Bookbinding (old)

This is old news – for my current bookbinding work see the Bookweb

Since Christmas, I have been learning about bookbinding. I have bound the following items; each has been a learning experience in its own right. All but four of them have been hollow-backed case bindings, usually kettlestitched or sewn on tapes.

I have destroyed some of my initial work, particularly the binds of three sections of an English law book I bought used some time ago. Other volumes have been sent to various friends. I only have about a third of the binds I have done in January – February 2002.

Finished Works

  1. Cream card notebook sewn on external cords, with embroidered cover.
    Now used as a needle book in my bookbinding kit.
  2. Cream Coptic-stitched notebook with gold signature guards
    Still unused.
  3. Kettlestitched binding of 1/3 of an English law book, covered in ochre fabric.
  4. Tape-sewn binding of 1/3 of an English law book, covered in ochre fabric.
  5. Tape-sewn A6 notebook in cream laid, covered in blue paper.
    Sent to (darsi), a friend from my online community.
  6. Flexible-bound 1/3 of an English law book, covered in ochre fabric.
  7. Binding of editions of “Sirius Moonlight”, the fanzine from the St Andrews Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, for Martin’s four years at university. Tape sewn, covered in brown paper. I tried to trim the fore edge, but tore the edges as a result. The book was labelled with computer-printed titles on the spine and front cover.
  8. Grey leather and black wool quarter bound cover for the “Forma Urbis Romae”, a map of ancient Rome. Labelled with a computer-printed title on the cover.
  9. Tape-sewn A4 lined notebook, quarter-bound in grey leather and blue fabric, for Martin‘s role playing game, Edelvain.
  10. Tape-sewn A4 lined notebook covered in blue paper to use at work.
  11. Tape-sewn A5 blank book with false bands, quarter-bound in grey leather and rose fabric.
    Sent as a gift for my younger sister Kathleen.
  12. Tape-sewn A6 blank book with false bands, quarter-bound in grey leather and rose fabric.
    Sent as a surprise to Gritchka, a friend from my online community.
  13. Tape-sewn edition of Sherlock Holmes short stories, covered in brown leather with false bands. The endpapers are green marbled paper. I decorated the cover of this book with an outline of Sherlock Holmes, drawn in permanent ink. I then deepened the colour of the leather cover with the application of red-brown shoe polish.
    Currently retained, but may be given to the daughter of a colleague.
  14. Tape-sewn A5 blank book of white laid paper, with false bands and red-brown leather cover. Green marbled endpapers. I deepened the colour of the leather with black shoe polish, and added texture by pressing the covers with crumpled aluminum foil.
    Sent to Teiresias, from my online community, as part of a Secret Santa arrangement.
  15. Kettlestitched binding of Edgar Allen Poe’s humourous stories, covered in leather, with false bands. Blue marbeled endpapers. The cover is made of two colours of leather, in an abstract design loosely based on a vertical arrangement of the letters “EAP”. Sized approximately 147mm x 215 mm. (Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version)
  16. Tape-sewn blank book with guards, intended to hold materials and project notes from sewing and bookbinding projects. False bands, plain endpapers, and ribbon ties. Sized approximately 144mm x 213 mm. (Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version)

    This project was not entirely a success. The pattern was too interlaced, and too interdependent, and as the leather strips were pasted, they stretched. The result was poor joins at crucial points.

    In addition, there was not time to define the false bands well enough before the paste dried, due to the time it took to arrange the pieces of the design. Definitely more of a learning experience than a triumph.

Future Projects

  • Re-bind Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which was bought with a ragged spine and is getting worse
  • Two Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries (Strong Poison and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club)
  • An edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, currently paper-bound
  • An edition of Pride and Prejudicecurrently in flexible covers.

8 thoughts on “Bookbinding (old)”

  1. Just starting out in bookbinding. Read the node in everything2, great job. I was wondering if you knew anything about side-stitching or where I might find more info about it.

  2. Joe,

    I’ve not done any side-stitching myself, but I have read about it in a couple of my bookbinding books. The Craft of Bookbinding, by Manly Banister, has a few pages on the subject. (I have a bookbinding site that Google doesn’t seem to be indexing, on, and I’ve just added a bit on my bookbinding reference books.)

    From what I understand, the best way to go about it is to clamp the book block when it’s square, then rule a line parallel to the spine edge where you want your stiching to go. Drill holes evenly along the line, using a power drill or a Dremel Multi-type tool. Then stich, using either a backstich or two threads doing opposing running stiches. It might be a good idea to brush the spine with a flexible adhesive like PVA as well, for added cohesion. You can round it, though that step isn’t necessary since there’s no swell. Covers can then be attached by casing in.

    There’s a node on E2, “binding with staples”, which touches on many of the techniques but doesn’t get into the sewing.

    Welcome to the world of bookbinding! I’ve been doing it for about a year now, and it just gets more interesting the more you do it! What got you into it?


  3. Hi Abi!

    I am new to bookbinding. So new, in fact, that I am just about to hand bind my first blank book and sew my first book block. I have been studying everything I can get my hands on. My husband has made me a sewing frame (it looks very nice; I was impressed with his woodworking ability) and I’ve fashioned a press out of clamps and wood pieces.

