Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Binding makes the Book! - Part One

I thought I'd make a set of posts about some of the Binding Styles  for books.  I posted some photos of a scrapbook that I had made this week, and someone commented that she liked the binding, but wasn't sure if it was a "stab stitch" - it was, in fact a "coptic stitch" type of binding...

There are loads of different Bindings for books (not all of which are sewn/stitched), but they do tend to fall into a number of categories.  I'll start with some hand-stitched bindings...

Single-Signature Bindings

Firstly, the most basic form of stitched binding, which can produce lovely results and is so very simple - the Pamphlet single-signature binding:

A single, folded stack of sheets are stitched with one row of running stitch - or a sort-of backstitch.  Usually a cover is added, which is just a piece of paper or other material, folded round the signature and attached with the same row of stitching.

Pamphlet Notebooks make great presents and are handy to keep for your own use.  They are sooooo easy to make and also quite quick.  You can use pretty much any paper for them, though the number of pages you can use depends on the thickness of your paper.  It's a great way to use up spare sheets - the books can be pretty much any size you want, so you can even make mini-books!

I published a Tutorial on making Pamphlet Notebooks, why not have a go yourself?

A selection of simple Pamphlet notebooks, with ribbon fastenings.

Find other pamphlet-style books here:

25 Single Signature Booklets by Parkside Harmony
Trio of Decorative Pamphlets by Katie Gonzalez, LinenLaid&Felt
Set of 3 Notebooks by Ruth Bleakley

Other stitched single-signature bindings:

A Scrap-book, made with a single signature of stiff cartridge paper.  The cover is art paper, which has been folded at the front edge, to give a double layer of paper, for extra stiffness and decoration. 

It would be possible to cut a window in the front cover, into which you could put a photo or title label, which would be covered on the inside, by the folded-in flap of the cover.  The flaps on the covers also hide the back of the brad and waxed cotton thread I used for the wrap-round fastening.
Or you could cut tabs at the top and bottom of the part you are folding to the inside of the cover, then glue the tabs to form a pocket.

I glued an embroidered piece of felt onto the centre of the cover-fold, before the binding was done, to make a funky decoration.  Essentially, although a decorative and "fancy" version, this is still a simple pamphlet-style book, with a single section of paper.
These two pairs of books are essentially single-signature bindings.  The inside pages do not need to be folded, as the stitching is done through the top of the signature, instead of along the fold. This makes it a good way to use up a stack of small sheets, or off-cuts from a bigger project (or just an easy project for you and your paper-cutter!).

The covers are stitched to the inside paper, through the back only, so that the front cover forms a flap, which falls over the top of the paper and hides the stitching. The covering paper has been creased in the middle, to make a sort-of spine (the creases are the same distance apart as the thickness of the page-stack - remember to allow for this when cutting papers for your own version! You could cut it a bit long, then trim the covers carefully after binding).

In the first set above - the Travel notebooks - a feature is made of the stitching, and extra strength added, by using coloured eyelets to support the cover-stitching. 

These are not much different to the pamphlet notebooks.  They're a kind-of hybrid between a pamphlet style and a side binding (which I will get to in a later post!).

Case Binding

The traditional "Case Binding", is what you find in most hardback - and many soft-back - books that you would buy in the shops (though commercial books are usually either stitched by machines, or just glued together at the spine edge).
The pages are folded into sections, or "signatures" of several sheets each, then these are pierced with a row of holes, stacked on top of each other and stitched together. Often, linen or cotton tapes are placed at right angles to the spine and the holes are made in pairs, either side of the tapes, so the stitches go over these tapes as the sewing is done. 
A "kettle stitch", or "link stitch" is used to connect down to the next signature, with the thread made into a little looped knot, to hold all the sewing firmly; then the stitches go through the next signature, out the end, kettle stitch, next signature, etc etc.... 

This makes a very strong and firm binding, which is why this type of sewing is very popular in traditional bookbinding.
Here, the stitched signatures have been covered at the spine edge, with mull (stiff muslin fabric) and paper, for a smooth finish. You can see the bumps of linen tapes, over which the running-stitches were made.  There are also headbands - the coloured fabric strips often attached at the head (top) and tail (base) of a traditional book binding.

The whole stack of pages often has a folded piece of paper attached at each end of the book, called the "end-papers", which are then glued into a "case" - solid hard or semi-hard covers with an attached piece that forms the "spine".  The end-papers in the above two examples are green and navy art paper;  patterned - especially marbled - papers are traditionally used for end-papers, especially with a plain cloth-bound, or tooled leather cover.  

Sometimes the back cover has a second "spine" attached, to the right side, to make a fold-over flap, such as in the examples below:

So, that's a Case Binding.

Adaptations of that binding are common and sometimes a similar stitching technique is used, to connect the signatures of the book, but the stitching is done over cords or strings, which are then attched to the covers directly - by "lacing". 

Perhaps you can see the white linen stitches, over the paper cords, that I used to sew this binding?  Also, on the ends of the signatures, you can see the white stitches, that keep the sections firmly together. 
(porcelain heart button courtesy of  Hodgepodgearts on Etsy)

Often, such bindings are enclosed in a case-type cover.  The cords can be allowed to show, as raised decorations on the spine, or else they can be made to sit flat, so they do not really show.

See these examples of traditional cord and leather bindings:

Classic Cordbound Sketchbook, by Daniel Heywood

Longstitch Binding

Another way of attaching a book to its covers, is to stitch the sections directly to a wrap-round covering.  This can have a stiffener in the spine, also linings to stiffen the front and back covers, or just be left as a soft wrap-cover. 
There are various ways of making Longstitch bindings.  The example above is a very basic and simple form - some have more complex - and more robust - ways of attaching the sections, so they are connected together more firmly.  Many longstitch bindings are very decorative.  It's possible to cross, plait or weave the threads, to make patterns, or to thread beads onto the binding as you stitch. 

Some bookbinders I know make fabulous longstitch bound books, some with beautiful decorations.


Marie - Wee Bindery
Rhonda Miller - MyHandBoundBooks 
Katie Gonzalez - LinenLaid&Felt
Beth - UberArt

I think this post is long enough; I will make another one - or two - about other bindings and post them soon!  I hope that (so far) this has been an interesting and perhaps a bit useful tutorial.


  1. getting ready for my personal binding lesson,
    jo xxxx

  2. I have found this to be highly informative Lizze.

    It is great to see you back in the land of blog - I understand the need to have a break too, I always find it adds to my enthusiasm when I return!

  3. Great post! I've been wanting to try out case binding myself... I'm going to try to make my own 12 x12 scrapbooks soon too :)

    I'm going to have to bookmark this one for reference.

  4. Golly, what an amazing wealth of information! Lizzie, have you ever thought about running on online class? (I'm sure we'd pay!). There's enough info and experimentation in here to last at least half-a-dozen classes ...

  5. Oh I find this very interesting. Can't wait for the next part.


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