It was a little more than four years ago that Christy Etheredge, working as a graphic designer on a computer for a Columbus company, decided that she wanted something more hands on, something with which she could be creative.
That something came to be custom printing using letterpress machines.
“I wanted to do something with my hands because I was staring at pixels all day,” the Phenix City native and Columbus resident said. “I found out there are classes up in Atlanta for letterpress printing. So I took an eight-week course and started printing up there.”
Thus, Dinglewood Design & Press was born in the garage of her home. And it would remain there for more than a year, growing enough for her to eventually venture out of the house and into 400 square feet of space. The printing shop and office is now in about four times that space at 2200 Camille Drive, Suite A, not far from the Country Club of Columbus.
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Today, Etheredge’s business creation is profitable and does business across the country and around the world, hand printing wedding invitations, birth announcements, baptism and christening invitations, stationery, business cards, holiday cards — you name it — and shipping them all over. Her company remains small, just the way she likes it, with a staff of four counting herself.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Etheredge, 28, recently to talk about her job and the craft of creating unique products on 100 percent cotton paper in a world seemingly dominated by the digital realm. This interview is edited for length and clarity with an expanded version at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
These are your letterpress machines?
They’re antiques. They don’t make them anymore and haven’t for ages, since the ’60s, I think. I really lucked out. It was on eBay and the auction ended on Easter Sunday. So I don’t think anybody was paying attention and I snagged it for about 800 bucks. That’s a good price.
Are they both pretty old?
That one (a Chandler & Price Old Style platen press) is 122 years old, and that one is 102. These were more like proofing presses (at one time). They would proof a lot of stuff that would go into newspapers. But they would also print stationery and cards, small things, but mostly personal stuff.
This is the old-fashioned way?
It is the old-fashioned way, for sure.
What capacity do you have with them?
You print (each piece of paper) one at a time. We can probably do 500 or 600 a day. Right now is our busy season with people having babies and getting married and having showers and stuff. Baptisms are a big deal, too, with letterpress.
Is there competition for you?
There are other letterpress shops around the country, but we are the only one in Columbus. It’s around the globe, really.
How far do your printed products go?
It is 99 percent outside of Columbus. We did the numbers and a huge majority of our sales were in California and New York. We also do a lot in Australia. We’ve sent to Hong Kong, the Middle East, to France and England, all over the world.
Do Columbus-area people not know much about you?
I think it’s been word of mouth. We’ve done a little bit of advertising. But our bread and butter is outside of Columbus, via our website and Etsy.com. That site is a re-saler for handmade products.
How quick is your turnaround?
It takes a good while. Design time takes anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on how intricate it is. After that, on the production side, it’s three weeks, five weeks if it’s something really large, such as a wedding or a lot of moving pieces. And then the time to ship, too. A typical order would be six to eight weeks, if it’s a wedding. If it’s stationery, we’ve got a lot of template designs. We design that real fast and proof it and can push it out the door in about two weeks.
Are customers both individuals and businesses?
Mostly individuals. We’ve done things for several businesses. I did some coasters for Wolf Chili. You’ve probably seen it in the grocery stores. Back when I was still in the garage, they had some outdoor event, some sort of chili festival and they needed a bunch of coasters. That was pretty cool.
Have you sold to any celebrities?
We’ve done a Broadway star. I think her name sounded famous so I googled her. We were doing some stationery and a birth announcement for her son and sure enough she was on Broadway. (Another one) was in some soap opera like “Days of Our Lives.” We’ve done some athletes, some football players. There also was a (sports) agent.
Have you handled any huge orders?
We actually had one this week. It’s literally a large wedding. Not only did she have a lot of inclosure cards and information cards, but she wanted it to be printed 9 by 7 inches, which is large for a wedding invitation. And it’s a very large quantity. There are like 250 of these.
Is there a knack or technique to this printing?
Yes. It takes a very patient, skilled artisan to operate the press. Mostly patience. But every time you want a different color, we’ve got to ink up the press with a different color and press it all over again. It’s for each individual one. It’s really hard to get that perfect because when you’re mixing it on the table, it can look one way. But when you go to put it on the press and on the paper, it looks like something different.
Is there anything you cannot do?
We can’t do a poster that’s humongous. There are letterpress machines out there that do that, but they’re about 10 grand, and we’re not there yet.
Are these machines complicated at all and do they break down?
(laughs) Every week we oil them down and make sure all of the moving parts are working good ... There’s no user manuals out there on letterpress. You cannot google the problems you face. So you have to just learn it all the hard way.
Can’t you do this on more modern, faster machines?
You can, but this is an art. It truly is. It started coming back in the mid-’90s because of Martha Stewart. She kind of revived it, and it’s just an art now. This is truly labor intensive, made by hand. People just love it and we love it. You can see the impressions, you can touch them and really feel it. It’s not some old floppy piece of paper.
What’s your typical day and duties like?
Everyday is different. There’s a lot of design each day. There’s ordering things and ensuring everything is going smoothly. Keeping an eye on everything. Quality control. Accounting. All of the fun stuff. (laughs) In a slow month, it’s 40 hours a week. Right now, it’s more like 60 to 80.
If not this what else might you be doing for a living?
I would probably still be a graphic designer and need carpal tunnel (surgery) by now. I’ve just always wanted to create something. That’s when I’m happiest, creating something and making it look pretty ... We love what we do. It’s just really exciting when people come by and get to see it because we can share that excitement.
Do you want to grow even bigger?
Yes. We’re kind of like one of those hermit crabs that grows out of their shell every year. Like we started in a garage, and then moved into 400 square feet, and we moved here. Already, I’ve filled up this space. It’s like I need more presses. (laughs) I never would have imagined that I would be out of that garage.
At what point did you feel like this really would work out?
When I was taking the classes originally. I spent a lot of time researching it before taking the classes. George, my husband, he of course thought it’s one of Christy’s hobbies, for her scrapbooks, and she’ll just do it a couple of months and then drop it. But, no, I was sitting in bed at night so excited. I was excited and scared because I knew the potential. I could just see it. But I was scared to death it wasn’t going to work. But the dream has come true.
Tell me about your stock room?
This is where everything gets assembled. Each order has a bin, and it goes into a specific rack depending on how far along it is. Like these (pointing) have been printed, but they need to be assembled. They’re going to Nebraska.
Have you shipped to every state?
I think so.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
This is my baby. That’s it. This is my passion. It’s fun to watch it grow and be able to create really unique, beautiful things for people who appreciate it ... We just passed 600 positive reviews on Etsy.
What’s the most challenging thing you face?
I think there’s just so much that I want to do, and there’s just not enough time because we’re so busy, which is a blessing and a curse.
And you’re dreaming big?
Yes. But I like the uniqueness of it — and that we’re small. I don’t want to get too big. It’s more personal that way.
Name: Christy Etheredge
Hometown: Phenix City
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Graduate of Smiths Station High School; earned associate’s degree in visual communication (multimedia with full scholarship in chorus) from Chattahoochee Valley Community College
Previous jobs: Graphic designer at TracSoft web design and freelance graphic designer
Family: Husband George Etheredge and “fur-baby” named Mulligan, a Chihuahua
Leisure time: She and her husband have been renovating their 100-year-old house for five years and are almost finished; when not doing that, they love to watch Netflix, play video games and go to the theater
Of note: One of her Dinglewood Design & Press products at one time was featured in Southern Living Magazine