‘Pressing News

There has been some letterpress activity around here lately, which is such a good thing in so many ways. I was encouraged by a local print shop owner to print several designs for his sales reps to include in their portfolio: an extremely generous opportunity I jumped at and just the incentive I needed to spend some quality time with the press.

Letterpress print Hemingway Quote

I’m hardly an expert printer yet. The finesse of fine printing is coming slowly – practice seems to really be the best teacher at this point, though the books and online articles are indispensable for reference. And so far I have done only single color printing, though of course I’m itching to try more complex designs. Using photopolymer plates instead of hand setting type means the options are wide-open design wise. My main constraint is the small size of my press, a Chandler and Price Pilot press which is a table top platen press with a printing area that doesn’t easily exceed 5×7″.

As an exercise in reminding my future expert-printer self how little I really knew at this point, here is How I Make a Letterpress Print:

1. The first step is to sketch out designs. I should always start with a pencil and paper, but often the doodles happen digitally in Adobe Illustrator. How things start is somewhat dependent on the type of project, but I do think that getting off the computer and sketching is super important so I’m making an effort to do that more.

2. Regardless of the first step, the designs are then finalized in Illustrator.

3. And then they are sent off to the wonderful people at Boxcar Press who do magical and mysterious things and then a few days later I receive a very exciting package containing my designs in the form of photopolymer plates.

printing on chandler and price letterpress

4. Now we get to break out the ink! I love the smell of ink. I also am aware that the ink and accompanying clean up solutions are fairly unhealthy to breathe, which is why my press is currently located in the garage. I’ve been using offset printing ink that was given to me by a kind and generous printer in Vermont when I first got my press. The important thing about ink and letterpress is that less is best. A little goes a long way. Too much and you will have stringy drippy prints, ink-clogged plates, and a lot of clean up. Don’t ask me how I know this.

5. A few dabs of ink are spread onto the disc – the round part at the top of the press – and the handle is pulled repeatedly, allowing the rollers to spread the ink evenly across the surface. This part is fun: crank, clang. Crank, clang. Crank, clang. It’s a great left-arm workout. My left arm is going to be ripped.

6. The plate, which is like a thick plastic sticker, is stuck onto the base (a gridded piece of metal that is kept in the chase and held in place with furniture and quoins). Placement is key, particularly on a small press such as mine. To print as large as possible in the circumstances, I got a base that nearly fills my chase. This means that I have to be very careful where I place my gauge pins (little metal clips that keep the paper in place while it is being printed) and grippers (metal arms attached to the press that also help hold the paper in place) so they are not pressed onto the base during printing.

7. Then comes arguably the most important part: adjusting the packing – the layers of paper upon which the printed paper sits, allowing for an even and clean impression. I use phone book pages for packing because they are very thin and we have a cupboard full of yellow pages that are never referred to anymore. The packing adjustments are where the art of printing really comes in. I had a realization of that recently, as I was grumbling my way through the process and just wanting to print already: this is printing. What comes after is the manual labor part. This is the finesse, the learning process, the problem to be solved. I feel like I have a lot to say on the subject: grand parallels between printing and Life that seem so profound while I’m working out the details of why the left bottom corner of the print is faint while two lines up is getting ink splotches but of course come off as trite when actually written down. Something about slowing down, appreciating the process, living in the moment…


8. And then, pulling the prints. The part where it all pays off. The paper slides onto the gauge pins, the handle is pulled and released, the rollers go up over the plate, re-ink on the disc as the paper presses against the plate, return down as the paper peels off and a fresh print is pulled from the press. I usually can’t help but examine each print as it comes off, checking for errors before remembering that it is identical to the one before.

Except, of course, none really are identical. That is the real beauty of a little hand press such as mine and a good part of the reason letterpress is becoming so popular again. Although the press is a marvel of antique engineering, there is an undeniable quality of “handmade” about each print. Small imperfections – or variations, rather – are inevitable. Each printing session is a learning process: an opportunity to develop the balance between practicing patience and attention to detail when adjusting the press, laying down the ink, and paying attention to the pressure of each pull on the lever, and then letting go of absolute perfectionism and appreciating the distinctiveness of every print as it is removed from the press.

little reader girl letterpress print

Fresh Lavender Bundles – Tutorial

fresh lavender

What do you do with lavender? My general approach has always been to cut it with great intentions, stick it in a jar to dry, and then throw it out months later when the dust has gathered and half the blossoms have fallen off.

