Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Age Bag A5 books – how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways. I love you to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, that’s how much!

In fact, if I could only have one notebook type for the rest of my life, I would choose them. (NB the fact I said ‘only one notebook type’ not only one notebook!!).

Why do I love them so much? They are gorgeous to write in, they have oodles of pages and are pretty cheap. I just ordered five (Yes. Five. We had this discussion in the last post... move along) from Bureau Direct – as a pack of 5. Total price (if you’re not using a 10% off code at the start of each month) is £28.50, or £5.70 each. They have 96 sheets (192 sides) of 90gsm, white, lined, vellum paper which is an absolute joy to write on. They have a variety of coloured covers and are also available with grid paper or plain paper (though I have only bought them with lined).

The cover is a thick card, embossed with a pattern to make it look like leather. There is the Clairefontaine emblem, along with Clairefontaine on the front cover. The back cover is plain and the notebooks are cloth bound in matching cloth. On the back is a label which is easily removed.

Front cover
logo on front RHS
Back cover

As the notebooks are cloth bound rather than sewn, they don’t lie all that flat immediately, but can be persuaded pretty easily.

There is a white fly-leaf which is slightly glued to the first/last page of the notebook, but not so much that it causes any problems. There is no side-margin to the page and the lines go edge to edge. The top margin is 19mm, the bottom margin is 10.5mm and line-spacing is 8mm. There are 23 lines per page. The pages have rounded corners on the outer edge.


Pen tests:
Now this is how paper should respond to fountain pens. Smooth to write on, no feathering and no bleed-through. In a book that costs less than £6 (and if you sign up for their newsletters, Bureau Direct send you a 10% off code to be used in the first week of the month, which I did, so these were £5.13 each). No, there isn’t all the fancy ribbon-markers or pockets in the back, but, when I buy a notebook, what I want more than anything else is for the thing to cope with being written in, in fountain pen. I don’t especially care about the cover of the notebook (especially having bought leather slip-covers for them) or about a ribbon-marker or about pockets etc. I just want to write in them.
So this is what I’m looking for:

Ink splot is my fault! PERFECT pen test!
In its new home!
Snug as a bug in a rug!

Five stars out of five. I absolutely adore these notebooks, both in the A5 or A4 size.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Leather notebook covers - review

A few weeks ago, in an attempt to pacify The Black Dog and send him away for a while, I treated myself to some leather covers for A5 notebooks, along with some A5 notebooks. Well, it didn’t pacify him and he didn’t go away, but that’s a different matter.

So, what did I order?

Two gorgeous covers and a pack of five (yes, five. Don’t start joining forces with my hubby. Five is a perfectly acceptable number of notebooks to order) Age Bag notebooks. Oh, and a couple of Clairefontaine handwriting books to practise calligraphy in, but more on those in another post. I’ll review the notebooks in another post too. This post is for the leather covers.

I ordered them from eBay, from the seller oldstaffcrafts. These were the covers I ordered: click here. I ordered an oxblood cover with a diary and a green cover (with no diary), both in A5 size.

They are made to order so took a couple of weeks to arrive (possibly this was longer than normal because the lady wasn’t well). If you want quicker delivery, don’t buy made-to-order. They came last week and are glorious! The oxblood is a rich red-brown (I would have said, the exact colour of dried blood, but that’s not all that appealing-sounding when the colour is gorgeous!). The green is very vibrant and intense, but I’m a bit worried that the colour/dye will rub off on things. I’m not sure if I should use some leather cream on it to try and seal it. Advice?

The cover:
The covers are simply made, with a straight piece of leather stitched along the top and bottom to make flaps into which the covers are inserted. The inside is the suede side of the leather and so is in the same colour. When they arrived, they smelled very strongly of the dye, but this has faded over the last week. I kept my covers plain, but you can have your initials, name or a small motif from a line drawing added to them for no added cost (though understandably, the seller will not infringe any copyright, so the motif/design must be yours).

