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By Carol Bruneau‘s eighth WFNS creative writing workshop, each student had a nice chunk of writing completed, so Bruneau dedicated her final class to publishing and making submissions.

Creative Writing with Carol Bruneau: Week Eight

When someone writes with the hopes of one day being published, s/he is writing with the intent to communicate to another person or a community of people. Carol Bruneau explains that publishing is a part of this process.


If you’re interested in publishing your work Bruneau says you have to start somewhere. She explains that short stories are a good way to get your writing out into the world without having to make a huge commitment to a singular project. They also allow you to practice and develop your writing so that you can tackle something more substantial in the future (if that is what you hope to do). She recommends you look for literary journals in your region or country to which you can submit your work. When writing with the intent to publish, Bruneau suggests you keep in mind that “publishers look at books as products and at authors as product makers.” This isn’t to say you should write to cater to what’s popular, but to look for holes or markets that have yet to be filled. For example, if you’re submitting a novel, be sure to write a query letter that explains what your work is about, what you are trying to do with your writing, and why it is different from whatever else is out there. Also, keep in mind that publishers are becoming more and more competitive because the current economic climate has made book publishing a risky business (which is one reason why self-publishing is on the rise).


Hiring an agent has advantages and disadvantages, Bruneau explains. The main advantage to having an agent is that agents take care of the business end of writing and publishing, which will save you a lot of work. The main disadvantage, however, is that you have legal obligations to your agent, which means you have less freedom and fewer choices.


Bruneau says that rejections will happen, but if you’re lucky you’ll get feedback. She advises writers to treat a rejection like a “hot potato”: When you get a story back, turn around and send it back out there to another publisher. However, the most important thing, she says, is to “develop confidence in your own writing and what’s important to you and you will eventually find a reader.” I hope you found these blog posts about Carol Bruneau’s creative writing workshop helpful (please see the list below for links to each of Bruneau’s eight classes); however, Bruneau’s creative writing workshop was much more comprehensive and informative than I can possibly recount, and her exercises allowed me to do more than just think about my current project — they got me actually writing it. I highly recommend to anyone looking to improve and develop his or her writing skills to take a creative writing class from an established, published author. If you’re in the Halifax, Nova Scotia area (like me), check out the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia Workshop page for upcoming classes. The NSCAD University School of Extended Studies has also started offering some writing classes, and of course you can find creative writing classes for audit or credit at your local university. Joining a writing group is also a great way to practice your writing and learn from other writers. If you know of any other institutions or organizations that offer creative writing classes in the Halifax region or online, or if you are part of a local writing group and are looking for additional members, please feel free to leave a comment.


Class 1 – Creative writing tips: Getting started

Class 2 – Creative writing tips: Creating characters

Class 3 – Creative writing tips: Developing dialogue & narrative voice

Class 4 – Creative writing tips: Creating dynamic settings and atmosphere

Class 5 – Creative writing tips: Developing a storyline – Plot

Class 6 – Creative writing tips: The architecture of fiction

Class 7 – Creative writing tips: Re-envisioning & revising your story

Class 8 – Creative writing tips: Publishing

For more information about Carol Bruneau and her works, please visit her website at carolbruneau.com.

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This year’s Nocturne Halifax event came and went with a cold northern wind, but that didn’t stop hundreds of Haligonians from flocking to the downtown core of Halifax to experience art at night.

Letterpress prints for sale at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

Letterpress prints for sale at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

I unfortunately haven’t been able to participate much with the Letterpress Gang over the last few months due to work and other commitments, so I decided to forgo checking out some of the other Nocturne events and volunteered to spend my evening working the press at the Dawson Printshop. (Although, I did make a quick detour first to check out Inkwell Boutique‘s letterpress printing activity for Nocturne — what can I say? I love letterpress!)

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, so we decided to print a broadsheet to commemorate NSCAD and letterpress, the method of printing that was used 125 years ago when NSCAD first opened. Letterpress was the standard method of printing (until the advent of computers) for more than 400 years. The broadsheet explains who the Letterpress Gang is, what we do, and the origins of the Dawson Print Shop. It even includes some funny “Printer’s Personals” advertisements. Well, funny if you like type-humour, which I do!.

