Binding Memories into Heirlooms

Journals are a record of the mind. They are the preservers of memories. They are a trusted friend that provides a clear perspective in a noisy world. However, most importantly, a journal never forgets the details of a moment.

Words by Jessica Devenyns  Photos by Ashley Haguewood

At Iona Books, details are everything. From the origin of the leather to the composition of the paper, every journal that Mychal Mitchell creates is made with the tender, caring oversight that a mother lavishes on her children. Each piece of twine that binds the books is waxed and painstakingly woven through hand-torn pages. Clasps are individually selected and then fashioned until they gleam against supple leather covers. For 22 years, details have been the backbone of the Iona brand.

However, Mychal’s journey into her profession as a bookbinder wasn’t her destination. In fact, it was when she had her backpack stolen in Rome that she found herself suddenly in need of a way to record her memories. With no idea where to find a well-bound journal, Mychal started asking around.

“When I got to Venice the next week, I was flirting with a very handsome street artist,” Mychal remembers with a sly smile. The smile did the trick. It turns out that the artist had a friend who crafted books and who was more than happy to share his work.

As Mychal walked into the Italian’s bookshop, she suddenly realized there was more to a journal than just its functionality. “I wasn’t even thinking that I even wanted to learn how to make books, but I was fascinated.” She wanted to know more.

Noting her curiosity, the shop owner invited her to stay and learn about the art of bookbinding. She accepted, and when she landed back in the States a month later, Mychal found that she had not only brought home a new journal filled with memories, but a way to build her future.

Since her unexpected beginnings as a bookbinder, Mychal has perfected her craft. Today you walk into her airy east side studio and are greeted by the enveloping smell of leather mingled with paper and oil. The walls are hidden by the evidence of her craft: reams of paper, scrolls of leather, and drawers full of antique adornments – all destined to become a part of a book. What space is not filled with binding materials is taken up by her beautiful, completed creations.

Mychal describes her approach to bookbinding saying that, “We don’t do anything with a machine. Everything is done by hand,” in order to create something meaningful. She further explains that, “[I am] creating something that is, I think, a wonderful product.”

For Mychal, journals, like memories, never age. “They’re meant to last a lifetime,” she clarifies.  “That’s why I call them heirlooms.” Her books are meant to hold a part of you.

Through her books, Mychal designs enduring creations that she hopes will travel through life with their owners. In her studio, she works tirelessly to create a means by which to keep memories alive. Each thought is a treasure; one Mychal hopes will be written down and preserved well past the living memories of those who told them.

701 Tillery Street, Suite B3

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