Oxblood - front cover
Oxblood open showing diary
Green (front)
Green (back)
Green - open

The pen loop:
There is a pen loop for a slimline pen sewn into the back cover. I suppose this is my only gripe with the covers, in that none of my fountain pens fitted the loop. A bic biro fits absolutely fine, as does a pencil. I have a patterned pen (seen in the pictures) which also fits well and my Sharbo Zebra diary pen fits beautifully too (this is the pen I carry in the ultra-slim pen-loop in my Baroque and is a ballpoint and propelling pencil combined). These pens all have a diameter of 8mm (yes – that narrow!!) and sadly, none of my fountain pens have such a narrow barrel. My beloved Ohto Tasche compact has a 9mm barrel and can be forced into the holder but then will hardly come out again. I’ve been slowly trying to stretch the leather on the green cover (useful “stretching pen” = Pelikan script!) and can just about now get a pen in and out (with a slight wriggle needed). Failing that working successfully, anyone know of any nice fountain pens with 8mm diameter barrels? [though I suppose, since they are made to order, if this is a major issue to you, you could ask the maker to make the pen holder a teensy bit bigger]

Slimline pen in pen-loop

The diary:
I ordered the oxblood cover with a page per day A5 diary (without many hopes that the diary would be very good). Much as I use a day per page A5 diary for a personal diary/journal, I don’t think that this one will get used for that. It might make it into work as a day book (sans leather cover!). On that basis, I still gave it the full fountain-pen test, writing on the December 31st 2013 page, with the assumption that I wouldn’t be in work on the 1st January 2014!
The pen test was pretty much as expected: horrible. Significant feathering with ink pens. Very thin paper so even biro showed through to the other side and fountain pen bled through hugely (entirely as expected). A shame, because the diary wasn’t bad otherwise. It is made by Tallon (the same makers of the A6 diaries I reviewed ages ago) and has gold edging to the pages, a ribbon marker, is sewn rather than glued so lies flat and has a reasonable page layout. It’s a nice snug fit in the cover.

Pen test FAIL
Epic pen fail! (this is the reverse!!!)
The cover is a true A5 size, so ‘pretend A5’ (I’m looking at you, Moleskine) won’t fit well. But then, Moleskine make pretty rubbish diaries in my opinion and I wouldn’t ever, ever, EVER buy them again.

I never really bought these for the diary, so the fact that is sucks ink like there’s no tomorrow doesn’t bother me. I bought them to put Age Bag A5 notebooks in and for that they are perfect. The very narrow pen loop is a bit of a shame, but I am working on stretching out the leather so I can carry a fountain pen around with me! Hopefully the dye won’t rub off on the green cover (keep you posted on that).

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Set-up change

In my last post, I described buying a WO2P diary from Paperchase and hinted that I had moved away from my week + notes set-up. Yes, the set-up that I thought was perfect for me. The one I have designed my own diary inserts around.

So, what’s gone wrong?

Life. That’s what!

Life seemed to suddenly explode a few weeks ago, between work, writing, Chimwemwe, Rotary and Life In General and although the notes side of the week + notes was working really well, the week part wasn’t. I had so much going on in each day that the smaller space of the week on one page was just too small and I couldn’t get a sense of what I was doing. I could have moved back to the week + notes + a week of DPP combo and printed myself up some DPP for use, except I know that I can start to over-plan my days with a personal sized DPP and then start to reach burn-out.

The alternative was a week to view (WO2P) and to find some way of having my weekly to-do/goals visible too (since despite completing a LOT of education, I seem unable to flip a page).

My very low-tech solution is a week on two pages plus a post-it note. Weekly to-do/tasks go on the post-it note which can then be moved as I progress through the week so I can still see what’s happening in the week.