The front of the broadsheet, which was set with over 5000 pieces of moveable type, was printed beforehand, but visitors to the Dawson Printshop during Nocturne got to print on an antique Vandercook Proof Printing Press some of the various cuts (125 cuts, to be exact) that we had on display.

Over 5000 pieces of moveable type ready for printing the front page of the broadsheet. Displayed during Nocturne Halifax 2012 at the Dawson Printshop.

Over 5000 pieces of moveable type ready for printing the front page of the broadsheet. Displayed during Nocturne Halifax 2012 at the Dawson Printshop.

The front page of the printed broadsheet for Nocturne Halifax 2012 at the Dawson Printshop with the Letterpress Gang.

The front page of the printed broadsheet for Nocturne Halifax 2012 at the Dawson Printshop with the Letterpress Gang.

A selection of cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection on display during Nocturne Halifax 2012 with the Letterpress Gang

A selection of cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection on display during Nocturne Halifax 2012 with the Letterpress Gang.

These cuts, made out of wood and metal, were once used to print pictures or advertisements in newspapers and other publications.

Cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection set up for printing on a Vandercook Proof Printing Press during Nocturne Halifax 2012.

Cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection set up for printing on a Vandercook Proof Printing Press during Nocturne Halifax 2012.

We set up the Vandercook press to print the cuts with “NSCAD green” ink to commemorate 125 years of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

The back of the broadsheet with various cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection. Printed on a Vandercook Poof Printing Press during Nocturne Halifax 2012.

The back of the broadsheet with various cuts from the Dawson Printshop collection. Printed on a Vandercook Poof Printing Press during Nocturne Halifax 2012.

In addition to printing broadsheets on the Vandercook, we had the 5×8 Adana Platen Press set up for printing some small Nocturne souvenirs.

8x5 Adana Platen Press at the Dawson Printshop. Printing Nocturne Halifax 2012 souvenirs with the Letterpress Gang.

8×5 Adana Platen Press at the Dawson Printshop. Printing Nocturne Halifax 2012 souvenirs with the Letterpress Gang.

Printing Nocturne 2012 souvenirs with the Letterpress Gang on an Adana 5x8 platen press.

Printing Nocturne 2012 souvenirs with the Letterpress Gang on an Adana 5×8 platen press.

Not only did the wonder of printing on an antique press entertain and delight our Nocturne visitors, but we also had live music playing at the Dawson Printshop for the crowds to enjoy.

Live music at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

Live music at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

Even the Letterpress Gang’s Joe Landry picked up a guitar and played for us as the evening started to wind down.

The Letterpress Gang's Joe Landry playing guitar at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

The Letterpress Gang’s Joe Landry playing guitar at the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne Halifax 2012.

All in all it was a wonderful evening. I was exhausted from spending so much time showing people how to print on the Vandercook, but I also had a lot of fun. It was especially great to see so many children eager to crank that Vandercook handle with all of their might. It’s a lot harder than it looks!

If you didn’t make it to the Dawson Printshop for Nocturne this year, I urge you to come see us next year. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to see what we’ll print next year!

If you’re interested in becoming involved with the Letterpress Gang and would like more information, feel free to send us an email at hellolpg@gmail.com. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter (@lpghfx).

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As a member of the Letterpress Gang at the Dawson Printshop (a part of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), I regularly walk among antique presses in awe and reverence, and with a certain degree of envy. When I bought my little tabletop 3×5 Kelsey Excelsior last summer, I thought that would be the closest I would ever get to owning anything even resembling some of the large beauties at the Dawson Printshop. And then NSCAD decided that they were going to do some renovations and bring some new technology into the shop. And they decided to do it in a hurry. This meant that two of the shop’s antique presses had to go in order to make space. And quickly.

The Letterpress Gang was told on May 4th that renovations would start on the 8th and that NSCAD’s new equipment would move in on the 9th. Few members of the gang had the means, the space, or the desire to take either of the old floor model platen presses that NSCAD was giving away, but I have a large unfinished basement that is only being used for storage and I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to acquire a floor-model press. So now I am the type of person who adopts stray kittens, used books, and orphaned printing presses.

