Journals are time capsules, storing dreams, fears, hopes and insecurities. They allow you to pen your thoughts and provide refuge in a world filled with noise. And they’re forgiving. Like with a trusted childhood friend, your absence is never judged. Given the opportunity, a journal will remind you of a first kiss, as well as a first heartbreak. It might prompt the recollection of random acts forgotten with pressed flower petals between pages, the faded scent of perfume or ticket stubs from a concert. Most importantly, journals document history–our own.
Mychal Mitchell: Architect of Journals
Mychal Mitchell, owner of Austin-based Iona Handcrafted Books, knows the value of journals. In 1993, after graduating from Arizona State University’s School of Architecture and Design, she set off on a six-month sojourn through Europe.
Five months into her trip, she had her backpack stolen in Rome. Mitchell wasn’t concerned with the everyday essentials lost; her only concern was for her leather-bound companion. It carried the addresses and phone numbers of strangers who had become friends along the way, along with stories encountered on her European journey. Everything could be replaced, except her priceless notes.
Discovering Destiny in Venice
Mitchell credits the incident in Rome as a blessing. Eager to replace her journal, she ventured to Venice, a city famous for bookbinding. There she mentioned the fate of her journal to a handsome street artist, and he led her to a quaint bookbinder’s shop.
She found a journal to carry back home, but–more importantly–she stumbled upon something she wasn’t in search of: destiny. Noticing her genuine curiosity, the shop owners invited Mitchell to spend a few days studying their craft. She accepted, not because she intended to make a career out of bookbinding, but rather she knew the invitation was an opportunity to experience Venice unlike most tourists. She acquired memories worthy of countless words, and an altered future.
After returning home to the States, Mitchell was disappointed to encounter the lacking quality of bookbinding. Venice implemented old-world bookbinding, a manual process passed down by monks over many generations. Frustrated, she put her newfound knowledge to use.
East Austin Studio: A Quill’s Dream
Mitchell has been crafting hand-stitched journals similar to the Venetians since 1994. Walking into her light-filled studio in East Austin, you’ll find a few hundred journals to choose from, along with walls holding leather spools of various hues and drawers filled with antique adornments that eventually find a home on a book cover.
These keepsake journals are filled with custom-made paper that has crossed an ocean, from India. The paper is acid-free, archival and hand-torn. Select books have divider sheets made from banana bark from Thailand.
Other than a laptop, you won’t find any machines at Iona Handcrafted Books. Mitchell and her assistant are like elves, every book is created by hand.
Customers are encouraged to take an active role in the design process. Recently, a couple wanted a scrapbook to fill with photographs of their 50th anniversary. Noting a beautiful fabric design on Mitchell’s drafting table, they found inspiration in the delicate golden strands of leather called “Golden Calf.” Since this was their “Golden” anniversary, the customization added a layer of meaning to their special occasion. Moments like these drive Mitchell to go above and beyond for her clients.
Iona: Island Of Inspiration
I asked Mitchell, why the name Iona? She explained the importance of finding a word to embody the serendipitous magic that brought her to the art of bookbinding. Enlightenment was found in a tranquil island off the coast of Scotland, called Iona. With less than 200 residents, Iona is believed to be where a group of monks created the famous Book of Kells toward the end of the eighth century. The island is cloaked in mysterious wonders, and it’s also difficult to reach. Determined to visit her business’s namesake, Mitchell recently set out to visit the remote island. The locals she met, the stories they told and the serene beauty that greeted her all confirmed she had chosen well.
Iona Handcrafted Books–inspired by the mystical city of Venice, named after the magical island of Iona and flourishing in Austin. Like the famous Book of Kells, Mitchell’s journals carry a heavy responsibility: to preserve memories while outliving those whose stories they hold.
Join Iona at EAST 2015
Meet Mitchell and see her handcrafted books during East Austin Studio Tour 2015 on Nov. 14-15. She’ll be serving cookies and sangria at her shop–address below.
701 Tillery St. Building B – Website
@judymerhar wants to know:
Who is your favorite artisan in Austin?