From vertigo to bookbinding, one journal at a time

In the summer of 2015, my oldest daughter was graduating from university and we were coming from BC for the event. I had been recovering from a long and debilitating illness with vertigo and had finally attained a stage where I was looking forward to possibly returning to work after being off from more than a year. It would be 18 months before I could return full-time.

It had been a grueling journey.  The short story is that I had a persistent nasal infection for six months that no matter what I did or any number of antibiotics I took, it would not go away.  Finally, one night I woke up to the sound of a big bang – like an explosion in my head. I tried to sit up but I couldn’t.  I realized pretty quickly that something was wrong, terribly wrong. I couldn’t stand and felt as though I was inside a washer on high-speed spin.  Crawling on hands and knees, sick and vomiting, unable to open my eyes and effectively blind, I somehow managed to call 911 on my cell phone.  Two weeks later I was released from the hospital in a wheelchair with a walker. Later, I would get a neck collar to help stabilize my head and control the chronic dizziness. Life as I knew it came to a grinding, frozen halt. It would be months before I could leave the house, drive a car, or walk without assistance. I was in the middle of writing my Masters thesis when this happened so that was put on hold too. As a person who lived an active life and had a background in dance, the immobilization enforced by vertigo was terrifying and humiliating.

Video taken April 2014 at Progressive Chiropractic to help with diagnosis around ongoing dizziness, vertigo, neck pain, migraines etc.

I would learn much about this illness and myself in the coming months. I spent thousands of dollars on therapies and buying a hot tub and infrared sauna (I still use as much as possible), but I made the most significant progress because of my brother Dean and his wife Sue who practice Rolfing, a form of deep tissue work and Sue who also practices cranial sacral therapy.  They helped me to recover neck mobility and get walking and driving a car again. If I hadn’t had their help I am quite sure I wouldn’t have got to Toronto, never mind back to work at all.   So, coming to Toronto for this graduation was a huge milestone because my daughter was finally graduating and so was I, in many ways.

Small abstract vertigo paintings -short brush strokes because of a frozen shoulder

An important activity that I had begun after returning from Terrace, was bookbinding.  I stumbled on this activity on the website of the Coast Collective, a local artists coop that offers a dense roster of workshops, a gift shop, gallery  and some studio space.

My youngest daughter and I took in a one-day workshop and we were both hooked.  I started using some of my daily ‘couch time’ to watch YouTube videos on how to make books and learned as much as I could.  I started building a Pinterest board on Hand Made Books.

I would slowly wander down to my studio and try to make books on my own.  It was the best activity my physiotherapists could have ever recommended because I could lean against my work table for support as needed; the cutting and measuring required vestibular focus and the sewing further challenged my eyes to focus and exercise my hands to respond to the demands.

My very messy bookbinding table

When standing was too much I could sit and do the sewing.  I loved the materials and tools – papers, fabrics, awl, bone folders, and cradles for hole punching (which I made myself!).  I loved being in my studio and felt enormous satisfaction with having produced something or accomplished even some small tasks like folding paper and putting them together as signatures (a series of folded sheets put together is a signature).  I set myself a challenge: to make a journal for every one of my great nieces and nephews – 22 in all.

I made 22 journals in total over about 6 months.

YouTube and blog sites were great but I wanted to learn more from a teacher.  I also needed contact with others. So, in preparation for this summer trip for the graduation I researched around to see if there was anything offered through the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG) – a fabulous organization I was familiar with as I had curated some ‘art of the book’ exhibitions in Victoria and these folks from the local chapter were keen supporters.


At the CBBAG ‘painted journal’ workshop taught by Marlene Pomeroy (pictures above) my daughter and I learned how to make a journal pretty much from scratch – with the exception of the cover material which was provided by Marlene.  For the page treatment, we used casein paint which was new for me – it is also known as ‘milk paint’ and smells to high hell, but is very nice to work with. Casein has great properties and to me combines the best of gouache and watercolour for its transparencies and matte qualities and clean, smooth finish.

Bookbinding became a such a significant activity for me which I have to credit for a major part of my recovery from vertigo – which in fact I have not fully recovered from, nor will I ever. However, I believe that had I not practiced bookbinding on a daily basis I would not have been able to advance my recovery to the degree I have.

I have now expanded my bookbinding projects to start making books for other artists. One book I made for Michèle Hayeur Smith when we went to Iceland together.  The journal is a longer, landscape format while a second one I made for her shown below has an open spine with beads and 5 different kinds of paper in it from watercolour to Japanese to drawing paper – because she likes to use a variety of materials and sometimes just doodle in the margins.


My favorite journals have fold out pages that expand to twice the space so you can do a much wider picture or several panels.  Below is a video demo of how that works.

[Hand made artist journal walk-through on YouTube]


Thanks for staying tuned through this blog post! I welcome your comments and feedback below.


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