Tale of a Vandal Notebook User: Going Indie, Part 1

Letting Go of a Favorite White-Paper Notebook

Quo Vadis Habanas

As many know, once upon a time in the U.S., the Quo Vadis Habana had white paper. In an effort to unify the global product, the white paper was replaced by ivory paper. Ivory is used in the Habana all around the world.

Ivory is a perfectly respectable color for a paper, and the Quo Vadis Habana is a perfectly respectable (okay, wonderful aka Amazing) notebook with its ivory-ness. Many people are passionate about ivory paper. However, I’m not one of those ivory enthusiasts.

I gave up white paper years ago because of the environmentally toxic methods used to bleach paper-pulp white. Those methods have changed substantially, and I’ve returned to white paper consumption. Main reason? It’s easier for me to read my scrawl on white paper. I have demands, though. At minimum, the paper needs to have some kind of sustainable forestry certification. In the U.S., paper from sustainable forests often have FSC-certification.

Quo Vadis, Clairefontaine, Rhodia make the paper decision pretty easy for those of us concerned about how paper is made. The trees used to make those papers come from a very strong sustainable forestry initiative. Additionally, the companies work to minimize the environmental impact of the manufacturing process. If you’re going to buy notepads and notebooks, these are the “best of breed.” Many of their papers, notepads, notebooks are white. The Rhodia Webbie and the Quo Vadis Habana use ivory paper, and these notebooks are not inexpensive—the 5.5″ x 8.5″ Webbie costs around $24, and the 6.25″ x 9.25″ Habana costs around $23. The 8.25″ x 11.75″ white top-bound notepads run anywhere from $7-$12, depending on retailer and brand (Clairefontaine or Rhodia).

For me, being a conscious consumer is a way of life. That is, being aware of what I buy, where it comes from, why I’m buying, and always asking, “Should I buy X, Y or Z? Do I really need any of them?” In my ideal world, all my consumable goods would be made locally, and available at places within walking or biking distances. Well… I do the best I can in that arena, eh? Ideals are what we strive for. Day by day, my goal is to consume “greener” and to consume thoughtfully.

Re-Thinking Notepads and Notebooks

My first reaction to the Habana change was to buy up as much of the white Habanas as I could find. Clearly Habana hoarding was an emotional reaction, and an impractical economic decision. It only postponed the inevitable: one day there would be no more. Having been seduced by the Habana’s silky fountain-pen-friendly-whiteness, I confess a little humiliation to be found at the mercy of product change.

After some introspection about my desire for white paper, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in more than 20 years: make my own notebooks and notepads. For me, this was a better and more cost effective decision than chasing down commercial products.

It is far less expensive to make notepads than to buy them pre-made. Staples Bagasse notepads cost me about $.02 a page. Rhodia #18 about $.11 a page bought locally.

At full retail, a ream of HP 32# Premium Choice Laser Printer paper costs $.03 a page. However, deals are always to be had at the big box office supply store. A recent sale brought that paper cost down to $.02 a page. Using some additional coupons in my last purchase of two reams, no money even exchanged hands. Taking into account the glue, any printer ink/toner, and the paper, my notepads cost me well under $0.40 a pad. Labor costs? What’s that? Once you get the hang of ’em, it only takes a few minutes to make a decent notepad.

Very simply a notepad requires a stack of paper, a backing for the paper, some padding compound, a brush to apply it, and a way to clamp the backing and paper together while the compound glue dries. When my household crew decided to make notepads, all our materials were sourced locally, either through re-use of items on hand, or at a local art store.

For generic notepads—the ones used for grocery lists, and various household notes—we’ve re-used paper from projects and events. Any paper with a blank side is eligible. The paper is not always fountain pen friendly, but only half of our household uses a fountain pen. The other still uses (ack!) rollerballs and pencils.

For notepads requiring more thoughtful paper, I’m using either Staples 28# or HP 32# laser printer paper. Both are FSC papers. (The Staples is also Rainforest Alliance certified.) These homemade notepads have replaced my use of Staples Bagasse notepads and Rhodia #18 notepads.

