Craft in America (and on Melrose)

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For 15 years Wanda Wen (above) has shared her love of the paper arts. As founder and owner of West Hollywood’s Soolip Paperie & Press, she has been a champion of letterpress printing, letter writing, custom wedding invitations, and elegant gift wrapping. Her shop is sprinkled with feminine touches: ribbons and fine inks, handmade greeting cards and stationery. And yes, in the age of the iPad she is thriving.

To help celebrate the launch of her new book, The Art of Gift Wrapping (Potter Craft/Random House, 144 pages, $24.99), Wen hosted a Saturday afternoon event called “Of the Hand,” featuring demonstrations by various artisans and a few opportunities for guests to participate in (ahem) hands-on projects.

Elizabeth Hubbell set up a Chandler & Price cast-iron tabletop press, inked it with a spring green color, and printed samples of her own designs from engraved blocks. Then folks also had a chance to pull the heavy lever, hear the century-old machine clang to life like a locomotive, and create an impression on luxurious cotton rag paper. Hubbell, who’s based in Berkeley, has done letterpress work with Wen since the beginning. “It started as a passionate hobby,” Hubbell said. “I’ve always had a love of words and words on paper.”

At the next station, guests could bind Hubbell’s pages into journals using a traditional Japanese bookbinding technique: threading ribbon through punched holes. And farther along sat calligrapher Aleksey Shirokov, gracefully applying ink to paper, writing guests’ names in the journals before they were carried home.

Wen had also invited landscape designer Renee Gunter (offering gardening tips on growing succulents), home arts expert Shannon Allbright (showing off examples of children’s sewing and embroidery), and fiber artist Rebecca Varon (making desk accessories and other objects from wool).

The natural world, resourcefulness, and inventiveness have long been Soolip themes. Wen’s book includes ideas for using leaves, dried flowers, or long grasses—not to mention cotton balls, brewed black tea, or beads—when wrapping gifts. The point is to “be creative, do what you want to do, just have fun,” said Gunter. She was referring to planting projects, but Wen would have to agree.

—Leilah Bernstein

Photographs (from left): Jules Bianchi; Alyssa Nicol