BBC’s The Repair Shop, or: Craftsmanship & Self-Doubt

We don’t watch a great deal of television here at Earthworks. We have a TV near the workbench and once in a while we’ll have a film on in the background. We often listen to audiobooks while we’re working but, more often than not, you’ll find me and Samantha listening to music while we’re making your leather journals.

But, a few days ago, one of us switched on the TV for some reason. It was around 4:45 in the afternoon and the TV was set to BBC1. We were greeted by a craftsperson at a workbench renovating a leather footstool. We were entranced. We had discovered ‘The Repair Shop’! Apparently, it’s on its fourth series (we’re always late to the party!)

the repair shop - bbc

If you haven’t watched The Repair Shop before (and I highly recommend that you do) it’s a celebration of craftsmanship hosted by talented furniture restorer Jay Blades and the concept is this… a group of skilled craftspeople from varying professions have set up shop in a beautiful barn at The Weald & Download Open Air Museum; people visit and bring their treasured possessions, items which have been passed down through the generations, items with huge sentimental value, items which have aged and become worn, damaged and broken. These items are left with the experts who go on to repair, renovate and restore them to their former glory before returning them to their owners.

It’s a beautiful programme, a bit like Bagpuss for grown-ups (not that Bagpuss isn’t for grown-ups too, of course!)

bagpuss mending song - earthworks journals

The Repair Shop has a simple concept perhaps, but the key to it is the emotional relevance people imbue these items with. They have been handed down through the family and the original owners have usually passed away; these items now belong to the children or grandchildren of the original owner and, in some small way, the items contain a little bit of the spirit of the deceased loved one. It’s lovely to see the emotional outpourings when the items are returned, how a simple keepsake can bring that person back, if only for a moment.

While watching the programme in awe Samantha turned to me and said, “These people are so skilled!” I replied, “I know, it’s lovely to see such incredible craftspeople”; we then went on to discuss how amazing it must be to be so skilled at your chosen craft. A few seconds went by and we looked down at our workbench, I was hand tooling an elaborate Celtic design into the cover of an as yet undyed leather journal and Samantha was delicately hand applying a leather dye to another which had just been tooled. We looked at each other and laughed, a strangely nervous laugh.

A4 CELTIC TRISKELE SPIRAL BINDER - EARTHWORKS JOURNALS A4B018

I want to talk about Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is apparently an incredibly common phenomenon in which an individual feels inadequate at their chosen profession and lives in constant fear of being exposed as a fraud. I think the highly acclaimed author Neil Gaiman writes about it best with this famous quote:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that at any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened The Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read.

And also in this remarkable anecdote from Neil Gaiman’s blog:

Neil Gaiman on Imposter Syndrome

Both Samantha and I feel like this every day. If we think about it logically we know that we have sent thousands of hand made leather journals and binders all over the world in our 19 years of making them and out of those we have only had four customers who were unhappy with the quality of their item when it arrived (yes… 4. We remember each one of them like a knife to the heart!). But that still doesn’t stop us fretting about it; it still doesn’t stop us worrying about that metaphorical knock at the door. Each time we send the packaged up journals out in the post we worry about angry emails from people saying “How dare you call yourselves craftspeople!”

But then, perhaps it shouldn’t be called Imposter Syndrome, I suspect the majority of people feel that overwhelming sense of self-doubt. Perhaps even those wonderful and highly skilled craftspeople at The Repair Shop also feel it too. Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps it drives us on closer and closer to perfection? From our own perspective, that fear of being ‘found out’ makes us try harder, not only in the actual crafting of the item but everything else connected with it, from the accounting to the customer service.

It’s a strange thing that even the knowledge that the vast majority of our customers are happy doesn’t allay the fear of not being good enough. We get nothing but glowing reviews on our Etsy shop, we’ve even had Thank You cards sent through the post, and we receive lots of emails every week from people saying how happy they are with our work… and we cannot tell you how much these messages mean to us, they are our lifeline. And, just like in The Repair Shop, we have even had customers moved to tears when they’ve opened their parcel. I think this has something to do with the personal nature of what we make, leather journals are naturally an intimate item; we begin the process by making the journal and the recipient completes the item by filling it with their thoughts. Just like the items people take to The Repair Shop, the journal is truly imbued with the person who owned it, their hands will have created a unique patina on the leather outside and their intimate thoughts will have filled the pages inside. It’s no wonder people become so emotionally attached to them.

