Soft and Squishy: An Intro to Fabric Art Journals

closed art journal, by gramayreWhile I'm not a fabric person, per se, I can and do appreciate those who have a penchant for fabric based arts. These artists knit, quilt, sew or do needlepoint and come up with fabulous ways to make clothing and art. If you're an artist of this category, then you'll love what I'm going to talk about today. This is the one you've been waiting for. Today, I'm going to explore fabric art journals. This creative art form allows you to take all those left over scraps of fiber and fabric and use them for other purposes. I'll tell you what I know about this technique and give you some ideas on how you can go about creating one of your own. I've even got a few ideas for sample projects that you can undertake on your own. At the end of this article there's a small list of resources that you can turn to if you want to tap into this new art form. Please be kind, I'm no expert on this subject, as I don't delve into the fiber arts. But it does fascinate me and I love seeing what my fiber arts friends produce.

Art journaling, or the craft of recording your thoughts and feelings and events using images, is something I constantly talk about here on D*I*Y Planner. Fabric Art Journals is an extension of this concept. These journals are created using fabric pages and sometimes bound by fabric. Artists write in their journals either by with fabric words or painted words. It's a fascinating new way of journaling that lets anyone, who prefers fabric arts to paper, in on the scene. I've seen a lot of really nifty journals out there that combine elements of traditional quilting, felting, and custom needlepoint together to weave a personal and unique book. Some of the journals don't even take the form of a traditional book. I've seen artists who create their "books" by using wall hangings or pillows that tell specific moments, like the birth of their child or marriage. Anything goes when you get around to making a fabric journal.

two page spread, by emmyThe world of fabric art journaling is more fluid and flexible than their paper based cousins. Pam Sussman, author of Fabric Art Journals, compares traditional paper art journaling to fabric art journals by stating that in "a paper book world, everything cuts neatly." Paper cutters can be used to cut precise papers, guide rulers are used to make sure that the holes for stitching line up perfectly straight, and binders use bone folders to get the perfect edges on their signatures and covers. All these straight rules get tossed out the window when one starts dabbling with fabric paper and books. Your fabric books may be floppy and prone to never standing up by themselves; weird fibers may pop out or in between the signatures of your journals. But there's one thing that fabric art journals have in common. They are as unique as their artists and these artists find new and innovative ways to use their fabric and fiber stashes to get their creativity down on the page.

The malleability and versatility of fabric based journals intrigues me. They seem to be designed upon layer and layer of art and personal symbolism. Starting with the base, or page, that gets sewn together. Artists use either hand-stitching methods or machine stitching methods to piece the various fabrics together to create their page. Even the choice in which sewing style adds to the artwork-- by producing its own interesting patterns and style. The threads used also add texture to the fabric pages. After the base page gets formed, artists can either add words to their page or embellish their art by sewing or adding more things to the page. Artists keen on using words for their page also have a variety of means of doing so. Some artists cut words and shapes out of fabrics and glue them into their pages with fusible materials. Others use embroidery floss to "write" the words into the fabric with free form stitching. And still others enjoy using fabric paints, like Jacquard, or Sharpie markers to print straight onto the material itself. Fabric paints are also great for applying or adding color and texture to a basic fabric color. You can find Jacquard or other fabric paints at your local art supply store.

Knick-knack embellishments like charms, shells, and beads also adorn many fabric art journal pages. Artists use a free-form of embroidery technique to sew beads onto their books and weave them into intricate patterns that sparkle and shine. Embellishing with shells, beads or other items helps to give your art journals a bit of 3-dimensional atmosphere. I love the way that the hand-stitched books look. They're tactile and beg to be touched, with your fingers tracing every line of stitching. Patterns get woven in and these add another dimension to the books that you can't traditionally get unless you sew on a printed page. This DOES happen, by the way. I've done it... haphazardly; I also know many artists who use their machines to weave neat patterns into their journal pages. The sky's the limit for what you can add to your book.

pillow journal, unknown artistA while ago, I had a friend who saw that someone was making a series of pillows with journal entries on them. She decided that while she loved the idea of this fabric journal, she was going to take this idea and modify it. Her plans were to create small quilt squares and then stitch them together to make a blanket or wall hanging. In making these "books", artists gather art scraps or use fat quarters to design and layout a background for their journal entry and then they use a fabric-based paint (like Jacquard) or a sharpie to write a small paragraph about the entry. Some even go as far as to make their own pillows so that they're not confined to traditional square shapes (which further reinforces the idea of a book-shape). They can be stitched either by hand or by machine. Artists then display the journals on their furniture or on a shelf where they can be admired for the personal history and stories they contain.

