Handmade notebooks are not notebooks!

I finally took the plunge and got to do what I always, romantically, wanted to do: have my very own craft business. I dabbled in a few things as an amateur. But I also used to be a voracious reader drowning in a tsunami of books, all read, all cornered and all annotated. But reading about life, things and trivia did not fill that persistent need for a good book, nor did it answer all my nagging questions about our modern lifestyle. I also loved words, quotes, alphabets, I collected pens, yet the right word never came. It became obvious, then, that if I was to produce the right book with the right words, it would have to be blank

Leather Notebook with Japanese Kyoseishi paper
Leather Notebook with Japanese Kyoseishi paper

and handcrafted. Hence, Huga was born. And so I make handmade notebooks and journals, complemented, hopefully, with hand-calligraphy pieces. With great trepidation, my focus shifted from the dry factual printed words to the sensual pleasure of writing with a nib, smelling the ink and seeing the paper slowly absorb its blemish. I love the sensual aspects of crafts.

To give a blank handmade book is to offer the opportunity to dream about possibilities, to wonder about what could be recorded, to stop for a moment to just pause. Disconnected from the world, we can at last reconnect with oneself. I know of a lady with a shelf full of traveler’s journals left blank, yet each with their own story. A blank screen from Kindle is just a power failure. What “could be” suddenly eclipses the actual notebook in a way a screen could never be .

Handcrafting is a journey of reconnection and mindfulness, the quality declines if one is rushed, upset or under pressure. Crafting is a way to let go and let be.  But if making is not an option, understanding the skills involved in the making brings up yet other dimensions. The mulberry paper is made by hand, in a community that lives off the harvesting and processing of a useful but aggressive plant. Brass buttons are from a street where the noise of the hammering, the dust from the polishing and the heat of the furnace sustain a community under threat from the damage of mass-produced, cheaper and more convenient goods.

Craft is a collective effort whilst, for me, art is more individual. A little like Taichi and Yoga, both make you grow but I like the ecosystem embedded in any craft item.  Having an appreciation for where raw materials come from, and it is not always pretty, not only makes the book look different, your surroundings also look different.

Leitrim cloudscape
Leitrim cloudscape

Someone told me Leitrim, where I live, looks drab. I think it is stunningly rich and beautiful. Indeed I see the medicinal properties of the plants around me, the sculpted hills and the play of light in the clouds or peat. For the less observant, the weather is wet, the vegetation is overgrown and the hills just in the way. So craft reconnects with self, other communities and Nature. And do we not need a little more of these in this fast, selfish, one dimensional world where everything is reduced to stuff with a price?

Some say, crafts also reconnect with a cultural heritage and maybe even revitalise it. I only agree to a point. The African Dogon were famed for their masks: highly sacred objects used in religious ceremonies. That’s until they attracted the tourists and collectors and became just that: stuff made for tourists and collectors. The Celtic visual art is very rich but do you not cringe seeing it cheapened to death sometimes? Should we turn Yeats into some honey for tourists with Yeatseyland tours and gimmicky displays? Or tastefully merge his sensibility with the landscape and appealingly enhance both?

Crafts and tourism are apparently a match made in heaven. Well, I think only if craft is not reduced to an industry or economic output. It has to be realised as an ecosystem, deeply embedded in, often rural, communities. People with integrity,  nurturing traditional know-hows and sustainable ways of life.

So please do join me in this journey, for becoming skilled is a journey. Handmade notebooks are not notebooks, they are an ecosystem in themselves. So I invite you to muse through my creations, but also explore the “Nice to Know” snippets. They tell a little about where the raw material comes from and the process that leads to the creation of skilled and practical objects of beauty.

Some references about the craft industry in Ireland:

Check our resources page, if you are interested in this wonderful area…