Here are just a few snaps from the first day of our Letterpress Reimagined workshops at Sissinghurst Castle.
Here, the team are gathered in the tower at Sissinghurst Castle, looking at the original Hogarth Press situated there:
In these two, Vicki is treadling the Minerva with wild abandon, whilst explaining some of the finer points of the press and its functions:
Special thanks to Carla for these wonderful photos!
On a beautiful summer morning at Sissinghurst Castle, yesterday, we gathered round with cups of tea aplenty to chat about getting the Letterpress Reimagined project underway.
Present, were most of our lovely volunteers – just the kind of people you’d want to be involved in such a project: fun, enthusiastic, hopeful, adventuring and courageous. There were also some representatives from the team at Sissinghurst Castle, and a couple of us from Canterbury Christ Church University.
Over tea, we chatted about the project – from it’s genesis one November morning at a letterpress workshop in the very room we were now sat, to the process of finding and transporting the Minerva platen press, to our hopes for the workshops ahead. If you’ve just joined us – we’re planning to print a poem by Vita Sackville West using traditional letterpress and hand binding techniques. We hope the final product is going to look beautiful.
We then trekked over the Tower at Sissinghurst Castle, spending time looking at the original Hogarth Press platen. We talked about how it worked, what the constituent parts were called and what they did. After this, we wandered to the Old Dairy barn and compared what we’d seen with our own Minerva platen.
Many of the team had a go, spinning the flywheel or working the treadle. We spent a while talking about the practicalities of printing on such a platen – how type would be set, how the ‘forme’ is ‘locked’ (the type and furniture set in the metal ‘chase’ or frame), before being slotted into the press.
Next week – we get inky!
This fascinating essay from the The Modernism Lab at Yale, helpfully describes some of Leonard & Virginia Woolf’s early experiences of letterpress printing. Here is an excerpt:
It was not until April of 1917 that the press and the typecases were delivered to Hogarth House. “We unpacked it,” [Virginia] wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell, “with enormous excitement, finally with Nelly’s help, carried it into the drawing room, set it on its stand—and discovered that it was smashed in half!”  While they waited for their handpress to be repaired, they began distributing the type to be properly stored in the typecases. Virginia wrote that sorting out type was “the work of ages, especially when you mix the h’s with the n’s, as I did yesterday.” The infinite patience and meticulousness required for letterpress printing, however, did not discourage Virginia; rather, she concluded from these preliminaries, “real printing will devour one’s entire life.” Virginia recounted in her letter that after two hours of typesetting, Leonard “heaved a terrific sigh” and said: “’I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing.’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is” (Woolf, Virginia 2:151).
Here at the Letterpress Reimagined project, we are just about to get under way with the first of our printing, typesetting and bookbinding workshops. Hopefully, on the other side, we’ll have created a beautiful hand-printed edition of Vita Sackville-West’s out-of-print poem ‘Sissinghurst’ (1931).
Here is a photo of some of our preliminary type-setting of the first verse of the poem. You can see how Virginia got her ‘h’ and ‘n’s mixed up!
Keep checking back for more updates, photos and journal entries from our workshop volunteers.
You can also follow us on Twitter at: @LPreimagined.