Memories Made of Scrap

Heather Simpson learns about the latest craze of scrapbooking

It may have a reputation as a hobby beloved only by stamp collectors and kids who go crazy with glitter pens, but making scrapbooks, or ‘scrapbooking’, is undergoing an image overhaul. Gone are the dog-eared books of family photographs, replaced with intricate designs and embellishments that are more designer than dull.

Though the uninitiated may scoff at the latest craze, scrapbookers can be satisfied in the knowledge that they are in the most esteemed company. It is believed to have been one of Queen Victoria’s favourite hobbies and even celebrity couple Richard and Judy have championed the pursuit.

As a result, the hobby has been propelled into the premiere league as one of the most popular pastimes in Northern Ireland and it’s all down to one woman – Jacqui Milliken.

Seven years ago Jacqui went to America where a friend introduced her to the arts and craft. Scrapbooking was first started in America in 1980 by the Mormans, who wanted to emphasise the importance of documenting their family genealogy. Since then the pursuit has spawned countless magazines, internet sites and clubs.

Jacqui said: ‘When I first saw it I thought it was incredible. I was a hairdresser at the time but I had always been very creative and was interested in arts and crafts.’

When Jacqui returned to Northern Ireland she put the hobby aside. However, following the death of her husband, Jacqui was motivated to compile a scrapbook, as a way of documenting his life.

‘It’s about family history and recording all your memories, your thoughts and feelings. I wanted my grandchildren to know the story of our family and I found it particularly cathartic as it helped me put down my thoughts and feelings’, she said.

But as Jacqui got more involved she realised she could have fun and began making designs of everything from her love of Guinness to portraits of weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.

Three years ago she talked a friend into going on a course with her to England. After seeing a profile of her work Newtownabbey Council asked Jacqui to teach extra-mural courses in scrapbooking at arts centres. She said: ‘The response in Northern Ireland has been phenomenal and I am constantly churning out new people who are enthusiastic about it. I have worked with mental health groups and those with deep family problems and people find it extremely therapeutic. There is a great camaraderie among the class and because it is quite intimate pursuit it brings people very close.’

Jacqui said she teaches people of all ages and abilities, from a 14-year-old girl to a pensioner. ‘People often say to me I could never do that but there’s nothing I can’t teach. There’s a saying you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear but I can.’

Jacqui is also the first person in Northern Ireland to form a scrapaholics club. The club meets once a month, where Jacqui demonstrates a scrapbooking kit for those who feel they lack artistic flair.

Jacqui said the hobby is growing daily and could soon follow America in becoming big business over here. Scrapaholics will soon hold their first ever retreat in Northern Ireland. Even WH Smith has caught on to the craze and said there had been a rise in the consumption of scrapbooks in its stores.

But Jacqui said scrapbooking is somewhat different from the preconception of simply sticking photographs in an album. ‘Generally we work from a 12 by 12 album on two connecting pages to document a particular theme or event. Captions are usually placed around the photograph to document the photo, known as journaling. I always tell people to write the, who, what, when, where and why, so future generations can look back at their family’s history.’

‘The first thing I teach them is how to mount the photograph unto the page, which is called matting. From there the groups are taught how to crop a photograph by discarding the bits that they don’t need’, she said.

Jacqui said the albums are important because they leave a lasting legacy for future generations, so preservation is important. ‘We use good quality acid free paper and all designs are kept in photo safe plastic pockets. It also important to keep albums closed and out of direct sunlight’, she said.

If you go back in history scrapbooking was not always so chic and more sober interpretations can be viewed at Linen Hall library. The library holds countless albums provided by the public, which journal the history of Northern Ireland. One of its most prized pieces is a scrapbook of former Ulster Unionist leader, Edward Carson. The library bought the scrapbook at auction in the 1990s and since then it has become a focal point of the library tour.

The album, which dates from pre-first world war has been used as an important resource for historians such as Carson biographer, Geoffrey Lewis. The album contains pictures of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, newspaper cuttings from Belfast’s Daily Sketch newspaper and bulletins of anti-home rule demonstrations. 

Gerry Healey Irish section librarian, said: ‘It does give perspective on history from that period. The fact that it was collected by one of the main participants in the Home Rule crisis adds to its significance.’

Heather Simpson