Introduction: Coptic Letter Binding - Notepad 2 Sketchbook

About: I'm a mechanical engineer in the Eindhoven region. In my spare time I like to make random stuff, both usefull and especially useless.

For a recent project I had to make a book. The entire project was Egypt themed, so I used Coptic binding to make it since it is named after the Copts (early Christians in Egypt). The book was made from A4 paper aged with tea. So for looks it didn't need additional special features. However, before I decided on the aged paper I thought about some other ways to make this book special. One of them got stuck in my mind so I had to make it, making words with the binding. I never though about how to make it, but after making the Egypt themed book Coptic binding seemed the way to go. A couple of thought-experiments later I thought I knew how to do it with this Instructable as a result: Coptic Letter Binding.

The Instructable is divided in three steps. Step 1 is about preparing a notepad for binding. Step 2 shows how to make a pattern, transfer it to the pages and how to punch the holes in the folds. In the final step, step 3, I provide a link to a Youtube-tutorial on Coptic stitching by Sea Lemon and extensions on Coptic binding are explained and how it can be used to form letters on the spine.

Materials and Tools:

As a last remark before I start with the Instructable. I'm trying out a new way of showing what kind of tools and materials you need to do this project. Therefore I made a bunch of 8 bit drawings which I show in the beginning of every step. (I also developed the 8 bit font I used) Please let me know what you think of it in the comments.

Examples on the materials and tools used in this Instructable:

Step 1: Notebook Preparations

Materials for this step:

Dissassemble notepad:

The sketchbook in this Instructable is made from a notepad or can be made from some other kind of (paper) pad. We start by disassembling the notepad. Remove all the papers (rip them of one by one) and the back. Be careful during the disassembling, since we're using all of it.

Create signatures:

Once the entire pad is disassembled it's time to make the pages of the sketchbook. The papers from the pad are used for this. Fold al the papers in half, signature by signature or paper by paper. A signature most of the time consists of four pieces of paper folded together, forming 16 pages total together. In this case I'm using 6 pieces per signature because my paper is only 60g. Depending on the amount of papers in your pad make as many signatures as possible. Keep all signatures the same, a change in signature thickness can be seen in the completed book, so an abundance of paper should be left out.

Create covers:

Finally the back of the pad will be used for the cover. Cut two pieces from the back the same size as the pages folded earlier. One will be used for the front, the other for the back.

Tips & Tricks:

  • I folded my pages signature by signature, where most people like to fold paper by paper. Folding signature by signature, the signature keeps a little bit more strength because the fold is not as sharp for every piece of paper. This is beneficial since I'm using the 60g. paper. For 80g. paper I would recommend to fold paper by paper, since this is giving a nicer result.
  • By using a bonefolder you can get a nice crisp fold which will definitely improve the final look of your book.
  • To get your book to look more clean, cut of the edges straight after combining them into signatures.
  • In case the front of your pad looks good, you can glue it to the back in order to give the sketchbook a nicer look. You could even print something and glue that to the back to create a nice cover.
  • I've used a graph paper pad since I usually like to draw on graph paper. (Probably because I started drawing during work where I always use graph paper for calculations) However, all pads I could find are made of 60g paper. If you decide to make this project for yourself, I would recommend going with 80g paper.

Step 2: Spine Design

Tools for this step:

Measure spine:

We start of by stacking all of the signatures on top of each other. Press the folds of the signatures together so we have an estimate of how thick the book will become. This will come in handy when designing the letters or lines you want on the spine of the book.

Design spine:

Next draw a rectangle the size of the spine. On this we are going to draw our spine design. While designing it is important to have at least a line of some sort all the way from the first to the last signature relatively close to the edge of the book. This is to ensure your book has a stable spine. As soon as your satisfied with the design it's time to layout the holes. In your rectangle, draw lines representing your signatures. On all crossings between your spine design and the signature lines a hole will be punched, mark these spots. Let's call this cross-fold stitches or cross-spine stitches, since the design moves across the fold. For parallel-fold stitching divide the distance to be spanned in equal parts.

Important: For both cross- and parallel-fold stitches you need to make sure the hole positions on a single signature are spaced apart at least 4 mm. Smaller spacing will result in a fold which is too weak, I found this out the hard way. (Perhaps it is possible for 80g. paper or even higher weights to go with a smaller spacing.)

Transfer hole layout:

Now we have our design and hole layout it is time to transfer it to the spine / the signature folds. Get your stack of signatures and press them together. Transfer your layout to the fold the best you can.