A customer with her Earthworks Wraparound Journal

A customer’s own photo of her with her Earthworks Wraparound Journal

We’ve been moved to tears ourselves on occasion too. We’ve had more than one customer who have been told they have a terminal illness and need a journal to write down their story to pass on to their children. Another customer asked us to tool their family crest onto a binder so they could fill the binder with memories and present it to their grandfather who was spending his last days in a hospice; they even sent us a photo afterwards, which we treasure, of them presenting the binder to him. And then there are the books for public buildings, memorial books for churches and cathedrals, items that will become a part of the building’s history. It’s requests like these that make our hearts beat a little faster and make us think… are we really good enough to be making things for such important purposes? But, despite that self-doubt nagging in the background, we do our very best.

Our unofficial company motto should be: “We worry so our customers don’t have to!”

Who knows, if The Repair Shop is still being shown in decades to come (and I hope it is, it deserves to be a national treasure on a par with Antiques Roadshow), perhaps someone will bring in their grandparent’s Earthworks journal for restoration! And you can think of me, I’ll be the one cringing in my grave and fretting that those skilled craftspeople will secretly be mocking the workmanship!!

the repair shop 2 - bbc

Hospitals, Holidays and Human Kindness, or: Self-employment and the scarcity of sick days.

Christmas is always a busy time for us here at Earthworks, we work all hours in the run up to the holiday season so that we can fit all the orders in. It takes a lot of organisation, not only with the strictly coordinated work list but with our own Christmas shopping for our family too. We wrote a bit about the pre-Christmas stresses on a previous blog post here:

The Quiet Before the Storm

This year though, we had it all planned. As usual the orders came in thick and fast and, as usual, each customer was booked onto the work list and given a precise dispatch date for their order. We’re old hands at this now so it was all going smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that we decided to spare some time and go hand-made with the presents for our families too, a selection of home-made liqueurs and sweets; with military precision the times were allotted for these too. All sorted, all organised, nothing could go wrong.

Or so we thought!

earthworks journals - preparing the orders for shipping

November 30th arrived and Samantha started to feel a little under the weather, nothing much, a bit more tired than usual and a bit of an upset tummy. The next day came and the upset tummy turned into a full blown stomach bug. As the days passed Samantha got worse and worse and we presumed it was a bout of gastroenteritis. Of course, this could have put a spanner in the works of our carefully designed work list but Samantha is very tough, very stubborn and very ‘self-employed’ and refuses to let a silly thing like a violent virus get in the way; so, as much as she could, she worked through it.

She did, of course, visit the GP who confirmed that it was gastroenteritis and that it would run its course soon. Ten days later and Samantha was even worse, so ill that she couldn’t get up off the sofa, this was just not like her so I phoned the GP again and got an appointment for that afternoon.

By 5pm, we were sitting amongst the walking wounded in the A&E department of our hospital. It turned out that the ‘bit of a stomach bug’ Samantha had been working through was a burst appendix! In a flurry of activity by the incredibly amazing hospital staff, she was soon hooked up to a drip (massively dehydrated), pumped full of painkillers and antibiotics, scanned, questioned and examined. Samantha wasn’t going to be coming back home with me!

Since Samantha and I moved in together in 1993, we’ve only spent one night apart… and that was when I had to stay in the hospital overnight (due to an over-zealous jig… but that’s another story!), so it was a new experience for me. I got home at about 3 in the morning, the house was dark and cold, Tanner and Hob (our Border Terriers) had no idea what was going on. I looked at the mountain of work that was to be done, thought about my Sam in hospital and felt a bit lost and alone. I fell asleep cuddling Tanner and Hob. However bad things get, the closeness of a dog will always make things more bearable.

tanner and hob - border terriers - earthworks journals

Sam remained in hospital for the next five days. The surgeon made an incision just to the side of the base of her spine and inserted a pipe into her abdomen to drain the pus which had collected there into a bag which hung by her bed. There was so much of the foul smelling stuff! We still do not know just how long this had been going on for but the scans showed that a series of abscesses had formed around the appendix, each time one started to leak, Sam’s body walled it off by growing another abscess next to it. The growth ended up so large that it was pressing on one of her kidneys and semi-blocking her rectum. The surgeon said that a day or two longer and we would have lost the kidney altogether. Any longer than that and Samantha could have died.

