Bookbinding (The Final Frontier)


This is the most complex part of the bookmaking process.  Trust me, you’re going to wish you had four hands.

The following is instructions for Coptic binding.  You’re going to need:

  • a ruler
  • waxed linen or embroidery thread
  • bookbinding needle or embroidery needle
  • four hands supernatural dexterity

1) Mark the pages. Place the signatures inside the cover with the folded part facing you.  Line a ruler up vertically with each hole punched into the cover.  Run a pencil down the stack of signatures making a small mark on each one.  Repeat at each hole.

2) Punch the holes. Open each signature and punch a hole at each of these marks with a bookbinder’s needle or embroidery needle.

3) Measure out the thread for the binding. Waxed linen thread is best, but embroidery thread works too.  The length of the thread should be the length of the book times the amount of signatures.  I usually add an extra length just to be safe.  There’s nothing worse than not having enough thread!

Oh, and no Hymnal necessary.  I just used that to weight down the pages.

4) Start Binding. Take one of the covers and one of the signatures.  Make sure that the holes of the signature line up with the holes on the cover.  Open the signature and pass the threaded needle through the end hole of the signature, then the end hole of the cover.

Pull the needle through until there is 1-2″ of thread inside the signature.  Loop the needle around the cover and bring it back through the hole in the signature.  Knot it with the other end of the thread.

Pass the needle through the next hole over and loop it around the cover and back through the hole as you did previously.  Repeat until the last hole.

When you get to the last hole.  Pass the needle through it and the last hole in the cover.  The inside of your book should look like this.

This is where it gets a bit fuzzy.  I do it a bit differently than some people do.  But when in doubt, just try to make it look nice!  After passing the needle through the last hole in the cover, bring the needle under the thread between the cover and the signature.  DO NOT bring the needle back through the hole in the signature.

Instead, pass the needle through the end hole in the next signature.  Make sure the holes in the signature are lined up with the previous one.

Bring the needle through the second hole in the signature and loop it through the thread passing between the previous signature and the cover. Make sure you’re binding the book fairly tight, but not too tight or it will make the cover hard to close.

Bring the needle back through the same hole in the signature.  Move to the next hole and repeat until the last hole.  Your process should be looking like this:

When you reach the last hole, repeat the same process as the previous hole, but don’t pass the needle back through the signature.  Instead, pass it through the end hole of a new signature.  Keep repeating the process adding all of the signatures except for the last one.

5) Bind the last cover and signature. This is the hardest step of the binding process, because you have to bind the last signature and the cover at the same time.  It’s going to be hard to hold, but don’t worry about keeping the binding super loose.  You can go back and tighten it later. Instead of passing the needle back through the last hole in the signature, pass it through the hole on the cover (from the inside) and loop it over the cover.  Then wrap it around the thread passing between the last two signatures and bring it over itself and back through the hole in the signature.  Repeat for every hole, even the last one.

I didn’t have a picture for the first signature hole, but here is the second.

5) Tighten the Binding. When you’ve passed the needle in through the last hole, take another needle (or something comparable) and gently pull on the loops in the last row (inside and out).  This will tighten the binding.  When the binding is tight, tie a knot inside the signature.  It will resemble the knot in the first signature.

This is by far the most confusing set of directions, so feel free to ask me anything if you need help.

Your book binding should look like this:

I hope you don’t take my directions too seriously.  Mix it up and experiment.  Use different materials and see what happens. I love to add things to the inside of the book like drawings on tracing paper, and small envelopes glued to the pages.

One last look at the book, and it’s companion (another book I recently made.)

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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.
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One Response to Bookbinding (The Final Frontier)

  1. Holly Niphakis says:

    I like the end product 🙂
    and maybe you should have a class and teach this….
    I would feel better doing it with you around so I know I’m doing it right…. but I can also see why homemade books are pricey! Lots of work in it!

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