Introduction: How to Create a Hand-bound Sketchbook

Modern bookbinding techniques are based on techniques used by bookbinders since the 2nd century.  Although some of the materials used have changed, the construction techniques are largely the same.   Most of the supplies listed are easily located.  Specialty items can be ordered from resources listed at the end of the instructions.

Step 1: Supplies

1. 30 sheets of 11” x 14” paper, either drawing paper or copy paper.
2. Wax paper
3. Decorative paper, enough for two pieces at least 9” x 14”
4. Linen tape or binding tape, at least 3” x 9”.  Or, as a substitute, a natural fiber netting type fabric can be used.
5. Headband ***optional
6. 2 pieces of decorative paper, 8.5” x 11”
7. Heavy duty thread, preferrably linen or hemp.
8. Tapestry or embroidery needles.
9. Ruler
10. Bookboard or mattboard.  2 pieces 11.5” x 8.75”, 1 piece 11.5” x .75”
11. Bookcloth, 1 piece 13” x 4”.
12. Boning tool: can be found in most craft stores in the papercrafts department.
13. Scissors
14. Pencil
15. Awl
16. X-Acto Knife
17. Container for glue
18. Sponge applicator
19. Small paintroller  *** optional
20. Not pictured:  PVA or white glue

Step 2: Fold 11" X 17" Paper

To create 5 stacks of folded paper, divide the pieces of 11” x 17” paper into 5 stacks of 6 pages each.  Fold each stack in half lengthwise, so that the finished stacks are 8.5” x 11”.  Each folded stack of paper is called a signature.

Step 3: Mark the Signatures

Create a template for hole punching by using an 11” long piece of scrap paper.  Mark the scrap paper lengthwise, at the following locations:
1.  1” from the end
2.  1.5” from end
3.  5.25” from end
4.  5.75” from end
5.  9.5” from end
6. 10” from end

Step 4: Punch Holes for Sewing

Open one stack of paper (signature).  Line up the scrap paper template along the fold line.  Using an awl, follow the marks on the template, punch a hole at through the signature along the fold line.

Make sure to press hard enough that the holes go all the way through the stack of paper.  Repeat for each signature.

Step 5: Begin Sewing First Signature

Thread the needle with a manageable length of thread, around 2-3 feet.  Tie a large knot at the end of the thread.  On the outside of the first signature, pass the needle through the first hole on one of the ends. 

Make sure that the needle goes through all six pieces of paper, coming out at the middle of the signature, at the fold line.

Step 6: Sewing Cont.

Open the signature and pass the needle through the next hole, out through the back.  Pull the thread taut.

Step 7: Finish Sewing First Signature

Take the needle, and pass it through the third hole, out through the center of the signature.  Then pass it through the next hole, going out through the back.  Repeat for the last set of holes, ending with the needle on the outside of the signature.  Pull the thread taut.

Step 8: Add Second Signature

Take your second signature, place it on top of the first, aligning the holes.  Pass the needle through the first hole on the second signature and sew it the same way as the first signature, in the reverse direction, ending with the needle on the outside.

Step 9: Knot 2 Signatures Together

To attach the two signatures together, knot the thread around the knot at the end of the thread on your sewn sigature.  Loop the thread around the knot, under the thread’s tail, and pass the needle through the loop.  Carefully pull the thread tight, making sure that the new knot is between the first signature and the end knot.

Step 10: Add Third Signature

Take another signature and sew using the same process as the two previous signatures.

Step 11: Finish Sewing All Signatures Together

After pulling the needle through the last hole, thread the needle through the stitch directly below and pull the thread until it makes a loop, pass the needle through the loop and pull taut, creating a knot that holds the signatures together.  Repeat intire sewing procedure for the last 2 signatures, until all book pages are sewn.  The sewn edge is called the spine.

Step 12: Glue Spine

Place the book pages on a piece of wax paper.  If you’re using a headband, attatch with glue to the top edge of the spine.  The headband’s colorful edge should be barely visible from the top of the spine’s edge.  Next, liberally spread glue on the book’s spine using the sponge applicator.

Center and firmly press the book tape (or piece of natural fiber netting) into the glue.  There should be at least .5’’ of tape on each side that is loose and not glued to the spine.  Allow to dry completely, preferrably overnight.