As you can imagine, this was quite a stressful time. Of course, I visited Samantha in hospital twice a day. Then there was the question of the work. Although I worked every hour I was not with Samantha I knew that, with one half of the Earthworks workforce missing, there was no way I was going to get all of the orders completed to get them out in time for Christmas.

But I had a bloody good go at it!

It was good to have the work to sink into. Being at my workbench, handling the tools and materials which I’ve become so familiar with over the years, has a habit of stilling my mind; there can be something quite meditative about it. Although the work didn’t completely block out my worries, it certainly helped; without being that busy I know that I would have been a bit of a wreck.

jason in the workshop - earthworks journals

Then, of course, came the time when I knew which orders would not be completed before Christmas and I would have to contact those customers. There was something very upsetting about this. In all our years of business, we have never sent out a single item later than the day promised. Something we’ve always been very proud of. However, here it was… and just before Christmas too, when most of them were intended as gifts for loved ones.

I sent out the emails of apology, explaining the situation and offering every customer the opportunity of a full refund. I expected a few disappointed or angry replies and I was certain that most would want the refund. Without wishing to sound cavalier about the situation, the money was another real consideration for us, we do not earn a great deal from what we do and we rely on the boost in Christmas sales to help us through the year but if we’ve let people down then it’s only fair that we accept that responsibility. With the emails sent I nervously waited for the replies.

Not a single person wanted to cancel their order! Not a single person!! Not only that, every customer was so kind. Reply after reply of encouragement and hope came in, telling me not to worry, that they can wait for their order, that our loved ones are more important than possessions, telling me to make sure that I looked after myself as well as Samantha. I’d been doing my best to hold my emotions in until this point but I’m not afraid to admit that I shed a tear or two at those emails, the sheer kindness of people overwhelmed me (…ok, I actually sobbed like a baby right there at the computer, but don’t tell anyone).

Anyway, Samantha was well enough to come home again five days after being admitted. Still weak and still with the drain and pus-bag attached, which became her constant Christmas companion and got removed the day after Boxing Day. Every order was completed and dispatched in time for the second promised date. Oh, and our families hand-made liqueurs and sweets? We finished those over the Christmas week and they became New Year presents instead.

Samantha’s still not quite up to full strength but she is doing very well and has a follow-up consultation at the hospital next week. She never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Through all of this she as remained bright and happy, even the nurses on her ward said how it was easy to forget just how ill she was as she gave the appearance of being so well.

It perhaps seems a bit strange writing about this personal incident on our business blog, although the business and the personal tend to blur in our situation. I suppose it’s just to say thank you. Thank you to the amazing NHS staff for saving Sam’s life. Thank you to our wonderful customers for being so kind and supportive (you’ll never know how much your kindness helped us through this). And most of all, thank you to Samantha for being incredibly strong and courageous… and, y’know, for not dying.

Different Ways of Seeing: or, Taking The Road Less Travelled By.

 

SUN DOGS - EVENING WALK NORTHAMPTONSHIRE - EARTHWORKS JOURNALS

It’s been a strange year.

Our regular customers will know that we launched our new and improved website one year ago to combat the lacklustre look and poor performance of the old one. Even though the things we make, and us as people, are quite analogue, we still need to keep up with new technology; striking that peculiar balance between the hand-made nature of the journals and the mind-bending technology needed to get people to see those journals.

Admittedly, we’ve never been totally comfortable in this new technological age but we’ve learnt that we need to keep our eyes and minds open to it because, if we do not embrace change early, then those changes will probably overwhelm us later on.

We’re pleased to report that here and now, one year later, all the hard work seems to have paid off. We’ve had some lovely messages from our old customers to let us know how good the new website looks and how much easier it is to use than the old one and we’ve been getting plenty of new friends of Earthworks Journals too.

Of course, this increase in customers has meant that we have been very busy in the workshop. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that our waiting list has been a bit longer, that we haven’t been keeping up with social media and that we haven’t sent a newsletter out for a while.

But, we’d just like to let you know that, even though we haven’t been on social media and that we haven’t sent out a newsletter for a while, it doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate you! We do! Very much! It’s just that we haven’t had much time to do anything else.

