Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month, ILSSA celebrates its own version of The Festival to Plead for Skills. The festival is derived from the Chinese holiday of Qi Xi and the Japanese festival of Tanabata, in which celebrants wish for the betterment of their own craftsmanship. Instead of wishing, the ILSSA festival is a holiday of PRACTICING. Every year on July 7, ILSSA members observe this holiday by practicing a skill: using a tool, trying a method, honing a technique. Members are asked to take a picture of their practice, and to send this photo along with a brief paragraph description to the Co-Operators.

Historically, the collection of Festival photos and descriptions have been published in print form and distributed to all members as a part of the ILSSA Quarterly. Beginning with the 2013 Festival documentation, we are transitioning to a web-based, digital publishing format. It is our hope that this will better cultivate and celebrate our community of practicing.

We hope you will enjoy reading all about the 2013 Festival to Plead for Skills below, and we invite all members to join us on July 7, 2014, as we practice together again! For the 2014 Festival, our goal is to digitally post contributions as soon as they are received, so be sure to send in your photo and paragraph to operator(at)impractical-labor.org and we will share your practice with the membership. Happy Practicing!


Laurie Corral (Local 828 Shop BW)


Gwen Diehn & Fran Loges, Piece Work Wallets & Things (Local 828 Shop PWW&T)

The purpose of our business is to save strong, durable, and beautiful materials from the landfill and give them a new life as useful and well-designed wallets, bags, and cases. We've been collecting and upcycling our materials for three years. As much as possible we use used materials, including hardware and webbing salvaged from old backpacks and totes. Most of our materials are donated to us. We custom design many of our pieces and are happy to come up with entirely new designs for new purposes.

At the day of practice we used the antique board shear at BookWorks to slice clear plastic bags from duvet covers and pillows and used shower curtains into strips that we fold and sew into credit card cases for our wallets. We also sewed the pages into a custom-designed travel journal that we were making for a customer who is walking to Compastello in September and wanted a lightweight book.

For more information, see our blog at weRpiecework.blogspot.com.


Lyman Edwards (Local 850 Shop LL)

For the 2013 Festival to Plead for Skills, I practiced developing and drawing earth oven designs. I started putting together a website, southernearthovens.com, in June of 2013. This is my attempt to turn one of my impractical labors into a more official business. I have been building wood fired ovens for a few years, and I felt that I really needed to work on coming up with some more clever designs for the ovens than what I had already built. So I decided that my practice would essentially be to visually brainstorm as many designs as I could come up with in two hours. Ultimately I need to work on more, but this was definitely good practice for me.


Bridget Elmer (Local 347 Shop FS)

For the 2013 Festival, in the inspiring company of my fellow Impractical Laborers at the ILSSA Convergence, I decided to try my hand at setting type on a curve. I had the fortune of seeing this process demonstrated while co-teaching with Bryan Baker (stukenborgpress.com) at Ox-Bow in June, where he was kind enough to share his time-tested techniques with me and our students. Because time in always tight when teaching (!), I didn't have a chance to try the process after Bryan's demonstration. Our 2013 Festival celebration at Asheville BookWorks presented the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl! Though counterintuitive at first, it was great fun to bend leading, lock up the form, and enjoy the fruits of my labor–without even printing the form! Thank you ILSSA, and thank you Bryan, for the opportunity to practice and learn.


Maria Epes (Local 828 Shop ME)


Sally Hagy-Boyer (Local 914 Shop SHB)

I decided to try my hand at making paper thread. This tradition started in Japan and is usually made with washi paper. I didn’t have any washi in my studio but I did have an old Japanese book with thin soft pages that had aged nicely on the edges. I have a friend who has been making paper thread this way for years and I had never tried it — this festival was a perfect time to see if I could make any. All I knew about it was that I needed to start by cutting the paper into thin strips and then proceed to twist. I held one end and twisted the other by hand and it usually worked. They are beautiful little twists of aged paper with flags on either end — the japanese calligraphy gives it a nice texture too. I have since discovered that people are using drop spindles and bobbin winders to make paper thread. I of course, prefer the hand spinning method — as many hours as it takes.


