In another life, I’m actually a writer. I’ve written magazine articles, corporate materials, online courses materials, blog pieces of various sorts and even a dozen or so books. Throughout my writing career I’ve always been obsessed with notebooks – and this obsession has spilled over into my sewing mania. I have a sewing notebook (or three) but have yet to figure out precisely the right one for me on an on-going basis. For me to be able to do this I need to do two things: first, I need to research what’s available and what other sewers use (for ideas), and second, I need to figure out exactly what I’ll use the notebooks (journals) for. Maybe I should start there.
For me as a writer, those notebooks /journals are largely for capturing ideas. They’re a kind of creative repository that I can access any time. I turn to them whenever I have an idea or a part of an idea or an idea of an idea. Later I turn to them when I have no ideas at all and need to be prodded into coming up with something new. Then I use individual notebooks to capture ideas for individual projects. I have a lot of notebooks!
Years ago in another lifetime when I was a university professor, I designed and taught a course on creativity in communications. One of the books I recommended for my students was The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by the exceptionally creative Twyla Tharp, American choreographer extraordinaire. (If you’re unfamiliar with her work, just go to Mr. Google. You’ll see that you’re not all that unfamiliar!) Ms. Tharp uses quite a different approach to gathering her creative ideas for projects. Rather than notebooks or journals, she uses boxes. Here’s what she says about her boxes:
“Everyone has his or her own organizing system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance…notebooks, clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photographs, pieces of art that may have inspired me…The box makes me feel connected to a project…even when I’ve back-burnered it…”
As I thought about how sewers could use her approach, I could see so many things in that box: fabric scraps, sketches, photos of inspirational looks from the web, inspirational buttons, samples of trims, copies of artwork, the DVD of a movie that caught my eye and whose wardrobe I loved… well, you get the picture. I love the idea of this kind of a creativity box, but I don’t really have space to store so many boxes, so I’m back to square one in my search for the perfect journal/notebook.
My favourite kind of notebook is a Moleskine™ – the brand Hemingway used to make his notes. They actually make some specialty notebooks such as a travel journal, but they don’t make one for sewers. But some sewers among us do, and others have suggestiosn about how to use a three-ring notebook. Here’s some of what I found in my research on what others do.
- Many sewers’ notebook ideas are designed for us to remember the details of a project: http://www.sewmamasew.com/2013/03/make-a-sewing-journal/ provides a downloadable pdf worksheet for which you will also need a three-ring binder.
- Some use notebooks for organizing projects (this sewer uses Moleskines) http://createsharelove.typepad.com/blog/2014/10/my-projects-notebook.html
- 110 creations Notebook for project planning: This one is a specially produced, wire-bound, “a sewist’s notebook” with room for 110 projects http://www.110creations.com/p/about-book.html
- Sew-Crafty sewing journal says: “Our journal has been designed to help you record your sewing achievements and projects.” http://www.sewcraftyonline.co.uk/product/sew-crafty-sewing-journal/ This one spears to me to be a nicely covered sewing notebook with blank pages inside.
- There are other three-ring notebook ideas. Sewing Project Notebook: http://sewing.patternreview.com/review/review/859
- And another…Sewing journal pages download: http://escapadesinsewing.blogspot.ca/2013/05/sewing-journal-pages-pdf-download.html This is quite good if you like the three-ring approach.
- I like the “Colette Sewing Planner” https://www.colettepatterns.com/catalog/colette-sewing-planner but it still isn’t perfect for me. “Supplies I have”, ”supplies I need” list spaces are a good idea. Some resources such a page on needle sizes and their uses. Nice. But a kind of reference-cum-notebook. A hybrid if you will.
But the writer in me (who has a separate notebook for each book-length writing project and a couple of generic ones!), needs a notebook to fulfil a host of objectives. The first one is to keep a record of ideas that flit across my brain unbidden usually when I’m supposed to be doing something else. The second is to record project details – for example, when I do test pieces before actually sewing a seam finish or when selecting stitch length and thread – so that as the project progresses, I can refer back (only an issue for those of us engaged in slow sewing I reckon! Everyone else just remembers for a few hours!). I also need a notebook for creative organization and for the sheer joy of going back to re-visit (so it has to be more than a place to record).
I recently stumbled on a neat online challenge: “SWAP 2017” aka “Sewing with a Plan.” Such an interesting idea. The rules include the following:
“Eleven garments divided between Upper, Lower and Over pieces. These are tops and dresses; bottoms; and layers, all defined later. There are minimums and maximums in each category, to provide balance and variety. You decide the final distribution.
- Upper: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
- Lower: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
- Over: Minimum 2, maximum 5. No more than ½ may be outerwear.
You decide how many of each, within the numbers above, to total 11 garments.
Your twist: Each garment in a category must work with at least half of the garments in each of the other two categories. Example 5 Upper, 3 Lower, and 3 Over. Each upper would need to work with 2 Lower and 2 Over garments.”
It occurs to me that if you want to enter this sewing challenge, you will indeed need some kind of a notebook to plan, which further leads me to believe that planning each sewing project is a good thing – at least for me. So a journal or notebook for me needs to be both a creative repository as well as a kind of sewing diary or log to return to either to enjoy revisiting a project, or to use the past experience for a future project. Of course I could research and find an electronic notebook or app for this purpose, but that’s for another time!
Am I any closer to the Holy Grail of sewing notebooks? Closer perhaps, but not there yet!
(PS you evidently have to be a member at Artisan’s Square to enter the 2017 SWAP – but you could just to the challenge for yourself – I might just do that in the new year!)
 Twyla Tharp. 2003. The Creative Habit. pp. 80-81.
6 thoughts on “My obsession: Seeking the holy grail of sewing journals”
Another timely post…pre-new year when we are all trying to “mend” our unorganized ways. Thank you. My problem is that I value form over function and get caught up on beautiful leather bound notebooks and fountain pens. The sewing journal is only valuable if it promotes thoroughness and consistency and organization and easy access. My beautiful leather bound notebooks do not …and invariably I lose interest. How wonderful to be able to share the information in our notebooks with others. I hope you will write about your research results and explain what and why you feel your chosen system is “perfect”.
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I must admit I too have to fight off the demons of form over function (or for me more of the form-with-little-discernible-function) to try to find balance. I can’t tell you how much money I could spend on beautiful if slightly under-functional notebooks! I will continue the search for the perfect system and I most certainly will share that journey when I find the perfect one. Cheers!
Stumbled across your post when researching the perfect sewing planner so all the information you have given is great. I’ve been using my bullet journal but it’s ended up being too bulky when the swatches are added and takes up too many pages. I am looking at making a separate sewing journal so I have all projects in one specific book rather then across several journals. Your idea of having one for projects and another vernal one sounds a good idea. Did you ever final the perfect journal/system?
I haven’t found it yet, Karen, but I expect to publish the one I’m working on by the end of he year. Thanks for stopping by! GG