Last winter, however, I was introduced to another way to keep lavender when my aunt gave me this sweet smelling and surprisingly durable sachet bundle. Fashioned only from the lavender itself and some strong thread (the ribbon is purely decorative but adds a nice touch), the sachet traveled safely in packed luggage on at least two cross country flights and has also stood up to investigation by a curious 2-year-old (which is probably even more impressive).

original lavender sachet bundle

With a plentiful supply of lavender needing to be picked, I decided to try my hand at recreating this pretty little bundle.

fresh lavender with sachet

These sachets or bundles keep the flowers from getting everywhere and creating a mess, so they are perfect for nestling in a lingerie drawer, and they are pretty enough to set out on a little shelf or put in a vase. The best part, for me at least, is they must be made immediately after picking the lavender, so there is no forgetting about the project as the lavender gathers dust hanging in a bundle somewhere or stuck in a vase on top of the refrigerator. They also require very little in the way of supplies and are super simple to make. I will show you how I did it.

fresh lavender bundles


Around 20 stalks of fresh lavender
Ribbon (about 8 inches for a decent bow)

Fresh Lavender Sachet Bundles

Cut about 20 stalks of lavender, leaving the stems as long as possible. Arrange them in a bouquet with the bottom petals as close to even as possible. If the flower sections of any stems are much longer than the others you may wish to clip them. Wrap the thread tightly around all the stems just below the lowers blossoms.

secure the lavender stems with strong thread

When the stems are secure, begin to wrap a bit more loosely up the flower section of the lavender. This will help keep the flowers from falling out, but don’t worry about binding all the flowers down with thread as the bent stem “birdcage” we are going to create will do most of the work. Wrap the thread to the tips of the flowers and then back down. Wrap a few more times around the stems and then tie it off nice and tight.

bring the thread up the flower section of the lavender

Now we begin folding the stems over to create the bird cage around the blossoms.

bend the stems backwards over the blossoms

At the point where the stems are tied, fold the stems back one at a time, spacing them as evenly as possible around the flowers. It helps to rotate the bouquet, folding the stems down on opposite sides and then filling in between to secure the gaps. Hold the folded stems in a bunch just past the tip of the flowers.

stems are folded back around the flowers

When all the stems are bent and arranged around the flowers, secure them by binding with thread.

cut the bottom of the stems to make them even

Trim the bottom of the stems so they are even. I left mine fairly long and bound them together again near the bottom, but you could make the stem part shorter. Tie a pretty ribbon over the thread at the top, and voila! A sweet smelling lavender sachet bundle!

lavender sachet bundles

You will want to have some airflow around the lavender while it dries so the flowers won’t mildew or mold, so put it in a vase or set it out on a shelf for a couple weeks.

I am wondering now if other herbs could be bundled this way – maybe mint or rosemary?

Summer Afternoon


She takes off with the pink stroller down the walk. Going outside these days usually involves a stroller and a selection of much beloved babies, or, today, a green plastic ball (also beloved). “This way, Mommy,” she says.


I follow, of course, pausing to pull a few weeds and stopping to take photos of the blossoms we pass. “Takin’ pictures, Mommy?” she asks.


pink flower




061414_1183 061414_1186

Two is amazing. Challenging in all the ways one hears about, but so fun. Every day she surprises me with a new phrase or the ability to share a thought or an observation. She makes jokes and plays with words and sometimes wants to say things that are a little too complicated and the words just won’t come out properly and she tries and tries and stumbles over the syllables and then finally figures it out.


I see the things we do reflected in her actions all the time now. Funny things, like calling her daddy “Honey”; sweet things, like the way she rocks her babies to sleep. But also the way she pushes the dog away from her chair, reminding me to be ever more aware of even my smallest actions. Seeing her try on my shoes, grab her play phone to “work” when I’m on the phone, examine my face washing technique – it is such an awesome responsibility and such an inspiration to do more, be more.



Friday Links – Catching Up

An eternity is the time from when an airplane has landed to when you are allowed to disembark. It is also the definition of March. We aren’t giving up hope, we know Spring will come as it always has. We have garden beds turned over, thanks to a gardening friend who visited last week. Seeds are waiting. I’m pinning Spring projects and Summer plans. The forsythia buds are so ready to burst that the branches I brought in flowered in one day.

Any day now… we are ready!

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- We recently hit the final “publish” on this new website for artist and teacher Sarah Amos. She is a printmaker and multimedia artist and offers workshops in her incredible Vermont studio.