Not that we tend to do much else, anyway. We lead a strange and insular life in our workshop home; just the two of us with our two Border Terriers, Tanner and Hob. We’re not ones for socialising; we don’t go to pubs or out for meals; we rarely go to the theatre or cinema; we don’t go shopping (bar the occasional rummage around a bric-a-brac shop or second-hand bookshop); we inhabit our own world.

Our one diversion is walking.

Often we will spend weekends going on, what we call, our big walks. These are usually around 10 miles long, planned out by plotting three random points on an OS map and finding a route between them. This means that we usually miss out on the well-worn picturesque locations but we do find some peculiar and interesting places along the way:

But even these ‘big walks’ have been put on the back burner this year due to the combination of a heavy workload and the abnormally hot summer (neither us nor the dogs do well in the heat). Even the daily dog walk was changed in the exceptional summer this year; rather than going out mid-afternoon, we started to take the dogs out to our local woods late in the evening, just as it was getting dark.

It’s remarkable what a difference a simple change can make if we embrace it rather than fight against it. It’s easy to bemoan a change to a well-worn routine without appreciating how it can make us look at life a little differently.

EVENING LIGHT - HARLESTONE FIRS - EARTHWORKS JOURNALS

Obviously, we’ve been out in the woods at night before, but to break a well-established routine and do it every night lets you experience the woods in a different light. Quite literally! Everything is different; the golden glow of the last of the light drifts in sideways and makes the trees look like oil paintings; the musty smells of the forest floor are intensified at night and become strangely comforting; and the sounds! The woods come alive as the darkness arrives. We’ve seen foxes, deer, badgers and bats; all things that shy away from the daytime crowds.

WALKING IN THE WOODS - HARLESTONE FIRS - EARTHWORKS JOURNALS

I think it’s important that we strive to do this once in a while, just to try and see things differently. When we first had the idea to start Earthworks Journals it seemed like a bit of a pipe dream. Could we really make a living making leather journals? On the rare occasion we meet someone and tell them what we do, they often say “What, and you make a living doing that?”. We know it seems unlikely, yet we do. I mean, let’s face it, we’re never going to be rich doing it, but that’s not why we do it. We do it so that we can comfortably inhabit our own world. That was always the plan. To earn enough to pay our own way and not take anything in benefits; to not allow our business to lose its way in the pursuit of money; to be free to live our own life, however small and strange that life may be!

It’s not completely stress free, obviously. We still have to worry about how the next bill is going to be paid, just like everyone else but…

… walking around our woods always makes things right.

I’ve been going there my entire life; I went there as child with my dad; I went there in my teenage years with friends; and I still go there now with Samantha and the dogs. Whenever we get stressed, anxious or unhappy a walk in the woods will, more often than not, help to quell those worries. Some days Samantha and I will walk around excitedly discussing new ideas for Earthworks, other days we will walk around in near silence with our own thoughts. It was in the woods where we discussed and planned this blog post.

I invariably turn to Henry Thoreau quotes on these blog posts to put my transcendentalist ramblings into a far more eloquent form. And this one’s no different:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Or that other great philosopher:

“What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself!”
~ Tom Good, The Good Life

(All photos on this post by Samantha Webster.)

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: or, how a lack of money and a ruthless self-reliance evolved into a craft business.

handmade leather belts - earthworks journals

“When without resources, depend on resourcefulness.”
~ Sun Tzu

Samantha and I have always enjoyed making things. Even before we met, when we were children, our favoured toys were the sort of toys which involved creating; model kits; lego; crayons; paints; even a sheet of paper could become anything you wanted it to be with a child’s imagination. Of course, being brought up in the 1970s, we may well have been products of our time; the whole self-sufficiency kick of the ‘70s meant that we were fed a steady diet of television programmes to get us making and doing. We’re both from working class backgrounds which meant that there wasn’t much money to go round for materials and tools and this made us get creative with our creativity.

Samantha took this passion for making things further and went on to a degree in Fine Art Sculpture at University. Being rather impoverished, Samantha used materials which she could find cheaply or, preferably, for free. This led to an invaluable lesson about materials helping to dictate form. Each material has its own inherent property and it’s this marriage between the artist’s intention and the property of the material being used which dictates the final form. This led to an appreciation of the unique beauty of materials in their natural state and how they can be utilised while still retaining that natural beauty; this is something which is still hugely important to us with Earthworks Journals, the importance of enhancing the natural quality of leather rather than disguising it.

