Binding a book is hard, but writing a tutorial is even harder!

I had a request for a tutorial on how to bind a book like the one here.  Here is an attempt at explaining how I did it.  I did Google “how to bind a book” and came up with several alternatives, mostly with a glued spine.  I own several books with sewn methods shown, most of them show this stitched binding.

  • For this book size, cut 28 pieces of paper 4 1/4″ x 8 1/4″.  I used a paper thicker than 20# printer paper, use whatever paper you like.  I have used 90# and 140# watercolor paper.  Colored papers such as Canson work well.
  • Cut 2 thick  cardboards 1/8″ larger all around, to 4 3/8″ x 4 3/8″.  Davey Board is very stiff and dense and not the easiest to cut or punch but is the accepted board for book binding, you might try a thinner board for your first book.  Some cardboard will work but is not archival and may disintegrate in your grandchildren’s hands in 50 years!
  • Cut 2 sheets of your chosen cover paper  to 6″ x 6″.
  • Cut 2 sheets of another decorative paper (for inside the cover, you will see it in the final book) to 4 1/8″ x 4 1/8″.
  • Take 4 sheets of the 28 (more if your paper is thinner, less if it is thicker.  I would only use 2 sheets for thicker watercolor paper) and stack together, then fold them in half all at once.   A bone folder makes this easier work.  If you don’t have a bone folder, use the handle side of a pair of scissors.   These sheets make a signature.  You will have 7 signatures.
  • Take a scrap sheet of paper that is 4 1/4″ high, width is not important but you will fold it in half so you want it at least 2″ wide.
  • Fold this paper in half so that it is still 4 1/4″ high and 1″ wide (or whatever).
  • Make 4 equal distance holes in the fold of this piece of paper.  This will be your template for the holes in the signatures.
  • Placing the template inside the folded signatures, use an awl to punch holes though all the sheets of the signature.
  • Make holds in the cover boards to align with the holes on the template, centering the holes (remember the cover boards are a little larger than the signatures) and place them about 1/4″ from the edge of the board.  I used an awl to start the holes and a screw hole punch with a small nib to finish them.
  • Working quickly, brush glue all over the face of the cover boards and place them, glue side down on the back side of your cover paper, centering them by sight.  Smooth flat.
  • Cut the corners off the cover paper at an angle, about1/4″ from the corner.
  • Put glue on the flap and fold over to the other side of the cover board manipulating the extra 1/4″ to cover the edge and give a clean look.
  • Brush glue on the inside cover sheet and center on the board covering all the flaps.  Smooth flat.
  • Using your fingers feel for the holes that you have covered up on the cover boards and punch through the decorative papers.
  • Now comes the hard part to explain, the sewing of the signatures.  Cut a piece of floss to about 48″ (use a waxed bookbinding thread, or dental floss, or a strong jute thread or whatever you find that works).  Thread a tapestry needle or a curved needle.  Curved needles can be helpful in the stitching.
  • Open up the  signature and sew through the top hole.  If you have printed pages, this is the last signature before the back cover.  If they are all the same, it doesn’t matter which signature you add.
  • Sew through the top hole of the back cover back to front.
  • Loop over the end of the cover and sew back into the top hold of the  signature and tie a knot to the end of the  thread.  This knot is on the inside of the signature.
  • While still on the inside of the signature, sew through the next hole and then through the cover, back to front as in the first hole.  Loop back over into the same hole (2nd hole this time) in the signature and then move to the third hole doing the same.
  • When you get to the last hole and you have sewn through the cover, instead of going into the last hole of this signature, add another signature and sew through that instead.  You will jump over one signature and sew outside to inside of the added signature.
  • Move to the next hole and sew through it.  Now your thread is on the outside of the book and you want to loop between the first signature and back cover (no hole to go through this time).   Put the needle back into the hole in the added signature.  This creates a chain stitch on the spine of the book.  When you add signature to signature, you will go between the two signatures rather than signature/cover.  See the photo below.  Continue to do this until you have added the front cover which is done the same way as the back cover.  Note the middle holes look like a chain but the top and bottom holes don’t.  Not sure how professional book binders deal with this.  Those top and bottom holes don’t  look as neat as some I have seen…Sew the last hole of the front cover and back into the last added signature and tie off.  Cut the tread leaving a little tail and you have a finished book!  Congratulations!

Now for helpful hints:

  • Put larger scrap paper under your pieces when you glue.  This way you can brush glue off the paper 0r board to cover completely and then remove the paper for a clean surface.
  • Keep the thread taut, as taut as you can without ripping the paper.
  • Use a brayer if you have one, to make sure the paper is glued firmly to the boards.
  • Add a decorative or color sheet of paper to the outside of each signature for a fun touch.
  • If you want to use printed sheets of paper, use Photoshop or another similar program to arrange your text or pictures and print before you cut your signatures sheets to size.  You will have to put thought into it if you want to print front and back sides and keep them in readable order.
  • Use an emory board or sand paper to smooth the cover boards after cutting or punching.
  • Use cloth instead of paper for the covers but rather than gluing them (glue will go through the cloth), use a fusible bonding web with a backing paper that you iron on.
  • Get creative with the cover.
  • Sewing the book can be tricky, but once you do it, it becomes clear and makes sense.
  • The weight of the paper is usually marked on the packaging if you aren’t familiar with paper.
  • I use (and love) a PVC permanent adhesive glue by Lineco.  It dries fast and is archival.
  • The closer the top and bottom holes are to the top and bottom edges of the book, the more stable the book will be.

Good luck, Victoria.  Send me a picture of your book!

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2 Responses to “Binding a book is hard, but writing a tutorial is even harder!”

  1. Sue Schwarz Says:

    Great tutorial…i used to do a little bookbinding. May have to take it up again.

  2. Julia Evatt Says:

    That’s a great tutorial! I think I’ll try making a book–thanks.

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