Decorative Bookbinding

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Introduction: Decorative Bookbinding

About: In which I turn the thoughts from my head into objects in my hands

When I go traveling, I document everything in a handmade journal using fabric from the previous year's country. I've been wanting to experiment more with bookbinding so I can avoid having all the journals look the same, since currently I do a simple coptic stitch binding.

I wanted to do something more.. fancy looking, like the classic leather journals with nice stitching on the spines, but it was surprisingly difficult to find guides or instructions on how to make them. I ended up taking it as a challenge to figure it out myself and resume looking for instructions afterward (good trick to do when you're learning new things, since you learn a lot about ignorant assumptions you make and faster methods of doing something).

There are probably better ways of doing the decorative bookbinding I came up with, with less tying off and using just one cord, but I liked that I got to design my own stitching instead of going with prescribed, classic patterns. If it's something I'm making for myself, might as well make it truly unique, you know?

Supplies

Note that I only made smaller notebooks as tests since I was trying new things and designing the stitch patterns. That's also why I only used paper covers; I definitely want to use leather covers later when I can get my hands on some.

  • notebook paper for the insides
    • I just used regular printer paper and split them into 8 pages
  • cardstock for the cover
  • needle
    • no need for a bookbinding needle in particular; eye just needs to be big enough to fit your thread
    • For sewing needle, thicker and blunter is better. Thick so your thread can fit through, blunter so you don't poke through anything by accident just because your
  • thread
    • For bookbinding, it's usual to go with waxed cord so the fibers don't separate and for durability. I've used regular cotton crochet thread (thin cord) before and those journals have held up really well for years. For these smaller books, the signatures are close together so you need to use really thin cord. I ended up going with doubled up sewing thread. Probably not ideal since the fibers can get caught more easily (hence waxing) but the journals will hold up well enough if you're not handling them harshly. To wax the thread though, you can poke the needle and thread through any wax candle. glue (for sealing knots)
  • glue (for sealing knots)

Step 1: Designing Stitching Patterns

There are restrictions when it comes down to planning out patterns. You can draw whatever lines you want in whatever colors you want on paper, but at the end of the day you need to connect the lines with stitches. Sometimes you'll need to poke through the same hole multiple times, sometimes you'll need to double back. One key rule: when you're currently in one signature (as in, your needle has just poked through the cover and into a signature), you can only poke into other holes in that same signature. You need to poke through to the other side of the cover before you can cross over and poke through to another signature. Keep this in mind as you plan stitching.

Now, a signature is a group of pages that you sew together. You sew signatures together to make a book. The coptic stitching that I've done in the past just sews the signatures together with one long strand of thread, with covers on the front and back and no spine. In these books that I made in the tutorial, I sewed the signatures to the same cover but not necessarily to each other. I basically used an X pattern and dash pattern multiple ways to make different overall designs and accommodate different numbers of signatures. I had to tie off different strands of thread, which at least gave me to flexibility to use multiple colors.

The next steps in the tutorial introduce you to the patterns I did and how I measured pages and such, but you can easily adapt the same patterns and create your own so you can do more signatures, different page heights, etc. I also go through what I learned from trying each, so you can learn from my mistakes as you design your own books:

  • In the first pattern, I was getting my feet wet with trying the stitching I came up with. I learned about what looks good and how crowded the spine can get, since I had 5 signatures for a 12mm spine width.
  • For the second pattern, I wanted to space out and decrease the number of signatures so the spine didn't look as compressed. This one had only 3 signatures, with more pages so it could get to the same spine width. The thicker signatures didn't look as nice to me, since it looked puffed out, but I did like how the design looked on the spine. I also did a modified X pattern, so that you don't poke into any hole more than once. The Xs end up looking spaced out.
  • For the third pattern, I used 4 signatures and made the rows of holes slightly closer together. Because there would be more holes and they'd be closer, I used thinner thread so the spine wouldn't be just covered in thread. This turned out disastrous, since the close holes were very much in danger of ripping the cover. The spine just looked overwhelmingly covered in holes, even though the underlying lace-like pattern looked nice.

