A few months into my new job, I got a phone call on a Friday night. I was at a show and remember the shock I felt when I saw a New York phone number light up my cell phone screen. It was my teacher from Penland calling with news that he’d seen a press pop up on ebay just about 30 minutes down the road from me. He encouraged me to go and check it out.
I called Patrick and asked if he’d be willing to take a look with me. He agreed, and together we made the trip, my nervous butterflies rising up for their all-too-familiar dance rehearsal in my stomach.
By this time, I’d saved up a little bit of money and was half-heartedly looking for equipment on a couple of forums online. Presses are hard to come by, particularly affordably. Plus, without a lot of experience moving heavy equipment, I was pretty intimidated at the thought of a cross-country relocation.
As I surveyed the neglected press atop a pile of pallets in a garage in Alabaster, Alabama, I knew this press fit the bill—it was less expensive than most I’d seen and was within a short driving distance from my home. Buying it would still require a chunk of my savings and a large time investment, but it was do-able. I just needed someone to tell me to go for it.
And, as luck would have it, that’s just what Patrick did. He was actually in the process of moving out of state, and it seemed like impeccable timing to give me his blessing and buy a press for myself. It was a huge and scary step, but a necessary one if I was going to make anything of my business.
For the next year and a half, I kept my full-time job and worked on Four Hats in the evenings and on the weekends. I was able to leverage my position at the magazine to gain access to interview artists, stationers, and designers all across the South. During that time, I even wrote an article called “The South’s Best Stationery Shops,” and was given a press pass to attend the National Stationery Show in New York.
Those years brought many challenges, but many graces, too. In the spring of 2013, I spread my wings and decided to leap back into part-time food industry work so that I could pursue Four Hats more seriously.
So, I did a stint as a cheesemonger and then made my way back into the kitchen as a baker. I hustled hard on the side, and gained momentum in the local wedding industry. By the time I was engaged to be married myself, I was printing full-time, and it was nothing short of glorious.
After nearly four years of pursuing my passion, it was providing a living for me, and I was elated. Alas, when my now-husband proposed, he also proposed to whisk me away from my Birmingham home of seven years and to Northern Ireland, where he intended to study for a year.
I loved him (and adventure) and enthusiastically agreed—one of the best decisions I have made to date.
We wed in September, and shipped out to Belfast just a month later.
This time was marked by lots of newness: a new marriage, address, day job, and culture. But, at the sake of being dramatic, I suffered a dramatic loss, too.
I had to leave my press behind (thankfully, with a trusted fellow-printer in Knoxville), and with it, a piece of my heart. For something I’d worked so hard to gain, the move felt like a forced separation.
And while living abroad was thrilling, it was also challenging. I felt displaced and homesick. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure who I was if I wasn’t Cory, the letterpress printer.
As hard as the separation was, I knew it was also good. I began to realize that my identity could not be wrapped up in the work that my hands were doing. It had been fun to be known by my work, but it was a dangerous trajectory.
In Belfast, I was anonymous. Not only did I not have access to a press, I didn’t even have a car.I walked everywhere that year. To the grocery store, to town, to the job I found at a café, to church. This left me feeling trapped in many ways, but I was not stagnant.
Through instagram, I met a wedding planner and fellow American, with whom I proceeded to work with on several weddings. I participated in three styled shoots and a Kinfolk dinner with some incredibly talented photographers and artists.
We found a church and settled into a small community of people that, with time, became incredibly dear to us. We were living simply and without many of the comforts of home, but we were provided for abundantly—even artistically.
When we got the news that we’d be returning to the States for the final leg of Benjamin’s education, it was bittersweet. I was ecstatic, however, to be reunited with my press and continue printing.
Since settling here in Chicago, I was graciously given an additional press and paper cutter by a family friend (for free!) and have set up shop in my garage with no small thanks to a generous landlord, friends, and neighbors who assisted with the translocation of equipment.
We’ve been here two years now, and I’m settling back into a more regular rhythm of printing and client work. There’s a new community of people to get to know here, and a plenty of fresh opportunities to learn and grow.
I carry pieces of Birmingham and Belfast with me, though. I wouldn’t be the woman, friend, wife, believer, or printer that I am without the people in these places. My story is a tapestry of a million purposeful detours and details.
I am in awe of the creativity of its author.