Review by Tina Koyama
Since most pocket notebook users are probably writing in them and not drawing, unruled pages are harder to come by than ruled. When I find one, I’m always interested in trying it. The Blackwing Clutch (pack of 3 for $14.95) was next on my curiosity list. (Ana included the Clutch in her review of three Blackwing notebook formats a couple of years ago. Check out her post, if only for the eye candy of her Lady Sheaffers!) The Clutch is also available with dot grid or ruled, all in a choice of black or white covers.
First, I should acknowledge that I’m a faithful Field Notes user for both notetaking and sketching, so I tend to judge every pocket notebook against that standard. However, Field Notes’ regularly available, blank-page, pocket-size Kraft contains paper that I don’t care for, so any competitor with unruled paper is worth considering.
Like Field Notes (and many other competitors), the 5½-by-3½-inch Clutch is sold three notebooks per pack, wrapped with a bellyband, 48 pages per book. The creamy paper is 100 GSM with sewn signatures instead of staples. A notable Clutch distinction is that the book’s format is designed to be landscape instead of portrait. Of course, if your pages are blank or dot grid, it doesn’t matter, but the orientation of the back cover’s logo and inside-cover printing indicates that it was designed in that direction. The ruled-page option is ruled in the landscape direction with a vertical center line that might be handy for list-making. (The bellyband hedges bets: It’s landscape-oriented on one side; portrait-oriented on the other.)
The matte-finish cover is a hard cardboard that is substantially thicker than that on Field Notes or most other paper cover notebooks. It’s also less flexible, so pants-pocket carriers might find it a bit stiff. As a bag-pocket carrier, I like the sturdy cover with a pleasant touch. The cover alone justifies the nominally higher cost compared to competing notebooks. The only branding is a debossed logo in back.
I was pleased to see that the signatures are stitched, since such bindings usually open easily and stay open (as do stapled books). To my surprise, the attractively rounded spine and stiff covers tend to make the book snap shut, and I learned this while trying to photograph page spreads for this review: I had to hold the pages open against the table. Despite that, I could easily bend one side of the book all the way back so that the two covers touch. This is my preferred way to hold a notebook while sketching in it, so it’s an essential quality I look for. The spine recovers completely without visible creases afterwards.
As for my media tests, the only pens that bled through a bit were the Derwent Paint Pen (which bleeds through everything) and my juicy Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen fountain pen with Platinum Carbon Black ink (review available as well), but neither fountain pen I tested feathered. The paper surface is smooth and pleasant to use with all pens and pencils.
Since I like to use a lot of dark, broad brush pens (all of which perform beautifully on the paper), my only disappointment is that the paper is not more opaque. In the photo of my sketch below (made with a Uni Pin brush pen), you can see the ghost of the sketch on the previous page. But for 100 GSM paper, this is typical, so I’m just being picky. And I’m pleased that the Uni Pin’s pigment ink did not feather or bleed at all.
It took me a while to try the Clutch, but I’m happy that I finally did. It’s a great unruled-page option with paper that holds up to most writing and casual sketching materials. The sturdy cover is a bonus.