Step 2: Preparing Notebook Innards

For the pages inside the notebooks, I split regular pieces of printer paper into 8 pages. I could've cut the paper, but I like the fluffy edges from ripping paper apart. If you cut by hand, it's easier to see small curves and mistakes due to the clean lines on the edges.

To neatly tear paper, make a sharp fold where you want to split the paper and make a small rip before pulling the two sides apart. Otherwise, you can use a ruler and mark lines where you need to split the paper and cut along the lines with scissors. Alternatively, if you have a paper trimmer, this will be simple for you.

In terms of how much paper: for this design, I want 5 signatures. To make them spaced out (so the holes I poke into the spine aren't too close and merge together), I used 6 pages per signature (6 folded in half = 12 net pages). That means I needed 6x5 = 30 total pages.

Step 3: Making the Cover

Pick out a cover color that matches the threads you want to use. You also want the color to be light enough to make dark threads stand out, or dark enough to make light threads stand out. The point is to highlight the stitching design, not mask it.

For the cover, you want to measure how thick your stack of signatures is and take that into account for how wide your spine should be. Pinch the signatures together slightly since you want the spine to press the pages in together a little; otherwise, your signatures might end up awkwardly spaced apart. I measured about 12mm for the thickness and just used 12mm, but it ended up being too spaced out... don't make my mistake :P

The height of your cover should be the height of your pages + 2mm (1mm clearance on both sides), and the width of the cover should be (width of the page + 1mm) + thickness of the signatures (1.2mm for me, should've done 10mm for slight undersizing) + (width of the page + 1mm). Because my pages were 55 x 71 mm (width x height), my cover rectangle ended up being (55+1+12+55+1) x (71+2) = 124 x 73mm. I made sure to mark the lines where the spine would be so I could fold there and delineate the spine. You should test the fit of the pages inside to make sure the sizing is correct.

Step 4: Poking Holes in the Cover

To guide the pattern in the spine, you need to pre-poke holes for the stitching.

The design uses 5 columns with two "close" rows of holes, then a "far" row, and repeat. So first, I drew 5 equally spaced lines where my 5 signatures would be stitched. Because my spine was 12mm wide, I drew 5 parallel long columns at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10mm.

For the rows: because the height of my cover is 73mm, I wanted the net length of rows to be slightly less (you don't want to poke holes on the edges of the pages). To make the marking easy, I decided to have the "close" rows be a distance of 3mm and the "far" rows be a distance of 7mm, so that 10mm makes one set. It ends with a set of "close" rows so the total length would end in a 3 in the ones place. 63 didn't seem to give enough clearance for the 73mm pages, so I went with 53mm. That meant I marked holes at 3, 10, 13, 20, 23, 30, 33, 40, 43, 50, and 53mm.

HOWEVER, remember that you want the pages centered; you can't just measure 3mm from the top edge and go from there. To center my holes, I put a mark at (73/2 = 36.5mm) from the top edge. Then I matched up that center mark with the (53/2 = 26.5mm) mark on my ruler. From there, I marked 3, 10, 13, etc.

You can see in the pictures above that I located the points by just drawing a grid and intersections were the points. If you draw the lines, be sure to erase them afterward since they'll be visible afterward. Otherwise if you just put a dot, no need to erase since they're small enough not to be seen.

When you're done, use an awl or push pin or safety pin or something sharp to poke all your holes. Be sure to do this on scrap paper or a cutting board so the holes don't damage your table!

Step 5: Preparing Your Paper

For the paper, you want to make the same hole pattern (3, 10, 13, 20, etc). However, it's time consuming to measure where the holes go every time for all the pages so I made a guide on a scrap piece of paper.

To figure out where the holes go and make sure they're centered, I did the same thing as for the cover: because the pages' width is 71mm, I made a center mark at (71/2 = 35.5mm) and matched that up to (53/2 = 26.5mm) before marking 3, 10, 13, 20, etc. I did that on my first page, then lined up the left edge of my guide piece of paper and copied the markings (see first picture above). Then I could take this guide, line up the left edge with each piece of paper, and just use my sharp object to poke the holes without need for measuring and marking.

