I enjoyed reading children’s classics to my sons when they were young, and we particularly enjoyed A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. (Not the Disney anti-Pooh—the real thing!) In one adventure, Pooh was very proud to find a Useful Pot for Putting Things In. My shop name is taken from that. My little bunny mascot is an original design which I drew and painted. He is meant to be evocative of an illustration from an old children’s book as well.
Tell us a about your shop and your crafting: What do you make and sell?
I enjoy using recycled and unconventional items in my journals. I feel it lends a unique character to take old things that have outlived their usefulness in their current form and recycle them into new journals to be used and loved again. I started marbling and making paste papers, and I recycle vintage papers from books and atlases to use them for my books. I’ve used old 45 records, paper grocery bags, discarded tea boxes, floor tile, old calendars, cigar boxes and, of course, obsolete books. If it’s flat and lies still, it might be a book. Nothing’s safe!
How and when did crafting and bookmaking come into your life?
I have always adored books and have always been driven to create, so it was inevitable that the two paths should cross at some point. Several years ago, I became practically obsessed with altered books and then bookbinding. In May of 2007, I took a bookbinding class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, and I was hooked. I’ve made hundreds of books since then and am still fascinated with the process and the infinite forms and functions that books can take.
Do you have a day job different from being an Etsy seller?
I’ve recently started a new chapter of my life after raising and home educating my three sons for the last 20 years or so. I’ve had several administrative jobs, part and full time. Right now, I work very part time as administrator for the church I attend, so I’ve got a lot of time to call my own. I’ve only recently begun to focus on making books more of a business than a hobby.
That sounds like you have to be a master at time management, with family, a job and your craft to coordinate!
Disciplining myself to put the petty demands of life aside and actually sit down and work is the most challenging part for me, yes. I am attempting to treat bookbinding as a part time job with “studio hours” from 9 am till 2 pm four days a week. I turn my phone off during these hours and try to stay off the computer. I’m not always successful at the last part, as I’ll often get on to look something up and find myself still there 20 minutes later having wandered far down one bunny trail or another. Distraction, thy name is internet!
What do you like about working as an Etsy seller?
I really love connecting in a personal way with many of the people who buy my journals. It thrills me to hear that a book is being purchased for a once-in-a-lifetime trip or to be used as a non-traditional wedding guest book. I’ve even had customers send me pictures of my books after they’ve filled them with their own drawings, note, mementos, memories of precious events in their own lives. I feel as though I’m part of these special times when my books get to go along!
It never fails to amaze me a little when one of my books actually surfaces in the vast sea of beautiful things available on Etsy and someone likes it enough to spend some of their hard-earned money on it. That’s really special.Do you have an artistic role model?
Grandma Moses, a hard working farm wife who, at the age of 76, gave up embroidery because of her arthritis and began to paint for the sheer joy of it. Though she never had any training and did most of her paintings on cardboard, she is renowned as one of the America’s great primitive artists.
The collage journal that you can see above and below is one of the first in this series of books for which I distress and paint Kraft paper, fuse it together with Tyvek, more Kraft paper and put on layer upon layer of paint and glaze. The end result is a lovely, strong, flexible material that I really enjoy using for these soft cover, long stitch journals. I’m actually particularly proud of it because it’s a process that I developed myself. I used images and text taken from an old children’s textbook, an old map and scraps of my own marbled paper for the collage.
That really sounds like an interesting technique, very clever and beautiful! Thanks for lifting the curtains, and granting us a glimpse behind the scenes of Useful Books!
If you want to see more of her wonderful, vintage style books, click to visit Cindy's shop.