Step 13: Glue Bookboard to Bookcloth

Center and glue the .75” x 11.5” piece of bookboard to the backside of the bookcloth.  Allow to dry completely.

Step 14: Make Template for Cover Paper

Using the 11.5” x 8.75” bookboard as a template, line it up with one edge of the decorative paper chosen for the book’s cover.  Draw a rectangle 1” out from the top, bottom, and one side.  Draw a small square in the corners to create your cutting line, as shown.

Step 15: Cut Out Cover Paper

Use an X-Acto knife to cut out both pieces of decorative paper.

CAUTION: X-Acto knives are extremely sharp!  Always cut away from your body and use care when cutting.

Step 16: Glue Covers to Spine

The 2 pieces of 11.75” x 8.75” bookboard will become the front and back covers of your book. Place one piece of bookboard on top of the book pages.  Add a piece of wax paper in between the book pages and the bookboard.  The spine should be flush with the side edge of the bookboard, and the outer edges should be centered over the paper.  Glue the corresponding loose edge of the book tape over the top of the side edge of the bookboard. Let that side dry, then flip the book over and repeat on the other side with the second piece of bookboard.  Let dry.

Step 17: Glue Bookcloth to Bookboard Covers

Spread a generous amount of glue along one side of the book cloth.  Lay the book on top of the glue, lining the bottom edge of the book’s cover pieces with the bottom edge of the small piece of bookboard.  There should be a .25” gap between the book’s spine and the small piece of bookboard. This gap will provide flexibility when opening and closing the finished book.

Step 18: Glue Bookcloth to Bookboard Covers

Spread glue on the other side of the book cloth.  Wrap the cloth over the spine and press firmly onto the cover.  The small piece of bookboard should be centered over the book’s spine.  Let dry completely.

Step 19: Clip Ends of Bookcloth

Clip the corners of the book cloth, forming 3 small tabs.

Step 20: Glue Ends of Bookcloth

Spread glue on the underside of each bookcloth tab.  Use a pencil to gently press the center tab into the gap formed between the spine of the book and the small piece of bookboard adjacent to the spine.  Press it firmly to the bookboard.  Fold the other two tabs over, gluing to the underside of each cover.  Make sure that each tab is glued to its corresponding bookboard.  To prevent it from sticking to the pages, place wax paper between it and the book’s pages  Repeat with the bookcloth on the other  end of the book’s spine.

Step 21: Glue First & Last Pages of Signatures to Covers

Open the book and remove the wax paper.  Spread glue on the first page, making sure to coat all sides.  Close the cover on top of the page, sticking them together.  Open the book and use the boning tool to smooth the paper to the board.

Step 22: Fold and Glue Cover Papers

Find the 13” long edge of your cover paper (the one without the corners cut out).  With the back side facing up, fold that edge over about 1/2” and glue it down. 

Spread glue evenly over the entire backside of the paper.

Step 23: Glue Cover Paper to Front & Back Cover Bookboards

Gently lay the paper on top of the front book cover.  The folded edge should run parallel to the spine. Leave about 3/4” of the bookcloth showing along the edge. Use your boning tool to smooth out the paper.  Flip the book over and open it to the inside of the front cover.

Step 24: Glue Cover Paper to Front & Back Cover Bookboards Cont.

Spread more glue along the top and bottom edges of the front cover paper and fold over the inside of the front book cover.  Fold down the corners of the paper, as shown. Spread more glue along this edge and fold over the book cover. Use your boning tool to smooth out the cover paper. 

Repeat steps 21-23 for the back cover.

Step 25: Glue Decorative Paper Inside Front and Back Covers

Spread glue on the back of one piece of 8.5” x 11” decorative paper.  Press it to the inside of the front cover.

Step 26: Tips and Resources

Tips for Bookbinders

- Always use a new, sharp X-Acto blade.
- Although white glue will work, PVA glue is superior for bookbinding due to its thicker consistency and archival qualities.
- If you find that your thread is difficult to manage and fraying, pushing it through beeswax will help.
- When sticking glued paper down, if you find that there are large wrinkles, it is possible to reposition if working quickly and carefully.


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