I had a bit more of a chequered education/career path and, at the age of 23, I fell into working for The Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust on a year long contract as a Wildlife Ranger. Most of my work here was in forestry and my days were usually filled with coppicing, pollarding and hedge-laying. These practices all create a lot of spare wood and I was given the scope to develop my traditional craft skills while working for Thegreen woodwork - mike abbott Wildlife Trust. It was here another Ranger introduced me to a book which was to become a classic of its type, Green Woodwork by Mike Abbott. Using the directions in Abbott’s book, we built a pole lathe and all of that free green wood we were getting from managing the woodlands was soon being turned into all manner of objects. We took the pole lathe to Country Shows to give demonstrations and sold the items we were making to raise funds to give back to The Wildlife Trust. There was something nicely cyclical about that.

The Self-Reliance of The Craftsperson

Over the years, Samantha and I have developed a ruthless sense of self-reliance. We’ve rarely had periods when we’ve had money going spare but we have built up a good selection of tools and a huge variety of materials, bits & bobs, doodahs, thingummyjigs and whatchamacallits that we can make things from. I’m not saying that we are self-sufficient, far from it, but before buying anything our first recourse is to ask ourselves “Can we make it?”. And the same goes for jobs around the house, we would rather tackle jobs ourselves rather than get someone else to do it for us. Here’s Samantha on a rickety scaffold tower (which we hired very cheaply) repairing the chimney at the back of the house:

sam repairing the chimney - earthworks journals

Of course, given what we do for a living, we do have a large amount of leather offcuts and leather tools around the place and, naturally, we have made ourselves various items out of leather. I thought I’d share a few of these here.

1: The Tandrover:

Many years ago we bought a battered old Pashley tandem. This old beast had travelled across Europe and around India with its previous owner and was looking a bit worse for wear; so we gave it a bit of a spruce up and made a pair of new saddles from natural vegetable tanned leather, added a leaf motif and coated them with neatsfoot oil. These are over a decade old now and well travelled but still look as good as new. They’re buffed to a high shine with the effort of trying to get the weight of the steel-framed tandem up even the most modest of Northamptonshire hills!

vintage pashley tandem - handmade leather saddles - earthworks journals

2: Bags:

Who doesn’t love a decent leather bag? The only problem is that to buy one of decent quality is usually way out of the price range of a humble craftsperson. All of these are hand-stitched and most of the hardware has been salvaged from other items (those buckles on the lighter coloured satchel were from a particularly nice pair of boots I used to own (we never throw decent hardware away!))

handmade vegetable tanned leather satchel - handmade leather clutch bag - earthworks journals

handmade leather saddlebag satchel - oiled natural vegetable tanned leather - earthworks journals

handmade leather bag - waxed leather - earthworks journals

3: Sheaths:

As I said earlier, I used to work as a Ranger for The Wildlife Trust and it was there I developed a love for hand-tools. Me and Samantha have also done a bit of wild camping and we’ve both even taught people outdoor woodcraft/survival skills on occasion. Obviously, when I get a new bladed tool I always make a sheath for it.

The axe is my favourite Gransfors Bruks.

gransfors bruks hatchet - handmade leather sheath - earthworks journals

The strange, long implement is a Nata Jigata; a single bevelled Japanese cleaver – a beautiful thing, literally razor sharp and the best tool I’ve found for snedding.

nata jigata - japanese cleaver - handmade leather sheath earthworks journals

I made the knife myself. The blade came from a Swedish bladesmith and I made the handle using thin layers of birch bark stacked together and sandwiched between the two Holly end caps. The tang runs through the whole handle and rivets at the end. I made the sheath from a natural vegetable tanned leather which I wet-formed around a blade catcher, also made of Holly wood. The leather hanger is ‘mystery’ braided.

handmade knife and sheath - birch bark handle - swedish hand-forged blade - vegetable tanned leather sheath - earthworks journals

4: Shoes:

We haven’t actually made an entire pair of shoes yet but we have repaired and/or customised several existing pairs. Samantha found this pair of shoes in a charity shop, she loved those remarkable wooden soles but the uppers were badly worn and damaged. So, we created a simple mule type upper and matching insole from some oiled vegetable tanned leather with a subtle bit of edge decoration.