In terms of marking all the paper, you can either mark each page individually or, to save time, mark multiple pages at once. If you do multiple at once, make sure all the pages are lined up properly!

When you're done with all the pages, split them into the 5 signatures and run your needle through all the holes for each signature. Take this time to make sure the top edges of each page in the signature are lined up, so you didn't do any incorrect poking.

Also compare the holes in your pages to the holes in the cover. The spacing should match! If not, something in your measurements is wrong and you have to redo either the pages or the cover :(

Step 6: Quick Warning Before We Start Stitching..

I used doubled-doubled up (so double up the thread once, then poke both strands through the eye of the needle to have 4 net threads coming from the needle) sewing thread for the stitching. Usually, waxed cord is used in bookbinding for stability and also so the fibers stay together without being tangled, but since my thread was unwaxed, it had a tendency to tangle. You can run your thread through a candle for some quick waxing, but otherwise, just be sure to run the thread through your fingers with each pass and straighten out any kinks you find. You don't want the strands to twist and coil and knot, so running the thread through your fingers helps prevent it. Picture above showcases bad things that happen when the thread gets tangled :(

Step 7: Stitch Pattern #1

The first pattern is an X shape that repeats in green down groups of two columns (so first and second, then fourth and fifth), then the X shape is made in blue but staggered every other green X (I thought it would look too overwhelming if there were equal number blue and green Xs). Then the middle signature is attached to the spine with a simple dash pattern.

I made a guide for the X stitch pattern and then for the dashed pattern, which you can find in the pictures above. Click through to read the instructions in each image. I labeled columns using the alphabet (AB) and rows as numbers (1, 2, 3). Each column/letter corresponds to a signature. There are also small grey numbers for counting stitches. Don't worry if the diagrams don't make sense alone; I added step-by-step instructions in pictures in the next steps.

Solid lines are when the needle comes out of the page and into where the arrow terminates. Dashed lines are where the needle goes into the page and the stitch is visible in the signature, not on the spine of the book.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book, like in the first picture above. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in these diagrams. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 8: Stitching! First X

Time to start the stitches! Here are some pictures to guide you through the diagrams I drew in the previous step.

Quick note of how much thread to use; for my small 71mm length pages, I used about 20" of thread for this first part and plenty to spare. Using more than you need is safer so you don't need to undo any work for running out of thread. You could also tie on more thread, to be fair.

Begin with the green, underlying X patterns. I started on the left two columns. Click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 9: Second and Rest of the Xs

Again, click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 10: Tying Off

Once you're done with all the Xs, it's time to tie a knot! You started in the second B signature at the top, and should have finished in the same second signature but at the bottom.

To terminate, pull the thread through the stitches in the signature by poking your needle underneath each stitch as shown in the fourth picture above. Work your way up to the other end fo the thread, and then tie a knot. Use a little bit of glue to seal the knot and prevent it from unraveling. You should also glue down the thread ends to keep them fixed.

Step 11: Blue Xs

For the blue Xs, I staggered them relative to the green Xs. I also only did one blue X for every two green ones, since I thought it would look too messy and crowded otherwise.

The X stitching is the same as before, but I started from the bottom of the cover, i.e. I started poking in A12, then B10, then B12, then A10, etc. This was so that I would start and end in the first A signature and then do tying off in that signature. This was so the second B signature wouldn't get cluttered with knots. That's what I recommend but you can still do the same thing, and start and end in the B signature if it's confusing.

Anyways, again click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions. They're briefer since you probably go the hang of things from the first green Xs.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 12: Dashed Stitches

These dashed stitches secure the middle signature and are pretty much the same as a running stitch for regular sewing. Click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 13: Finishing Up

For the fourth and fifth signatures, repeat what you did for the first two signatures with the green Xs and then staggered blue Xs. Thennnnn you're finished with your book!

