Bookbinding is not so much a single art as an array of options over many steps. cbustapeck’s techniques are sufficiently different than mine that I will be describing the process afresh rather than annotating his description.
- signatures to stitch (either blank, or after tearing down) If you're going to use sewn endpapers, these should be added to the book at this point.
- strong thread, either white or unbleached
For archival work, this should be linen. Bookbinding thread is described using two numbers (eg 16/40). The first number refers to the number of strands making up the thread, and the second is the gauge of each strand. This means that a 16/40 may be the same thickness as a 4/10, but it will also be substantially stronger.
For non-archival work, polyester button thread or strong cotton thread will do. Using thread that is too weak will either lead to numerous breakages (and a frustrating amount of re-tying) or loose stitching and an untidy book block.
- a piercing tool
A bodkin or bradawl may be used (I use a bodkin), but if you want a finer hole, a thick needle will do. To make the needle easier to use, get a 1 inch diameter dowel and saw it into a convenient section. Drive a finishing nail partway into one end, then pull it out. Glue a thick needle into the hole using epoxy.
Archival bookbinding should be done on unbleached linen tapes. However, anything you don’t mind deteriorating in the next century or so can be sewn onto cotton tapes, available from sewing shops. The tapes should be about 1/2” wide and as thin as possible. I don’t tend to use parchment, both because I don’t have any and because it is thick enough to show at the hinges of a case-bound book.
You’ll want a long, thick one – something you can get a good grip on. It is sometimes useful to have a curved needle, usually sold for upholstery repair.
What to Do
- sawing clamp
This is a small book clamp, basically two boards with a threaded rod at each end to hold them together. It keeps the book block stable while marking and sawing the back.
- small saw, such as a tenon saw
- sewing frame
This is a frame to stretch the tapes like the warp threads in weaving. It consists of a flat plate to hold the book with a bar above. The tapes are stretched from the flat plate to the bar, and the signatures are then stitched to the vertical, stretched tapes.
This makes the thread less likely to tangle as you stitch (there is very little more annoying than a knot in the thread when you’re halfway through stitching a book). It can be obtained wherever quilting supplies are sold.
- Line up and mark the book block
Stack the signatures up in the correct order. Check they’re all facing the right way. Now check again. If one signature is upside down at this point, your entire binding effort will be wasted. Stack them carefully, tapping the bottom against a flat surface so that all the signatures are square with each other. If you have a sawing clamp, put the book in now and tighten the screws. Otherwise, hold it tightly to keep it from shifting.
Mark the book block along the spines using a pencil. There should be a single mark at the head and tail for the kettlestiches, then pairs of marks for the tapes. Each pair of marks should be a tape width plus about 1 mm apart. Small books can be bound with two tapes, and larger ones (7” tall and over) should have three. Make sure the marks are perpendicular to the signatures or your book block will be crooked.
It’s a good idea to make the tape placements asymmetrical. That way, if a signature gets turned upside down before you stitch it into place, you’ll notice before you mess up.
You now have a book block that looks like this:
- Saw the kettlestitches (optional)
The single marks at the head and tail of the book are for kettlestitches. Traditionally, kettlestitches are sewn into grooves sawn into the spine of the book at the, to reduce bulk. This is a stronger treatment than doing them on the surface, but may be too damaging to use on delicate papers or archival works.
If the kettlestitches are to be sawn, use the tenon saw to create the grooves. The cuts should just reach into the inner page in each signature. I find that pulling the saw, rather than pushing it, gives an evener cut and prevents tearing of the outer signatures. Be sure to cut from both sides, since your groove will tend to slant away from you.
- Punch the holes
Use your piercing tool to punch holes where you’ve marked on either side of the tapes. If you haven’t sawn the kettlestitches, use the piercing tool to create these holes as well.
- Thread your sewing frame (if you have one)
Set the book block on the base of the sewing frame, and use the holes to determine the placement of the tapes. Fasten the tapes to the upper bar of the frame (I loop the tape over the bar and secure the end to the rest of the tape with a single stitch). If you have a proper sewing frame, drop the tapes through the slot in the base and use tape keys to hold the tapes tight. Otherwise, use masking tape or thumbtacks to hold the bottoms of the tape. However you do it, you want the tapes tight.
If you don’t have a sewing frame, cut your tapes about 4” longer than your book block is thick and lay them out. You’ll need the extra length to tighten the tapes after you’re done sewing
- Start stitching!
Take the first signature of the book. The thread should travel as follows:
__________ _________________ ______
/ \ / \ / \
====/============|====|===================|====|========\====== <- signature
/ |====| |====| \ <- tapes
end \__/ \__/ needle
Be sure the stitiching goes around the tapes, not through them. Do not catch the tapes with any of your stitching.
- Add the second signature
The needle and thread will have emerged from the hole at one end of the first signature. Lay the second signature down the right way up (aren’t you glad you did the holes asymmetrically?). Use the same stitching pattern as above. You want to sew in a back-and-forth fashion, so the needle should travel from right to left this time. When you get back to the extreme left, tie the thread to the end you left hanging out when you started. Pull the stitching as tight as you can without tearing the signatures before you tie it off.
- Continue sewing
After the first two signatures, every time you get to the head or tail of the book, do a kettlestitch (see the write-up there for instructions). This is your chance to draw the stitching in the latest signature tight and lock it in place. It will take some time to learn how much tension to put on the thread; if you break the thread, unpick the stitching to the last tape and tie it back onto the thread.
Every four signatures or so, it is a good idea to bind the stitches together at the tapes. This pulls in any excess slack in the thread that you didn’t manage to get with the kettlestitches. To do this, bring the needle out at one side of the tape. Pass it under the threads over the tape for the three signatures below the current one, looping the current thread around to create a knot. See the diagram below for clarification.
| tape ^ <- needle|
| // |
========o------------//-- |o============= signature =
| // \ |
========o-----------------\--------o============= signature =
| // \ |
========o-------------------|------o============= signature =
| // | |
========o------------------/-------o============= signature =
| // / |
| __/___________/ |
| - |
The knot will look like this:
| tape |
========o---------\ /----------o============= signature =
| \ / |
========o----------\\ //-----------o============= signature =
| =@= |
========o----------// \------------o============= signature =
| / \ |
========o---------/ \----------o============= signature =
- Finish stitching
Tie off the thread by doing kettlestitches to the three or four signatures below the final one. Then cut the thread off short enough that it won’t hang off the end of the book when it’s stood upright.
- Tighten the tapes
Even if you’ve used a sewing frame, you’ve probably got some slack in your tapes. Get a firm grip on one end and gently pull it through the stitching. DO NOT PULL IT ALL THE WAY OUT. Then gently pull it the other way to finish tightening them.
Go on now to rounding and backing your book.