The Decennia Scrapbook

It is now all put together. The Decennia Scrapbook. The size is 20″ x 22″ x 1″. Hard bound with a Toji or stab binding. It is my life in decades as I remember them. They are memories fixed to a cloth that was cut or torn to 18″ x 18″ and then stitched through to hold the small bits and pieces that represent a recollection of a time or incidence of importance.

Here is the inside cover with title and part of the page of my first ten years.

I did not like the word “decade”. It sounds hard or harsh is more like it. So I looked up synonyms for that word and came up with “decennium”. Now that sounded better. The plural could be just add an “s” or use the one I chose, decennia. My spell check still does not like it, but I do.

I sewed by hand each single cloth page to one side of a narrow cloth folio that would be the unseen part inside the toji binding stitches. After those were stacked up and lightly glued in place I could tell how large the board covers would have to be cut….19.5 x 21.25. And after filling the narrow spine folios with spare thin strips of board, I could estimate the depth the spine board would have to be.

Now for the laying out. Of course there is no lokta paper large enough to do all the cover sections at one go, so then it was picking out separate papers that came the closest to the scrapbook I had as a young girl.  Mine was green, the construction paper pages were a cream color. It was bound like the early photo albums….a strong lacing between two holes in a section of the front cover on the extreme left.  This allowed the front cover to be flipped open where it would lay flat.

Next figure out how much paper I had to go over the back full size cover of 21.25 inches, leave a space, one inch spine piece, and finally the piece that would come over to the cover and hold the folios firm. There was only a few inches to spare on the end and the top and bottom sides barely reached over to the inside when I glued them down with a good stretchy mixture of corn starch paste and PVA glue.

When all stacked and held in place, I used the drill to make the holes in four places along the seam of front cover and side panel.

The cover had to be decided on. At first I wanted the title on the outside cover. Bad idea. The font I wanted was hard to make a pattern of and cut out. But typical of how I work, that is not evident until it is all finished on another piece of paper (complete with some stitching) that I had hoped to glue to the cover.  Not good….bit tacky actually. So I decided to use some of the dyed scraps from the narrow folios and stitch them to papers approximately their same size with the most often used thread from inside the book. Then glue those to another piece of the same cloth.

Here is where that cloth came from. A cotton drop cloth colored with rusty bits, etc in the yard a few years ago.

I have got a lot of mileage from this drop cloth and will be using this technique in my class next week at the John C Campbell Folk School class called, “Making Pages, Making Books, Making Art”. Anyway scraps of this cloth and other ones using those hardware drop cloths have been pretty handy. The cloth frays nicely and feels good in the hand. I’d make clothes out of it if it wouldn’t make me look like I was washed up somewhere.

Back to the scrapbook. Here is the 20 – 30 year page. I like this one. Married, mother, housewife setting up housekeeping and immersing myself totally into all that that implies. On a bit of an aside, when I was seeing if I qualified for social security about ten or twelve years ago, the lovely woman across the desk told me that I certainly did. I did not have to have a dead husband to receive a percentage of what he had paid in. She said I had earned it by being there taking care of everything on the home front. She smiled and told me they called women like me “dinosaurs” because we were dying out. After my time, most women had to have jobs to make ends meet. And of course most of those women of my era who sought careers were trained as teachers or nurses. And the training for those cost money not available. So here I am on this page of 20 -30 years of age.

I like how the behind the scenes stitching of my adolescent years informs a bit of this page. And how about that dishtowel? Is there anything that says “housewife” like a dishtowel?

And another favorite page. Thinking of myself as an artist with things to say and the move south. Going back to college and settling in to just being immersed in a new but familiar place.

And another favorite. The one after this. The start of travel and a very long love affair with Australia.

I love how these pages flop over to the left, how you can’t help but touch all the parts, how they make noise of rustling paper, how soft they feel, how they make me smile.