This is the smaller of the two presses and the one I decided to take: an 8×12 Chandler & Price that was built in 1899.

8x12 Chandler & Price Printing Press, pre move at the Dawson PrintshopI went to the Dawson Printshop on May 7th, measured the press to make sure she would fit through my basement door (only just) and stripped parts of her down for easier transport. Then I rented a pick-up truck, gathered a A small cart that got broken in the movebunch of good, strong friends (with the promise of beer and pizza), and moved the press out of the shop and into my basement on May 9th in the pouring rain. It was quick and unexpected, and I can hardly believe it happened — or that we managed to move the press without any injuries to human or machine (well, a small cart was damaged in the process but… don’t ask!).

I was too stressed and soaked to the bone from the heavy rain to take any pictures of the move, but it involved using ratchet straps, thick sheets of scrap wood to use as ramps, and a lot of muscle. We also luckily had some help loading her into the truck from the movers that were bringing NSCAD’s new equipment into the shop as I was moving the press out; however, getting the press out of the truck and into the basement without the help of professional movers was another story. Although the footprint of the press is quite small (30 x 20.5 inches), she weighs between 700-800 lbs so she could not be lifted by hand. By stripping the press down so she was safe to move (by taking off the flywheel and axle, for example) we shaved at least 100 lbs (or more) off the bulk of her weight. Regardless, the press needed to be moved slowly and carefully. In total it took about two hours to move her from the shop and into my basement. My basement, thankfully, only has five steps down from entrance in the driveway. We laid the press down on her side and gently slid her down the stairs with one of the makeshift wooden ramps.

Here is the press in her new home. The rain washed away some of the dirt, but she still needs a lot of TLC. I decided to name her Bertha — it seemed an appropriate name for a big, beautiful workhorse.

8x12 Chandler & Price Printing Press8x12 Chandler & Price Printing Press8x12 Chandler & Price Printing Press8x12 Chandler & Price Printing PressThe concrete basement isn’t an ideal studio space, but I’ll add some better lighting and divider screens over time to make it more hospitable. I already have a table set up as a prep space and some cupboards and shelves for storage. And there is a utility sink just to the side for cleanup.

These are some of the pieces we removed from the press for easier and safer transport:

8x12 C&P flywheel & parts removed for easier transportI won’t reassemble the press until I have a chance to give her a good cleaning of all the grease and grime that has accumulated on her over the years. Although the press is in working condition, she hasn’t been used at the Dawson Printshop for a number of years. She also requires new rollers, which are fairly expensive so it may take a few months of saving in order to buy them. I’m debating as to whether or not she needs a paint job, although I’m not sure that’s necessary and can make a better judgement once she is clean.

As for the second press that needed to be removed from the Dawson Printshop to make space, I believe that it found a home with one of the other Letterpress Gang members.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the other antique presses at the Dawson Printshop or would like to learn more about how they work, the Letterpress Gang is holding its 2nd Annual Wayzgoose (or printer’s open house) this Saturday, May 12 between 12-5:00 p.m. The shop is still in some disarray from the renovations, but there will be sweets and some demonstrations. We hope to see you there!

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I was approached last month by Halifax singer/songwriter Aaron Hartling of Heartbreak A Stranger to create some letterpress cards and/or prints for his upcoming Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Aaron is fundraising for his recording project, which requires studio time, CD manufacturing, artwork, and musicians, etc. He says, “It takes money to make music. Even with new technology keeping costs cheaper these days.” But he stresses he’s not holding out his hand and asking people to give him money: “If you buy the CD and artwork, you’re helping independent artists. Your money is not going to a corporation.”

Trenton, Nova Scotia. Picture provided by Aaron Hartling.Aaron calls his recording project the Trenton Project because it “is a musical postcard to the town where I grew up: Trenton, Nova Scotia.” Trenton, as Aaron explains to me, is a small, one-industry town: “Trenton built rail cars for 127 years. The town grew and died making rail cars.” Trenton, like many towns that have depended on a single industry for survival, fell victim to closures and lay-offs as work was moved to other places where labour was cheaper and currency weaker. Aaron tells me,

Over the years, when I would go home to see family, I would see a town not growing, but decaying. The rail car company went through several hands until the last company pulled the plug and shut down the factory. Now [Trenton] … has to re-invent itself to survive. It’s sad to see the place you knew as a child go through these changes …. And its hard to see it struggle.