- Mixing It Up Gluten Free Baking is another site I built. It has been up and running for a while now and it is so great to see them doing really well! Turns out Linda is the only gluten free baker in our area who has an online shop and she is really noticing a benefit from it.

- But enough about me. How about an article recalling the Dalai Lama learning about skiing in New Mexico? (found via)

- My brother-in-law’s Vegetables on Black photos are now for sale online at Living Traditional Arts Shop. Class up your kitchen!

- George R.R. Martin talks about the Iron Throne, Tolkien, human complexities, plot twists, his dislike for deadlines, and more in this Vanity Fair interview. “There’s always this tension between fiction and life. Fiction has more structure than life does. But we have to hide the structure. We have to hide the writer, I think, and make a story seem like it was true. Too many stories are too structured and too familiar. The way we read, the way we watch television, the way we go to movies, all give us certain expectations of how a story is going to go.” — he seems neat.

- I used to babysit this girl and now she is all grown up and making these fantastic pieces of pottery. Those two things are not at all related – she comes from an incredibly talented family – but I’m proud to know her!


Happy Weekend!

Friday Links – Books and Such

– Someday, when we live in a place where people walk around the neighborhood, I’d like to build a Little Free Library. Besides being such a great community contribution, the little structures themselves are amazingly creative and would be such fun to design. Would your neighborhood use a free book exchange?

– Cam found a copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide* at Daedalus Bookshop downtown and, despite having read them all before, I am enjoying the book immensely. Apparently, the Hitchhiker stories went through many changes between radio broadcasts, books in the USA, books in the UK, recordings, etc and Adams claims in the introduction to this version that this is the definitive edition (at least until something new comes along…).

– We’ve been reading the Spot books at bedtime, which is fun because I remember having them read to me as a child. The flaps are really exciting, however, which is also fun but doesn’t really bring about a calming bedtime atmosphere.

– Other favorite storybooks of our resident 20-month old child are currently the Llama Llama’s Little Library set, which she was given for Christmas; Do You Know New? which is really intended for infants but has a baby on the cover and mentions “blue” – two things she really likes right now; Ten Little Rabbits, which was one of the very first purchases we made for baby before she was born (possibly the first, actually. Priorities!) and is my personal favorite; and some Raggedy Ann books Cam found to start what will have to be an ongoing collection.

Best buds

Angry Chicken’s post about Building a Family Library has so many great ideas, not the least of which is the necessary designing of special bookplates!

– I’ve started volunteering with Literacy for All here in Charlottesville, doing a weekly ESL tutoring session with a lovely woman from El  Salvador. I am learning a great deal about  1. How generally ridiculous the English language is; 2. How to explain idioms (“pain in the neck”, “his heart is in the right place”); 3. Keeping my mouth shut so my student can figure words out on her own; 4. Making conversations genuine while also correcting pronunciation and grammar; 5. Keeping a conversation going in the first place – I am such an introvert, this is really a challenge! 6. Organizing and planning lessons… the list goes on and on. I hope my student is learning something too!

And now I am off for a short adventure with the intergalactic hitchhikers. And this friday list is getting in just under the midnight wire. Happy weekend!

* Amazon links include my affiliate account information.

Our Holiday Card

I really love the holiday card we sent out this year. Silhouettes are so fun – I think it is amazing how you can totally recognize a person just from their silhouette. So many friends and relatives who received these said they did a double take realizing the people on the card are really us!

silhouette holiday card

I took photos of each of us in profile, then traced them in adobe illustrator. Getting the bodies right was the hardest part; sometimes parts look very strange when you can’t see where they are coming from or how they attach! I think my favorite part is baby’s little ponytail and her bangs hanging down over her eyes like they always do because she won’t keep barrettes in for very long.

I am looking forward to more silhouettes and to researching a bit into their history. At Monticello, in Jefferson’s library, there are several silhouettes that our guide told us were made of people Jefferson met or were brought back to him from the expeditions he was involved with. Silhouettes were kind of like snapshots, which I think is just enormously neat.


