Letter Perfect

Letter Perfect | With pen and printing press, local artisans create wedding stationery suites for the ages

Looking for “something old” for your Big Day? Incorporate calligraphy and letterpress in your invites, menus, and more, and you’ll join generations of Charleston brides who have celebrated with these time-honored traditions. Letterpress—the earliest form of printing—is true to its name in that ink-covered characters press their imprint upon paper to leave legible text. The women at Sideshow Press, a nationally acclaimed local design and stationer group based on Cannon Street, taught themselves how to work an enormous 1926 Kluge letterpress printing machine back in 2004. A beast of a contraption that would look more at home in a factory than in their mod design studio, the press nonetheless creates delicate, intricate invitations. Its process, according to Virginia Gregg, personifies “grace under pressure.” Today Sideshow operates three machines—one from 1933 and another from 1957—and they’ve gained notoriety for innovating, printing wedding invites and save-the-dates on everything from wood to fabric to seed-packets and more.

Heather Forsythe, a wedding photographer based on James Island, recently opened Sixpence Press after teaching herself to letterpress through trial and error on an ornate 1885 machine she bought from the Upstate’s now-defunct Greenville Press. Heather finds design and font inspiration in antique books and magazines, and then teams with calligraphers like Elizabeth Porcher Jones who add their own touches. The end result? Classic elements in fresh combinations that give invites and more a rich look.

For her part, Elizabeth is practicing what her father instilled in her decades ago when he had her copy historic scripts to improve her penmanship. Today, the Holy City native models her handiwork after 18th- and 19th-century letters from her own ancestors and from correspondence she’s found at the Charleston Historical Society. When she pairs with Sixpence, Sideshow, or others, it’s typically to address envelopes and pen seat assignments, but just as often, her words are transferred onto letterpress plates.

Traci Green, another local known for her traditional calligraphy stylings, revels in the etiquette side of the art. “Charleston is still all about doing things properly and correctly,” she says. “Even today invites say, ‘We request the honor of your presence,’ rather than a less formal greeting.” That propriety is something that Emilie Dulles of Church Street’s Dulles Designs lauds. But it’s 2011, and with the innovations Sideshow, Sixpence, Elizabeth, Traci, and others impart, Emilie says their mediums are thoroughly now and thoroughly Charleston. After all, she says, “This city blends the past with modern innovation.”

Tips For Budget-Conscious Brides

Love the look of letterpress and calligraphy, but working on a budget? Sixpence Press and Sideshow Press have some great ways to add them into your wedding without compromising taste or style.

Do: Make only part of your design letterpressed, like a monogram at the top or you and your hubby-to-be’s names.
Do: Try colored paper! The bold color limits the amount of ink needed and creates a chic look at the same time.
Do: Be flexible to innovation. Using thinner paper stock or materials that are not traditional, such as seed packets, is a great way to minimize budget without compromising taste.
Do: Limit your colors. By using one accent color, it cuts back on cost and creates a more uniform look throughout.
Do: Incorporate calligraphy on only part of your invitation. It looks great with block print to give it a more modern look, says calligrapher Elizabeth Porcher Jones.

Why Letterpress Is for Eco-Chic Brides
Want to celebrate and treat the earth gently at the same time? According to the girls at Sideshow Press and Sixpence Press, letterpress is a great alternative to modern waste-prone methods. Here’s why.

Reason One: Using mostly hand-generated mechanical power, a press uses scant electricity, if any.
Reason Two: Letterpresses work off rubber-based ink and only about a tablespoon per run- much less than its modern counterparts!
Reason Three: Most print with non-tree based paper, such as soft cottons and bamboo.
Reason Four: Presses are usually cleaned with biodegradable solvents, which are always friendly to the environment. It’s not a requirement, but many letterpress outfits try to be as green as possible.

Dulles Designs
(843) 805-7166, www.DullesDesigns.com

Elizabeth Porcher Jones
(843) 209-7545

Gayle Hilton
(843) 723- 2953, www.CalligraphyByRequest.com

The Lettered Olive
(843) 577-9100, www.TheLetteredOlive.com

Sideshow Press
(843) 793-4560, www.SideshowPress.com

Sixpence Press
(843) 817-8100, www.SixpencePress.com

Traci Green Designs
(843) 455-5646, www.TraciGreenDesigns.com