Scrapbooking: Preserving Memories, One Scrap at a Time

Article excerpt

I revisit places I've been by opening my scrapbooks. I can also look in on people I miss, children who've grown up, my family tree, and pets who have passed on long ago. Our human brains, sophisticated as they are, still respond to images instantly and more profoundly than language. Gazing upon the visuals in one's scrapbook conjures the emotions, memories, and thoughts of the events and places depicted there.

Scrapbooking has become a huge business in the United States, with retail sales estimated by Magazine at $1.45 billion annually. Scrapbookers are predominately women: Paris Hilton, Kathy Ireland, Leeza Gibbons, and Nancy O'Dell are all scrapbookers and have or have had their own line of scrapbooking products. You might be surprised to know that Bruce Springsteen has scrapbooks for his first few albums, and these were on display in the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen" (at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in Spring 2012). Hugh Hefner is also rumored to have scrapbooks, but that rumor will remain unresearched.

Scrapbooks resembling the modern versions have been around for decades, and the idea has existed for centuries. My mother taught me to scrapbook as a young child, in a more traditional, primitive, style that is mostly photographs with some memorabilia added. Scrapbooking is commonly a family activity. For a more objective description of modern scrapbooking, I asked a more modern scrapbooker, my niece, Amy: "Well, you choose the best pictures and then add memorabilia, decorations, and journaling." So the photographs are and the memorabilia are still there from the older style, and journaling is just scrapbook jargon for labeling the stuff. The decorations Amy mentioned are the elements that set modern scrapbooking apart. Contemporary scrapbookers use stickers, die-cut paper shapes, ribbons, little metal brads, and fabric flowers for their elaborate decorations. These decorations, the quality cardstock or patterned papers they are attached to, the adhesives they are attached with, and the pens used to explain it all are what make up a big part of the $1.45 billion spent annually. Unlike my mother, Bruce, and me who all probably used dime-store cellophane tape and ball-point pens in our early days, today's scrapbookers use acid-free products that won't eat away at the inks of our precious photos. Check out scrapbooking products in a craft store, and they will be labeled "acid-free" and "lignin-free." If they are not, they shouldn't be used with photos. That lignin, by the way, is a wood product used in paper that turns to acid over time.

Another term for scrapbooking is cropping. This term comes from the practice of trimming off the uninteresting parts of a photo to make the intended subject predominant. Croppers will rarely use scissors for this, and most will have at least one tool for cutting photos and paper in straight lines. Cutting tools are another necessity for scrapbooking. There are circle and oval cutters, all sorts of wiggly-line scissor trimmers, punches, and die cut machines (electronic and mechanical). While I had Amy distracted from her cropping, I asked her what trends she has noticed in the craft. She answered without hesitation that less people are using these mechanical hand-cranked die cut machines that we find at the big crops (hands-on scrapbooking events I'll describe more later) because there are more electronic gadgets. These wildly-popular gadgets can run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars and require various cartridges. They cut plain or fancy letters, licensed images kids recognize from the media, and create special effects with the touch of a few buttons.

Scrapbookers convene at events called crops and enjoy sharing their tools and supplies. There is camaraderie at the events as everyone is working toward the common goal of creating clever pages for their books. …