How often do you think about creators of your favourite paper or ink? How do they live and what inspires them?
Today I want to tell you a little about great lady – Loren from Farmettepress. Farmette press & co is a boutique letterpress and paper-making studio housed on a seven-acre farm in Kansas City. Their paper has great texture, unique soft palette and gorgeous edges.
Papermaking process is not as quickly as you can think, and also it is very difficult. Depending of composition and end result there are different steps. Farmettepress’s papermaking process includes seven steps:
1. Cut and weigh cotton and abaca fibers
2. Process fibers into pulp in our Hollander beater
3. Dye pulp with botanical dyestuffs
4. Pull paper sheets from paper vat with mould and deckle
5. Press sheets on our hydraulic press
6. Hang sheets to dry
7. Remove paper from drying sheets and sort
I asked Loren few questions via email and she was so kind to answered them!
Q: Hi Loren, how are you? The weather in Moscow is awesome, little cloudy but I like it.
A: I’m well - thank you! I’d love to visit Moscow some day! My husband has visited Yalta in Crimea twice and he says it is one of the most beautiful places he has ever been. He would love to take us to Eastern Europe someday!
Q: Please, tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow? How did you meet your husband? And why are you living in Kansas City?
A: I grew up in a small suburb of the beautiful city of San Francisco, California. My mom is an artist and always encouraged us to be creative, and I spent lots of time as a child playing outside in the creek across the street from our house. I moved to Kansas City after graduating college to be a part of a church internship, and my husband and I met there. He says is was “like at first sight,” and we grew to be friends in the following months. After a few years of dating, we were married on a farm on June 6, 2011.
Q: When and how did you start doing paper? Was it a friend who helped you or a book which you accidentally read in the old bookshop?
A: Besides designing my friend’s birthday party invitations as a kid (really - haha!), my paper journey started as a letterpress hobby I started in college. I took classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book and quickly learned how the quality of paper made such a big difference in the beauty of the letterpress print. I continued to print letterpress wedding invitations for friends and a few odd jobs here and there for about ten years while working in ministry until I decided to be more serious about the craft. As I dreamed about the most beautiful stationery I could make, I realized that I had to pair my letterpress with handmade paper. I asked my good friend (who is also very crafty!), Anne, to help me figure out the handmade paper process, and over the course of a few months we found a system that worked well for us. I’m also mildly obsessed with natural and botanical dyes, so we started experimenting with dyeing our white paper pulp into a rainbow of natural shades. I think the addition of so many colors natural colors really set our paper apart.
Q: What’s problems you have met during papermaking process? What help you not to quit all these?
A: Oh my goodness, there are SO MANY things that can go wrong in the paper-making process, and we probably experienced every one of them! Because we are mostly self-taught, we learned a lot through trial and error. The most important thing is that when the paper is still wet, you have to treat it like the most fragile thing in the world or it will be ruined! We had to troubleshoot our machine, the raw materials we use to make the pulp, our dyeing process, our pressing process, our drying process. And then we were blessed with a lot of orders when we first opened and the process of scaling such an intricate process proved to be very difficult and came with a whole new set of challenges! Honestly it felt like the first year we faced so many problems, but we were able to push through because we believed that we were making something really beautiful and saw how much joy it brought to people - it made it feel worth it. Most of the time. ;)
Q: Please, tell me about your workspace! Sometimes you show it in stories. Is it in shed or something like this?
A: Our studio is in what used to be a free-standing garage on our 7-acre farm. From what we can tell, it was built in 1948, and we took out the garage doors and replaced them with windows and French doors to inside. Downstairs we have a “wet room” with waterproof walls where our Hollander beater processes 10lbs of fibers and about 100 gallons of water at a time (!!) into pulp, and where our paper-makers pull sheets of paper out of a vat onto a screen. A hydraulic press that squeezes water out of the paper is also in that room, and a hose and floor drain - there’s a lot of water in there!
We also have a “drying room” where we hang the damp for 1-4 days (depending on the weather).
The main part of the studio houses the letterpress and foil machines, the natural dyes, a sink and a bathroom. In the middle is a big table where we process the dried paper into retail quality, odds + ends, and way offs that we’ve started to share with artists for collage work.
Finally, we keep all of our finished, sorted papers in bins in the upstairs of the garage, with a little trap-door stair to get up. It’s a little scary carrying big boxes of paper up those tiny stairs sometimes! We’re really grateful that it worked out for us to have or studio within view from our kitchen window - it makes it easy for me to be with my children when I not working while sill keeping an eye on what’s going on in studio.
Q: Your typical day. Tell me your timetable. Do you get up at 5 a.m. as busy bee, or love to lie in bed till noon?
