The Creative Block

Albertine Press. Photo by Sasha Pedro.

At the heart of Inman Square, the 1300 block of Cambridge Street is and has been the home for shops that cater to Cantabridgians’ preference for handmade things.

You may have a printer, but Shelley Barandes of the Albertine Press has a printing press.

She has several, actually: a Vandercook, a Heidelberg, and a Chandler & Price, and another Vandercook, for good measure, and a few more. With these descendants of Gutenberg’s 15th-century invention, Barandes can turn out custom stationery or introduce you to the mysteries of letterpress printing (as well as bookbinding and calligraphy classes) from her shop at 1309 Cambridge St.

“The thing about letterpress is that it’s—at least the way we do it, and the way it’s done these days—it’s inherently tactile,” says Barandes. “You can print anything on your home printer, but it’s not going to have that same quality to it, kind of a lusciousness.”

Albertine Press is just one of several current and past shops in the 1300 block of Cambridge Street where residents can go when a creative urge strikes them. From 2016 to 2019, one of Albertine’s neighbors was Practice Space, which offered a combination of retail, studio, exhibition, and community rooms for artists. Catty-corner from them is the venerable Inman Square Hardware, a DIY mecca. And across the street is Gather Here—the knitting, sewing, and fiber arts emporium run by Virginia B. Johnson and her husband Noah Dubreuil. 

The love of all things tangible is what binds the block together. 

Virginia B. Johnson and Noah Dubreuil. Photo by Tony Luong.

“I think one of the main reasons people take up sewing or knitting now is people are looking to learn something that is really tangible and there is a final outcome,” Johnson says. “When you’re learning to sew, you’re literally picking the fabric, cutting the fabric, stitching the fabric, and you walk away with the thing.”

Both Albertine Press and Gather Here relocated to the 1300 block from other locations when they needed to grow. Albertine Press moved about two years ago from just down the road in Somerville, and Barandes says she’s found both cities to be “so full of artists and people who understand the craftsmanship of what we do.”

“It’s a really strong crafting and craft-supporting community,” she says. “People who participate in crafting and also just appreciate it and want to support that kind of creative endeavor.”

Building community was a big part of the Gather Here ethos at its original location on Broadway, and the move to the former Inman Square Supermarket site at 1343 Cambridge St. in 2016 gave them more space for those activities. In fact, the calendar on their wall shows something happening—classes, meetings, events—every single day of the month.

“A lot of people in the [Broadway] community came along, and people in Somerville were super-psyched we were so much closer. And there was already a vibrant community atmosphere in Inman Square,” Johnson says.

Walking into either shop, one of the first impressions is the physicality of everything. In Albertine, you see shelves of cards, broad worktables, and the presses; Gather Here is known for the bolts of cloth and skeins of yarn, in a riot of colors, along with its dozens of sewing and quilting machines. Both places make you want to touch things—and if you do, then you’ll find yourself wondering how it was made, and whether you can make it. And the answer from the businesses on this block is not just “yes, you can” but “we’ll show you how.”

It’s probably not surprising that these two businesses, both built upon handicrafts that date back centuries and yet are still ubiquitous in modern life, see crossover among their respective communities.

“One of our customers, as she was planning her wedding, had picked out all of her fabrics and colors, then she brought her fabric to meet with Shelley to do her wedding invitations, and Shelley sent me an Instagram story,” Johnson says. 

Barandes adds that she often sees shared clientele, as evidenced by their project bags. “I think we attract a similar kind of person, whether they’re making things themselves and looking for the tools, or taking classes and learning something new and bringing that kind of craft mentality to their own life,” she says.

Albertine Press is located at 1309 Cambridge St. and Gather Here is located at 1343 Cambridge St. To learn more, visit www.albertinepress.com and www.gatherhere.com.

This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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