Sewing a Custom Journal Signature

Yesterday, I blogged about my new (to me) sewing machine. Today I put it to use. Caught between the need to take a journal with me and the need to work on a flat piece of paper, I decided to make several journal signatures. They are small and flat enough to be portable. Once several of them are complete, I can stack them and sew them together to

Signature cover made of Tyvek, sewn with machine and white thread.

form a book.

The advantage is that I can combine any kind of paper I want. The signature covers become interesting pages in the book all on their own. My first attempt was a Tyvek cover, a Strathmore marker paper, a Strathmore drawing paper (80-lb.) and Arches Text Wove. Tyvek is the non-tear material that Fedex envelopes are made of.

I cut the pages all to the same size, cut the Tyvek cover a bit larger, and then, just for decorative reasons, stitched a random pattern on the cover. White on white was lovely, but hard to show, so I held the cover up to a light and photographed it. You can see the holes quite nicely. Tyvek takes color well, so I colored it with alcohol markers.

The inside pages give me just what I need. Alcohol markers (Copic, for example) bleed through most papers. Marker paper (like Strathmore and Canson) allow the color to show through, but not bleed through. A design that blotches the back of the paper in a journal needs a solution, but a design done on marker paper looks good from both sides. In the drawing below, right, you can see the front of the marker-page. Below, left, is the reverse side of the same page. The image on the reverse is muted, but no less attractive.

Strathmore marker paper with Copic markers (alcohol markers).

Ink markers, like Pitt pens, don’t bleed through the paper. They don’t show from the other side at all, making them a bit more versatile to use with a bigger variety of papers. On the other hand, ink markers don’t blend or layer as beautifully as alcohol markers.

The reverse of the page is muted, but still attractive.

The mix of papers allow me to use the paper and medium I need. I can use the marker paper for inks, the stiffer drawing paper for watercolor pencils or inks, and the Arches Text Wove for writing, drawing, wet- or dry pencils. It’s a great combination.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and raw-art-journaler. She teaches business writing and communications and runs workshops on journaling.


Singer Sewing Machine 401A

Singer 401A Sewing Machine

My new toy: a 50-year-old Singer Sewing machine. I found it on a shelf of a vac-n-sew. (Best name for a Vac-n-Sew is Belmont, New Hampshire’s Vacman and Bobbin.) The vac ‘n’ sew that held this treasure is in Tempe, AZ. Two years ago, when The Cookin’ Man was left back in D.C. selling our house and I was in a small, dark apartment thinking it would be for just a month or so, I found a cheap vacuum. It turned out to be a good, cheap vacuum that lasted for two years. Last week it was overwhelmed by cat hair, so I went back to the vac ‘n’ sew. Found another good, cheap vacuum cleaner and there, on the shelf, was the sewing machine, reconditioned and ready to sew. The price was unbeatable. I’ve been looking for a 401 Singer sewing machine under a $200 for a year with no luck. This workhorse is tested and not all that easy to find!

The Singer 401A was produced around 1960. It’s an all-metal machine, not a bit of plastic on it, and a workhorse capable of years of  studio work. The foot pedal has two bumps on it. The one on the right is solid, the one on the left runs the machine. You put the ball of your foot on both and then rock your foot to the left to make it run. Google helped me find SewClassic, who specializes in old Singers and SewUSA , who has free threading diagrams and bobbin winding instructions.

Footpedal for Singer 401A

It might be important to add I don’t know how to sew. Like all heavy equipment in my studio, I gave the machine a name: Betsy—years ago Betsy McCall was a paper doll line for McCall’s magazine. Each month there was a story and a new set of outfits for Betsy. (That link will take you to printable downloads for the paperdolls, 1960-version. The same year the machine was made.)

What’s a sewing machine doing in a paper studio? Working. I want to put it to work creating raw art. I love the idea of sewing on paper, it’s another attachment method. But I think it may be the solution to the “free sheet v. book” dilemma. When I’m working on raw-art part of raw-art journaling, I like to work on flat, individual sheets. I also like to work on different kinds of paper–crackly, translucent cooking parchment for alcohol markers, Strathmore’s super-smooth, blendable surface for ink and alcohol markers, Arches Wove Text for almost everything else.  On the other hand, I also like to keep the work together by date.

First, sew and fill signatures, then gather them into one book.

My idea is to sew signatures of different papers together, give them a sturdy paper cover and use them as my instant journals. The one that always is in the bag. Another signature can stay in the studio for wetter, messier work. When I have enough signatures made, I bind them all together and voilá! a raw-art journal with different papers and projects, all in one place.

I’ll report back when I learn how to thread and wind bobbins and sew on Betsy, my 50-year-old, all-metal collaborator.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, workshop leader and raw-art-journaler. © QuinnCreative 2010. All rights reserved.