My other change is to take all the projects notes out and move them into the navy Portland ready for when the world stands still for long enough for me to think about where my goals etc. are going these days. In the turquoise Baroque, I now have a ‘capture’ section that is half notes-on-the-run and half to-do (unrelated to any projects – just stuff I have to get done at some point). Then there are my monthly planner sheets (behind the planner tab from Paperchase), the diary from Paperchase, lists of things and finally addresses. My zipped pencil-case with vouchers and change in is still right at the front and there is the card-holder right at the back as usual.

Hopefully, this new set-up will help me stay (relatively) sane.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Review of Paperchase 2013-14 18 month organiser refill

Goodness. Work has become very busy and stationery reviews and blog posts are piling up, waiting to be written. I’ve changed the set-up in my filofax, I have some glorious writing paper to review, an A5 diary and leather covers to coo about and half a dozen other things...

But, time is of the essence and some of you may be thinking about 2014 inserts and wondering what other non-Filofax brands are like. I know that I have been very curious about the Paperchase ones in particular and eventually bought the 18 month version the other day. Neither the packaging on the inserts nor the online catalogue description are especially enlightening, so I thought I would give you a full run-down of what’s in the packet and what it’s like, before I tackle all the other reviews that are piling up! Hence, picture-full post. Click to enlarge the pictures.

I bought the 18-month week on two pages version. Regular readers may already be going ‘huh????’ at that (since I have written SO much about week + notes being so perfect for me... more on all that another day!). Some of you might also be thinking ‘hang on, that diary started in July and now it’s October – isn’t that a waste?’ and it would be, if it were not for the fact that both the 18-month version and the 12 month version (starting January 2014) are the same price: £5. I figured that I might as well get the fuller version – I can always use the extra days for scrap paper/shopping lists etc.

Walk through:
The ‘this is what you’re buying’ cover sheet of the diary is useless as it doesn’t really show you anything like what you’re buying. This cover sheet implies that there is a stripy pattern down the side of the pages, like on some of the other Paperchase inserts. There isn’t. It also implies that the line spacing on the days is 5mm. It isn’t. It also implies that the total height for a day on the diary is 2cm. It isn’t. All in all, not all that useful (and why I’m going to give you the kind of detailed walk-through I would have liked to have had before buying).

So, what IS in there?
As well as the diary, there are 6 labelled dividers. I find them a bit confusing as I’m not sure quite what the differences between ‘agenda’, ‘planner’ and ‘diary’ are. I would just use one of them. The other labels are ‘information’, ‘addresses’ and ‘notes’. All of the labels are in a sans serif font and with no capitals. I quite like them and the dividers are also quite sturdy, made of a slightly shiny white card.

Behind the dividers was a card cover to the diary. All very pretty etc, but not any use to me.

Behind that was a page for personal data – single sided, same font as the dividers.

After that was a year calendar on a page for 2013, with the 2014 version on the reverse. Again, I don’t really use these, but I know others do.

Then there were several pages for listing significant dates in 20131 and another set for 2014: 6 months per side.

After that were three weeks of timetable pages – one week split over two sides (though not to view). Not enough to cover a term, so I’m not sure of their use.

Then there were two months to a side year-planners: May to Dec 2013 and a full set for 2014.

The diary started after that.

The diary I got was a week to view (week on two pages; WO2P; WTV etc.). At the top of the page, a lot of space (too much in my mind) is taken up with the month and year – e.g. July 13. I find this a bit annoying as my brain immediately thought it was a page for the 13th July. It also annoyed me by taking up a lot of real estate, but I suppose there is still some white space around it for noting things for the week.

The left-hand page covers Monday to Wednesday. Each day has 4.5cm (vertically) of page, with 7 line spaces of 6.5mm.

The right-hand page has Thursday and Friday with the same 4.5cm space, and (inevitably) Saturday and Sunday sharing the same 4.5cm, with 4 lines each (and yes, that makes their line-spacing 5.5mm not 6.5mm and if your little Virgoan brains squeak like mine does at that kind of thing, if you keep looking at that, it will annoy you!). When I rule the stationery world and people ask me about that kind of thing, I will suggest that 8 lines for the days instead of 7 isn’t a disaster and would at least keep the same line spacing across the days...

