Inviting Traditions in Letterpress: Milkfed Press & Bindery Fashions Custom Designs

Inviting Traditions in Letterpress: Milkfed Press & Bindery Fashions Custom Designs

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“I work with brides and grooms who are searching for something different. They don’t want cookie-cutter invitations, routine stationery or run-of-the-mill paper items. They desire high quality with personality to match,” explains Victoria Heifner, founder of Milkfed Press & Bindery located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Milkfed Press is a quaint one-woman operation housed within what used to be a turn-of-the-century neighborhood grocery store. Located within a tight-knit East Bay community, her tidy work¬space and by appointment retail shop shows off samples of her work – note cards and stationery hang from an old wooden door, walls flanked with wonderful silk book cloths, colorful leather skins and hand-cut show posters.

There’s a huge work table that doubles as client meeting surface/packing table, plus a prized-possession, an old counter top table screened with an original Wonder Bread logo left behind. Tucked round the corner are Heifner’s workhorses – two antique printing presses which she hand-feeds to turn out individual piece of art.

Both artist and problem-solver, Heifner continues, “Clients come to me with an idea of what they like, but no idea how to produce it. I love helping them bring their most beautiful visions to life. I design and create custom stationery, note cards, printed matter and also do custom-bound books for brides-to-be, artisans and a variety of clients from around the U.S.; her customers hail from the East Coast to the southern states. Long-distance work doesn’t seem to be a concern. “We communicate via email and I can send samples of materials in the mail,” she adds.

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The Beauty of Letterpress

You cannot help but run your fingers back and forth over the imprinted letters and the wonderful papers in her shop. “The principles of letterpress printing are the same as they were in 1445, but with a new twist that incorporates polymer plates (created from the digital design files she creates on a computer), rather than hand-set lead type,” she says. “Technology has aided this fine old tradition in printing and the scope of what I can design and create is practically unlimited.”

To output her designs Heifner relishes everything from luxurious fine European printmaking papers to the most utilitarian of objects – pieces of wood. “I let my design dictate which materials are most appropriate for the job. I take into account the theme and formality of the event, the personality of my bridal couple, and what they are trying to achieve. I approach each job with a fresh perspective and try to remain open, allowing the design to dictate the outcome.”

As for design inspiration and sensibilities, she adds, “I love looking at how things are packaged – and that includes everything from a wonderful set of ribbon-tied bridal stationery to milk cartons in a grocery store. I love wrappers and packaging. I marvel at, but honestly don’t pay much attention to the latest design trends in stationery. I also find inspiration in old books and typography. I’m working in a craft that has been around for 600+ years—quality and integrity are timeless and trendless.”

Design Process

The design process engages with a lively exchange of ideas and visions. For wedding invitations and stationery, many brides bring in a swatch of fabric to pair to their inks, papers or trims. The letterpress print process uses ‘spot’ colors (each color is printed separately), so Heifner matches each tone exactly through an age-old method of hand-mixing ink combinations on a stone. “The entire process is very hands-on, which is why I love it so much.” Heifner prepares all of the work herself— from design and hand-setting of type, to hand-cutting letters and fashioning her own photo-polymer plates.

Save-the-date cards, maps, coasters, place settings cards, thank you notes, book marks and delightful custom- bound books are some of the items in her repertoire. She requires four to six weeks for custom orders, start to finish. Milkfed Press excels in custom design work, but Heifner also carries a small line of collection styles and retail pieces available within her shop. Her collection features a wonderful range of traditional motifs, patterns and layouts in a bevy of color combinations. For personalization to pieces from her collection, she requests a minimum of two to three weeks to add details.

Custom Design

design press letteringTiming Heifner recommends that a bride get in touch as soon as she has all information ready to build her invitation or any printed or bound item. She’s delighted to schedule an appointment to meet with customers at their conve¬nience. “A bride can also call, email or drop me a note to get started. When we meet I show them samples and discuss the process and timing. The bride is already sold on crafting a fine letterpress invitation and she under¬stands that it’s generally more expensive than other processes such as thermography. The wonderful tactile quali¬ties of letterpress win customers over almost every time,” notes Heifner.

Twelve years back Heifner began studying to become a bookbinder and conservator. She gained industry expe¬rience by working in the Preservation Lab at the San Francisco Public Library and apprenticed to a fine printer and typographer for several years to learn the tradition of fine letterpress printing. Four years ago Milkfed Press & Bindery was founded. In addition to her exquisite letterpress correspondence pieces, Heifner designs and cre¬ates custom-bound books and restores tattered old tomes to their glory through delicate restoration services.

Owner Victoria Heifner combines a love of both letterpress and bindery to offer unique pieces that mark special occasions and celebrations of her customers’ lives. Letterpress minimum starts at 100 pieces.

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