An avid music enthusiast, Aaron recalls some songs written about towns like Trenton: Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” and Billy Joel’s “Allentown”, for example. Aaron wants to build on this tradition: “I wanted to expand it to 7 songs to see if I could tell a story.”

Aaron approached me to print letterpress cards as a prize package for his fundraising campaign. He says:

I wanted to include letterpress because it is unique and different. People want both. Most bands have a CD, T-shirts. Letterpress is not offered (to my knowledge) by any musician and I think it will appeal to folks who like my musical style. It’s original artwork that matches the theme of the music. People appreciate originality. I am an independent artist and I want to have artists like myself give other artists opportunities to create their form of art. I get excited seeing their artwork. I hope they feel the same.

I recently printed the first letterpress samples for Aaron’s campaign and will be printing more this weekend.

Mixing light blue ink for Heartbreak a Stranger's Trenton Project - letterpressI decided to go with a black, white, and light blue colour scheme for the cards since these are the main colours used in the album artwork for Aaron’s upcoming EP, which is being designed by local artist Seth Graham.

Here is a teaser of the letterpress cards I’ve printed so far:

Heartbreak a Stranger Trenton Project - Musical Heart Note Card“Let’s all sing a little tune” are lyrics taken from Heartbreak A Stranger’s “This Town.” You can listen to a demo recording of “This Town” here.

Heartbreak a Stranger Trenton Project - Heartbreak a Stranger-Trenton Nova Scotia Card All of the letterpress prints I’m creating for Aaron’s Indigogo campaign are related to Heartbreak A Stranger’s Trenton Project and are therefore one-of-a-kind designs that will no longer be printed after Aaron’s fundraising event.

Heartbreak a Stranger Trenton Project - Thank You CardAs I’m still in the sample stage, I may change the card designs slightly for the actual campaign. For instance, I’m not fond of my placement of the small ornaments in the corners of the “Thank You” card. I may decide to place the ornaments around the “Thank You” or just leave them out altogether.

You may also notice that I was either a little heavy-handed or too light with the ink in some spots as I decided to ink the type with a brayer rather than ink the press since I was only printing one design at a time. The distribution of ink will be much more even when I go into full production on the cards.

Heartbreak a Stranger Trenton Project - Letterpress CardsI’ll be printing the remaining card samples and making any necessary design changes for Aaron’s Trenton Project this weekend. I’ll also be mixing some letterpress with linocut for a design or two (a blog post about my first adventures in linocut will follow next week).

Aaron has also asked a couple of other friends in the art community to help him with some artwork. Seth Graham (also known around Halifax as Brink Of Ink), as I mentioned above, is creating the CD artwork and other merchandise items such as stickers and pins, etc. Aaron has known Seth for a couple of years and appreciates his drawing style. Caitlin McGuire, a local artist and a current student at NSCAD, is also creating prizes for Aaron’s campaign: “I saw pictures of a project [Caitlin did] which involved a pop-up book and I thought this would work with the music theme.”

Aaron is hoping to launch his Indigogo campaign in either late summer or early fall. In the meantime, he’s waiting to hear back about some government funding. He also explains that there is artwork to finish, and he needs to shoot a video to accompany the campaign. Plus, he still has some extra recording to do on his EP: “There is a lot more leg work to be done but I’m excited by the work.”

For updates on Aaron’s Indigogo campaign or to learn more about what Heartbreak A Stranger is all about, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter at @heartbreakstrgr. And, of course, as things get going and prints get printed, I’ll be sure to post updates here as well.

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On Saturday, March 30th, The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design‘s Port Campus hosted Haligraphika — a market dedicated to design, print and book art. Many local print and design artists were there to share, display, and sell their wares. The Letterpress Gang was also there with hand-pressed cards and prints in tow.

The Letterpress Gang table at Haligraphika in Halifax, NSThe Letterpress Gang table at Haligraphika at the NSCAD Port Campus in Halifax, NS.