John Labovitz (Local 503 Shop JL)

Being at the ILSSA Convergence for the weekend and away from my studio, I was frankly unprepared to work on something hands-on or tactile. Instead, surrounded by other practicing ILSSA members and the inspirational beautiful book-making tools at Asheville Bookworks, I worked on a little guide I've been writing for artists about creative retreats. Ideas turned from sketches to rambles to pithy paragraphs to blocks of type on a (virtual) page. Perhaps the virtual will become physical on the next July 7?


Emily Larned (Local 917 Shop RC)

As an artist who works primarily with handset type, who adopted floor loom weaving as a peripheral interest, who enjoys traveling while art-working and art-working while traveling — man am I badly in need of cultivating some portable skills. So this Festival I transported my little lap loom from Connecticut to North Carolina in order to practice weaving. And portability.


Melanie Mowinski (Local 413 Shop 29P)

This year’s practice amused me greatly largely because not only was I going to practice some sort of obsolete technique/technology, but our internet has been down since July 4th. And since we live in a pocket of land where the Verizon wireless signal barely blinks, I was really going to be using obsolete technology. A real paper dictionary and thesaurus. I haven’t used those in ages when writing/brainstorming and I turned to my book shelves, image files and the woods for ideas and images instead of Google. It was kind of refreshing, liberating even.

I worked out the draft for a one-page book that I will be printing using my Vandercook III on Thursday. I wasn't able to do it all in one day. It will be a small edition requiring me to cut and fold and be exact, using my bone folders, rulers and knives to be as precise as possible. The layout will be such that it will take me "hours" to set-up in the bed of the press, something that would take a quarter of the time in a computer. There will be updates on my website of how the images below transform into a small artist book. Here's the first post about it: Festival to Plead for Skills July 7, 2013.


Sarah Nicholls (Local 347 Shop SN)

This July 7th was spent setting and printing the final round of text for the new Brain Washing from Phone Towers Informational Pamphlet, for which I never have quite enough type, as I get progressively wordier and wordier as time goes on. Which means setting, distributing, setting, distributing, setting, and distributing. Impractical indeed. The new issue will be in the mail shortly. The theme seems apropos. I hope everyone had a good time in Asheville.


Jessica Peterson (Local 973 Shop PS)


my trash can

A few years ago, I made the decision to teach at the college-level, thinking that this would provide necessary funding to support my real impractical labor of letterpress printing. I have an MFA, which qualifies me to teach according the accreditation boards, but did not provide much real training for the classroom. I spent most of my time in the last four years learning how to teach. When I look at my bank balance and align the amount I have made with the amount of time I spent preparing for classes, and amount of stress and self doubt I feel about teaching, I realize my teaching has become my impractical labor. The skill I practiced on 7/7/13 is about changing this. I realized that my file cabinet was full of paper and notebooks related to learning how to teach. I have moved this paperwork several times, without looking through it or really valuing its worth or function, thinking that this paperwork contained all the important notes related to teaching. On 7/7/13, I looked through it, and realized that while this paperwork built my confidence in the classroom, but is all basically now both illegible and unhelpful. I practiced the skill of letting go, and opening space for the impractical labor I want to practice and maintain in my life (less teaching, more letterpress!)


Meghan Reedy (Local 717 Shop WP)


Kathleen Richert (Local 612 Shop KR)

Greetings comrade labourers!

I spent today practicing the skill of "turning" an historic patch, turning being the contemporaneous logism. These hand sewn mends are in a canvas bale cover that is part of a museum exhibit about the American fur trade. I do a lot of historic reproduction work, and the motto "as long as it takes" really applies to this line of work. I've attached a series of photos showing the work in progress. This is one of many patches I made today and also an example of darning on the same piece.


Chris Ruggiero (Local 917 Shop SE)


Erin Sweeney, Lovely In The Home Press (Local 603 Shop ES)

You know when you have one piece of obsolete equipment, you've get it all figured it out, you've gotten it to work well, and then you get another piece of obsolete equipment and it looks at you in the corner of the studio and you think to yourself, "I'll get that going. I will." And then you don't? Because you just keep going back to the first piece of equipment because you know how that works and you just gotta get that thing printed... Well, I used July 7, 2013 to finally get my mystery big girl overbuilt giant awesome press (Vandercook? We think so, but maybe not..) up and running. Locked up a background of numbers for a series of broadsides I'm working on about time, and printed away for the whole day. It was magic, and hardly had to do any fussing.

Thank you, ILSSA, for making me figure it out.