From invitations and escort cards to chalkboards and mirrors, there's almost nothing artful handwritten lettering can't beautify. New York scribe Nancy Howell shares her advice on finding and working with a professional calligrapher, and creating stationery and more for your nuptials that can become keepsakes.


A lot of cities have calligraphy guilds, but there's no need to limit yourself to a local artist unless you're hiring her for something that needs to be done a day or so before the event, like chalkboard signage. If not, you can review portfolios online, which goes a long way in knowing whether a person's style is compatible with yours, and get samples and the finished product by mail. Ideally, you'd choose stationery six months out; that's also when you should book a calligrapher, so you can be sure you're on her calendar.


A professional will ask about your envelope stock and whether or not they're lined, which makes each thicker and a bit harder to work with. They'll establish a time frame for the job; for me, that's about two weeks. Usually, a 50 percent deposit is required to hold it on their calendar. They'll also need a list of your guests in a Word document, with the names and addresses typed out as on an envelope -- that's important to gauge line length. [Howell charges $1.50 per line for envelopes; others bill by the piece, with an average cost of $2 to $5 per enclosure.] Go with someone you like because there's a lot of back and forth over etiquette and lettering styles -- and you want a person who's excited about what they do.


What couples want calligraphed most often is the inner and outer invitation envelopes. Recipients love seeing their names beautifully written. Along with the stationery, it conveys the style of an event and gets invitees excited.


The next most popular request is the couple's names on the invites. Then it's day-of paperie, such as escort cards. I also do single-line writing, where I'll create the headings of enclosures, like "Accommodations" or "Activities," and the rest is printed. If your budget doesn't allow for calligraphy on your suite, you could have the first page of a guest book done, which makes a nice memento.


Calligraphers can work with nearly any medium. For a baby shower, I calligraphed glass baby bottles. I've also inked fabric, leaves, model-ship sails, cowboy belts, megaphones, you name it! And chalkboard writing is huge, especially for the dinner menu.

To see more of Howell's work, visit

Credit: Petra Bindel


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