The “Off” Switch

Everyone has to turn it off sometime.

The space heater finally died. It was quiet, efficient, put out a lot of concentrated heat, and it lasted two years. About average for small appliances. It would cost more to fix than to throw out, so reluctantly I replaced it while seeing landfills fill up with cheap, but necessary, appliances.

The new one has a digital temperature reading, a timer, a high- and low speed setting . . . and no “off” switch. I could unplug it to turn it off, but the plug is in an awkward place, difficult to reach. Sure, I can use the digital system to make the requested temperature much lower than the temperature in the room, or click down the timer, but wouldn’t an off switch be simpler?

The digital readout is always on, so it’s sucking up electricity every minute of the day.

Which made me think–our appliances reflect our needs and culture. The first microwave could cook turkeys and came with special browning sauces and powders. Now they have pre-set buttons for heating coffee, warming pizza, popping corn and baking potatoes—because that’s what we use microwaves for. Not turkeys.

Our lives no longer have off switches, either. My friends and clients expect me to be available at all times. They are sure I am checking in their Facebook posts, tweets, and their fan pages. They no longer leave voice mails, I’m supposed to notice I missed a call and phone back. Most of my clients don’t want to email me, that isn’t fast enough, they text me. The idea that I may be in a meeting, teaching or in bed means nothing. I have to be available. I should point out that I’m not an emergency-room physician or the President of the United States, I’m a life coach and a trainer in communications.

The millennials–the group of adults who are now between 18 and 25–have never existed in a time when they could be alone. They will survive little more than 30 seconds of silence in a conversation before talking or texting to someone else.

Thirty-five percent of babies between the age of six weeks and three years have a TV in their room that is on more than two hours a day. We now live in a culture that is always in touch, speaking, connecting. (I’m not sure how much we’re listening. That’s another post.)

In order for me to be fully functional, I need down time. To sleep deeply, to create, to refresh. I have an off switch and I’m willing to use it, even if my space heater can’t.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and certified creativity coach.

When to Start Working With a Coach

Tornado from

“I want to start coaching, but my life is so messy right now. Let’s wait till things calm down.”
“I’m crazy-busy this month. Next month will be better. I’ll start coaching then.”
“I’m spending half my life fighting with my spouse and the other half fighting with my boss, as soon as I know things will be OK, I’ll call you.”

The perfect time to start coaching is when your life is a mess. Right in the middle of all that crazy-busy is the small heartbeat of sanity. Go after it while it’s still beating. It’s harder to start coaching when your spouse is gone and so is your job.

All of the excuses above are the same as the old joke about the leaking roof and the rain. You don’t want to fix the roof and get wet in the rain. When it stops pouring, the roof doesn’t leak.

If your life calmed down (and it won’t) and you found yourself under a tree with a stocked picnic basket next to you, you would think your problems had ended, perhaps magically. Life doesn’t sort itself out on its own. You have to do the work. The time to start coaching is when the world looks like it might fall down around you. Because that’s when you have the most choices and the highest motivation.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She coaches people on change, transition and re-invention.

No Room for Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions on how to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: No fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided—no fear.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, not finding enough clients, getting underbid, outperformed by not risking enough. But seeing fear for what it is created the big “Aha!” in my business life.images3.jpeg

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table as a motive, your life looks different.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid at $8,000 to land the job, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s a bad decision rooted in fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine. Kick fear to the curb and stand up for accountability.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but I can look at it straight in the eye and refuse to be bullied by my own fear. There are a million  reasons in making a decision, but only one lousy one–“I did it because I was scared.”

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. (c) 2009-2010.  All rights reserved.

Carl Jung: Raw-Art Psychologist

Cover of Carl Jung's Red Book

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, pioneered exploring the mind through meaningful dreams, art, philosophy, and mythology. And raw-art journaling. Jung was a modern pioneer of the mind—he died in 1961.

In order to help himself understand his work, Jung kept a journal–The Red Book. Not just any journal, but one filled with drawings. Mandalas, abstract swirls and lines mixed with images from nature filled in repetitive, detailed patterns. In other words, Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, was a raw-art journaler.

He added his own style of calligraphy and explanations to produce The Red Book. Whatever he was interested in, he explored. Literature, sociology, astrology and vivid dreams are all included in his notes.

The Rubin Museum of Art in New York put The Red Book on display. Each week, they put a different page on their website to widen the circle of visitors. Here is the link to the colorful pages of The Red Book. It takes a bit to load, but you can flip through it page by page. I was amazed at this amazing work. I hope you are, too.

Tip: Scroll down till you see The Red Book. Click on the book. Click on the far left image of The Red Book. Allow time to load. Turn the pages by clicking on the arrows. If you want to avoid scrolling, I’ve also posted the book to my website. Move the pages by using the small arrow on the right side of the page. Each page may take a few seconds to load.