Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

In Lawrenceville, a love for letterpress leads to a business whose greeting cards reach audiences across the country.




photos by tom m johnson

 

Lisa Krowinski’s Sapling Press cranks out 21st-century sentiments on 19th-century equipment. The rare, old letterpresses in her workshop in Lawrenceville produce greeting cards that are short on text but long on attitude.

“Dear Noah,” reads one bestseller. “We could have sworn you said the ark wasn’t leaving till 5. Sincerely, The Unicorns.”

Crisp and wry is Krowinski’s recipe for a memorable message. Since launching her company in 2003 while working as a graphic designer in Baltimore, she’s reached a national audience that clearly gets the joke. Sapling’s line now ships all over the United States, via Etsy and major retailers such as Madewell and Paper Source.
 

 


Each month, the shop ships more than 30,000 cards (look for them locally at The ArtSmiths of Pittsburgh in Mt. Lebanon, Nota Bene in Aspinwall, Wildcard in Lawrenceville and Krowinski’s own year-old retail store, Sapling and Sons in Beaver).

​Krowinski, who calls her business a “snail-mail supply company,” says the perfect contemporary Valentine blends pop-culture references with observations tailormade for the recipient. “What I’m looking for is a card that says to the recipient, ‘This is so you,’” explains the 41-year-old entrepreneur.

“I love you like Kanye loves Kanye” resonates with his eye-rolling fans; an older couple recognizes themselves in a reference to a romantic evening of Netflix. “You want that true slice of life — the observation that captures their personal style,” says Krowinski. “I’m a curator for those taglines. People might put something on Twitter that goes viral, or I see something written a few years ago and think, ‘That would make a great card.’”  
 

 


Her first commandment: Every message must provoke an immediate, laugh-out-loud response. While at home in Mt. Lebanon or commuting to work, she streams Spotify comedy shows to prime her imagination. Concepts like chair aerobics may percolate for months before debuting as punch lines on the cards she writes with collaborators across the country.

​Krowinski gauges response to new lines from Sapling’s Instagram comments. “Social media takes cards and gives them a life of their own. It’s easy to forget it’s a real product you can buy in a store. But a card is something tangible. It says, ‘This is just to make you happy.’”

​Krowinski, who grew up in New Brighton, says she also looks for old-school inspiration. Her collection of old postcards was scavenged from thrift shops — Antique Emporium in Beaver Falls is a favorite. “People used to write in beautiful penmanship! I love that,” she says. 

Typography has fascinated her since childhood. Letterpresses made a more recent impression. She purchased the oldest of Sapling’s five presses last year on the South Side. The 1899 Chandler & Price model, weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds, is a reliable workhorse. 

“We use it everyday. There are no computer chips. You see it work: This part’s gonna hit this, this is gonna hit that,” she says. Her workroom on Butler Street is lined with 20 drawers of antique type.

On Krowinski’s own Valentine list: husband Bill Krowinski, owner of Bootstrap Design, and their sons, Casper, 9, and Keller, 8. This year, she plans to celebrate Valentine’s Day by reprising last year’s whimsical “Love on the Run” party at her store in Beaver. “We invited people to hand-type a love letter on one of our old manual typewriters,” she explains. Dozens of the messages were inserted into small glass bottles and hand-delivered to the recipient on Feb. 14. During the event this year, Krowinski says she’ll also tap out a note to each of her sons to insert in their valentines, too.

“My boys are at the phase when they’re first getting something in the mail,” she says. “When they had their birthdays in November, they loved it. They couldn’t open them fast enough.”  

Sapling Press offers introductory classes in letterpress design at its studio at 3524 Butler St. Details: 412/681-1003, saplingpress.com
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

2017 Pittsburgher of the Year: Kelly Frey

2017 Pittsburgher of the Year: Kelly Frey

No one would blame the veteran WTAE anchor if she took time off while undergoing intensive breast cancer treatment. Instead, she chose to use humor and grace to educate and inspire others, all while in the public eye.
Green Medicine: The Business of Medical Marijuana

Green Medicine: The Business of Medical Marijuana

For many, medical marijuana is a panacea capable of alleviating a wide range of symptoms. As Pennsylvania begins allowing the drug’s medical use, patients are relieved — and business is booming.
Restaurant Review: Casbah Still is Rocking

Restaurant Review: Casbah Still is Rocking

More than 20 years into its run, Casbah remains one of Pittsburgh’s most relevant restaurants.
First There Was Hot Yoga. Then There Was Goat Yoga

First There Was Hot Yoga. Then There Was Goat Yoga

Believe it or not, yogis have been practicing with goats in the Unites States for more than a year.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


32 Years Celebrating Pittsburghers of the Year

32 Years Celebrating Pittsburghers of the Year

As we honor the 2017 Pittsburghers of the year, take a look back at the previous honorees and their significant, unforgettable contributions to our city.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Madeline Bakery and Bistro to Open in Wilkinsburg

Madeline Bakery and Bistro to Open in Wilkinsburg

The French-inspired bakery will feature croissants, cookies, bread and more.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Best of the ‘Burgh Gift Guide for 2017

Here are some of our favorite ‘Burgh-inspired gifts for him, her, kids, foodies and more.

Comments


Enjoy a Relaxing Evening of Wanton Destruction at Break Room

Enjoy a Relaxing Evening of Wanton Destruction at Break Room

The Irwin business offers the chance to smash inanimate objections for a little "therapeutic demolition."

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers Can't Ease Their Patriots Pain Until January

Steelers Can't Ease Their Patriots Pain Until January

Much as they’d like to, the Steelers won’t be able to exorcise the ghosts of AFC Championship Games Past, even with a win on Sunday.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the latest entry in the massive franchise.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
New Weddings Website Aims for Equality

New Weddings Website Aims for Equality

A local wedding photographer has created a business to connect same-sex couples with LGBTQ-friendly vendors.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
It’s Back! ‘Restored by the Fords’ Gets Premiere Date

It’s Back! ‘Restored by the Fords’ Gets Premiere Date

The new season of the home improvement show featuring Pittsburgh siblings Leanne and Steve Ford debuts on HGTV in January.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module