Little Felt Flower Doll

Our forecast calls for 3-6 inches of snow tomorrow, but it’s hard not to feel a little springish when the sun is shining and small green shoots are beginning to peer out of the ground. In that spirit, I made this little felt flower doll to start our Spring collection.

blue felt flower lady doll

She is about 6 inches tall, made of wool felt with a knit cotton head and hands and a bit of needlfelted wool for her hair. A pipe cleaner runs through her arms so they are positionable and some acrylic batting in her dress allows her to stand. From the front she has a wild petal headdress, from the back she becomes a cheery blue daisy.

blue felt doll small felt flower lady

I sometimes forget that I like felt. In my head, it is stiff and kind of dull. But in reality it is so soft and versatile and you don’t have to worry about hems or fraying or hiding seams. Little projects like this come together quickly and are so satisfying, and I can stitch in the playroom (though my small assistant was no help at all, mostly because she was enthusiastically trying to kiss and hug the new “little doll”).

blue felt flower doll

Friday Links

My week went off the tracks a bit yesterday and now I’m up way too late again, not finishing the work I should have completed. Another week nearly done. Breakfasts to plan for Inn guests this weekend and post-holiday cleaning to complete (what, it’s the middle of January already? How did that happen?!).

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed this week, in case you need a weekend project, a new fact, or just a little distraction:

Moon Photos – we had a bright clear night with a nearly full moon this evening, so I got a few pictures. You really do need a decent zoom in order to really get a good shot, but other than that it’s amazingly simple to get an impressive image.

Rijksstudio – the Rijks Museum has made their collection available to the public via hi-resolution images that anyone can download and use. You can curate your own sets – using full images or cropped details of the art – and explore other user’s sets and projects.

Rembrandt Lion

We live very near Jefferson’s Monticello, and often take guests there. It is a very beautiful and interesting place, but my favorite part lately has been the GreenHouse in the Southeast Piazza and the potted trees. I’d like to grow a citrus tree in a pot, maybe an olive as well.

Did you know the Louvre is this old? I did not.

I’ve never had much luck with homemade tortillas, but these look really tasty. Tortilla making seems like a good solid skill to master.


Happy Friday!

Baked Pears with Cranberry Sauce


This baked pear recipe from Share My Kitchen was my inspiration one chilly morning a few days before Christmas. I wanted something festive, but still meeting my criteria of coming together fairly quickly. As it turns out, I prefer to sleep a few extra minutes rather than labor over elaborate breakfast offerings. But I also have high standards and want to give our guests something special so they really feel they’ve been pampered.

The original recipe has the pears filled with a mixture of walnuts and blue cheese – delicious I am certain but maybe not quite right for breakfast. I decided to add a little color and holiday flair with a basic cranberry sauce (cranberries boiled in sugar water until soft, with a splash of citrus, a sprinkling of nutmeg, and a pinch of salt). I filled out the plate with a couple slices of nice thick bacon (we had some very enthusiastic bacon lovers that morning!) and fresh orange slices.

Baked pears with cranberries and bacon

The photos from the original recipe are so beautiful, but when I tried to recreate the flipped over presentation it just didn’t work. I did brush the puff pastry with a mixture of egg and cinnamon, however, so the crust was quite lovely (though in my photo it somewhat resembles a baked potato).

They were beyond delicious. The pears were sweet and soft, the puff pastry a cinnamon-y crunch on the outside. The cranberries brought in a tangy edge that just enhanced the other flavors so nicely. And the bacon was, well, bacon. Do I need to say more?

On Saturday and Sunday mornings I sneak out of the house before everyone else awakes and drive into town to cook breakfast for the guests at The Inn at 400 West High. This gorgeous B & B right in the heart of beautiful Charlottesville is owned by my mother-in-law and we get some of the nicest guests! I share some of my breakfast compositions here in my ongoing Breakfast at the Inn series.


Paint the Town

It started innocently enough. A few small fingerprints, a trail of tiny dots.

finger painting beginning

Baby’s first Paint Experience. I have been looking forward to this day for a long time. I avoided the yogurt-as-paint adaptation because I’d rather not blur the lines between art and food unnecessarily. This is tempera. Non-toxic. Definitely not tasty (though to be honest I haven’t tried eating it, so…).

She wasn’t entirely sure at first. I showed her how a fingertip in the paint could make a line of fun dots across the page. Intriguing…

holiday finger painting

You know where this is going. I demonstrated a full handprint and then all bets were off. “More paint!” is what that pointing finger is saying quite clearly, though the words are still to come.

finger painting toddler


Putting color on the paper was fun. Squishing color between fingers and rubbing it into hair and into the crevices of the old highchair was more fun.
finger painting with a toddler

My photo documenting ends at this point. I can assure you, however, that this was only the beginning. The final masterpiece involved a lot more paint and a shirt that was decidedly no longer white.

finger painting fun

We have the final paintings hanging in the windows, of course. Where they can be admired by all. And she has requested painting again, with even better results. So, success. Absolutely.

On the second attempt, the actual painting even lasted longer than it took to set up!