The Letterpress Gang at Haligraphika in Halifax, NSPrinting demos: Hello Graphika.

The Letterpress Gang table at Haligraphika in Halifax, NS - Jeremy & Crystal manning the tableLPG members, Jeremy & I, manning the Letterpress Gang table.

The Letterpress Gang table at Haligraphika - Bruce printing demo souvenirsLPG member, Bruce, printing demo souvenirs at the Letterpress Gang table.

Type display at the LPG table for Haligraphika in Halifax, NS.Type display at the LPG table.

Letterpress Gang member Bruce posing with the table-top platen press at HaligraphikaBruce being silly as he poses with the table-top platen press at Haligraphika.

LPG member Bruce doing print demos with a group of children at HaligraphikaBruce doing print demos with a group of children.

The Letterpress Gang Haligraphika (Hello Graphika) print demosMore Letterpress Gang Haligraphika (Hello Graphika) print demos, printed by Bruce.

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As some of you may remember, I’ve been having issues with my Kelsey Excelsior platen press that resulted in damaging some of my lead type (see “Letterpress learning curve“). I thought I had “fixed” the problem, but the same thing happened again while I was printing last week. Through my frustration, I began to realize that I just jumped into letterpress without actually learning much about my press and how it really works. I decided to stop printing altogether and go back to the basics.

My press is 47 years old — a late addition to the invention of the printing press, but still old enough to have been through some rough times. She bears marks of wear and tear and, as with any machine old enough to be considered an antique, she has her own personality. She’s had parts replaced and repaired, and requires some delicate handling, so I figured that going back to the basics would prevent me from accidentally hurting her any further.

In my own excitement and naivety, I did not make any adjustments to Kelsey when I got her — I just started printing. Although it is certainly possible that parts may not have shifted during shipping (she was packed extremely well), I imagine that parts have certainly shifted since I started using her on a semi-regular basis.

As a friend reminded me the other day, before the advent of computer technology, when letterpress printing was in its heyday, students would apprentice with an established printer for years before they were even allowed to print something simple on their own. Just as engineers need a post-secondary education to be able to know and understand what they are doing, printing was a serious trade that required an immense amount of knowledge. Those who take up letterpress printing today, however, like me, usually do so out of passion with very little (if any) training. I’ve been very lucky to have the Letterpress Gang as a resource. Some of the more knowledgeable members of LPG have been wonderfully helpful by giving me advice, showing me how to set type, and also showing me how to use the large Vandercook presses at the NSCAD Dawson Print Shop, but as small as my Kelsey Excelsior is, it is completely different from a Vandercook in every way and no one is watching over my shoulder to guide me when I’m printing at home.

The first step I took in learning how my press works was to find each and every place where it can be adjusted — mainly on the platen and the bed (see picture below for the parts of a tabletop platen press).

The parts of a platen press. Picture sourced from http://chestofbooks.com/home-improvement/woodworking/Handicraft-For-Boys/The-Parts-of-a-Self-Inking-Press.htmlGetting some machine oil for the parts where metal grinds on metal was also an important step I took — one I should have taken a long time ago. As frustrating as my press can sometimes be, I love everything about her and need to take proper care of her.

After I oiled some spots for easier movement, I decided to adjust the platen as far back and as flat as it can go by loosening the nuts and bolts on the bottom of the platen (see picture below). I then set up my chase with a capital letter “H” in each corner and in the centre. Now, of course, since the platen was as far back as it could go, it did not even touch the type I had set when I pulled down the handle.

Nuts and bolts on the bottom of the platenSlowly, I adjusted each of the four nuts and bolts, millimeter by millimeter, until the platen only just touched each “H” when I pulled the handle down. I inked the disk and began to press. Printing allowed me to tell how much pressure was being put on each “H” so I could adjust the nuts accordingly if there was two much or two little pressure.

Nuts and bolts on bottom of the platenI also needed to adjust the alignment of the bed where the chase sits because I noticed that it kept shifting slightly each time I pressed the handle down (see the tiny screw in the picture below. There is a second one on the other side of the press).

