Bookmaking and the Struggle to be Someone Else

Bookmaking requires a lot of precision and attention to detail.  If you are good with math and measurements and you’re nit-picky, you have what it takes to create well-made books.  Oh yeah, and PATIENCE!  I don’t really have any of those qualities so making books is truly a battle for me.  I have to fight my “act now, think later” attitude and embrace the “measure twice, cut once” mentality.

When I completed this book on Monday, I was a little rusty.  I did some relearning on the job, but for the most part, it turned out well.

I’m going to post the process in three different parts.  Today is how to make the cover of a Coptic-bound journal.

For the first part of this project you will need:

  • An L-square or T square ruler
  • A pencil
  • Binder’s board*
  • Decorative paper* and/or plain acid free paper
  • Acid-free glue*
  • an X-acto knife
  • drill, hammer and nails, or anything that will make a small hole
  • bookcloth (optional)*
  • paintbrush
  • bonefolder*

*These items can be found at Stamp-ede

1) Prepare. Gather materials.  Decide what size you want your book to be. I used my own journal as a reference.  Next, figure out what direction the grain of the binder’s board is going.  Hold the piece of binder’s board on the sides and gently bend it.  Do the same to the top and bottom.  If the board bends easily when you’re holding the sides, the grain runs vertically.  If it bends easiest for the top and bottom, it runs horizontally.  For this book cover, the grain should run vertically (from the top of the book to the bottom, not side to side).

2) Measure and cut out two equal pieces of binder’s board (one for each cover). You’re going to want your square ruler for this.  When cutting, don’t press down super hard with the X-acto knife.  Instead make lots of gentler cuts letting the knife do most of the work.  If you press down too hard, you’ll wind up with a jagged edge.  And use caution so that your knife doesn’t jump the track and cut your finger off.  OR you can find pre-cut binder’s board at Stamp-ede.

Jagged edge

Smooth as butta'

3) Measure the portion of the cover that you want the bookcloth and paper to cover. Mark both sides of each cover.  In this example, the thin strip on the left is going to be the bookcloth, and the right side is going to be covered in decorative paper.

3)  Place one of the covers on top of the decorative paper aligning the edge of the paper with the mark on the cover, and trace around the edge of the book with a pencil. You may even want to overlap the paper with the line to avoid the possibility of an unsightly gap.  Measure out 1/2 an inch from the edge as show below.  Cut the paper using a ruler and an X-acto knife. Repeat for the second cover.


4)  Brush a thin layer of Acid free glue onto the binder’s board. (You know you’ve used too much glue if it oozes out of the edges once you’ve put the binder’s board and paper together).  Align the binder’s board with the lines on the paper and gently press the two together.  Flip it so that the paper is on top of the binder’s board.  Use a bone-folder to flatten and smooth the paper onto the binder’s board.  Normally, I would have applied the glue to the paper instead of the cardboard, but the paper I used (Mulberry) was too fibrous. Repeat for the second cover.

5) Flip each cover over again and cut each corner of the decorative paper. If you cut too close to the corner of the binder’s board, you will not have enough paper to cover the corner.  If you cut too far away from the corner of the binder’s board, you will be left with a little tab that sticks out.  Since it’s hard to be totally precise, I usually err on the side of cutting farther from the corner of the binder’s board.  The tab can be trimmed off later.

6) Brush some glue onto the paper edges, and fold them over the cover. Choose to fold the two smaller pieces over first, OR the longer piece first.  Then follow with the other.  Use a bonefolder to smooth the paper to the cover and flatten the edges of the cover. Repeat with the other cover.  Trim the tabs if there are any.

7) Repeat Steps 3-6 to attach the bookcloth.

8 ) Cut a piece of regular or decorative paper for the inside of the covers. Cut the paper 1/8″ shorter than the cover on each side.  Brush a thin layer of glue onto the paper and attach it to the cover.  Smooth it with the bonefolder.

9) Puncture Holes in the cover for the binding. I didn’t have a drill, so I used a hammer and some thin nails.  Each end should have a hole no closer than 1/4″ from the top and bottom of the cover.  The holes should not be less than 1/4″ from the side. Mark where you want to place the holes with a pencil. Make them a noticeably uneven distance apart (this will be a huge help when binding the book.  It helps ensure that the signatures don’t get bound upside down).  Line up the covers (make sure each cover is right side up and that the bookcloth and decorative paper lines up), and hammer nails through both covers where marked.

10) Bask in the brilliance of your new book cover!  It is the face of your book!

Now I know these directions seem very complicated.  But if you use your noggin and some good old-fashioned common sense, then you can avoid many of the snafoos that I’ve experienced in the past.  There are a few fuzzy areas when I think about how to make a book, but everything I know for certain is something that I’ve messed up on.  If you attempt to make a book, don’t be too disappointed if it’s not perfect.  It’s a lot easier the second time around.


About Melody

My name is Melody Martin. Check out my art blog, and learn all about the steps and techniques that go into oil paintings.
This entry was posted in How To: Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Bookmaking and the Struggle to be Someone Else

  1. arrynvogan says:

    This is sweet! Can’t wait to see the end result.

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