reclaimed and customised wedge shoes - handmade leather uppers - carved wooden soles - earthworks journals

5: Belts:

Belts are a particular bugbear of mine. It’s so difficult to find a reasonably priced, good quality leather belt on the high street! Even when they are advertised as leather they are, more often than not, made of leather composite (this is leather dust in a polyurethane carrier rather than an actual strip of leather, leather composite is to leather what mdf is to wood). And it’s not just the cheap brands that are made from leather composite, many of the high-end fashion brands do this too… and not just with belts! Many designer handbags are made from terrible quality ‘leather’. People are buying outrageously priced items thinking that a fancy logo is a promise of quality when it really isn’t. It’s this sort of dishonesty and lack of respect for the customer that makes my blood boil!

So we always make our own belts, like everything else we make, from proper leather and with proper hardware. Things that will hopefully last a lifetime, preferably several lifetimes:

handmade leather belts - vegetable tanned leather - earthworks journals

6: Journals:

And then, of course, there are our journals. I’ve been keeping a journal, on and off, for years so it’s natural that I’d use the ones we make to write in. I’ve built up quite a collection of them over the years. Some of them I keep at home as personal diaries; some of them are well travelled and taken out and about to record notes and thoughts. It’s always fascinating to look back through them at the person I used to be. Here’s a small collection of mine.

earthworks journals - personal collection of leather journals

If you’ve stumbled across this blog post and don’t know what we do here at Earthworks Journals then you can visit the ‘home of the handmade journal’ here earthworksjournals.co.uk

17 years old today!

Earthworks Journals, 17 years of handmade journals.

Earthworks Journals is seventeen years old today!

Who’d have thought that the little amoeba of a business we conceived all that time ago is edging its way cautiously into being a proper grown-up? We feel so proud.

All of that nurturing we did in the early years certainly paid off. Ok, we were quite lucky in that it was always quite well behaved and mostly did what it was told. There were a few sleepless nights when we’d lay awake worrying about it and talking about its future; but everyone does that, right?

And then the last couple of years were a bit tough, but those mid-teen years are always a bit tough. All that work we put in while it was young, trying to socialise it and get it seen in all the right places fell by the wayside. The next time we looked Earthworks was 16 years old and the internet had decided to change all the search engine optimisation rules while we weren’t looking! Honestly, you can’t take your eyes off them for a moment! Still, we caught it just in time and they’re playing together nicely again now.

We thought, as a treat, we’d buy Earthworks Journals a special birthday present this year. It’s been knocking about in a rather clunky old website since it was young and, to be honest, it’s beginning to outgrow it. It still looks ok, if a little old-fashioned, but it is a bit over-complicated, the payment gateway is a bit on the creaky side and it’s impossible to make it look good on mobile devices (which isn’t great as half the world seems to have thrown away their desktop computers).

So, in the spirit of modernity, we’re in the process of creating a shiny new website for Earthworks. We see all these slick young websites coming along with their fashionable good-looks and modern, if somewhat aloof, ways and we think that if we gave Earthworks a spit and polish and a bit of a trim then we could fit its gruff, home-crafted ways into one of those sleek vehicles without losing any of its affability.

So, a very Happy Birthday to Earthworks Journals. We’re proud that it’s still here after 17 years, all thanks to our wonderful customers, new and old. It’s all very exciting, you’ll soon be able to visit Earthworks on a proper up-to-date website; we’re working on it at this very moment and we’ll let you know when it’s ready.

Personalising your journal ~ Part 2: Wraparound Journals.

If you remember, in Part 1 of the post on personalising your journal we spoke about having text on the cover of your carved or plain classic  journal or binder. What? You didn’t read it, you say? Well, you can catch up by reading it here:

Personalising your journal or binder ~ Part 1: Text

But what about our range of wraparound journals? We use a different type of leather on these which is beautifully soft and supple; the style needs this so that the covers can wrap around themselves. However, this suppleness means that we cannot tool text or designs onto the leather covers.

But, all is not lost. We can still personalise them by printing text onto the first page inside. And the best thing is, it’s free of charge for any amount of text (as long as we can fit it onto a single page).

Please note, all photographs of inscriptions on this page are examples only, you can rest assured that your own heartfelt messages will not be displayed here.