And how even closed there is is a bit of memory escaping out the side. Tucking it back in gives me another look at who I was before I got here. I even put in a blank page of very thin silk in case I make it into the ninth decade….80 -90. Who knows? I might need someone to thread my needle for me but I am quite sure I will have things to remember and put on the page. As you can see by the pages shown here, the quality of stitches is of little importance so that won’t be a problem later either.

Thoughts for Today

A brief look outside this morning as the sun was coming up. I wanted to take a good look before retreating to the studio for next few days. Although the fog is lifting here in Brasstown North Carolina, I feel it settling over our world. There are new blurred lines of ethics, rights and common decency that have eroded our sense of well being and trust. I just want to look somewhere else for now. Retreat into my own space and make the most of something….anything.

The deer in the shadows below just outside the dining room window this morning sees me watching and after one glance up goes back to what he came for….breakfast of corn and birdseed.

There are lovely details in the half dark of the front yard. The corral branches of a Japanese maple  against the grey stone of the house.

Rain drops clinging to branches.

And that silly school of wine bottle fish outside my studio window.

One of them is here on the eighth decade page of my scrapbook in the making.

I will add one more cloth page….left blank of course because it will presume that I will have at least a start on an ninth decade. A nice gauzy eighteen inch square with lots of fraying should capture whatever will be going on then.

Once I get them all stitched to their narrow cloth folios that butt into the spine area of the scrapbook, I will make the hard board covers. The front cover will be toji bound over a thin strip of board to allow the cover and pages to open flat. I love how it feels, how the cloth pages just flop over to the left and I see all the marks of that decade that were happening behind my awareness. This was such a good idea to do this for myself. To make a scrapbook like the one I had as a child where I would glue in pictures of all the things, THINGS, I thought were important to have. And now this….a record of recollections, metaphorical and real, of how I remember a decade….one after the other.

I will leave you with this poem I wrote a couple of years ago and return to my pages, my specimens and other poems and stories waiting in the studio.

Time for Poetry

By Sandy Webster


I don’t know where my pad of paper is

the one where I started to write about aging

I thought it was over there on the corner table – but no

another yellow, lined legal pad

with pages torn away exposing the next blank page

waiting for words.


It is a foggy dreary morning

a day to read poetry

or write it.

the mood is right for both

a mood where we want to wallow in feelings

ours or someone else’s.


Sun, birdsong, a gentle touch

would lighten the load

but what we have is dense air

a crow’s moan and loneliness.


I sit at the desk and lift a pen

The air is heavy

I am heavy

we each feel our weight pulling us downward

as we cling to surfaces that want us to move elsewhere.


It is time for poetry.

Staying Focused

It has been difficult to stay as focused on my work and my routines this past several months. In September my husband was diagnosed with early dementia. Things change. We change. I don’t change easily but I have learned that I can. It has taken time to focus and take advantage of the time I can have in the studio….learning when is the best time to afford the luxury of peace that making art gives to me.

For weeks I quit doing my tai chi and yoga because I could not focus on the moves and made excuses to simply not do it. The time I always spent on this was late afternoon when work in the studio was pretty much at a standstill. But it seemed that the distraction of being needed elsewhere came more often at that time. I would start and stop one thing after another while getting used to how things will be.

When I took my lessons in the three kodas I learned in tai chi, it was twenty years ago. I decided then that I would make a book of the moves, illustrating them and describing how they were done. My teacher said she had never heard of such a thing. I told her I wanted to do tai chi into my nineties and knew that by then would need some help remembering. The book would be that needed prompt. After so many weeks of ignoring the practice, I found I needed this book. I would start over and over and over until the body remembered. Sometimes in the middle I would freeze, forget, want to quit, but I didn’t. Some of the yoga stretches and stances are harder after such an absence of practice. My body feels more “blocky”, hard to maneuver. This will take more time and pushing myself.