The HP 32# paper is very, very good. While fountain pen friendly, the paper is not the same as, nor would I say it is better than, Clairefontaine or Rhodia papers. The latter papers are made to be used with fountain pens (although not exclusively). The HP paper is meant for laser printers not fountain pens. An experienced paper geek will notice the subtle difference. I think that the Rhodia and Clairefontaine papers allow for a sharper looking writing line, but not enough for me to abandon my DIY notepads. Judge for yourself in the scans of paper samples, or in your own tests. When using printer paper, it’s important to select an acid free, uncoated paper.

For the backing of notepads, we save chip board of various kinds. We experimented with a few kinds before deciding that soda pop cartons, cereal, and popcorn boxes make ideal backs for notepads. For something without a logo, there’s also the chip board that arrives with the stamps purchased online from the USPS. In this household there hasn’t yet been a need buy chipboard.

Some people modify standard white glue to create a notepad adhesive.  I bought a bottle of Padding Compound which is still over half full, many notepads later. Padding compound is an adhesive made to bind notepads and the like.

We’ve gotten quite adept at making small 4 x 4 notepads, and give them as gifts to those we know will use them. We keep them simple and fun. Any exploration of Etsy will show you how simple or complex a notepad can be designed. Your imagination is your friend, eh?

Time and desire are essential elements for easy-to-make top-flip notepads. The hardest part is stacking the pages so that the sides are even. We’ve not reached perfection in that arena, yet feel we’re charmed by them just the same. I use a paper cutter when I need to slice up pages. For a more consistent or personal-labor-free cut, some people buy a ream of paper and have their stationer do the cutting.

The 8.5″ x 11″ notepads I use for day to day writing are blank and contain 100 sheets. When lines are needed, I have a Cornell template I’ve adapted. Pages are printed to the laser, and then bound afterwards.

The backing to my personal writing notepads needs to be firm. No floppy notepads! Yet, I don’t need a permanent backing. To create a kind of portable writing desk, I’ve recycled a container for a screen protector (two pieces of cardboard with an thin opening). Inside the container, I slip a hard piece of cardboard for a very firm, portable writing desk.  I write on one side until I reach the 100th page. Then flip the pad over and write on the backside for the next 100 pages. I re-use the little portable writing backing for subsequent pads.

There are numerous internet tutorials on how to make a notepad. Check ’em out if you’re taking the plunge. Here’s a good start:

Notebooks require more planning, as well as more time. I make far fewer of these because they’re not needed in large quantities. I’ve only made two so far. There is an art to making notebooks. I don’t posses that art. Maybe in a few years.

I’ve used a simple yet elegant bookbinding technique—coptic stitch, creating signatures sewn together—to make notebooks which lie flat.  I acquired an awl, a bone folder, some thread, and bookbinding needles at a local art store. For the covers, I recycled stiff cardboard, and covered them in cotton cloth that was on hand. The aforementioned 32# or 28# laser paper remain the papers used.

My first notebook was a 7-year diary to record important events or daily highlights. Not the best idea to start with such a thick, 1.15″ book! There are 25 signatures. Each signature contains 4 sheets of paper. The notebook contains 400 pages. Many mistakes were made. The signatures could be bound tighter. The cover is short on one side. Some of dates are wrong in the print template I made. Still, it’s usable, it’s for moi, and I’m happy with it! “I made this.” The next 7-year diary will be better, eh?

Here are some links to get you started making your own notebooks:

Moving On
There have been many times in my life when making my own X, Y or Z was inconvenient, too time-consuming, and otherwise not a workable solution. It feels good to be able to embrace a few simple DIY projects for however long it makes sense to do so. DIY will not appeal to some people—be it for time or aesthetic reasons. Making my own notepads and notebooks has been a great choice for our household—all sparked by the change of the Quo Vadis Habana from white to ivory.

Yet the tale of going indie does not end here. Thus, there is a “Part 2” to come in the weeks or months ahead. Over the last year, my paper life has changed in even more beneficial ways.