So, what font will it be in?

We have three fonts that we commonly use, they are clear and easy to read. We have an Informal Font, which we often use for more personal messages. We have a Classic Font, which is our good all-rounder and looks like the title page of a novel (and it has a beautiful italicised version). Finally we have our Capitalised Font, which is great for single names, initials and for a more formal look.

We have no hard and fast rules about which one we use for an inscription, unless you specifically ask we will use our own judgment. We usually print the text in a colour to complement the cover.

THE INFORMAL FONTTHE CLASSIC FONT

 

 

 

 

 

THE CAPITALISED FONT

Ok, how does the Informal Font look in a journal?

I’m glad you asked! Here it is:

RUGGED BROWN INFORMAL

Informal font

Informal font italicised

Informal font italicised

DISTRESSED SADDLE INFORMAL & ITALICS

Informal font (quotation with italicised author)

How about the Classic Font?

This is our most versatile font and has the benefit of having a stunning italicised version.

DISTRESSED DIRTY BLUE CLASSIC FONT

Classic Font

DISTRESSED OXBLOOD GARDENING CLASSIC FONT & ITALICS

Name in Classic Font with italicised title

RUGGED WOODLAND GREEN ANNIVERSARY CLASSIC ALL ITALICS

Classic Font all italicised

RUGGED SCARLET WEDDING GUESTBOOK CLASSIC ALL ITALICS

Classic Font all italicised

RUGGED CHESTNUT WRITING BOOK CLASSIC & ITALIC

Classic Font with italicised personal message

 

DISTRESSED BROWN CLASSIC & ITALICS QUOTE

Classic Font with italicised quotation

…and the Formal Font?

RUGGED PETROL FORMAL INITIALS

Formal Font initials only

RUGGED BROWN FORMAL

Formal Font with numbers

RUGGED BROWN FORMAL FULL TEXT

Formal Font name & title

Your standard fonts are great, but what if I want something a bit different?

That’s no problem at all. Just send us the text you would like and the font style you would like it to be in (even better, send us the name of the font you would like) and we’ll do our best to match it.

Here are a few examples:

APOCALYPSE SURVIVAL GUIDE

Distressed for that post-apocalyptic look

WHITBY WEDDING

Victorian Gothic for a Whitby Wedding

KEROUAC QUOTE

Typewriter font for the literary quotation

GEORGIAN STYLE

Georgian style for the roguish

FANCY WEDDING

Modern take on traditional wedding script

And that’s about it. It’s all quite simple, if you buy an A6 or an A5 wraparound journal then send us the text you would like and we will add it to the first page for you. And best of all, it’s completely free.

How’s that for a personalised gift?

The Quiet Before The Storm

Every year in the Earthworks workshop, sometime around early to mid-October, it all goes very quiet. The email inbox seems strangely empty, the number of sales drops off considerably, even the amount of questions we receive goes down in number.

In the early days we would often worry about this and think “Oh no, nobody loves us anymore!”

But nowadays, we’ve come to recognise the signs and we fully understand the cause. It’s the pre-Christmas lull. We know you’re all out there, mulling over what Christmas presents you’re going to buy for who but it’s perhaps just a little too early to commit to anything just yet. And, of course, you’re not buying anything for yourself because you’re saving your hard-earned cash to spend on your loved ones.

So, now we know about this temporary period of quietude, what do we do with the time? Of course, we use it wisely and spend it doing our own Christmas shopping! We plan our present buying with military precision and try and get as much of it done as we can now, this is because we know that very, very soon the chaos will begin.

Stocking up on leather for the festive season.

Stocking up on leather for the festive season.

Towards the end of October we’ll see a steady increase in sales and, as the items will be intended as gifts, we’ll get more and more requests for personalisation.

By the beginning of November it will start to get really busy. We usually do all of our office work, processing the sales, answering questions, etc. in the morning. This usually takes around an hour, but as we move into November it will start to take around a couple of hours. Every year without fail, with it being busy like this, we say to each other “Well, this isn’t too bad, don’t know what we were worried about.”

Then we get towards the end of November and things get really busy. Our Christmas waiting list is almost full, the morning office work takes up most of the afternoon too, which means we’re working late into the night making the journals. We find we’re working from the minute we wake in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night. We’re living on a few hours sleep and whatever meals we can prepare and eat quickly (usually standing around discussing what we should do next).