Here are some pictures of my treasured little book. It started as a lesson in hard covered traditional binding of a blank journal. Not the best job and I really do hate blank pages, so it seemed perfect for the job of translating what was giving me some inner peace and strength into a visual and useful form… instructional manual so to speak.

I really am so glad that I took my lessons so seriously as to make this book for “when I am ninety”.

Meanwhile in the studio when we got the prognosis, I made pages, lots of pages that I gessoed and then stitched using a sewing notion tool to get the stitches exactly the same size. When I felt particularly at a loss, I would draw into them with graphite and only the watercolors made from the soils of our yard. Each folio is only about 4.5 x 3.5 inches. I could keep my lost feelings small and get them over with….and get on with it…..whatever “it” was that day. At first I colored several of them. Then I put them into a wooden box where they fit perfectly and are there if I need them….but not so often now. Here are a few of those pages.

When I found the stack of gessoed boards a while back I decided to just use them with silver point drawings that were then to be water colored. The first one was the drawing of trees in a forest with a magical door to something…..just somewhere else. The silver point drawing was nice and took lots of time. It was all coming out of my head….something I don’t normally do….I like something physical in front of me to draw. Anyway after I drew it, I decided to watercolor it, then add caran ‘dache crayons. It became very muddy, so I took it outside and used my electric sander over the surface. It made me see how memory is. You think its there, all in order and bright and clear…and then parts fade, parts get stuck, parts become even more parts. I may have posted this before on my blog, but here it is in the context of where we were at the time.

These gessoed boards were not well done….far from it, so they were perfect to work on. I liked how this one in particular even developed a hole right down to the wooden base. It personifies fading memories.

Then I started on the other gessoed boards. Just taking some of my collected bits and pieces and capturing them as best I could. And now I am doing more of them with the fabricated specimens. Some will be framed, some will be exhibited in a large open drawer on a table below them ….looking like an actual specimen collection. Building an imaginary something with spare parts. Then recording it as if it truly mattered. And to me right now it does. They are something I can control and see to completion. Here is the latest one in the studio yesterday. I don’t know if I am through with all the details, but it is very satisfying to work on.

And thanks to a very supportive collection of family and friends, my trip to Australia will be just as wonderful as all the rest that came before. They will take turns staying here at the house and make sure that all runs smoothly. I am extremely lucky to have them all so willing to take over. And as much as I have said it before, almost every trip down under, this might be my last time there. I intend to make the most of it and have the best time with students and friends ever. A new suitcase that is just the right size arrives tomorrow and there are collections of relative materials ready to pack inside. My boards for white line printing are all cut and sanded, samples of books and bindings, tools for making earthen pigments….lots of things are waiting to be put into that suitcase.

Speaking of Australia, yesterday two things arrived in the mail. One was from a friend in the art group. He subscribes to Archaeology magazine and sent a wonderful article on the remains of bushranger, Ned Kelly. The other was so generous and unexpected. I wish I could put a face to the woman who took the time and certainly expense to send me this year’s book by Kim Mahood, an Australian writer and artist, titled, Position Doubtful….mapping landscapes and memories. In italics on the back cover it says as follows:

Imagine the document you have before you is not a book but a map. It is well-used, creased, and folded, so that when you open it, no matter how carefully, something tears and a line that is neither latitude nor longitude opens in the hidden geography of the place you are about to enter.

Isn’t that wonderful! Bruce Pascoe says, “Mahood is a writer of country. Her chapters unfurl like the ribbons of red dunes.”

The woman who sent me this most perfect gift wrote a note telling me that she took a class of mine many years ago and recently bought my book on Earthen Pigments. She found it to be very helpful in her efforts to extract colors from the ground. And when she bought the Mahood book for herself she found that halfway through she kept thinking of me, so sent me this copy.

I am so grateful. It could not have arrived at a more perfect time. There is magic and memory in the grounds we walk on. Thank you, Kathy Salter for reminding me of this. Maybe our paths will cross while I am back in your much-loved country.

Now back to the studio or wherever I need to be.