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Bookbinding Techniques - The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

How to make a book using stitched accordion, from Pages Vol 3
Gina Lee Kim's stitched accordion binding from Pages, vol 3 available in print and digital edition.

From the Cloth Paper Scissors Team, By Paige Martin

In recent years, the art world has taken bookbinding by storm. Whether you discover it while looking to preserve memories, make your own journal, or create a work of art, this old craft could be your next obsession. The three main ways to bind a book are by sewing, gluing, or folding. Some assembly styles even cross categories to create new styles, like Gina Lee Kim's stitched accordion binding (shown at right) from Pages, vol 3 (page 46). Making a book by hand may seem confusing, so here is a brief explanation of styles, tools and materials you will need, and tips to keep in mind as you work.

Book Binding Styles

These are not set in stone, but each of these styles of assembling handmade books have overarching characteristics. Once you have mastered one style of sewing a book, you have learned the basic skills needed for any sewn book.

Sewn Bookbinding Tutorial, example from Pages 2012
Example of a sewn bookbinding by Alma Baumwoll, from Pages 2012.

How to make books: tunnel books from Cloth Paper Scissors July/Aug 2013
Tunnel books by (left) Simon Robertson & (right) Candy Taylor Tutt, from the July/Aug 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Sewn Books
Sewing is one of the most traditional types of bookbinding. The sewing method can be very simple, like the pamphlet stitch—used to sew a single signature, a set of loose sheets folded in half. If you want to test your sewing skills, and are ready to work with several signatures, check out this free Coptic stitch how-to download which creates a beautiful chain on your spine.

Folded Books
Some binding styles include folding the paper like origami. A popular folding technique is the accordion. Similar to the inner zig-zag of the instrument, accordion books come in several variations. The accordion can form the spine, like Gina Lee Kim's stitched accordion, or may also create a unique layered image, like a tunnel book. Check out a few of the tunnel books (left) submitted by Cloth Paper Scissors readers from the July/August 2013 issue.

Glued Books
Books assembled by gluing the spine are not as popular as sewn or folded styles, because it is usually done with industrial machinery. The most prevalent glue-bound style is perfect binding, used for binding large editions of books. Almost every paperback book you have on your shelf is perfect bound.

Book making supplies: Bone Folder, image from Pages 2012 issue.
Bone Folder

Book making supplies: Awl, image from Pages 2012 issue.

Book making supplies: Needle and Thread, image from Pages 2012 issue.
Options for Needle and Thread

Bookbinding Tools and Materials

Understanding the tools and materials used for bookbinding is important. This is a list of items that will prove to be especially helpful as you continue to make your own books.

Bone folder. Used to create clean folds and scoring, the bone folder is an icon of book making and binding. Made of bone, plastic, or wood, a bone folder can be reshaped for your preference through sanding.

pH-neutral PVA glue. There are many PVA glues, but it is important to find one that is pH-neutral. This will avoid the glue breaking down your paper over time. Most bookbinders apply glue with a fat, round brush.

Paper. Over time you will become more familiar with paper weights, stocks, and grain. Paper comes in a variety of stocks like cover stock, card stock, index, etc. The weight of paper refers to the weight of 500 pieces of that stock, in its standard size. To learn about finding the grain, check out the "Tips" section below.

Board. There are alternatives to board, but bookbinders use what is called binder's board or Davey board. It is archival, acid-free, and denser than most alternatives.

An awl. Long, pointed metal rods with a handle, awls are used in leatherwork, woodworking, and bookbinding. Bookbinders use them to poke holes to sew through, especially important as you work with more signatures.

Needle and thread. Through trial and error you will find your favorite needles, this will vary based on your sewing habits and the thread you use. Binding thread is usually waxed linen; the thread has a coating of wax to give extra texture and hold. You can use unwaxed thread by running it through a block of wax before using.

Cutting tools. This includes everything needed to make a cut whether board or paper. To get started you should have a utility knife, scissors, a ruler, and a cutting mat.

Tips on How to Bind a Book

These are general tips to think about, but taking a bookbinding class or joining a community online are also great ways to learn new tips and tricks. If you are looking for a learning resource, check out Dea Fischer's Handmade Book Essentials, Dea explains her tools in depth and shows you how to bind some fantastic folded and stitched books.

Finding the paper grain for bookmaking, from Dea Fischer's Handmade Book Essentials Video
Finding the grain for bookmaking, from Dea Fischer's video workshop.

Unique bookbinding techniques: Piano-hinge binding from Pages 2011
Piano-hinge book binding by Hasti Radpour from Pages 2011.

Find the grain. Both paper and board have a grain, which is caused by how the fibers are laid when making the material. If the grains go in different directions in your book, it can cause unwanted warping. To find the grain, flex your paper or board in half both ways. It will feel easier to bend when the grain runs parallel to the fold. When binding a book, keep all the grains running in the same direction, parallel to the spine. Dea talks about finding the grain for various types of paper, and shows you a super easy method in her book making workshop.

Keep cutting tools sharp. When blades are sharp, cutting even heavy board will be easier. Nothing is more frustrating than ripping your favorite paper or struggling to cut board with a dull blade.

Make a jig. What is a jig? It is a template. It may be a sheet of paper with holes to place in each signature when poking holes, to keep them consistent. It could also be a marker line, so you know exactly where to place the boards on your cover material. If you are worried about being lined up or consistent, you should make a jig to help. Check all of the issues of Pages magazine for jig ideas and bookbinding instructions.

Maintain a clean workspace. Keep lots of newsprint or scrap paper around when bookbinding. Place a piece underneath your work so that you can swap it out when it gets dirty or gluey. A clean workspace also means clean tools—when you do get glue on your bone folder or scissors; try a little nail polish remover to clean them.

But don't be afraid to mess up! The best part of making a mistake is finding creative ways to fix it, cover it, or start over.

Think outside the box, or in this case, the cover. Not every book has to sit on a shelf. Don't feel limited by tradition for a cover! Look for unique book-binding types in Pages 2011, including the piano-hinge binding, featured at the left.

With new tips and knowledge, you can go on to create beautifully ornate or simple books. Don't forget, the most important part of making a book—using it! If you feel stumped by what to fill your book with, check out the endless bookbinding and art journaling projects in Pages magazine.

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