In the fourth picture above, note that you can see the grid I drew for the holes in the cover and didn't erase.. whoops. Also, note that you can see the gap between signatures quite cleanly. You can minimize it by having the holes in the cover closer, but honestly they're already pretty close and if you have them too close, they might merge.

Step 14: Stitch Pattern #2

This pattern uses only three signatures. I did this so I could have thicker signatures that are more spaced out, since I wanted to see how the thicker signatures would turn out. The holes in the spine have less chance of the cover ripping and holes merging, which you'll see as a problem in stitch pattern #3.

This pattern uses a modified X pattern from stitch pattern #1, as well as the dashes. I got rid of that one long stitch in between Xs and replaced it with a short stitch, which you can see in the diagrams above. Basically, the Xs are spaced out so you don't poke into any hole more than once.

For the dashed pattern in the middle, I wished I had used another color and done a slightly staggered hole pattern like shown in the fifth picture above. Then it would've looked kind of like an asterisk, but the shorter line would be different. I didn't do this in the end since I forgot and did the same hole pattern in all my signatures, but just a suggestion for you.

Again, I labeled columns using the alphabet (AB) and rows as numbers (1, 2, 3). Each column/letter corresponds to a signature. There are also small grey numbers for counting stitches. Don't worry if the diagrams don't make sense alone; I added step-by-step instructions in pictures in the next steps. Solid lines are when the needle comes out of the page and into where the arrow terminates. Dashed lines are where the needle goes into the page and the stitch is visible in the signature, not on the spine of the book.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book, like in the first picture above. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in these diagrams. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 15: Marking Holes

For the three signatures, I used 10 pages each to get the same number of 30 pages in a book. This meant that the cover size should be the same, and this time I made the spine 10mm instead of 12mm as I explained in step 4.

The hole marking and planning is similar to before, but different reasons for different pattern.

I wanted the Xs to look more square rather than long like in stitch pattern #1. To do this, I had the X go between column A and C, not A and B, so that there is more width. I kept the same 7mm distance between far holes and 3mm distance between close holes for easier marking again, but now the marks go 7, 10, 17, 20, etc. because it starts off with far holes instead of close holes like before.

Note that now, the total length needed for the pattern is is 57mm, so instead of lining up the 36.5mm and 35.5mm center marks for the cover and pages, respectively, with 53/2=26.5mm, I lined it up with 57/2=28.5mm. I will admit that I screwed this up, which you can tell since the stitching is off centered.. be more careful than me :P

See steps 4 and 5 any of this doesn't make sense.

Step 16: Column of Xs

The X pattern is used to stitch the first and third signatures to the cover. As before, click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions. Again, it's a modified X pattern from the previous notebook since I replaced that one long stitch with a shorter one.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 17: Dashed Pattern

For the dashed pattern, it's exactly the same as in the previous notebook in step 12. However, note that I ended up not using the top most hole and the bottom most hole in the column, so that the dashes would go in between the Xs and not in the middle turning them into asterisks. I decided that last minute, hence the unused holes. Whoops!

Step 18: Stitching Pattern #3

This time I wanted to use 4 signatures since 5 seemed like too many (holes too close) and 3 seemed like too few (thick signatures). I liked the squarer Xs instead of the long Xs in the yellow notebook so I used alternating columns for the Xs (so A and C instead of A and B). This pattern uses the same X pattern in the first yellow notebook, so not the spaced out modified X in the second purple notebook. The goal was a lace-like pattern of diamonds, smaller diamonds on the inside of larger outer diamonds. I knew that my holes would be close together so I used doubled up thread only, so the thinner thread would look more like lace.

The pattern ended up looking fine, but as you can see in the picture above, the spine looked littered in holes. The holes just overwhelmed the thread. :( It would probably look fine in a bigger notebook with more spaced out signatures and thus holes, but it doesn't look good for this small size.

