Creating burned and stitched art journal pages

Hello all and welcome to the Season of Music! It’s Vanessa and I’m going to show you how to add some stitching to your pages…but maybe not in the usual way. Stitching can be decorative and/or functional. Think of some of the amazing samplers that have been stitched by women in the past (and quite a few in the present). Think of running some of your papers through your sewing machine as an alternative to glue. My approach for these pages is one that is functional but also symbolic. The stitching serves as a way to bring the pages together.

My inspiration is the chorus in the song “Fragile” by Sting. I started thinking about humans and ancestry and memory and how all things fade. The usual suspects for me. I had an idea that things fall down a hole and that maybe we need to mend it to keep those precious memories from falling in.

The first thing we will do is burn a hole in our journals. FEAR NOT! I learned this technique from a pro (Orly Avineri) and you will not set fire to your house, nor will your journal burn to dust. You will need: your journal, a lighter (or matches) and a wet facecloth.


Now find the page you will burn and hold the flame underneath it. You will see the page blacken and start to burn…


…and as soon as you see the paper charring, drop the page and cover it with the wet facecloth, holding the facecloth down on the paper so it stifles the fire.


You absolutely don’t have to do this step for this tutorial, but I thought you may interested in this technique. I love it so much, I made two holes. Note the marks on the page underneath made by the charred pieces of paper (natural charcoal).


The idea now is to use stitching to link the holes together and to link them to the subject matter. I already had an idea to try some transfer techniques. I used two different ones (blender pen-right- and matte medium-left) to add some vintage photographs to my spread, with mixed results. I finished by drawing these found relatives using the ink dropper as I would have used a paintbrush.


Now that my elements are on the page, I want to stitch up those holes (but not too much). Gather your supplies. You will need some thread. I am using bookbinding waxed thread because it is thick and rigid and makes me think of surgical threads. You can use whichever type of thread goes with your theme. You’ll also need a needle, an awl and scissors.


Take a look at your page, at what visual elements you have on there and devise a way of linking these with the holes you made or with your subject matter. Once you have figured out what you want to highlight, use your awl to punch some holes.


As you can see from the punched holes below, I want the thread to cluster around the heart of the woman in the photo transfer (my great great aunt) and then to reach both sides of the holes.


Thread your needle and start stitching. Don’t worry about the page beneath for the moment. Just start mending the hole you made or highlight an element of the page with the thread you are using.


I am going in a messy way. The idea is that these stitched represent ideas of healing, of coming together and of memory all linked to the heart. While you are doing the actual stitching, be present. Let the process be a part of the page: take the time to slow down and enjoy the give and take of the movement, the sound of the thread going through the paper, tec.


If you have more than one hole on your page like I do, decide if you want them to be linked or to be separate entities. In my case, I wanted them linked. You can see that the waxed thread is quite rigid and not as soft as embroidery floss or cotton thread. Be aware of that when you think about what you want to express. Be intentional in how you choose and how you use your thread.


I decided not to cover the burned holes completely, to let them ‘breathe’. In this sense, the mending isn’t complete. I added the lyrics “how fragile we are” and am done with this first spread.


But we still have this back page with the underside of our stitching. This gives us a second opportunity to express something. Don’t you love how the little girl’s face appears in the hole?


For this second spread, I wanted to go along the same theme as I explored for the first spread. Driving home, I heard one of my favorite songs by Smashing Pumpkins, “1979”. I decided to make that song the theme of my page. So here is my setup. I gold leafed a skull and what was meant to be an anatomical heart (at the bottom of the page). I pulled two cartes de visite from my stash and some leftover wax thread.


Again, I wanted to explore the idea of connections, links between people, links in time. I really admire people who add fibre arts to their mixed media work or paintings. I thinks it’s really cool. I decided to use the short darker wax thread and to wrap these pieces on the bottom of my photos.


So as to not waste thread, I cheated and held down the end pieces with washi tape. Keeping it real, people! It’s a shame to cover the beautiful photographer’s seal no?


I already have my semi-mended holes and the stitching from the previous page done, so I wanted to simply use thread as a visual link between what is happening on the left side and the two people in the cartes de visite. So I knotted each end of the red wax thread to a segment of the one crossing the holes.


I pulled them tight and tucked them in behind the photographs like so. I stapled the photos in my journal. I’m a huge fan of stapling in case you hadn’t noticed yet. Imagine when the staples start to rust, what they will add to these pages!


I used that beautiful blank space on the left to write the lyrics that I had in mind while creating the page.


When using thread and stitches in your pages, try to use them as both a visual element and a functional one. Stitching around the holes will attract attention to them. Creating patterns with your stitches will add visual interest. Some types of stitching, like cross stitch, can be used in so many amazing ways to add meaning to your art journal.


I hope this inspires you to take up the needle and thread and to enjoy the process of adding dimension and symbolism to your pages. To enjoy ‘slow’ journaling. I can’t wait to see where this will take you.


Vanessa is an archaeologist and an artist. She oscillates between these two poles of her personality and explores the many iterations of her reality in her art journal. She loves to share her art and process with others.


  1. Gilly Welch

    Yes, yes, yes…I’m definitely going to add this….not quite sure how yet but just about to go out for a long walk….I’ll know when I get back exactly what I’ll do, thanks V!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      great idea, I love walking to find inspiration!

  2. Lucia

    thank u 🙂

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      my pleasure Lucia!

  3. Melody Willoughby

    I love this idea and I am thinking how to add to my next page. Thanks Vanessa!!!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      I’m excited to see what you’ll do Melody!

  4. Holly Janssen

    This. Is. So.Cool!!! I cannot wait to do this!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      YAY! go go go!

  5. Cheryl Angelini

    Amazing pages, Vanessa. I love your creativity and what you’ve written for this tutorial. ❤️

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      Thank you sweet Cheryl xo

  6. Misty GRanade

    That’s gorgeous!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      thanks Misty!

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      thank you Essie xo

  7. Sherry-Lynn Agcanas-Wolf

    What an interesting technique! Your explanations of why and how you used the thread kept me engaged the entire tutorial even though this style of art journaling is much different than my own. Thank you for sharing.

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      I am so glad my ramblings resonated with you. I try to have my tutorials be as if we were side by side journaling together. I hope it inspires you Sherry-Lynn 🙂

  8. Jennifer

    Brilliant, V. Love that you shared your infamous burning technique with us too. I can’t wait to get a little more messy with my stitching. xx

  9. Sarah Maddox

    Inspiring tutorial.