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Beth Schaible and her printing press.
Photos by Alissa Robertson
Beth Schaible and her printing press.

Working with ink-stained hands

Labor Day | Beth Schaible started her printing studio with a rusting printing press and a longing to make beautiful things

Last week through today weve published six brief pieces on people working hard and enjoying their labor. Some are Christians and some not, because through God’s common grace people of many faiths can enjoy meeting challenges. Three of the stories come from Rob Holmes, who lives with his family in Chad. Three others come from World Journalism Institute students who wrote and rewrote them during this year’s Asheville course. —Marvin Olasky

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Beth Schaible found her 1,400-pound printing press rusting in a closet, missing some working pieces, and needing a good scrub. 

To fix it up, Schaible got help from some friends and hauled the press to her parents’ garage. There, she hunkered down to dissect, clean, and restore her dusty treasure. The second time she loaded the press into a U-Haul, Schaible headed toward Asheville, N.C., where that same press now presides over her letterpress printing studio, the Quill and Arrow Press. 

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Her MacBook Pro sits near the press on one of the cleaner tables in the studio. Stacks of paper and books, jars of ink, and tin cans of writing utensils and paintbrushes litter the other surfaces. The computer previews wedding invitations and business cards, showing flowery reminders of Schaible’s undergraduate background in graphic design. 

Asheville brims with letterpress printers, so Schaible needs the computer to keep up in the marketplace. When she can, she works with ink-stained hands that dance through the air when she talks. 

Computer-heavy projects sometimes make her angry: “I feel that tension inside of myself.” But after she finishes designs on the computer: “I get to print and do the part of it that I love.” 

A typical project takes one or two days to print. When Schaible designs a print digitally, she has plates of the digital file made for the press. When she works without the computer, she sets up movable type by hand or hand-carves an image on a wooden block. At this point, the process always calls for Schaible’s personal touch. 

She mixes the ink colors and then feeds every piece of paper through the press, cranking its handle. The press can only print one color at a time, so most pieces run through more than once. The ink has to dry each time. 

Before she decorated it, Schaible made paper at a papermaking internship. That’s when she discovered letterpress printing: “It’s funny that I do an occupation that I didn’t even know existed 10 years ago. As a kid, it’s not like … ‘I want to be a letterpress printer.’” 

 Schaible learned to print top-notch invitations, business cards, and stationary by hand. That’s also when she remembered seeing an old printing press languishing in a closet. She tracked down the owner, the dean of the art department at her alma mater, and pestered him for about three years. He sold the press to her for about $1,500—a steal when similar presses sell for more than $6,000. He wanted to make the Quill and Arrow Press a reality. 

The studio opened for business in May 2012. Owning a press sets Schaible apart from some other printers, including the three women who share the cost of her studio, the 7 Ton Letterpress Collective. 

Bookbinding and calligraphy give the whir and clack of her press a break. She loves that people fill her books with hand-scrawled stories and use her stationary to skip email and post snail mail instead. 

As much as Schaible fancies the handmade, her business could not survive without the computer. Most of her clients are local, but many find her online through Google and Facebook. With five or six other press shops in town, and Asheville Bookworks renting press time to community artists, Schaible needs both the design precision and marketing strategies her computer offers. 

Although she is currently designing invitations for a wedding four houses down from her studio, she also sells postcards, stationary, and leather journals on Etsy.com. When her brick-and-mortar store is closed or she’s on the road at craft shows and festivals, selling online allows her to still make sales. 

 “Sometimes, I forget, and then I get on the press,” Schaible said. “I love seeing the way the print impresses into the paper and the way the ink smells. Just all the little things about it hit me.”

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Johanna Willett
Johanna Willett

Johanna is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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