    I wanted to thank you for your detailed instructions, on every aspect of bookbinding. Reading what worked for you, and perhaps more importantly, what didn’t, is extremely helpful and inspiring.

    I have a question. Is there any reason why you can’t use PVA glue for the whole project? I’ve been reading that wheat paste, for example, is good for some things but not others, and after reading your account of what happened when you used wheat paste on the binding, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just use PVA exclusively. Is that OK to do?

    Your covers are beautiful! You are so creative, it was hard to believe that those were your first attempts at bookbinding-they looked professional! I’m not ready for leather yet. It seems scary to me. But I’m anxious to work with it when I get some bookbinding experience and study it some more. I have a feeling that once I graduate into the realm of leather covers, that will be mostly what I use. When the time comes, I am going to check out the supplier you mentioned, near you. It sounds like their prices for leather will be reasonable, especially if I can get access to some of their “seconds”, like you have!


  4. Janet,

    I’ll write more to you personally, but here’s a brief answer.

    Wheat paste and PVA have very different properties, which make them useful for different things.
    – PVA is a glue, meaning that it coats the surfaces of the things being stuck together. Wheat paste is a paste, and penetrates the things being stuck together. That forms a firmer bond, but can change the look and feel of the things – think of how paper is different after it’s been wet than before.
    – PVA is flexible when it dries; wheat paste is stiff. This means that PVA is ideal for spines if you round and back a book, since they have to flex. That was where I was having so much trouble with wheat paste.
    – PVA is a “faster” adhesive than wheat paste. Quite simply, it takes less time to “set”.

    So, as I found out the hard way, flour paste is terrible on spines because of one of its properties. On the other hand, because it penetrates the things you put it on, it makes a stronger bond when gluing pieces of cardboard together. And its very slow nature makes it ideal for leather, because making leather covers requires a lot of shifting and shuffling about, and you don’t want your adhesive to dry halfway through.

    But if you’re covering in paper or fabric, I would recommend PVA rather than wheat paste, yes. Be careful not to get it on the outer surface of the covering material, or it will leave marks (though the look of paper coated with 2 or 3 coats of dilute PVA is really nice). Generally, all you do is brush the PVA lightly onto the surface of the book (rather than the covering material – that way if it soaks in it won’t harm the look of the book) and stick it down. If the PVA gets too dry, it can be re-activated with heat – a household iron (with the steam off) has saved at least one fabric cover from disaster.


  5. I am aware that as a bookbinder you are always looking for better tools to utilize, ones that are superior and modern. I am the newly appointed marketing manager for a company by the name of Akkra, Inc., and we are the largest manufacturers of Teflon Bone Folders.

    Teflon provides a smooth tool to work with, avoiding burnishing marks that can occur when using cow bone and splits boards very nicely. The Teflon composition makes the Teflon Bone folder non stick, chemically inert, durable, reusable and much more.

    You can find more information, including pricing, at At least take a look at the website there is no commitment, come see what
    thousands of bookbinders are raving about. I hope you will consider our product and get in touch with us soon. Thank you for your time.


    Elina Krasnopolsky
    Marketing Manager
    Akkra, Inc.
    Fax: 585-482-7870

  6. Elina,

    I am impressed that you found my site to post an advertisement to. I am aware of Teflon folders, but prefer the bone variety myself. There are five principal reasons:
    1. Bone folders are cheaper. I am constantly losing one or two, and having enough to always have one to hand comes dearer with Teflon.
    2. Having handled several at Hewit’s and at the Society of Bookbinders’ Training and Education Conference, I have come to the conclusion that I simply don’t like the feel of Teflon. It’s just a little to slick, a little to plastic.
    3. Being a slavish imitator ;> I am influenced by the fact that not one of the highly respected binders who gave demonstrations at the conference used Teflon. They all used bone.
    4. I have reshaped several of my folders, particularly to make them thinner. With bone, this is an easy exercise. Reshaping Teflon without specialised breathing filtration equipment is highly dangerous, and for all practical purposes impossible at home.
    5. Bone folders can be made almost as smooth and non-stick as Teflon by soaking them overnight in oil (any oil will do). It also turns them an attractive semitransparent cream colour.

    Having said all that, I know there are a number of binders who swear by Teflon. More power to them.


  7. I have just begun fan-gluing of 8 1/2 X 11″ paperbacks. Everything is going GREAT, except the glue makes the spine a little wrinkly. This has happened with both coated and uncoated cover stock. I am now using a 15″ lengh of vinyl corner molding (from hardware store), slide it up the back of the cover and press it down over the top, forming a sharp corner along the back spine edge. Then I press it down, and use my thumbs to press the front of the cover. I lay it flat, let it set an hour or so, then stand several up on their spines till dry (this eliminates quite a few of the wrinkles). This helps. But they are still a little wrinkly-looking. Any suggestions?
    Thank you! Appreciate your site! Bobbi

  8. Bobbi,

    I admit, I’ve never done fan-gluing. Can you describe the process?

    It sounds, as a first guess, like you’ve got a problem with your paper grain. Have you been checking the direction of the grain for both your pages and anything you’re gluing them to? There’s an excellent article on paper grain here:

    But if you describe the process better, I may be able to picture what’s happening.

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