Screws to adjust the bed of the press (where the chase sits)Once each “H” printed perfectly, I set my chase to print the following card:

Ernest Hemingway Typewriter Quote - Letterpress card by Crystal VaughanEven though each “H” had printed with even pressure, my test print of this Ernest Hemingway quote did not. I made more adjustments on the platen and on the bed until I felt satisfied with the print, yet you will notice that the typewriter cut in the centre of the card did not print as well on the left-hand side as it did on the right; in the future I may have to print cuts separately from text to ensure an even pressure.

The word “bleed” was printed in red ink and was therefore locked in the chase by itself and printed separately. I did not make any adjustments to the press in between printing the black ink and the red ink, yet you may notice that “bleed” has a deeper, messier-looking impression than the rest of the quote. Of course, because the word “bleed” signifies something deep and messy, I think the card still works; however, that was not my intention, nor my preference.

The adjustments I had to make to the platen in between printing the “H’s,” and the adjustments I should have made in between printing the black section of the Hemingway quote and the word “bleed” suggest that the platen on my press needs to be adjusted with each new chase set-up. This will ensure that each of the four corners of the platen are aligned in such a way as to print the design evenly and with the appropriate amount of pressure. This adds a bit more time to my printing projects, but if it means I stop ruining type from having too much pressure in one spot, or from a shift in the bed that forces the type to bend, then I will very gladly take the extra time.

Now that I’ve learned a little bit more about how my press works, I feel more confident in my printing abilities. Yet as both teacher and apprentice, I know I have much more to learn.

If you are a letterpress veteran or are just learning yourself, I would love to hear about your experiences, your tips and tricks, or any advice you are willing to share.

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This was my first holiday season with the Letterpress Gang and I’ve had a blast planning, prepping, learning, and printing for our winter sales at the Dawson Print Shop and at the Halifax Crafters’ Winter Market. Sales at each event went well, and proceeds will go towards purchasing new rollers for the presses at the Dawson Print Shop. On behalf of the Letterpress Gang, I would like to thank all those who came out to support us.

I apologize for the poor-quality pictures; I need a new camera…

LPG’s 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the dawson print shop

Letterpress Gang's 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the Dawson Print ShopOne of the tabletop platen presses at the Dawson Print Shop. We set it up so that visitors could print their own keepsake: a card with a Christmas tree. We also had hot apple cider for visitors, baked goods, and Christmas candies.

Letterpress Gang's 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the Dawson Print ShopThe second tabletop platen was set up to print Christmas ornaments.

Letterpress Gang's 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the Dawson Print ShopThe sales room of the Dawson Print Shop all set up and ready to go.

Letterpress Gang's 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the Dawson Print ShopCard rack.

The card I designed and printed for the Letterpress Gang's 2011 holiday salesThis is the card I designed and printed for the Letterpress Gang’s holiday sales.

Letterpress Gang's 2nd Annual Holiday Bazaar at the Dawson Print Shop More letterpress wares for sale!

LPG at the Halifax Crafters’ Winter Market

Letterpress Gang at the Halifax Crafters' Winter MarketLetterpress Gang leader and teacher at NSCAD, Joe Landry.

Letterpress Gang at the Halifax Crafters' Winter MarketMore Letterpress Gang wares.

Letterpress Gang at the Halifax Crafters' Winter MarketWe displayed an example of moveable type from the historic collection at the Dawson Print Shop. The Dawson Print Shop has one of the largest collections of moveable type in Canada with approximately 1,500 cases of type.

With our pre-Christmas events behind us, LPG is now wrapping up for the holiday season and will resume in January. If you’re interested in joining the Letterpress Gang or would like to learn more about what LPG is about, please visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter: @lpghfx.

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This week I finally learned something I’ve been meaning to for a long time: I learned how to sew a chapbook/pamphlet in a workshop on basic bookbinding. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University) is hosting three free workshops to promote Night Shift, which is an annual exhibition of artwork created by students and instructors in NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies. On Wednesday, June 8th between 12-1 p.m., Niko Silvester (NSCAD instructor and fellow Letterpress Gang member) showed a gaggle of eager book lovers the basics of bookbinding. We only had enough time to create one chapbook, but I was amazed at how simple bookbinding really is.

