary school), I used to get up early to write. (Like, 4:30 AM early.) It’s how I finished the one published book to my name. Many mornings, once my daughter clued in to what I was doing, she would get up early, too. (She was the lark, and her twin was the night owl. I used to think it was the way each of them got a guarantee of some unshared Mommy time.) It was just so hard, and I was sleep-deprived all the time, and even doing that it wasn’t enough time. I’d get maybe an hour, and I’d have to stop right about the time I felt I was really getting started. I finally decided the sleep was more important than the writing, especially when I couldn’t count on the writing happening. (No way I was going to deny that bright-eyed girl so happy to snuggle with her mommy in those early-morning hours. And I’d make the same choice again. Which is one reason I’m not a famous/successful writer. So be it.)

      But about the notebooks–this would work with any notebook that’s got a cardboard cover. I warn you, though: I think this could get addicting!

  7. Erin says:

    I am a journaller. I have years and years and years of journals in a box in my closet – I don’t write nearly as often as I used to, but I still do. It’s good to vent to an impartial party. 🙂 I would have LOVED to receive one of your notebooks when I was young. They look so fun. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Erin. I made one for myself since writing the post, and I have to say that I really like it. It’s making me want to write in a journal again, something I haven’t done for years.

  8. Pingback: 2016
  9. Sarah says:

    What a lovely and thoughtful gift! I like the fabrics you used, even the one where the composition book cover shows through — it puts me in mind of the idea of a palimpsest, which I think is what notebooks/journals tend to be, at least in my hands (picked up, abandoned, rediscovered, added to sometimes for another purpose entirely).

    Absolutely LOVED the Kelly Diels post, thank you so much for pointing me in that direction! She is so right on about all of it. I wonder if there is also a way in which women are held “accountable” (culturally speaking) for their leisure time and their time at home in a way that men aren’t — expected to make something “productive” out of it. Not sure I can quite explain that hunch yet but you’ve got me thinking. The post also reminded me of a quote a woman I know shared on Facebook a while back about how you can always tell a woman writer because she has such a messy house. It was shared very much in the spirit of, “Amirite, ladies???!?” but it really enraged me! I thought: What is wrong with these women writers’ husbands, do none of them have hands? I mean, many hundreds of male writers throughout history have worked in clean and orderly houses, kept that way by their wives. Women writers don’t deserve the same sort of environment in which to create?

    (which I fear I may have made before on this very blog, oops. what can I say, encountering this quote was a formative moment for me.)

    The Hired Girl looks very good! I may suggest it to my daughter before too long (she may be a little young yet). I recently read The Great Trouble, a MG/YA (closer to MG though I think) novel about John Snow and the London cholera epidemic — great read and a neat treatment of the science, you might enjoy it!
    Sarah recently posted…My home this season: December 2015My Profile

    • Rita says:

      I think I know exactly what you mean. Part of the reason I haven’t been more of a writer was that, when my children were young, especially, I felt I couldn’t justify the time I would have used for it. Writing felt like something I’d be doing only for me. Even after having a book published, it still didn’t feel like something I could claim time for. I wasn’t going to make any money (poetry), and there seemed to be little real benefit to any of my family but me. So I let it go.

      I haven’t read The Great Trouble, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 (about yellow fever). You might like that, too.

  10. May says:

    Feeling a pang of jealousy that you found Ginghers on sale. That is something I have never seen!

    The journals are awesome. My eldest has a stack of comp books filled with thoughts from her teens and early adulthood. Just plain, none so fine as these!
    May recently posted…TToT: Garden GateMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I was pretty happy to find those scissors on sale. They are so nice. I hope I will have them forever. Because my grandma gave me a pair once (in the late 80s), I always think of her when I use these. I think that’s the real reason I bought them.

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