When I decided to track how my time was spent, a notebook seemed necessary. What was needed: a pocket style notebook cover that could be endlessly refilled with 3.5″ x 5.5″ size pages of my choosing. Easy enough, right?
There’s a dizzying number of notebook covers to be found online. It’s too bad we can’t walk into a store, and touch them all in order to make an informed decision about which one to buy. C’est la vie.
I tried one cover, in the style of the great Midori Traveler’s Notebook. Having seen the Midori notebook up close, it is a handsome, well-designed leather notebook cover and system. My “in the style of” notebook cover was severely lacking in craftmanship—so much so that I didn’t even showcase the cover in an earlier post about my time tracking experiment.
Time is a writer’s sacred commodity. So I believe. Why was I using such an unpleasing cover to keep track of something so valuable?
On one hand, tools of the craft are just that. Tools. My own (pen, paper, laptop, etc) are intended to be serviceable, and occupy enough space in my life so as to not be out of proportion to their purpose. Tools are a means, not an end.
On the other hand, “serviceable” does not have to mean without spirit. Tools don’t have to be uncomfortable, ugly or unpleasant to use. Thus, the regretful cover was retired for one more pleasing to hold, carry, open, and scribble inside of.
In the end, I choose to go with an Oberon Design Pocket Moleskine Cover. How could I resist a small company from my home state of California?
I chose a green Pocket Cover with a dragonfly motif. I like having symbols around me, particularly nature symbols. Dragonflies, a frog, lily pads, cattails, a heron, water… it’s like swimming in my own quiet place. I was a little worried the green cover would be too bright, but in person the green is a lovely subdued, dark color.
Using the Cover with DIY Notebooks
While the cover is designed to hold a 3″ x 5″ sized notebook ala the Moleskine, I wanted to fill the cover with two to three DIY notebooks using my own paper. At minimum, one notebook for time tracking, and the other for random thoughts and notes. Hmmmm…
At first I thought maybe to punch a couple of holes into the spine, and run a piece of elastic through the holes. As in a Midori style notebook the elastic would hold the notebooks in place. As it turns out, no punching holes into the Oberon Design cover has been necessary.
The hack I put together was very simple. I cut a piece of stiff, thick felt down to the size of a Moleskine pocket notebook. The felt served the same function as a Moleskine notebook’s cover. The felt was inserted into the Oberon’s side flaps where the Moleskine’s bound cover would normally go.
To hold a notebook in place would be a single rubber band wrapped around the center of the felt. I cut two small incisions, top and bottom, at the center point of the felt to prevent bowing of the felt by the rubber band.
This initial stiff blue felt hack worked well. For long term, though, I want to use black felt instead of blue. The black felt I’ve got needs stiffening; it’s still far too cold here to soak the felt in glue, and expect it to dry.
I tried using some black foam instead of black felt. The black foam looked nice yet was far more fragile than the felt, and began to rip.
Then I decided to recycle an old Moleskine pocket notebook. Just remove insides, and instant backing available for the Oberon!
The recycled Moleskine notebook cover worked quite well holding everything together. There was a downside in that the leather cover became (d’oh) quite stiff using the recycled Moleskine. Nothing wrong with stiff, but I liked that the leather cover was more flexible with the felt backing.
And so back to the stiff blue felt for now!
It’s Called a Rubber Band
To hold the notebooks in place, initially I used big o-ring style bands. These worked fine but were thick and kinda ugly.
The big o-ring bands were replaced with thin, more elegant Midori “connecting” rubber bands in the Passport size. The Midori connecting bands came in a pack of four rubber bands: two black and two brown. The thinner Midori bands worked perfectly, and eliminated the bulk of the o-ring bands. I could have used thin elastic or other rubber bands, too, but the Midori bands were a no brainer.
The center rubber band holds one notebook. Multiple notebooks are attached with other rubber bands, notebook to notebook. The bands make it easy to remove or add more notebooks. Brian Goulet, of course, made a great tutorial about using the rubber bands. He shows more than one way to band notebooks together, using a Midori Traveler’s Notebook.