I decided to share my new-found knowledge with you so that you can create your own beautiful, handmade books. With a few supplies and this basic knowledge you can create lovely chapbooks, journals, pamphlets, and zines; you can self-publish your poetry for family and friends or make small keepsake scrap books, and notebooks, etcetera. They make great gifts. And, with the exception of needing to use an exacto knife, an awl, scissors, and a sewing needle, this is also a great craft project for kids and teens (depending on the age of the child, parents/teachers can take care of the cutting and punching).

As I learn more about bookbinding techniques I will be sure to write posts about them but, for now, here is a lesson on basic bookbinding:


Step #1: Supplies

For basic bookbinding you will need the following supplies:

– an exacto knife

– a cutting mat or a clean cutting board

– scissors

– a ruler (if you’re using one with cork underneath, flip the ruler over so that it lays flat against the paper; the cork creates a space between the ruler and the paper, which means that your knife may wobble and the line you cut may not be straight)

– 1 sheet of card-stock or thick construction paper for the cover (For this book I used handmade paper, which is thicker than regular paper)

– 10 sheets of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper (style, quality, and colour of your choosing) for the inside of the book

– an awl

– a bone folder (optional)

– linen string/twine, or a thin ribbon, or needlepoint floss

– a sewing needle

I didn’t have all of these items on hand so I made a trip to DeSerres in downtown Halifax, but any art/craft/hobby store should have these basic items for sale.


Step #2: Cut Paper

As I learned during Night Shift‘s Bookbinding Workshop, paper has a grain (which, of course, makes sense since paper is made out of trees). Paper grain is important to consider when bookbinding. Try bending a sheet of paper along its length and then along its width; you’ll notice that a sheet of paper is easier to bend lengthwise than if you try to bend it along the sheet’s width.

When bookbinding you want to fold with the grain. If you do this with a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper you’ll end up with a long and narrow book. This might be appropriate depending on your purposes (ie: if you are making a pamphlet or zine); however, I prefer a shorter, wider chapbook.

Fold your 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper in half. If you like ragged book edges (like I do) then use a bone folder to cut/tear your paper.

If you would prefer straight edges then use an exacto knife to cut a straight line along your fold. Alternately, you can play around with your chapbook size by measuring the length of the paper you want. And feel free to experiment with sheets of paper larger than 8 1/2″ x 11″.

Once you’ve cut your sheet of paper in half, stack the two halves together and fold your stack of paper along the grain. This is the inside of your chapbook.













Step #3: Create Book Cover

Measure and cut (with either the exacto knife or bone folder) a piece of card-stock or construction paper (or, in this case, handmade paper) so that its height is the same size or slightly longer than the height of your chapbook pages. Fold in half along the paper grain and then place your stack of pages inside the cover.










Step #4: Punch holes

Depending on the size of your chapbook, you will need three or five holes. For the size of this chapbook only three holes are required. Make a template out of scrap paper so that your holes are evenly measured. Your scrap paper needs to be the same height as your chapbook. Fold it along the grain (its length) so that it can sit in the crease of the centre of your book. Next, fold the scrap paper in half along its width; the point at which your creases meet is the centre of your chapbook. Then fold both the bottom and the top of the paper by about an inch; where these creases meet is where you will punch the second and third holes.

Place the template inside the centre of your chapbook and hold. Next, take the awl and punch a hole in the centre of the chapbook (be careful that you don’t end up punching one of your fingers). Twist the awl back and forth until it works its way through all sheets of paper and the cover. This will take some arm work and patience. (TIP: You can make it easier on yourself by punching the paper and the cover separately, but make sure that you use your template each time so that all the holes match up when you put the book back together).


Step #5: Sew Book

Linen string/twine is the best kind of string to use when bookbinding because linen expands under the same influences and at approximately the same rate as paper, which means it is less likely to rip the paper during expansion (FYI: many kinds of paper are made with linen as well; linen paper has a wonderful texture).

Cut the length of your string to approximately twice the height of your book with some extra to spare. Thread your needle. You have two choices on how to start sewing your chapbook. You can start from the inside centre hole, which means that your knot will be hidden on the inside of your book (this is how bookbinding is traditionally done). Or, you can start from the outside centre hole, which means that your knot will be on the outside of your chapbook (the purpose of this method is to tie a bow or fancy knot as a way to decorate the outside fold of your chapbook).

