Making Christmas Cards – The Old Way!

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Everybody, it seems is making their own Christmas cards these days. We are no different, except, we are! Read on ….

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for Christmas, Alison (SWMBO!) and I spend a fun morning and bits of the afternoon at a printer’s in Skipton. Sadly, with my memory, I can’t remember the printer’s name, but suffice to say, he’s an old fashioned printer, with an upper and lower case full of type faces and lots of different fonts, in the old style – made out of metal.

That’s how upper and lower case got their names, by the way, from the old printer’s habit of putting the capital letters on the upper shelf of the stand, and the non-capitals on the lower shelf. The letters were stored in cases. Hence, upper and lower case.

Equally, spread about the place, are boxes and boxes of old printing plates of various pictures. The detail is incredible in some of these, and many are a couple of hundred years old, long before mass production, these were hand made.

We started with a blank card, 5″ by 5″, and had to come up with a message and a design, first of all, hopefully, one that would fit in the “stick” and in the “block” when we finished setting up.

I made the message up. Alison chose the image.

The first problem was to pick a few fonts, and layout the top part of the design on a “stick” Once we had the widest part done, we could then make sure everything else was exactly as wide. None of that desktop publishing here, this is all done in cold, hard steel!

After getting the first part done, we could move on to the next part. The fonts we had available were determined by the width of the first part and not the other way round. After much choosing and testing and rejecting of fonts, we found a couple that we liked, and we were ready to do the stick. This involves taking our design’s top half, and putting it into a sliding clamp like system and locking it down to the desired width. In other words, as wide as it took to get everything in, and still fit on the card! Making sure everything was equally spaces involved adding bits of lead (hence, leading) between rows of text and kerning between letters.

The design was checked and double-checked, and transferred to the block. The stick stayed locked down and the lower half of the card was ready to be done next.

We had to get the lower half of the card to match up with the width of the upper part. More fonts were tested and rejected. Finally, we had a finished design. The lower half was transferred to the block, and locked into place with clamps and a pretty hefty metal frame. Then we had to make sure that everything was held firmly in place, and was at the exact same height so that everything would take ink and transfer it to the cards.

The block. Inked and ready after a test print.
The block. Inked and ready after a test print.

Soon we were ready for ink. Alison chose a deep red colour, and a tiny amount was dropped onto a sturdy glass plate. That ink is incredibly viscous – it has the consistency of tarmacadam – aka bitumen. Then, it was rolled out with the roller into a smooth, square arrangement. We were ready to print. You can see a photo of the glass plate, inked up and ready to go, with the roller somewhere close by!

Inky stuff on a glass plate.
Inky stuff on a glass plate.

For each card, the block was inked by running the roller over the inky glass plate, and then rolling it over the entire block, in both directions, long ways and up and down. A card was placed carefully alongside the marks we made earlier when we measured things out and centred the block in the frame. Then – with both hands – the whats-its-name was dragged slowly, but firmly, across the card. A sheet of paper prevented any crud from the roller or the thingy-ma-jig transferring to our nice clean cards. (Can you tell I’ve got all the technical terms off pat?)

And still using both hands, the doo-dah was rolled back again, over the card to the starting position. A quick removal of the paper, and lo, we had a problem. The damned hyphen was in the wrong place. Check out the image for details – did you spot it? Well, try spotting it when everything is frack-to-bont! (Back to front!) We had to break down the block, and move stuff around to get the damned hyphen in the right place. After another lockdown and check for heights and squareness, we were ready to rock and roll. And to print our own cards.

Spot the misplaced hyphen!
We did it wrong!

Success! We had a nice looking card, but all was not complete. Alison had decided on glitter. Printer ink sticks like the proverbial to a blanket, and is a pretty good way of holding glitter in place. Except, printers use flitter as opposed to glitter, it’s much finer. And a lot more expensive. Still, it was decided that sparkly was needed, so the tree in the design got some decorating!

Hnaging cards up to dry.
Hnaging cards up to dry.
I did quite a lot of printing and inking, while Alison did the sparkly bits and hung the cards up to dry. 24 Hours are desired for a decent drying time. Here you can see the cards, in all their hanging up glory!

The finished Christmas card.
The finished Christmas card.
And here are some of the finished ones, from a pretty bad angle, it has to be said. But you get the drift? And notice how wonderfully placed that rogue hyphen is now. I can tell you, it took some taming!

So, tonight we have been writing the cards out and guess what, there’s damned flitter all over the house. Not only does it stick like you know what to the cards, but also to everything else.

Happy Christmas!

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