Getting two packs of Midori bands allowed all my of rubber bands to be matching black.
Figuring Out the Insides
The DIY notebooks for the Oberon cover have gone through a lot of trial and error, trying to decide what works best. “Best” for, you know, moi.
Originally I was using Staples sugar cane paper. The 20# Staples copy paper was a tad too thin for some of my super fine fountain pen nibs. A hole or three was accidentally poked into the sugar cane pages.
For sturdier paper I changed to HP 32# premium laser printer paper, my standard notepad paper. I’ve been using the HP paper in my ARC notebook for well over a year.
An 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper is cut into two 3.5″ x 5.5″ sheets. Those smaller sheets form the notebooks.
At first I used unsewn/unbound paper inserts because I liked the idea of being able to remove pages, scan them, and then recycle the paper. The Staples ARC has spoiled me with its ability to let me easily remove or move pages in the notebook at will.
Ultimately, sewn signatures were neater, and allowed the Oberon cover to hold more paper. While the individual pages aren’t removable, the notebooks are small enough that they are replaced easily, once or twice a month.
My basic notebook signature contains two 2 sheets of 3″ x 5″ paper for a total of 8 pages in one signature. I use two to four of those signatures for a notebook.
For the time tracking notebook, I use a single signature made from four sheets of 3″ x 5″ paper, for a total of 16 pages.
The signatures are sewn with a simple 3-hole pamphlet stitch. I sew more signatures than I need so that there is an “inventory” of notebooks at the ready.
The time tracking notebook with 16 pages provides half a month’s worth of time tracking pages at a time. I like that.
Currently I’m also using a lined notebook made from two 2-page signatures (16 pages total). I was going to sew some blanks together. Instead, an unused Field Notes blank memo book appeared amongst the mess on my desk.
The Field Notes has 48 pages, so my average notebook carry at this writing is 80 pages total. The cover can comfortably hold far more. The most I’ve carried is 120 pages. I like notebooks with fewer pages than the Field Notes because of my propensity to scan my notes. Even filed with 120 pages, the cover could clearly hold more pages. After all, a Moleskine pocket notebook contains 192 pages all by itself.
The Oberon Pocket Cover feels great to the touch, and it’s small enough to fit in a jeans back-pocket. The felt backing allows the cover to stay closed without the strap. The cover makes me smile each time I reach for it. The smile rating is the best for the tools at my disposal, bringing the notebook cover in line with the pens in the hoard. The Oberon cover feels worthy of tracking something I value so highly: how time’s spent.
The strap, of course, is nice to use when you’ve got the notebook in a pocket of some kind. Most of the time I use a DIY blotter with an elastic strap.
The side flaps of the Oberon cover can even be used to slip in pieces of paper, index cards and such.
Ordering direct from Oberon, they included a tiny “thank you” charm. I received a dragonfly charm to go with my dragonfly cover.
The Dragonfly Pocket Cover was a great purchase for my purposes. In addition to purchasing the Oberon cover, I also bought the Midori rubber bands. Everything else for the Oberon cover came from what I already had on hand.
I’m very pleased with how the cover from Oberon Designs has worked out. Now I’ve two standard notebooks with DIY pages: The junior Staples Arc for project stuff, and the Oberon Design for time tracking, and random notes.
- Oberon Design
- Midori Traveler’s Notebook, Rants of the Archer, 2011 Oct 22
- There are many, many wonderful online DIY tutorials for making notebooks. Here’s just one: Booklyn Artists Alliance— coptic binding, pamphlet stitches, other fun stuff!
- In case you missed it: my experiment with Time Tracking inspired by Chronodex (Going Indie, Part 3)
- Tale of a Vandal Notebook User: Going Indie, Part 2
- Tale of a Vandal Notebook User: Going Indie, Part 1
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For Those Who Prefer a Picture Book