It all started two years ago.
In truth, it started well before that, probably back in my childhood, when I would pore longingly over the crafts section in my Highlights magazine, laying on my bedroom floor with my chin propped on my arms. From my earliest memories, I have always loved to fashion things with my hands. Some of my most famous and oft-repeated last words have been, “I could make that.” Sometimes it’s a delightful and satisfying success. And other times it’s a delightful mess that ends up under the bed or in a dark corner of the attic. But come weal or woe, I’m never so happy as when my fingers are into something—glue, paint, Christmas greens, garden dirt, flour.
I’m sometimes even tempted to write with a quill pen so that I’d have some of those lovely Jo March ink stains to proclaim my vocation to the world.
But this particular madness started two years ago.
I had been daydreaming out loud to Philip about this dancing vision I had. It was so absurd I couldn’t help being enchanted by it: A small-scale run of books made entirely by hand. Was it possible? Was it even remotely financially feasible?
Was I crazy?
I’ll never forget Philip’s reply. He looked straight at me and smiled.
“We can do this,” he said.
And, oh, how I love that ‘we’. It has made all the difference.
In January of 2010 we made a plan. I selected a public domain text for the first run and began to acquaint myself with the mysteries and mazes of Adobe InDesign. I read everything I could on the craft of bookbinding, and schemed over how I could maneuver a one-at-a-time process into a multiple copy run.
Philip built the presses for me—and there is a world of love contained in that one little phrase. He made them all by hand and set me up with everything I would need to make books. I still just sit in my shop sometimes and gloat over my tools, they are so beautiful. (And I realize, in bookbinding as in other arts, that I love the instruments and devices as much as what is produced by them. I get a little giddy over things like English bookbinding needles and Irish linen thread.)
As the year went on, that ‘we’ expanded to a circle of dear and extremely talented folks. My amazing and artistic brother-in-law taught me how to use that ornery old InDesign, and spent hours on the phone with me, sending files back and forth, and formatting things exactly the way I wanted them. My sister—the one who introduced me to book arts in the first place—designed the logo for my press. And she created two supremely gorgeous original oil paintings to illustrate my book: one for the cover plate and one for the frontispiece. Local letterpress artisans and dear friends, Matt and Erica Hinton, helped me figure out how in the wide world we could deboss and imprint so many cases at once, and Matt invested literal days into making it work. The result of his labors took my breath. I am overwhelmed at the support and excitement these people lent to my project, and deeply grateful for the mark of their talents upon it.
And so, on this December day, in the year of our Lord 2011, I am pleased to introduce the first release of Low Door Press:
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
I selected this title for many reasons, chief of which being that I fell in love with it as an impressionable teenager, and I wanted to honor Montgomery herself and her influence on my life with an affectionately handcrafted edition of her second book.
I was sixteen years old when I first made the acquaintance of Kilmeny Gordon. I had known her older sister, Anne Shirley, for about four years at the time, and the blessed hours I had spent in her company had given me a love for Lucy Maud Montgomery and her writings that was akin to reverence—a reverence which remains steadfast to this day.
from my preface
The pages are acid-free rag content and the signatures were folded and sewn entirely by hand onto cotton tapes with Irish bookbinder’s thread. I used an archival PVA book glue and traditional English mull for the binding, and the headbanding at the head and tail of the spine are silk. The book cloth is Dover linen and the endpapers are Italian cotton. As I have mentioned, the artwork is from original oils painted by my sister, and the cases were individually debossed and inked on an early-twentieth century engraver’s press. I would not even be able to begin to say how many hours went into each book, but I can avow that every one of them was a labor of love.
So why would I attempt something so crazy? Am I glutton for punishment or a moonstruck lunatic?
Neither, I hope. But I am a lover of beauty and the God who authored it. And I long, like all of us, in my small way, to contribute to His great canvas of beauty that overspreads the world in spite of all the evil and darkness and ugliness. In the face of it, really. My brush is quite small, more suited to details, but I want to ply it with a confident hope that it matters. That in a world of automation and plastic and hurry, there is still a place for something impractical and time consuming and existing only for love. Ruskin said the most beautiful things in life are often the most useless. “Peacocks and lilies for instance.”
And maybe even handmade books.
I am listing 15 copies of Kilmeny of the Orchard today. (There will be more in the shop after Christmas.) Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, I can only sell them to residents of the U.S. Thank you for your understanding.
My writing partner wrote this loving tribute to my Kilmeny, if you’d care to read it. And while you’re at it, do yourself a favor and enjoy her endearing daily raptures celebrating her love for this holy season of Advent…