Journal Page: Sewing on Paper

The “layer on layer” effect so popular in art journals is a technique I’m not completely comfortable with. I’m a strong believer in architect Louis Sullivan‘s “form follows function” idea. I’ve seen too many pages where layers substitute for meaning, and color takes up space. I like my pages designed around words, because words are my art.  Not calligraphy, but meaningful words in journals—ideas, memories, dreams, thoughts, conclusions and opinions. As prose, poetry, or free association.

To experiment with an interesting background, I reached for my new sewing machine. After I sold my work-horse Singer, I purchased a Baby Lock sewing machine. With the easy-winding bobbin and needle-threader, it was just what I needed.

I wanted to sew three long strips of paper onto journal pages. To add texture, I wanted to sew on the paper, then rip it off to create a natural edge. I chose a book page, and attached it upside down to avoid distraction looking for words. Using a zig-zag stitch and purple thread I stitched down about two inches from the edge of the journal page, leaving a half-inch margin on the right of the book-page stitching.

To secure the strip, I sewed down the left side to create a strip 1-1/2 inch wide, using the margin as a stitching guide.I left tails on all the threads, leaving the gluing for later. Dry medium first, wet medium next.

To create the jagged edge, I pulled the right side straight down, allowing the paper to shred where it wanted to.

Above, you can see the uneven edge a straight down pull creates. You can make it more ragged by pulling the paper away from the stitching.

The left side needed to be tidy, so I pulled the edge toward the stitching. You can see the direction of the pull is inward. A smooth pull creates an even tear.

Above is the more even paper edge on the left side.  The first strip is now completely attached to the left-side page in my journal. For the second strip, I chose a piece of Arches Text Wove

splattered with Golden’s Fine Gold acrylic paint, black India ink, and sprayed with bleach. I also used a sheet of Canson Mi-Tients prepared in the same way–gold acrylic, black ink, bleach.

Using the same technique as before, I sewed the Arches to the right of the book page, and the Mi-Teints on the other page. To make it fit under the sewing machine foot, I had to turn the page upside down. Since there is nothing to read in the strips, it doesn’t require extra planning.  What is important is to use a bobbin thread that matches the journal page. Any color thread is great for the zig-zag, but the bobbin thread should match the journal page.

By matching the bobbin thread to the page color, the page you have already written on is not visually disturbed by the stitching, even if it’s zig-zag.

And the next page, still to be developed, has some interesting possibilities. You can see the purple thread caught in the bobbin thread, above. Had I sewn cloth on cloth, I would have used a stitch ripper to remove the purple thread. Because I used paper, I will simply glue a graphic element over the caught purple page. I did learn to trim the loose threads as soon as I finish sewing a row.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and raw-art journaler. She is learning to sew on paper because she has drive three sewing teachers to tears, starting when she was 8 years old.