After the diary comes some address pages. Irritatingly, the first side of these comes on the reverse side of the last diary page (which would mean that it could never go behind the divider and would always have the wrong dates on it if you moved it from year to year...). Again, when I rule the stationery world, they won’t do that. There are 5 sheets of ‘name address’ (plus one side on the back of the diary). They are fairly free-form with two columns indicated by a gap in the lines. There are 21 line spaces and the spacing is just shy of 6.5mm.

Following this are 8 notes pages. 21 line spaces; same line spacing.

Then there are 5 pages of quadrille paper. The quadrille doesn’t cover the whole sheet, it stops for the holes. The squares are 4.3mm x 4.3mm apart from the very top of the page, which has 4.3mm width x 5.5mm height boxes. The page has 19 boxes x 38 (+ a taller one at the top).

Next up is a lurid pink/orange/peach plain sheet. It might potentially be called ‘salmon’ but is quite horrible coloured. There are 6 sheets of it and they feel like they are proper coloured paper (i.e. the colour goes all the way through, unlike Filofax coloured paper which is coated in the colour, and which is why pen ink beads up so badly on it).

It's not nearly as nice as this indicates.
Imagine adding orange highlighter
Then there are 7 pages of a very blue paper. Again the paper feels as if it is proper coloured paper, not coloured by a surface application of colour. There are 21 line spaces with the same line-spacing as the notes pages and a large top margin (again, the same size as in the other pages).

The very last page (not pictured) is the back ‘cover sheet’ which has the brand labels etc. on it.

Pen tests:
After the horrors of recent pen tests on some notebooks, this has started to be an area I dread, but, I did them.
The paper didn’t cope with fountain pen at all. The ink soaked in, the lines feathered badly and bleed-through was quite bad. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see vertical lines appearing in the feathering – I think this is related to how the paper has been made.

Close-up: fountain pens
Close-up: non-fountain pens
Close-up: reverse of fountain pens
Close-up: reverse of non-fountain pens

The other pens were okay. For some reason the purple Pilot hi-tec feathered and bled a bit, but the others didn’t.
In fairness, I would be unlikely to use a fountain pen in the diary in my filofax, and so the other pen tests are more useful (to me at least).

How does the paper compare to Filofax paper?
The colour of the Paperchase paper is much brighter white and the overall design is crisper and cleaner-looking; less fussy and cluttered than the Filofax version. Below are the two pages side by side for comparison. The space for the day in the Filofax version is 5cm (c.f. 4.5 in the Paperchase version) but the day spaces feel bigger in the Paperchase version. That might because of the single language. Certainly Sunday feels better without that mini-calendar cluttering the place up!

As for the pen tests – well, the Filofax paper coped with biro and very little else. Certainly not the other pens I want to be able to use in my diary to colour-code things. Filofax notepaper copes fine with almost anything I throw at it – why can’t they just make their diaries out of that paper?

Reverse - close-up of fountain pens
Reverse - close-up of non-fountain pens
Reverse - close-up of more non-fountain pens

All in all:
It is much more pleasing on the eye (to me) than the standard Filofax version. It is also much better value than the Filofax version. Even discounting the dividers and other extra sheets and comparing 18-month diary with 12-month diary, the Paperchase version is £5 and the Filofax version is £7 for an August 2013-July 2014 version (WO2P; unlined) or £7.50 for a January 2014-December 2014 WO2P, lined version. A set of dividers on the Filofax site is £2.75 for the cream standard ones or £3 for the coloured, removable tab versions.

I’m certainly glad I bought it (line spacing changes and assault-on-the-retina coloured paper notwithstanding!). More soon on why I have gone back to WO2P and am not still using week + notes.