The Friends of the Seattle Public Library chatted with Attic Journals’ creator, Michelle Sanders, to see how this Portland, OR business transformed a hobby into a successful small business. With insights and tips on how to make what you love, what you do, Michelle shares with the Friends the wonder that can come from rediscovering the worth in an old, well-worn book.
Attic Journals found its beginning in the humble stacks of tattered books at a San Luis Obispo garage sale. Intently looking for an original gift for a friend, Michelle grabbed a well-worn book from the stacks, returned home, and re-purposed the book for her friend in the form of a journal. Inspiration had struck!
Attic Journals are available at the FriendShop at the Seattle Public Library-Central Branch NOW! Come find your inspiration.
Attic Journals was born from a garage sale find and a spark of creativity. How did Attic Journals expand from DIY project to a business?
In 2005, a year after AJ started, I felt the winds of change moving inside of me. I ended my job on the coast of California and moved to a retreat center near Yosemite for a year. With that transition, I went from working about 70+ hours a week, to about 20. So, with all of this new found free time (and, if I’m honest, fear that at some point my savings would run out), I started taking Attic Journals more seriously.
It was in that time that I had a day off and went in to Fresno to check out the Tower District that I had heard a bit about. While there, I met Anne, the owner of Teazers, a tea shoppe in the Tower. We started talking about what it was for her to start her business and I shared my aspirations for my own. She invited me to come back that Friday to sell my journals at a street festival they were having and it all snow balled from there.
What are your criteria for choosing journal covers?
When I first started choosing covers, it was to appease my taste. I soon realized that I had a limited view of the consumer appetite. So began the tradition of “looking for friend’s books”. Before going out to hunt for books, I always pick 3-5 very different friends, colleagues, or acquaintances and try to pick journals I think would pique their interest. We still employ that tactic while also paying attention to trends, making sure to get a lot of the books that are tried and true, and seeking out the special requests of our customers and retailers.
Do you have a personal favorite that’s come through the shop?
I don’t remember the title of the book other than it was a volume about or by Shakespeare, but I remember the treasure that was inside of it. About five years ago, this book came thru our workshop and it was full of love letters from a man to the woman who owned the book. I loved it… I was falling in love with my now husband at the time and my romance radar was pretty high. Actually, a woman from Seattle bought that journal at Urban Craft Uprising and before I took her money, I made her read the letter that we had left inside. She swooned… I think I was testing her romance radar to see if she was suitable for that book…
How would you gift an Attic Journal to a friend?
Sometimes folks gift them because the title is just so right. Sometimes it’s because the library card is stamped with a particular date that holds meaning for the recipient. Sometimes it’s because that was the book that so and so had read to such and such every year since they were yay high. For us, we usually gift a journal to teachers… they seem to need more jot down places than the average folks and they certainly love the fact that they are books.
What do you imagine FriendShop customers using Attic Journals for?
Oh gosh! These books are used for alllllll sorts of things. I personally use mine for my to-do list, for a journal that I’m keeping of my daughter’s first years, and a contact log for our business. But I’ve heard of amazing uses from folks all around the country.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- A grandmother comes from Boston to visit her grandchildren in Seattle each winter. When she comes, she and the children pick out a new journal that they “dedicate” while she’s with them for the holidays. The night before she is to leave, she has the children draw her a picture, write her a note, or share something about their lives with the intention that they are sharing it with her… They then all tromp to the post office to mail the journals (unread) to Grandma’s house in Boston so that they’ll arrive soon after she does. She then reads them, writes a note to them and sends the journal back to them… these journals go back and forth like this all year until Grandma’s next visit.
- There’s a woman I met about four years ago that always buys our cookbook journals. She then uses them for dinner parties for guests to write their favorite recipes in… to share stories of the night… keep track of what was served and who was there.
- I also love the students who use these. One of the young women that I have mentored for the past five and a half years uses her journal to figure out her math homework. She doesn’t like doing all the scribbling and erasing on her actual assignment, so she figures it out in her journal and then writes it neatly onto her sheet to be turned in.
What value do you see in DIY projects and gifts?
Well, I suppose it’s the character comprised in each one. The supporting small, independent businesses.
Do you have any advice for FriendShop customers who may be pursuing creative DIY projects in the new year?
Do it because you love it. It’s only been in this last year that my husband and I started doing Attic Journals full time. I think that if I had started out with the attitude that this project had to sustain our lives, at some point it may have lost its magic for us. But what has kept us going this long is that we see the value in the work that we are doing. We’re supporting local schools and libraries. We’re helping people tell their story. And we’re relieving a bit of the world’s landfill burden.
What connection do you see between recycled materials, sustainability, and literature?
Well, I think there is a particular nexus where these three intersect. Because of the emotional appeal of books and our cultural history with book burning and banned books, people have a particular allegiance to keeping books alive in some capacity. A few years ago, a man told me that we were the humane society for books… and I’ve liked that idea. That we get to keep this nostalgia, resonance, and resource in circulation because it’s a beautiful part of our communal existence, feels pretty good.
You Can Find Us:
The Central Library – The Seattle Public Library Main Branch
(on Level 3, Fifth Avenue side)
1000 Fourth Avenue
Seattle WA 98104
We are also happy to assist with sales by phone.
To learn more: