Thank you for the pointer to the freetype2 web site.
Later on I'll start asking again to learn how to build a kernel so I can test and evaluate my findings.
I don't think you need to "build a kernel". Someone else has already done that for you. If you are not running linux already (and it looks like you are posting from "Win7") then just hop over to http://distrowatch.com/
and get your self a distro from one of those listed in the top 10 of "Page Hit Ranking".
Install linux, install build-essential (to get you the c compiler and a load of other stuff) install the kernel source (needed if you are going to alter and recompile freetype2) then get busy. Freetype is the only bit you'll have to recompile, not the kernel (as I see it, somebody please correct me otherwise).
A word of warning. As you worked with fonts for "a printer manufacturer" you might need to "clear your mind" of some of the things you knew / learnt in your last job. The reason being that said printer manufacturer might not be at all pleased to see code or techniques surprisingly similar to "their" code or techniques turning up in future GPL code. Maybe you should take some advice (from a lawyer, the GPL people, your ex-employer, or even us here on LQ [in a different thread]).
Hope you have fun (and don't get into trouble).