Name a special day: Christmas, New Year's, birthdays, proms and graduations -- they all get us snapping photos. Lots of photos. Photos that often languish unseen in dresser drawers, boxes in basements and on your hard drive. But -- since my recent conversion experience -- that won't happen in our house anymore.
I found my salvation at a revival meeting of sorts: a scrapbooking revival. There I was, scrapping with 500 women in the gigantic ballroom of the Oregon Convention Center in Portland (the closest convention to my home while writing this story). It was all rather reminiscent of a quilting bee from a historical novel, except that it was more hysterical than historical. Like the others, I had come to face my demons and tame my stacks of unsorted photos. Paralyzed by limitless page-layout possibilities, millions of gorgeous papers and endless opportunities for embellishment, I had been overwhelmed. But, I knew I had to snap out of it -- generations to come depended on my ability to chronicle family life today.
The scrapbooking movement: where it all began
For our grandmothers and their Victorian grandmothers, scrapbooking was a popular pursuit. But the latest wave began in 1980 when Marielen Christensen created 50 family albums and displayed them at the World Conference on Records in Salt Lake City. The albums caught the attention of fellow Mormons, for whom family records are a focus of religious faith. With her husband, Marielen soon began writing books and selling supplies for the craft. Still concentrated in Utah, the scrapbooking industry now earns an estimated $2.5 billion US in annual sales in the United States and an astonishing $250 million in Canada.
A cropping I will go
So there I was at one of the six-hour evening hands-on scrapbooking sessions (called Crops) of the Creating Keepsakes Oregon Scrapbook Convention (with only 5,200 participants, it's considered "small"). Women from many walks of life and with many levels of design skill are here. New moms, grandmothers, childless 40-somethings making albums devoted to their cats, online scrapper pals meeting face-to-face for the first time, professional women and clerks in stores: our common bond is adhesive -- preferably acid-free and temporary.
Scrapbooking, The Movement, goes way beyond sticking photographs into albums. Rubber stamping, printing, paper quilling, quilting, sewing, beading, mosaic tiling, metalworking and just about anything else you can think of are incorporated into this three-dimensional collage art. The Crops rounded out days of classes with snappy titles, such as Scrap Glamour, Embossing with Mini-Laser Cuts and Fun Font Effects. (Major lesson learned: treat yourself to a Creating Keepsakes Creative Lettering CD -- it makes journaling more fun.)
Over the constant din of the happy scrappers, various announcers called out requests, such as "Anyone got a picture of a boy with his dog?" or "Five pictures of Las Vegas?" or "A bald man?" "Bring it on up and win this…." It was the perfect place to show off new products to a captive audience who enjoy sharing their toys. And this is the point: scrapbooking can be a lonely business. Sharing ideas and visiting with pals spurs you on, gives you a creative kick in the butt and is loads of fun, too. You just need to get started.
One evening I met Emily Dahlgren from Lebanon, Ore. She's 31 and has been scrapbooking since her three-year-old son was born. "I taught school until I had my son and I needed a creative outlet," she explains. She willingly took apart a large wheeled cube, her Crop in Style tote, to show me her stash of supplies. Anyone with any love for things stationery will adore all of the tools and doodads. In dozens of Ziploc bags, nifty divided containers and hidden compartments, she carried a Creative Memory Personal Trimmer, Hermafix adhesives, Fiskars fancy scissors, a Xyron Sticker Maker, a Dalee Book Album, a Mrs. Grossman's Album, a Making Memories Tool Kit, Creating Keepsakes magazines, DMC embroidery floss, Fresh Fibers, brads, eyelets, buttons, charms, beads, card stock, patterned paper, Glue Dots, wire, loads of Zig Pens, an X-acto knife, masking tape, hole punches, tweezers and, of course, photographs. “I started working at our local scrapbooking store to support my habit,” says Emily, laughing (it cost her $3,200 US last year). "I can easily spend up to five hours on a page," she says, "planning the layout, rearranging, getting the colours right, picking out the papers and fonts, then sitting down at the computer, figuring out the right-size text box and doing my journaling." At five hours a page, I will be 92 by the time I get caught up with my backlog of photographs.
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Keys to getting started in scrapbooking
Luckily, I found Stacy Julian, the editor-in-chief of Simple Scrapbooks Magazine. This remarkably sane mother of four young boys preached common sense in her seminar. During the introductions to Ready, Set…Scrap!, two cousins admitted they had been buying scrapbooking supplies for three years but had yet to produce a single page. This cracked us all up and made me realize that being overwhelmed is a common experience. Here are Julian's tips to get going.
A mess of your own
First, find a space you can dedicate to this rather messy pursuit. Then, collect your photos and any related mementos, such as ticket stubs, recital programs, badges, postcards or old letters. (And in case the house burns down, Julian suggests, store negatives and backup CDs of digital photos off-site; hers are in a shoebox under her husband's desk at his workplace.)
The big sort
Do a simple chronological sort, group the material by year and slip the photos into inexpensive, acid-free slip cases (label them on the back with a photo-labelling pencil first, if you like). Then get to work as a Memory Keeper.
Julian says that people tend to organize their scrapbook pages around events, but, she insists, the really fun and interesting stuff happens when you choose photos themed around:
• you (you are the best person to keep your own history);
• people you love (if you think a picture captures the essence of someone's character, grab it);
• relationships (with family, friends and pets); and
• passions (hobbies, jobs and anything that fires you up).
Interview elderly family members now and make time to see your cousin next time he visits from his overseas posting. Get down your family history while you can. And spend an hour brainstorming with your family, then create a chronology of significant events for each person. Holiday get-togethers are perfect for this.
Scrapbooking: the cool stuff
Invest in a few scrapbooker's essentials: acid-free paper and card stock, small straight scissors, an X-acto knife, permanent scrapbooking markers or pens, a grid ruler and a 12-inch paper trimmer, acid-free adhesives (such as glue and archival tape), Un-du (which reverses gluing mistakes), an acid-free album and archival page protectors (the top-loading style are particularly useful). The sky's the limit for embellishments.
Go for it
Get your feet wet. Label an album Family Celebrations and put one great photo on each right-hand page (stick the photo onto card stock and trim the stock, leaving a 1.3- to 2-centimetre border, then attach it to the page). On the left-hand page, when you have time, write down who was there, why so-and-so wasn't there, what was going on in the photo, in the family and in the world at the time (or computer-print it in a fancy font on special paper, then attach it to the page). Ask yourself the journalist's questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? Include lists, quotes, interviews and narratives.