Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2017 (243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Julie Epp is the founder of Dreaming Tree Paper Company, a Wolseley-based operation that transforms weathered, dog-eared books into eye-catching diaries and day planners.
A while back, Epp took part in the Danforth East Arts Fair in Toronto. At some point during the weekend, a woman occupying an adjacent booth began flipping through Epp’s wares which, instead of resting on tables or shelves, are typically displayed in worn, vintage suitcases. Within seconds, she came across a tome that took her breath away.
"It turned out one of the books I’d turned into a journal had been written by her late grandfather," Epp says, seated inside a bustling, West Broadway coffee shop. "There had been very few copies printed, apparently, but what made this one even more special was an inscription on the title page, which I always try to preserve, from her grandfather to friends of their family. Immediately, she was on the phone with her mother, saying ‘You’ll never believe what I just found.’" (In case you’re wondering, no, Epp didn’t charge the woman for the treasure.)
Epp grew up in Winnipeg’s south end. In 1996, shortly after she moved into an apartment of her own for the first time, she began chronicling her thoughts in journal form, on a near-nightly basis.
"Bar Italia on Corydon (Avenue) was my place," she says, taking a sip of her latte. "I would go there almost every evening, drink coffee till 2 (a.m.) and write, write, write."
Here’s the thing; because Epp is "all over the place" when she has a pen or pencil in her hand — she dislikes "the confinement of lines," she says with a smile — her solution was to buy artist sketch pads, a practice she wasn’t overly fond of, since most were too large for what she had in mind.
Back then, the graphic designer was working for an architectural firm. There was a spiral coil binding machine at work and one afternoon she borrowed it to bind blank sheets of paper between two pieces of cardboard, which she had measured and cut to the ideal size. Pleased with the result, she repeated that process whenever she needed a new journal. Only instead of cardboard, she began fashioning covers out of board games, record album sleeves and finally, second-hand books, to give them some added pizzazz.
It worked. Whenever her friends spotted one of her creations sticking out from her purse, their first comment was "How cool is that?"
For years, Epp was content making journals for her own use. After moving to Toronto in 2008, however, she decided to see if there was a market for what she was turning out. She was hoping to make a few extra dollars on the side, but more importantly, if her handiwork proved a hit, it would grant her the perfect excuse to go shopping for dusty, old books to her heart’s content.
"The Toronto Reference Library had a used book store, where discarded books were $1 each, so I got a ton there. Plus, in Toronto, people put stuff on the side of the road in boxes all the time, so that turned out to be another great resource," she says, adding these days, when she hits preferred haunts such as Value Village or MCC thrift shops, she doesn’t waste time fussing over condition, as long as the front and back cover are fairly intact. "I never care if the pages are stained or written on, or if the binding is broken. I actually prefer that, because I’m much happier cutting up a book that’s somewhat destroyed that nobody’s going to want to read, anyways."
Epp, who returned to Winnipeg in 2012, says people who haven’t seen her journals before often do a double-take when they come across her booth at craft shows.
"Lots (of people) stop and look, but it’s not until they pick up one up and start flipping through that they realize what I do, exactly... that I’m not just rebinding old books," she says, adding she makes a point of including between six and 10 pages from the original book, especially illustrations, to lend a touch of charm to the finished product.
"Pretty much the same things that have been popular forever," she says, when asked what titles shoppers are on the lookout for, most frequently. As if to make her point, she fans out a half-dozen titles on the table in front of us, including Felix Salten’s Bambi, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and an early edition of Aesop’s Fables, which immediately grab the attention of people seated nearby.
For a long stretch, she couldn’t find enough books featuring the adventures of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins or Cherry Ames to keep up with demand, she says. ("She was this nurse from the ‘40s and ‘50s who solved mysteries," Epp explains, after correctly picking up on a "Cherry-who?" look on her interviewer’s face.)
"But my favourites, for sure, are old textbooks," she continues, noting she finds it particularly difficult to part with songbooks and typewriting manuals, because of how attractive their covers tend to be. "Most hardcovers nowadays come with a dust jacket, there’s little to no writing on the actual cover...to me, they just don’t make books like this anymore."
Dreaming Tree Paper Company products are available at five retail locations in Winnipeg, including Urban Waves on Osborne Street, the Best of Friends Giftshop at Millennium Library and the Tara Davis Studio Boutique in the Exchange District. Tara Davis, the Winnipeg-born owner of the five-year-old shop at 246 McDermot Ave., met Epp seven years ago, when she was running a crafters’ store in British Columbia.
"I hate to say it but even though my store was in Nelson, all my bestselling stuff was made by friends of mine in Winnipeg," Davis says. "In November 2010, I was in town for an event called This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Craft Sale, at the Park (Theatre), and after meeting Julie there and seeing her stuff for the first time, I started bringing in her journals on a regular basis."
Davis, who stocks between 75 and 100 of Epp’s journals at any given time, says the books appeal to almost everybody who comes through her door, from aunts and uncles looking for a present for nieces and nephews, to new moms and dads in the market for a log to record their baby’s height, weight, etc.
Davis chuckles when the inevitable, this-is-such-a-good-idea-why-didn’t-I-think-of-it-first-query is posed.
"I know, eh? But it’s an effort, for sure. About five years ago, just before Christmas, I invited Julie down, to make books for people onsite. But after watching her cutting and measuring for hours – not to mention all the work that went into finding the books in the first place – I was like, ‘OK, this is a bit of an effort, for sure.’"
From time to time, Epp accepts custom orders from people looking to preserve a family heirloom — a cherished recipe book that is falling apart, for example — in a unique manner.
"In a way, I’m selling memories, right?" she says, pointing out she’s also made wedding-guest registers for brides and grooms out of books each of them holds dear. "I hear it all the time, when people are looking through my stuff: ‘Oh my God, I remember reading this book,’ they’ll say. The money’s nice but I have to say the journey of watching people go through my books and seeing their eyes light up has been really neat."
On Oct. 29, Epp will be a vendor at Oh! For Craft’s Sake, at the Park Theatre, and in November, she’ll participate in Third + Bird’s 9th annual Christmas market, which will be staged on the lower level of the downtown Bay store. For more information on Dreaming Tree Paper Company, go to www.dreamingtreepaper.com.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.