On with the Letterpress!

I’m not one to find great interest in history, whether that includes learning about the subject in class or seeing an old building from years before. I’ve never really known why I don’t find an interest in it, but the thought of seeing really old items never appealed to me; I’ve always found antiques of any kind to be boring, and I find myself more interested in the clock than I do the artifact in front of me. For some reason I can’t explain, I didn’t feel this way in regard to the letterpress. 

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit Meshwork Press in Wilkinsburg, PA, a small independent letterpress business that creates greeting cards and postcards, with the Small Press Publishing class. Although the building itself was rather small, with the machines and letterpresses present in the room, the area somehow felt bigger than it truly was. 

Once we were told about each of the letterpresses, how they worked, and the different vocabulary and processes required to create a print, we were split into pairs and set off to make our own creations. Now, I’ve made hands-on artwork before, and one of the perks of Saint Vincent is that there’s so many opportunities to try something totally new, but I’ve never done something quite like letterpress before. 

A photo of one of the two presses at the Meshwork Press. Pictured above is a tabletop press. Photo taken by me.

Although the prints can sometimes look incredibly simple to make, and the process may appear to be easy, there’s so much work and thought that goes into the craft that I never cared to think of before. If you’re working with letters or specific images, you really have to think about how you want them placed, for you’ve got to ensure that they’re both backwards and in reverse so that the page will read correctly once you print them. You also have to consider the types of furniture you have to press them together, for while you may have a beautiful idea with a bunch of images and letters scattered about, having it all stick together can be a rather difficult task with the number of little spaces placed between them; granted, this doesn’t mean you can’t make a print such as the one mentioned, but a lot more thought and time may have to go into the process than before. 

A photo of one of the two presses at the Meshwork Press. Pictured above is a platen press. Photo taken by me.

Working with a letterpress is one of those activities that I for whatever reason could never have pictured myself ever getting the chance to do, mostly because it’s an activity I didn’t realize still existed, but now that I’ve done it once, I can’t wait to make even more! 

If you want to learn more about Meshwork Press or visit it yourself, click here!

1 thought on “On with the Letterpress!”

  1. I am also not someone who is usually captivated by history, but I agree that there is something unique about the letterpress, which exempts it from my usual beliefs about history. Perhaps part of it is how interactive the letterpress process still is, as you mention. It is one that demands great time, skill, and attention to detail; it places you in the footprints of people who carried this process out in previous decades and is therefore a living, vibrant piece of history. While I was not able to join in the excursion to Pittsburgh, I think that getting to even touch a letterpress is a wonderful experience that draws you into a slice of history and literature alike.


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