I haven’t done a blog post in quite a while, in fact, not since I packed up and moved across the country last spring. The past year has flown by – it is hard to overstate how overwhelming being in a new place is and how much effort it takes to just acclimate and figure out where everything is. It is starting to feel like home though, and soon it truly will be home – we just bought a house, what feels like a forever house. So another move! UGH! But hopefully the last one for a long while. We have a lot of projects planned, and I will try to put more of them on the blog as they happen.
In the meantime, after what seems such a long break from Wanton Fibers over Christmas, and then while house hunting and dealing with all the little things that come with that, I am back to dyeing. I am trying to take advantage of the next month and a half before house projects and moving throw everything into chaos again. I just added some nice new yarns to my line that are Yak blends – Hespera Lace, Hespera, and Hespera DK (coming later this week), and there is more stuff coming that I haven’t offered in a while. As I was getting everything labeled and ready to go last week, it occurred to me that I have never really talked about my labels.
Last spring I switched away from the printed bands that I had always put around my skeins and started using hang tags. I have, ever since the inception of Wanton Fibers, wanted to have letterpress labels. Letterpress is just simply “printing from a hard, raised image under pressure, using viscous ink”, and it is normally done quite manually, on a printing press. It is also very expensive to have done due to the very manual, one-print-at-a-time nature of it. I have never been able to make the numbers work for having it done – I have too many different yarns and would need so many different labels that it would be prohibitively expensive. But oh… if you have ever encountered anything letterpress printed, it is so elegant and tactile. So, I started devising a way to DIY them.
Eventually, I would like to get a tabletop printing press. In the meantime, I have been using the hobbyist letterpress kit that you can get to use with one of those hand crank crafters die cutters. It is not perfect by any means- it is incredibly poorly made and is now cracked, scraped and hanging on for dear life as I have subjected it to production levels of printing. But, it can be hacked to use real custom made letterpress plates and inks and the finished product is nearly identical to something made on a real press.
I designed my tags in Adobe Illustrator and In Design, then split the design into what would become two plates – one with no ink for the background impression and one with ink for the logo and text. I sent my files off and had custom plates made from them and then started collecting the other things I would need – cotton paper in two weights that was suitable for inkjet printing, a printer that would print crisp text, a professional paper cutter, bookmaking adhesive, printing ink, ink and glue rollers, a heavy duty hole punch and ribbon.
The label making process has a lot of steps:
I print the yarn information on the lighter weight cotton paper on my printer and then, using bookmaking glue, laminate the printed sheets to the backs of heavier sheets of the same paper, making a doubly heavy sheet of paper that looks seamless and is perfect for letterpressing.
I then cut the 8.5 x 11″ sheets down into two smaller sheets that will fit through the letterpress and have 4 labels each.
I set up the letterpress with the first plate to impress the background image on the tags, register it so everything lines up and crank each of the sheets through one a time, placing each sheet into the letterpress, closing the lid and cranking it through the die cutter.
Then I switch to the inked logo-and-text plate, register everything again, get my ink spread and crank each sheet through again, this time rolling ink onto the plate before each impression.
After they are dry, its time to cut them apart, clip the corners, punch the holes and attach the ribbons. For the first year I used lovely white silk ribbon, but it was just too expensive and now I am using pearl cotton.
I do as many at a time as I can since getting everything registered is such a pain, so I usually make labels for an entire day every month or so.
I know that labels are a small thing, and perhaps its silly to spend so much energy on something that probably gets tossed eventually. But on the other hand, aren’t we makers, and isn’t that the point of the thing? It’s the small things, the feel of the thing in your hands, the intention that went into it that keeps propelling us forward, willing to put hundreds of hours into the knitting of a sweater, or a shawl. It is special, hard won – from the shearing of the sheep, to the carding, spinning, dyeing, and knitting. A reminder, in our throwaway, mass produced world, of how much labor was once involved in the project of just living – putting food on the table and clothes on your family. Labor that is still happening, but is now centralized, abstracted and devalued – happening out of sight and mind. It can be viewed as privilege, that we have the time and resources to put so much intention into a thing, but I can also think of it as an acknowledgment of the value of labor – labor that doesn’t end with the labeling of the skein, but that is just beginning as it makes its way to the next maker.