Tuesday, 19 April 2011

My Day of Letterpress Joy

I have mentioned before that Coffee Boy buys me amazing presents. There have been many occasions when friends have looked at me enviously as I've told them about the gorgeous pair of boots he bought me or shown them a lovely piece of jewelery he'd got that is exactly what I would have chosen myself; they look sad as they tell me how their other halves need firm steering towards specific items or how they're forced to return things that don't fit them. But this year CB really outdid himself by buying me a one day letterpress workshop. That's right, a chance for me to create my very own letterpress stationery: it was almost too exciting.

I booked myself on the workshop and waited for my chosen date to roll around. It took a while for my day to arrive but the fact I knew that I would be one of only two participants with two tutors (a ratio of 1:1!) made the wait worthwhile. And I was right to be patient as the day itself was absolutely fantastic. I arrived just before 10.00 which gave me a chance to sip my coffee and stare longingly through the window at the letterpress goodness on offer inside: beautiful calendars; gorgeous cards; cute little magnets. Although I realised I would be unlikely to create anything quite so wonderful, I was excited to at least have a go.

A few minutes later my co-workshopper Susie arrived along with our lovely tutors Chrissie and Vicky. As we had a tour of the adorable three-floor "corridor" that the shop and workshop were housed in and then browsed through books and former attendees' work it became clear that the three people I would be spending the day with were all like-minded and easy-going; in fact it turned out that Susie and I had a somewhat scary amount of things in common! After this little inspirational interlude I realised I'd reached a decision what I planned to do: create correspondence cards with both our London and Berlin addresses on. OK, so I don't tend to write to anyone except via email but all that could change in my new world of letterpress loveliness.

On the face of it it might seem that printing with a letterpress would be fairly straightforward - and certainly everything about the process makes perfect sense. But there was so much to take in! We chose which font and which pitch we wanted to use - I went for Gill Sans because I love that deco vibe. We learned to arrange the type on composing sticks. Then we found out how to transfer and secure the blocks of type into a chase, which is a kind of frame. And then, finally, we were ready to start the actual printing process. I chose to print my addresses in two corners using metal type and black ink and then I decided to liven then whole thing up with our initials in large wooden type printed in red ink. I was so pleased with the finished articles which I printed onto a variety of coloured cards. The glorious imperfection of the printing is thankfully something that makes me love letterpress!

What an amazing, and surprisingly exhausting, day it was. As I left the wondrous corridor behind I realised I was totally shattered: in fact I couldn't remember the last time I'd learned so much in one day. There is something so satisfying about learning a new skill. Obviously I have by no means mastered letterpress printing but it feels like quite an achievement to start a day with no more knowledge about something than the fact you like the way it looks, and to end it with a box of goods produced, from start to finish, by you. Of course what makes the difference when learning a new skill is the teachers you have and in Vicky and Chrissie I couldn't have asked for anything more: they were friendly, patient and clear in their explanations.

It really was the most brilliant day and writing about it makes me want to go back and do it all over again. It wasn't cheap (although I wasn't paying so I didn't care) with the workshop, including lunch and snacks, costing £175 but actually I think that represents amazingly good value given that you have two lovely, experienced printers teaching and helping you all day. And remember there's only two of you on the course which means there's no waiting for help or equipment. If you are a serious letterpress fan I can't think of a more fantastic way to spend a day than to do a workshop at Harrington & Squires. In fact it was so good I now find myself under serious pressure to come up with a top-notch present for Coffee Boy's next birthday. Thank goodness I've got a few months to think about it. Maybe the best thing will be to buy my own letterpress and make him something. Now there's an idea...


  1. OH MY STARS!!! That workshop sounds like so much fun!!! As for the colour you chose!! It looks deliciously vibrant!!

    I seem to have only recently (within the last year or so) started to take note that London has some truly brilliant creative workshops. I have about 2 dozen I want to partake in!!! A letterpressing workshop may have to be another addition to my list!!

    Oooh and what did you have for lunch haha?

  2. Wow, what a fun day. I have never been able to touch a real live letterpress, but I would love to:)

  3. It really was such fun - I wish I could do it all over again... And lunch was a rather delicious mezze feast - nomnomnom.

  4. I've always wanted to do a letterpress workshop -- actually looked into Harrington & Squires about a year ago when I was thinking about how to make wedding invitations. Might have to take a leaf out of your book and suggest it for my next birthday ;)

  5. Do it Kat. It was great. I just wish I could do it again.


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