Another interesting journal page idea I've seen artists do involves cross-stitching. This subset of embroidery has the artist use colored string (called floss) and sew it into soft canvasses to make a picture. Art stores sell all sorts of patterns for cross-stitchers and there's tons of colors of thread to choose from. So how does this long-standing embroidery tradition become part of an art journal? I've got a cross-stitched frame that has my full birth name, date of birth, and astrological sign from when I was a baby. This old (not THAT OLD!) piece of artwork, is a great example of using cross-stitching to mark a moment in one's life. However, more recently, I've seen examples online where the artist creates a custom cross-stitching pattern from a cross-stitching software. They then stitch up the patterns on a stiff backing that can take abuse. Multiple entries are done this way and then when the artist has enough of them, they get bound, or tied with other scraps of fabric, and made into books that capture their thoughts or stories. Then an artist makes custom needlepoint journal entries. Others just capture a moment of their life and sew it onto a canvas only to be framed. Unfortunately, when I went to go find the page that had this example of creating a REAL book from cross-stitching, I was not able to find it.

* Blah blah blah. No, really. I could tell you all about how to make one of these things my way, but the fact is that each of these fabric journals are as unique as their owner/creators. You want to make yours out of artist-grade canvas and oil paintings done on the fly? Fine. You want to do one made of cheap muslin and a stapler? Also fine. Fabric journals are as unique as the one who creates them. For inspiration, go check out the websites and book resources. Drool and when you're done, go play with all that fabric you've acquired. Images used in this article were taken online from multiple sources (I cited the authors in the alt tag on the image rollover. Unfortunately, there's one I could not originally find where I found this from).

Book and Web Resources
Fabric Art Journals This book, serves as a primer to the world of making books and journals with fabric elements. Like many art books, Fabric Art Journals introduces you to this art by giving a bit of background history. Then it tells you what items you might need to begin creating and sewing your own books together. Finally, the book gives you projects and lots of examples to show you what you can make.

Fabric Art Workshop While the first book serves to introduce you to the wild world of art journals, then this book is the mad scientist. In it, there are all sorts of weird and fun examples of pushing your fabric arts into new art forms. Includes tips on fusing fibers, fusing images into the fabric, rusting techniques, and painting.

Fabric Art Journals This blogger site shows many wonderful examples of fabric art journals. From what I can gather, this site contains many works done by one artists group whose members swap journals that allow other artists to play in a new book. It's an on-going project that just invites artists of any design to play. Some of the images for this article came from this site.

Fabric Art Journal LiveJournal community The LJ community seeks to share journals; discuss tips, tricks, and ideas; and promote the idea of using fiber to journal thoughts with. "Felt, fiber, yarn, wool, hand-woven, embroidered, beaded, painted and other means of fabric-dominant pages are welcomed to be demonstrated here."

* Inspiration for this conclusion "double-dog-dared" by eliza metz. I had NO choice but to accept it. Now, go play.

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A fabulous write-up, and

A fabulous write-up, and thanks for the link to our Fabric Artjournals group page. The photos used are from Emmy Schoonbeek's book; second photo shows my page for her on the right--Emmy will have to tell you whose the facing page is!

Sure thing, and thanks for

Sure thing, and thanks for the notations. :) I tried contacting you/her on the site a few days ago, for official permission but I didn't get a response. Hope this is okay (I did put alt tags with the artist credit in the article).

Do you guys still hold round robins? I've been enjoying watching your arts!


Members of the group have

Members of the group have moved on to other exchanges, and forms. Most of us have continued with the book as an artform in private, but not collectively, though some of us are involved with a different project, The Exquisite Corpse Textile Round Robin, now, kind of an "open face sandwich book" i suppose you could call it! :}

Second photo, page on left

Second photo, page on left is by Samantha Da Costa. Second photo,page on right by arlee barr,first photo is book cover and binding by Emmy Schoonbeek. Thanks again!

first photo

hi there, I tried to correct the credits when this article first appeared but the comment didn't appear, have just come across this page again and wanted to let you know that the first photo is mine not Emmy Schoonbeek. The book was the result of a page swap with friends and the cover was made by one of the ladies in the swap. I'm pleased that you liked it enough to illustrate your article but would appreciate the right credit. thanks

Not yet

I own the book Fabric Art Journals and I look at it over and over again, so much beautiful projects. Though I haven't made a fabric journal yet. Maybe I should, this summer. Thanks for the inspiration!

my creative blog

*nudge nudge* do it!

I think you should totally do this. And show us pictures on flickr. :)

Glad I could help enable, er, i mean... inspire. :)

...who's full of smiles today...

instigate ?

"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

What inspiration! Thanks

What inspiration! Thanks for sharing. Love the idea of creating a fabric journal with staples, since I don't sew. I have an art journal in progress;I have glued fabric in it and even in my moleskines and planners!
Too much of everything [I love] is just enough.
~Calvin & Hobbes

Fabric guest book

Thanks Innowen for the fascinating article.

It got me thinking that a fabric guest book might be fun.

Imagine asking friends and family staying over to add to the journal. Perhaps they could add to the guest book by choosing a piece of fabric they liked from the journalist's supply, or using fabric paints to write a message, or bringing something from their home, etc.

oohers, now THAT is a great

oohers, now THAT is a great idea.

At first i thought you meant just making a fabric cover for a guest book, but i like yer idea better.

Of course, you could keep the supplies in a box or sewing kit and invite them to play... that way they have everything that they need right in your room. I know when we have guests stay the night at our house, i tend to invite them to play with the craft goodies i keep in my studio.

you never know what fun you'll have.