My name is Erica Ekrem. I live with my sweetheart and our two children on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington state. I design and make hand-stitched journals for my shop Odelae that are inspired by nature and folktales from around the world.
Odelae began in my early 20s when I came across a dusty trunk of vintage books in my grandparents’ basement. For me, this was truly a golden find and a valued hand-me-down. I was most inspired by the books that were musty and damaged by the elements or decades of use. Though no longer of commercial worth, the books felt priceless and saturated with the beauty of hand-pressed covers too elegant to discard. I felt I was strongly called to bring them back to life, so I integrated them into hand-stitched journals. Thus, the Odelae reincarnate journals were born.
Today I continue to intercept textbooks and vintage finds on their way to the landfill, and gather found objects like clam shells and small driftwood planks that I discover during walks on the beach. I allow these found materials to speak to me and give me clues on how to best assemble them into a final product. I build the journals utilizing old world tools, such as a manual guillotine paper cutter, needle and thread, awl, bone folder and punch. Fulfilling orders from Etsy has mostly been a one-woman show, though when needed I recruit assistance from my sweetheart James, who has learned to wield the guillotine, follow a few stitching patterns, and simultaneously don his super papa cape for our kids. Honestly, it isn’t always a smooth process (it’s usually incredibly messy), but it always works out in the end.
One of my favorite things I’ve ever made is my clam shell book – it occupies a special nook in my heart. The idea of making a book with clam shell covers came to me during a walk on the beach, and at first I turned it down. The idea of a literal clam shell book seemed obvious to me as a bookbinder, because the similarly titled “clam shell” box is something most binders learn to make during their training. I was sure someone else had already done it. Besides, I didn’t think I had the proper tools for drilling, and what if it didn’t turn out? So there it arrived, a merciless slew of nonsensical fear and doubt of my ability. A few months later, I was invited to exhibit in a local art gallery and I needed another piece to round out my submission. Over two grueling experimental days, I took a chance and the clam shell book came to be. Slowly I picked it up, held it in my hands, and it felt alive and (gasp!) maybe even authentic! It was part of me, yet very much part of nature. After the gallery show concluded, I researched and didn’t find anyone else making anything like it (though surely someone has – it’s so obvious). I posted one in my shop, and it sold. That sale was followed by others, and now I spend much more time in the fresh, salty air on the beach gathering the obvious. (Editor’s note: For more of the story behind the shell, check out this article.)
Working with my hands and natural, non-toxic materials that engage my senses is incredibly satisfying. I’ve come to believe that we live in an animated world, one in which everything we perceive – material and non – is alive. I am grateful for the beautiful resources that come my way, and work respectfully to ensure minimal waste. Recently, I made the choice to shift away from a graphic design practice and focus solely on creating with my hands. In the presence of raw, earthy materials such as clam shells, linen thread, leather and handmade paper, I feel enlivened. I believe magic occurs when we engage our whole being in the act of creation. With focused attention, we can imbue a handmade object with an intended feeling or vibration, be it love, gratitude, or protection. I think whether we are conscious of it or not, we are drawn to handmade objects because of the quality of energy they hold. We sense the sacred within.
The idea of hundreds of thousands of sellers from around the world participating in a single marketplace 24/7 is mind boggling, yet this is what is occurring on Etsy. For me, Etsy is a rare opportunity to connect with artisans and appreciators worldwide. It means I get to live where I do and do what I love with many others doing the same, yet different thing. Also, we all are part of a shift that is happening. We’re players in a movement that’s empowering people to follow their dreams. We’re rebuilding our skill set via the DIY movement, breaking the mold of the 20th century workplace and remembering how to function as a community. The artistic trends we are witnessing suggest a shift in our mass consciousness toward a very different, invigorating way of being.
I am deeply inspired by sellers who express themselves in an authentic way. Each of us has the opportunity to create a quality product with a story and it is vastly more powerful if we narrate the story in an authentic dialect and color it with our own unique visual slang. I believe that authenticity is the most powerful gift we can offer to ourselves and one another. With the incredible mass of advertising we are inundated with, it can be a challenge to discern an authentic vision from the reiterated ones. However, we can each access our authentic voice if we have the intent to do so. I practice by sitting quietly and listening inward. Sometimes a vision will come and sometimes not, and that’s okay. But when one arrives, we must share it! It can be good medicine for others. I believe the artist’s responsibility is to share her or his vision. Imagine how we can all positively contribute to life by fully being who we are meant to be – the strange, loving, intriguingly awkward and beautiful being we see in the mirror, when we are brave enough to take a look.
Since Odelae began, I’ve began playing with the energy of giving and receiving. I practice this with each order I receive. I take my time to carefully package the journals. I want the receiver to feel gifted, even if (or maybe especially if) it is a gift for herself. Each journal is wrapped in vintage cloth or handkerchief and banded with a strip of paper and, always, a handwritten note is tucked within. I want it to feel personal, because it is. Every purchase from Odelae supports my family and enables a livelihood that allows me to spend quality time at home with my children. When we freely give to one another, even in the smallest of ways, we build a sense of material and non-material abundance in our lives. The more we are willing to give, the more we are capable of receiving. And even if the exchange doesn’t feel fair in the moment, there is usually a lesson to be discovered. The Beatles sang it well, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”