Again, I labeled columns using the alphabet (AB) and rows as numbers (1, 2, 3). Each column/letter corresponds to a signature. There are also small grey numbers for counting stitches. Don't worry if the diagrams don't make sense alone; I added step-by-step instructions in pictures in the next steps. Solid lines are when the needle comes out of the page and into where the arrow terminates. Dashed lines are where the needle goes into the page and the stitch is visible in the signature, not on the spine of the book.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book, like in the first picture above. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in these diagrams. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 19: Marking Holes

There are 4 signatures of 6 pages each, for a total of 32 pages. I still kept the 10mm width spine and just had each signature spaced out by 2mm (so columns at 2, 4, 6, and 8mm), which I regret. This was way too close, and the holes in the cover ended up almost merging. I recommend at least 3mm distance, 2.5mm is pushing it too.

This X pattern connects every other signature like in the purple notebook, so the X looks more square without me having the rows super close to each other. However, this time there are just consistently spaced holes instead of far and close rows. I ended up doing 15 rows, 4mm between each row for a total length of 60. Instead of lining up the 36.5mm and 35.5mm center marks for the cover and pages, respectively, with 53/2=26.5mm, I lined it up with 60/2=30mm.

See steps 4 and 5 any of this doesn't make sense.

Step 20: Warning

Before we begin, the pictures above show a problem that happened all too often. When I pushed the needle through holes that already had stitches, the needle would go through both the hole and the previous thread so that when I tightened my thread, I would get snags like this. It's best to catch this happening as early as possible, so you can push your needle back and undo the damage. Otherwise, all you can do is cut your thread and start over. This is why it's important to use as blunt of a needle as possible. You can even use sandpaper to just blunt the tip of the needle.

Step 21: First Column of Xs

The X pattern is used to stitch the first and third signatures to the cover. As before, click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 22: Second Column of Xs

The next column of Xs connects the second and fourth signatures to the cover, so you use the B and D columns of holes in the cover. As before, click through the pictures above to read the step-by-step instructions. I used a different color thread to show you the two columns of Xs distinctly and partially for style. I didn't end up liking the look since the asymmetric colors didn't make the symmetry of the pattern look nice. Ultimately I undid the green and redid it in the same blue afterward.

NOTE: In the following steps, whenever I refer to LEFT or RIGHT, I am referring to those directions when looking AT the spine of the book. I will also use the A1, B3, etc. labeling in the diagrams in the previous step. Numerically as I refer to signatures, they will be counted from left to right again when looking AT the spine of the book. So first signature goes with column A, etc. Notice that the number then refers to the hole to poke through in the signature, counting from the top of the signature. So if I say poke through the spine's B3, that means poke through the B3 hole in the cover and then into the second (B) signature and third hole (3) in that signature.

Step 23: Finished

That's the end of of the tutorial! As always, leave questions and comments below and I'll get to them as soon as I can. I hope you find this helpful and that it inspires you to create something of your own.

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    11 Comments

    0
    ef416
    ef416

    1 year ago

    i love it but am a kid but i loveeeeeeee it ♥❤♥💕💕❤♥♥❤💕💕♥❤💕♥❤💕♥❤💕

    0
    watchmeflyy
    watchmeflyy

    Reply 1 year ago

    Haha I’m glad!

    0
    Emerald04
    Emerald04

    1 year ago

    Beautiful! I love them!

    0
    watchmeflyy
    watchmeflyy

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you!

    P.S. Cute cat ;)

    0
    Emerald04
    Emerald04

    Reply 1 year ago

    No problem! Thanks! :D

    0
    PilarD2
    PilarD2

    1 year ago on Step 23

    Muchas gracias por este tutorial, muy bien explicado. Me será muy útil.

    0
    watchmeflyy
    watchmeflyy

    Reply 1 year ago

    De nada!

    0
    TLBookbinder
    TLBookbinder

    1 year ago

    As a Bookbinder all I can say is Wow!

    0
    watchmeflyy
    watchmeflyy

    Reply 1 year ago

    Coming from a bookbinder, that's a high compliment; thank you!

    0
    watchmeflyy
    watchmeflyy

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks, they were! Frustrating to figure out how to do the stitching, but definitely fun to do while watching videos and multitasking.