Punch holes:

Fold open a signature with the fold side up so the hole layout is visible. Using your awl punch holes in all indicated locations. Make sure all your holes have approximately the same size.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Transfer your design using graphite transfer paper. However, keep in mind that these lines may stay visible after binding.
  • Try to punch all the holes the same size and try to make them a little smaller than the thread you will be using for sewing. This way you ensure the signatures are properly secured.
  • Use a triangular piece of wood to put the signatures on while punching the holes. This jig will ensure proper alignment of the papers in a signature.
  • During designing and when marking hole locations. Try to think already about how it will look after binding. This way you can create a nice design with a more natural flow despite the 4 mm restriction. I didn't do this, as a result you can for example see the jump in the vertical line of the 'h'.
  • Try to design something without too many skewed lines in the same direction (for example an italic font) because this can possible skew the final book. I wished I knew this before I made my book. :D
  • While designing, take the cover into account as well. So plus two on the signature count. I didn't, so my bottom cover, except for the 'S', wasn't part of the design, resulting in strange lines. I've added a picture of this as an example.

Step 3: Coptic Binding

Materials and Tools for this step:

    Coptic binding:

    Start by cutting a piece of waxed thread. When you don't have waxed thread, take a look at this Instructable to make your own. Don't make the thread too long, the thread can be replaced halfway during the sewing. I like to use the length similar to when you spread your arms.

    I tried to make animated GIFS to show how to do coptic binding, however my camera setup and my camera skills failed me. So to learn how to do coptic stiching I would recommend to watch this movie by Sea Lemon on Youtube. That is where I learned how coptic stiching works and she explains it very well.

    Instead of the animated GIFS on Coptic binding I try to explain everything using enlarged Coptic stitches made from wood and electronic wire. The normal stitch and most of the variations I used have been visualized that way. These variations or a combination of these stitches should provide plenty to do most exotic stitches you can come up with and should make you able to redo something similar to my design. I hope this makes everything more clear.

    Starting / ending:

    Start binding with a knot in your thread, this should be easy (left side of bottom left stitch on the first image). Ending is done by tying the last piece of thread to the inside thread in the signature after the last stitch is made (right side of the bottom left stitch on the first image).

    Regular stitch:

    A regular stitch is what is used in normal Coptic binding and is what is explained by Sea Lemon (first stitch on the second image).

    Normal cover stitch:

    The normal cover stitch is used to fasten the cover to the book, see top left stitch on the first image. This stitch is a replacement for the regular stitch for the first and last signature. In other word, the cover is attached to the book together with the first / last signature.

    Extended cover stitch:
    It is possible to use your cover to extend your design. If you do this, add holes to your cover as you see fit for your design. By using the normal cover stitch combined with a saddle stitch, you will be able to stitch your design onto the cover. An example in the first image, top middle stitch.

    Expansion stitch:

    The second stitch on the second image shows the expansion stitch. With this stitch you are able to go from one path to two or more paths.

    Reduction stitch:

    By using a reduction stitch, third stitch on the second image, you can combine two or more paths to a single path.

    Sideway / parallel stitch:

    This stitch is similar to the expansion stitch but with one of the expansions coming from the same signature. (fourth stitch of the second image).

    Start stitch:

    Regular stitches make use of a previous stitch. When this is not possible because a stitch should start halfway down the spine (for example as was the case for my letter C) you can use the thread on the inside of the fold of the previous signature instead of a stitch. The fifth stitch from the second image should make it more clear.

    Combining stitch:

    This is a hard one, try to do something similar to the first image, right stitch. When you need to span a larger distance you can wind the thread around itself multiple times, where in the example it is wound around itself only once per side. I'm not yet satisfied with this stitch so I would recommend to fiddle a little bit with it until you are satisfied with the look.

    Replace thread halfway sewing:

    If you are about to run out of thread it's time to replace it. This is done the same as Sea Lemon on Youtube (or take a look at my electronic wire and wood example) but with a regular repetition in it. I always end at the end of a signature. Then I start with a new thread on the same hole from the next signature. First go out, sew around the previous stitch, go in again and continue as usual. The next time I replace the thread I make sure it is on the opposite side. So not all knots from thread replacements are on the same side. For my design I could do about five signatures with the thread length I mentioned earlier.

    Tips & Tricks:

    • Make a normal book using coptic stichting before you start making this Instructable. This is optional, but I highly advise you to do it to get familiar with the sewing.
    • Use a curved needle, this will make your life a hole lot easier because you don't have to open and close the book anymore for sewing. (You still need to open the signatures.)
    • When pulling the thread tight. Pull in the direction you are sewing. By doing so, less tension is put to the folds, reducing the change it will tear. Unfortunately also something I learned the hard way, several times.

    Step 4: Sketch Away

    That's it, you're done with this build.

    If you came all the way to this step I hope you've enjoyed my Instructable. If you did, please vote for me in the Creative Misuse Contest. Because using graph paper, normally used to do calculations, for something creative as sketching seems quite creative misuse to me :)

    Creative Misuse Contest

    Participated in the
    Creative Misuse Contest