A: I’m usually up around 7am and out to the studio at 8am when our Syrian refugee paper-makers arrive, to greet them and give them instructions for the day. Then I’ll usually go inside and make breakfast for my family and enjoy it with them. From then, it really depends on what the day holds! My husband and I share our child-rearing responsibilities, so I’ll usually spend half the day with my little boys and the other half printing at the letterpress, sorting paper, packing up orders, taking Instagram photos and posting, answering emails, making up dye batches or, my favorite, experimenting with new colors.
Q: I must say your letterpress is so neat and lovely! Was it hard to learn working with letterpress machine? Was it long to get a good result?
A: Thank you! It definitely took hours of practice to be able to print at the letterpress well, and, like with every craft, there are a lot of little tricks I figured out over the years that make things easier now. I must say, I feel like handmade paper makes letterpressing easier: the paper is so fluffy that it just absorbs the print so well!
Q: Can I ask you about coloring materials? If it is a secret – I understand J but I really couldn’t imagine how you get such calm and unique shades! Now I have your pack of samples with warm, neutral and cool colors and want to pin them on my wall – so beautiful palette!
A: Oh thank you! I’m really so happy with the results we get with our natural dyes, and I think the dyes we use bring a certain softness and interest to our palette. I source most of our dyes from two amazing natural dyers in the US: Botanical Colors and Aurora Silk, and have also started to get some dyes directly from India, which has such a rich color history! Like most things for us, the colors started with a lot of trial and error. Once I started to get used to how the colors reacted with our pulp, its particular pH, etc., I got better at combining dyes to get the colors we want. I’m still surprised regularly when experimenting, though, which I love! Some of the dyes we use a lot include: indigo, myrobalan, Himalayan rhubarb, chestnut, quebracho rojo, catechu, turmeric, walnut, and lavender buds. I encourage any one who’s interested to experiment with natural dyes, because it’s just so fun and you can use them on any natural fibers (I dye my clothes all the time!). @rebeccadesnos has some great resources for finding natural dyes that grow local to your area.
Q: And I just couldn’t ask you, what is your favorite color?
A: Oh gosh, this is such a hard one!! If our colors, I think blush and sage or robin’s egg might be my favorites. I tend to love peachy pinks and blue-greens, so I’m always trying to fit those in to our color schemes!
Q: How did you get the idea to hired refugees? It is so great and kind! Where did you find them or they just find you? And I have noticed you have few beginners – what happened with other? Did they start new calm and happy life in America?
A: I used to volunteer with refugees when I was in ministry school and noted then how it seemed like the biggest struggle for the people I worked with was finding a job that paid better than minimum wage due to their lack of English skills. When I started farmette I thought that the task of paper-making would be a good fit for refugees since it’s not totally necessary to be conversational in English to make paper. There have definitely been significant challenges because of our limited ability to communicate (our current paper-makers are from Syria and speak hardly any English, and I know about five words in Arabic!), but we’ve figured out our little code words and gestures that mostly communicate what we need in day-to-day studio life, along with some help from google translate. For more complicated matters, they have friends in the Syrian community who serve as interpreters for us.
Our first refugee paper-maker was a young woman of Congolese decent, and after working with us for about six months, she left to start nursing school! I’m happy that she found a career path that she’s excited about.
The truth is that refugees need a lot of support after they’ve arrived in the United States, and that life here holds a lot of challenges for them. As much as I would like to be able to say that they’ve stepped into an easy life here, I have definitely realized that even a “fair wage” job (we pay about double the minimum wage in the US) for one parent is not enough for a family of 6 or 8 (the size of the families of our paper-makers now) to thrive without assistance. Also, culturally and linguistically, most things (even basic parts of American life, like going to the bank or doctor) are so different that simple tasks require a lot of help at first. It has brought up a lot of questions for me about refugee policy and government assistance for the poor, and what makes sense in the current refugee crisis. I hope to have a better understanding as I think through the issues more!
Q: What are your plans for the future year? Maybe travelling? Papermaking?Motherhood?
A: I’m looking forward to settling in to a good rhythm with our business and am considering expanding into making cards for retail shops as well. My oldest son starts kindergarten this year and we are homeschooling so that is a new adventure that awaits! Plus our sweet toddler and a new baby on the day - we want to soak up all the time we can with the them while they’re little! And as always, we love working bit by bit to make our little farm into the beautiful eden that we dream it will be someday! We’d love to travel but after a trip this summer we’ve mostly settled that it will be best for us to wait to travel until our kiddos are a little older. ;)
Q: Loren, thank you so much for your time! It was such a big pleasure to have a small talk with you!
A: Thank you so much, Ann, for your great questions! Always great to talk with you.