A venture into bookbinding

Since I’ve been spending a lot of time at home I have also been watching a lot of youtube. And I stumbled across some cool bookbinding videos and thought I wanted to try it.

I didn’t have any leather for carving and tooling, but that’s okay because I’ve never done leatherworking either and learning one thing at a time seems like enough of a challenge. I did have paper and stuff around the house, so there was a low barrier to entry. So I slapped together some sheets of paper and some cardboard just to figure out how it’s done in general, and the result was rough but alright.

So as a next project I wanted to make a larger, fancier book. It also felt almost obligatory to do the ‘aged paper’ thing at least once, so I started by making a large dish full of coffee. (I used some expired instant coffee I found in the back of my cupboard. I guess you could also use strong tea. I might even recommend tea because my hands smelled of coffee for a whole day after doing this)

Getting good at baking paper

I started out submerging the pages in coffee and putting them in the oven (set to 100C) on a tray to dry quickly. They were stitting kind of on the edge of the tray and this created lines in the coffee staining that I didn’t think looked good. I also tried draping the paper onto the tray with some wrinkles to get a more natural uneven effect, but I didn’t like that either. Drying them entirely flat on the tray seemed to suck all the coffee to the side that was up and left the other side really pale. So in the end my advice for aging paper is to dry it flat and turn it over when the corners are starting to curl up a little bit.

I did end up putting some coffee in a spray bottle to create some extra specks, which worked pretty well.

Assembling the pages

Next I folded all my sheets in half and grouped them into sets of 4 (the signatures, in proper bookbinding parlance). Then I marked the positions where the pages should be stitched together. I just made the measurements up based on what I thought would look nice. Then poke holes on the marks, and that’s the paper ready. I tied some cheap packing string to the back of a chair to sew the papers to. For the actual stitching I used topstitch thread, as it is slightly thicker than regular sewing thread. There are many tuturials out there that explain how to do this better than I can right now, so I won’t go into more detail here. But yeah, stitch the pages to the strings 🙂 When it was done I clamped it together and put some PVA glue on the spine.

Glue and Cardboard

The next step was to reinforce the spine, so I glued a strip of cloth to it. I also tried making headbands (those little colored thingies at the top of the spine of fancy books), but I didn’t like how they turned out so I cut them off afterwards.

At the front and back of the book there are two slightly heavier pages that get glued to the cover on one side and to the book on the other side. I grabbed some light blue craft paper and drenched it in tea and baked it for the sake of consistency, and then glued it to the edge of the front and back pages.

For the cover I cut two pieces of thick cardboard that are slightly larger than the pages. (I got the cardboard from my stash, I must have saved it from some packing material. Minimalism is dead, hoarding is the new rage) Attaching the strings to the covers gives the book a lot of structural strength. To do that, I drilled holes into the cardboard to match up with the strings. I frayed the string so it would be possible to make it nice and flat. It’s kind of hard to get it through the holes at that point but I used some thread to pull it through. Then I glued it down with some PVA glue and put it back into my ‘book press’ (a plank with my sewing machine on top of it this time).

Cover it

Now the book is pretty much assembled, and just needs a pretty cover. I’d done the first booklet with faux leather but didn’t want to go for that again. So I cut some grey upholstery fabric slightly larger than the book. It seemed a bit boring to just put it on like that and I briefly considered embroidering it with some symbol. In researching some symbols to put on it I decided to go for the church of Avacyn (from M:tG lore) and embroidery does not seem like Avacyn’s cup of tea. So I pulled out some of the leather anyway and made an applique out of it. I glued it down first and then stitched around the edge to make it look more convincing. The stitching is a little wobbly and I’m not entirely happy with it. But I sure wasn’t going to make a new one, so I’ll just consider it good practice and move on.

I then applied a generous amount of glue to the outside of the cover cardboard and the spine of the book, and carefully stuck the fabric on (making sure to get the symbol right in the middle). After that dried I clipped the corners and glued down the flaps towards the inside. Finally, I glued the end pages to the cover and once more clamped it flat to dry.


Stuff to improve next time:
– Neater stitching on the applique
– Maybe try different page sewing methods for e.g. flat spines, or ribbons or something
– Use tea instead of coffee because the smell of this book is a bit too strong
All in all I quite like how it turned out. I might make another book at some point and try the leatherworking aspect of leatherbound books. I do already have plenty of notebooks though, so not sure what I’m going to ever use this for. It feels too fancy to write shopping lists in.