Pressing ahead: Vintage office wares

It’s all in the family at the wonderfully nostalgic Flywheel, a letterpress printing studio and emporium for vintage office wares in Tasmania
Sue Stubbs

From the age of 11, Rachel James would come home from school to help in her family’s antiques business. Surrounded by fascinating curios and artefacts belonging to years gone by, she developed a love of all things old and interesting, and became increasingly intrigued by the printing equipment sourced by her mother, Sue, and two older sisters, Donna and Tammy. “We had a few old printing blocks and I absolutely loved them,” recalls Rachel, now 21. “All the lovely typefaces, the layers of old ink staining the blocks different colours, the smooth feel of the wood.” When a tabletop hand press arrived in the shop, Rachel’s future as a letterpress printer was sealed. “I’d spend hours tucked away in the office, printing things to sell!” she remembers.

Fortuitously, Sue, Donna and Tammy were looking to start another business and so, 18 months ago, the four opened the doors to Flywheel, an emporium filled with vintage office pieces and stationery, plus a letterpress studio. Based in the pretty town of New Norfolk in Tasmania’s lush Derwent Valley, the business was named after the large, decorative wheel that once powered presses.

Rachel is – of course – head printer, and her studio is part of the shop, sectioned off by a glass wall so visitors can watch her at work creating cards, tags and notebooks. She uses three antique printers, dating from the turn of last century, and draws inspiration from traditional forms of printmaking, such as Japanese woodblock prints and finely detailed antique etchings.

(Credit: Sue Stubbs)

Now studying graphic design at university, Rachel is grateful for the wisdom passed down from experienced craftspeople. “Starting out on my own and then doing a course with a retired printer was the best thing I could have done,” she observes. “I don’t believe there is any better way to learn than from the people who have done it all before.” And of course, family ties are at the heart of Flywheel’s success. “I’ve been working with my family since I was a child and I wouldn’t wish for it to be any other way,” says Rachel. “I’m thankful for the opportunity every day.”

“I love the history of letterpress, the machinery involved and the tactile prints it produces”

(Credit: Sue Stubbs)
(Credit: Sue Stubbs)

A wall-mounted flywheel sits above the Chandler And Price platen press. “This machine is such an old beauty and came from a nunnery in Queensland,” explains Rachel. “It only had one speed – fast and furious – like it was extremely angry to be put back to work! Mum was going to ban me from using it, but we replaced the motor with one that had speed control to keep her happy.”

(Credit: Sue Stubbs)

Vintage-inspired stationery and stylish crafting essentials are sold in the store. A gift box, containing a mini stamp set, ink pad, tags, twine and pegs, starts at $42.95.

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