If you start from the inside hole your finished chapbook will look like this:








For the chapbook below, I started from the outside centre hole so that I could tie a bow. Insert your needle and thread into the centre hole. Don’t pull all the way through, of course, or you’ll have to start again; leave plenty of thread behind so that you can tie a knot or bow. From there, insert your needle and thread through the top hole. Then go all the way down to the bottom hole. Finally, insert your needle and thread back up through the centre hole. Important: You want the needle and thread to end up back at the centre hole, coming out from where you first started. Make sure that each end of the thread are on opposite sides of the centre thread-line. Remove thread from needle, and then take each end of the string and tie a double knot over the centre thread-line.

From there, either cut your strings shorter (if your knot is on the inside of the book), or tie your strings into a bow (if your knot is on the outside of the book).


Step #6: Enjoy your new hand-sewn book

You have now made a chapbook, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s complete. If the paper is too long for the cover, trim it with the exacto knife (making sure your cover is out of the way, of course). If your cover overlaps the paper more than you like, trim this as well.

Get your creative juices flowing. Decorate the cover of your chapbook with pictures, drawings, letterpress (see right), or creative designs. Cut designs into the edges of your paper with the exacto knife or scrapbooking scissors (if available). Write in your chapbook. Use it as decoration (after all, you’ve made something beautiful–why not admire it). And now that you know how to make a basic chapbook, play around with different chapbook styles, colours, and papers, etcetera. Your possibilities are endless.

Night Shift is hosting two more lunch-hour, free workshops in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, June 15th Pam Johnston will be teaching Hand Sewing and Embroidery between 12-1 p.m., and on Wednesday, June 22nd Charley Young will be teaching Printmaking Image Transfer between 12-1 p.m. All materials are provided and no experience is necessary. Both workshops are being held at the NSCAD Port Campus at 1107 Marginal Road. Drop by if you can. Maybe I’ll see you there!

For more information about taking an Extended Studies course on Bookbinding (or Letterpress Printing), visit NSCAD’s website on Book Arts + Paper Crafts.





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Last weekend the Dawson Print Shop, for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, held a Wayzgoose, which loosely translates to an open house or gathering held by printers or publishers with demonstrations, workshops, and nibbles. I have never been to the Dawson Print Shop before so I was pleasantly surprised and learned a great deal about letterpress printing and how the Gutenberg Press works (invented by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1440).

The Gutenberg Press, of which the Dawson Print Shop has a replica, was the standard method of printing until the 20th century. It was interesting to see how much work had to go into printing before the advent of computer technology. Each carved wooden or metal letter of a newspaper or book had to be individually arranged and placed on the press. This was a tedious and time-consuming task. One gentleman at the Dawson Print Shop explained how, just to print the daily newspaper, up to one hundred people would work steadily through the night to have the paper ready by morning. I’ve always loved old and antique books, but knowing more about traditional printing practices certainly gives me more appreciation for the amount of work that went into them. If you’re interested in learning more about letterpress printing, the Dawson Print Shop offers classes through NSCAD University.

This short video is from back in the Fall when Gaspereau Press was printing Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, but it gives a good idea of how letterpress printing works.

Gaspereau Press is definitely my favourite publisher because of the time and care they put into their high-quality books. And I’m not the only one who thinks so; Gaspereau recently won “Small Press Publisher of the Year” at The Canadian Booksellers Association’s 2011 Libris Awards. Gaspereau also holds a Wayzgoose each fall.

To get back to the Dawson Print Shop, they do have a small store where you can purchase lovely hand-made, letter-pressed chapbooks, journals, cards, posters, coasters, and more. If you’re looking for unique gift ideas for the book-lovers in your life, or just want to treat yourself to something beautiful, I suggest you check them out. They are located at 1895 Granville Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

P.S. After seeing the beautiful work that the Dawson Print Shop does, I would love to try my hand at letterpress printing. If anyone comes across an old hobby press for sale—similar to the ones on the left—please let me know.

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