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What is a Flow Journal and How to Make One

What is a Flow Journal and How to Make One main article image
Posted on May 5, 2021 by Julie Richards

As someone who loves paper and paper crafts, one of my favorite gifts to give or receive is a flow journal or folder. These awesome pieces of work are stuffed with all types of paper, fabrics, images and other pieces of ephemera that I can use in my personal journals.

A flow journal gives me inspiration when I need it. The various elements in the flow journal help me get over a hump in my daily crafting when I find myself at a loss for what to create. Sometimes I just need something that is already assembled so I can finish a project already in progress. Once in a while, I find a new technique or idea that inspires me to do a “try it” session to see if I can make it myself.

Why the Name Flow Journal

The name Flow Journal came about because of a magazine called “FLOW”. This magazine is a paper lover’s dream come true. All the pages in the magazine contain papers, images and other elements which are designed for the reader to cut out and use in their own journals. The cost is a little high for someone on a budget. So crafty people started a trend of making their own flow book that contained not only papers and images but also textiles and textures. As the flow junk journal developed, so did the elements inside.

What the handmade flow journal does is give you some creative ideas and tangible things to work with while you are crafting. It keeps you in the creative flow while working on your journals. You don’t have to stop what you are doing to construct what you need for your journal-making project. A flow journal keeps your artistic juices flowing.

Some people say it’s just a junk journal. Others say a flow journal is just a bunch of ephemera stuck in a book or folder. Both of these statements are true. But there is more to it than that. A flow journal contains things that someone else crafted or included that you may not have ever seen or even have access to where you live. These two reasons are why flow journals are so much fun to trade with other crafters.

Gathering Paper

First and foremost, you need paper; any type, any form, any color. The papers you select when making a flow journal should reflect what you like or what you think the recipient would like. I choose a variety of paper, from tea-dyed to digital prints I have created and everything in between. I gather about 30 to 40 pieces of paper in all shapes and sizes.

Some papers you can include in a flow journal include wrapping paper, gelli prints, tissue paper, rice paper, and book pages. You can add old dictionary pages or pages from a children’s book. A popular paper is a page or two from an Edith Holden book titled “Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”. The print and images are simply beautiful.

Other types of paper you may wish to add include wall paper pieces, vintage receipts, ledger paper, and vintage catalog papers or advertisements. While some people may think it’s just a bunch of old papers from long ago, to a person binding those papers into a journal, they are gold.

Types of paper

Choosing Textures

A flow journal contains a variety of ribbons, lace and material. Some of these may include new and vintage doilies, strips of yarn or eyelash trim, embroidery thread, and small squares of fabric. The colors are not important as long as they inspire you. Since a flow journal is used to keep the artistic magic from stopping, your choice of textures should be ones you feel drawn to and not repulsed by.

I love soft fabrics with muted colors with no pattern or one that is delicate. However, someone else might dream about burlap, vinyl or terry cloth. It is important to include a small variety of fabric swatches in a flow journal because you never know when you may need a small square of bright green satin for a piece of ephemera you make.

Cheesecloth or gauze is another textile that I include in my flow journals. A scrap of cheesecloth layered behind a word or small image helps enhance the overall effect of the piece. So does a piece of ribbon or lace that is made into a bow.

Adding Ephemera

Tags, tickets and envelopes abound in a flow journal because they are used in every junk journal ever created. Well, almost every one. You can embellish them or leave them plain so the items are handy when you need one to decorate. For someone who cannot find tickets or has trouble making tags, those little items are a dream come true.

Playing cards, post cards, maps and index cards also are good for inclusion in a flow journal. Plain or embellished, they are at your fingertips when you need them. You don’t have to stop and search for them or wait for your next trip to the store to buy some.

Include canceled or faux postage stamps in your flow journal as well. Even tiny images that are about the same size as a postage stamp would work for the same purpose. You may even choose a small stamped image that you can color in with a colored pencil or marker.

Do not forget Washi tape as you gather what you want in your flow journal. Instead of an entire roll, it is customary to wind a strip or two of several kinds of Washi tape around a tag or card. This gives you or the recipient a choice when a piece of Washi is needed.

Odds and Ends

Some of the other items you want to include are colorful napkins that have a pretty pattern, charms, stickers, printed words or phrases. Think of all the things you put in your handmade journals and those are the things that you want to include when you make a flow journal.

Odds and Ends

Boho beads, a glassine bag of dried flowers, sequins and seed beads to make shaker cards, die cuts; the list is never-ending. These are all things that you want at your fingertips when making a handmade journal. These are also things that you sometimes forget to gather when collecting things to make said journal.

Construction Phase

The cover of a flow journal is made from material, card stock, a manila folder or a large mailer envelop. You can leave it plain if it is for your own personal use but when giving a flow journal as a gift, it is nice to make a pretty cover. I like to use a larger mailer envelop that I decorate with paints, stamps and decoupaged napkins. The binding is elastic or ribbon. The closure is generally the same.

For this example, I am using a manila envelop with an elastic cord for the binding. I am using a piece of ribbon and one of lace to wrap around the flow journal as a closure.

Outside Cover


  1. Decorate the inside and outside of a manila envelop. Allow the envelope to dry.
  2. Fold each paper in half, separately, making sure the crease is sharply defined.
  3. Open the folded papers and make two stacks of 15 papers each.
  4. Choose three or four papers from each stack and fold the bottom two inches of the papers up to create a pocket. (do not glue the edges)

Folded paper pocket

  1.  Arrange all the papers, including the ones with the pocket, into two signatures.
  2. Open the pages of the signatures flat on the work surface.
  3. Add any napkins, wall paper pieces or maps between the pages at this time. Make sure that these elements are also folded and centered on the creases of the pages.Napkin sample
  4.  Fold the manila envelop in half, left to right. Make the crease sharp and defined.
  5. Insert the two signatures into the manila envelop.
  6. Wrap two strips of elastic twine or ribbon and lace around the center of each signature and the manila folder.
  7. Tie the elastic or ribbon and lace taught but not tight in the middle of each signature.
  8. Put small embellishments into bags and tuck them into the pockets made by the folded papers.
    Center of signature
  9. Attach additional ephemera or other embellishments to the pages and papers using paperclips.

Attach with paperclips

  1. Fold the manila folder closed so the signatures are inside like pages of a book.
  2. Wrap a piece of decorative cloth, ribbon or lace around the flow journal going from one side, around the back, and across to the other side.
  3. Tie the cloth or ribbon in place with a taught but not tight bow to close the flow journal.

I like to have a few different flow journals around when I make a handmade journal. The pages of my flow journals are eclectic in size, style and content. I use them to store various ephemera I receive in happy mail or as gifts from other crafters. I also store pieces that I have made one or two of so they don’t get lost in the pile of craft supplies on my desk!

I hope you try your hand at making a flow journal and find another paper enthusiast to trade with. Remember to keep the craft flow going!

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1 Comment
Virginie Bergar Czt

January 20, 2022

Nice definition of a flow journal, I just discovered it reading your article and you made it very clear that I want to make one myself to send as an happy mail to a crafting friend

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