Handmade Notebooks

More hand sewn notebooks with screen printed covers

After the my initial development of Vari-Dot ruling, I looked into having notebooks produced for sale. Many papers were tested. I reached out to binders and printers for quotes on getting various forms of notebooks produced. The prospect of spending $5000 or more on notebooks in this age of tablets and smartwatches was daunting. Instead I turned to prototyping small batch handmade notebooks.

I went on to purchase some modest supplies to craft the books myself. I have sold a few and given many away. Most have been prototypes, but I still kind of dream of producing a line of consistent handmade notebooks with quality heavy paper.

Operator Notebooks

While I was brainstorming ideas for a line of notebooks, the name Operator is the one that stuck out the most. We all operate something whether it is a motor vehicle, buttons in an elevator, or electric hairdryer.

A logo design for a possible run of Operator notebooks.

One of my favorite logo designs features a spoke wheel on a faux marbled pattern that hearkens back to the classic composition notebook. The wheel has a classic 36-spoke design, but erroneously (and intentionally) features an extra 37th spoke. (I turned 37 the year I was working on this project and I’m also fond of prime numbers.)

Operator jam page from my own Vari-Dot notebook


Dozens of mock ups have been done. Part of what has held me back from producing notebooks in this style is that it is challenging with my modest tools to trim books that are the same size and consistently square. The idea that someone might purchase two books that would sit next to each other on a shelf where one is a millimeter taller than the other does not sit well with me..

Furthermore, the amount of time that goes into putting together a handmade notebook is substantial. In order to bring that time down, I have some jigs and fixtures in mind. I still won’t be able to compete on price with notebook makers that churn out millions of books from factories overseas, but I can offer something unique and niche to discriminating stationery nerds like myself.

Why Notebooks?

Personally, I just like the feel of a good pen or pencil scribbling across a quality sheet of paper. However, beyond the aesthetics or tactile sensation, studies show that writing and taking notes by hand promote a better kind of learning.

Vari-Dot Ruling

Early Vari-Dot design from 2017
Early Vari-Dot design from 2017

In the fall of 2017 I began to research an alternative notebook ruling for designers. I gave it the name Vari-Dot because it consists of dots varying in size and shape. This Vari-Dot ruling has been used in some handmade notebooks and from time to time. It has also been available as a download and printed stationery form.

What’s In A Ruling?

Different rulings. Clockwise from upper left: Graph/grid, dot grid, reticle, and Seyes

The most common rulings we see in the US are simple blue lined notebook paper found in wide and college rule. However, stationery nerds like myself know there are a wide variety of options for writing, drawing, and designing. The examples above are all still based on a pretty basic vertical or horizontal purpose. There are logarithmic rulings for graphs and isometric rulings for designing things in a sort of topographical 3D space.

Vari-dot is a hybrid ruling I developed for the purpose of layout design where the harsh lines of a grid ruling are too intrusive, but the sparse dots of dot-grid are not quite enough. It looks like this:

6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil
6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil

Why Vari-Dot?

The goal was that when working from a distance the dots would be small enough and light enough that they would blend into the background. When working closer to the paper, they become useful guides for designing things to scale. Each kind of dot (corner, side, center) is slightly different in size. The color of dot I most prefer has a CMYK value of 15, 15, 15, 0, but I have printed it as dark as 19, 19, 19, 0. [CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black/keyline.]

Some versions of Vari-Dot have square and triangle shaped dots along the perimeter of the page. These marks denote where quarter, third, and halfway marks fall on the page. Earliest versions of the Vari-Dot ruling were spaced at a quarter inch (5.35mm), but more recently I have found that 6mm is more comfortable to work with.

Vari-Dot is just one of the rulings that has been offered in my handmade notebooks. In the future there will be downloads available for those who wish to try it for themselves.

Custom Built Sofa

Preliminary design for a mid century modern inspired box sofa
Mid-centruy modern inspired custom built sofa design

Earlier this year I made a joke that I “wasn’t good enough” for a full size sofa (as I currently have a modest loveseat). I could go out and buy one tomorrow, but all the sofas in my budget are “just okay.” And who can afford a custom built sofa? From time to time I have searched “DIY Sofa” with mixed results.

Then I found something promising.

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“DLZ” – TV On The Radio Cover

Cover of “DLZ” by TV On The Radio

“DLZ” is a song by the band TV On The Radio. It appears on their third album, Dear Science and was written by Tunde Adebimpe. I don’t own any rights to this song. Go buy some merch from the band.

Originally uploaded to YouTube on March 6, 2018. Watch a version with out embedded ads over at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/139635786084557/videos/1541251109256344/

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