Of course, if we were producing the journals and binders on a machine then none of this would matter, we could just churn them out like a factory. But we don’t, we like to make sure that each hand-made item is perfect, and you just can’t rush things like that.

Personal message on back cover of Brown Journal

Personal message on back cover of Brown Journal

And then, sometime around the beginning of December our Christmas waiting list is completely full. All of the orders are booked in on the respective dispatch dates, each and every customer has been informed when they will receive their parcel. But still the orders keep rolling in and our January dispatch days start to fill.

The busyness continues relentlessly, every waking moment a continuous whirl of paperwork, leatherwork and dispatching until the very last posting day before Christmas. That last bag of parcels goes to the post office, we contact each of those customers to let them know their journal or binder is on its way and to give them their tracking number.

Then that’s it for another year, we collapse in a heap on the sofa in front of a roaring fire and, more often than not, crack open the first of the sloe gin (which is coming along nicely as I’m writing this, by the way).

Our sloes steeping in gin.

Our sloes steeping in gin.

We look at each other and one of us will say, “How did we get through that?”. But, of course, we’re fully aware that the cycle will carry on and next October the quite period will arrive again and at the beginning of November we’ll say, “Well, this isn’t too bad, don’t know what we were worried about.”

And so it goes on!

 

p.s. And if you think this post was written in a blatant attempt to get you all to buy early for Christmas then yes, you’re absolutely right. As you know, all of our items are handmade and we offer a personalisation service, this means we cannot make them in advance. We really hate to disappoint our customers, especially over the festive period, but every year we get lots of people who unfortunately leave it too late and we’re unable to make them something in time.

Looking forward to those bright winter walks with Tanner the Earthworks Mascot in the Xmas holiday!

Looking forward to those bright winter walks with Tanner the Earthworks Mascot in the Xmas holiday!

“Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.”

I had a look through some of my old journals today. It’s not something I do very often. I’ve been keeping them, on and off, since I was very young and it always feels oddly intrusive when I look back at the old ones, almost as though the older me is peering over the shoulder of the younger me. I can still remember the younger me and I think that he thinks the older me can be rather judgmental when he reads what he has written.

The worst thing is when I look back at my very first notebook which I kept when I was a teenager. A small black leatherette thing with an elastic strap that has long since perished to a sagged and oversized ribbon (that’s why we never use elastic as a closure on an Earthworks Journal).This is it:

1st notebook

As you might expect from a first journal, angst drips from every word; from the first embryonic dabblings at poetry to the awful self-pitying rants which span several pages. There are also mementos slipped inside the cover; a handful of old cinema and gig tickets, a couple of group photos of friends who seemed so important at the time but who I haven’t seen in the last quarter of a century and a page full of Woody Allen one-liners torn from a magazine.

When looking through this notebook part of me wants to pat that young lad on the shoulder and say, “Listen, I know it doesn’t seem like it at the moment but everything turns out alright. Believe it or not you’ll fall in love soon and, with that woman, you’ll actually start your own business making leather journals for other people to write stuff in. Those people will fill those books with all of the wonderful and terrible things that happen to them, just like you have.”

But, knowing that young lad like I do, I probably wouldn’t do that because I know he’d just turn round and shout “Get off me you old weirdo, you don’t understand! No one understands!!”.

And he’d be right. I’m 46 years old now, a long time since I had a teenager’s frame of mind. I would find it difficult to understand him.

BUT, and here’s the thing, I can remember him. I have his thoughts right there in front of me now in his old journal because, and I’m really thankful to him for this, he chose to write them down for me. Not for anyone else. He wrote them down for me!

And, of course, if you haven’t started keeping a journal yet it’s never too late. I’m still writing away in them now for the seventy year old me to read. He’ll have quite a collection to get through, here are some of my more recent ones. Of course, I only ever use our own Earthworks Journals to write in now. Why would I use anything less!! They’re all a little battered from our travels and adventures together but, unlike that little black leatherette one I started with all those years ago, they age a little more gracefully.

own journals

I wonder if the seventy year old me will be just as judgmental when he reads them. I can imagine him now, shaking his head at the things this middle-aged whippersnapper gets up to.

P.S. ~ The title of this post is courtesy of Bob Dylan.