So, it seems to me that the perfect craft for the bookish and clever person is being able to make their own books. I bring you the good news that this is actually not all that difficult to do. Bookbinding, while it does require some special tools, is fairly easy for the beginner to pick up. The skills you need are basic math, the ability to cut straight lines, and lack of fear of getting glue on your fingers. I took a six week sampler course in it when I was in college, and I was hooked. I love making my own sketch books and photo albums. It’s remarkably satisfying to be able to have a book you made yourself!


What you will need:Supplies

  1.  Two types of Decorative Paper (This isn’t the one I used for the rest of the tutorial because I am a capricious creature. Okay, actually I kinda screwed this book up and didn’t want to give you all a bad example.) One is for the cover, the other for the inside flap.
  2. Regular paper (for the guts of your book, I like to use big sheets of drawing paper)
  3. Bookcloth (basically cloth that has been reinforced so glue won’t seep through)
  4. Book board or other heavy non-corrugated cardboard
  5. A big ruler (I show a T-square, which is good, but I like clear quilting rulers best)
  6. Craft knife with a sharp blade
  7. Stiff bristle brush for glue
  8. Awl
  9. Folding bone (you can use a spoon or a butter knife in a pinch)
  10. Spine reinforcement cloth – in my case Mull. Cheesecloth also works.
  11. Bee’s wax (mine is in a handy holster, you can usually find this in the notions area of a sewing store)
  12. Large eye needles
  13. Heavy duty thread
  14. PVA Glue
  15. A place to keep supplies so they don’t fuck up your habitat
  16. Wax paper or cling film (not pictured)
  17. Some big heavy things (not pictured)
  18. Scratch paper (not pictured)


Terms to be aware of:

Acid Free: Inks, glues, and papers with acid in them will deteriorate over time. This is bad. Get acid free stuff, kids.

Archival: Not just acid free but specifically made not to break down over time. This is also good.

What to do:

Step 1: Decide how big you want your book to be. An easy size is 5.5″ x 8.5″ because that is the size you get from halved sheets of letter paper. Whatever size you decide on, you need to end up with sheets that are as long as you want them, but twice as wide. I am making a book with sheets that are 4.5″ x 6″, so I am preparing sheets that are 9″ x 6″. Now you need to know how many sheets you need. Each sheet is 4 pages of book, and you want to end up with a number of sheets that can be easily divided by 4, 5, or 6 (more on that in a bit). I decided on 40 sheets for a 160-page book.

Step 2: Now you need to turn your paper into sheets that are the right size. If your paper came cut that way, you can skip this step. I’m working with some large sheets of drawing paper that I am tearing down to size. I’m going to tear rather than cut so that my paper has a soft deckle-look edge. This is mostly stylistic, but it also helps to hide a lot of inaccuracy in cutting and folding.

To get a nice straight tear line, I take the edge of my bone folder and use it to score my paper where I want to tear. Then I set my straight edge up against it. Leaning down on the straight edge I tear the paper along the score line. If your paper is particularly thick, you might want to try folding it back and forth a few times to further weaken the fibers along where you want to tear.

Step 3: Now that you have your sheets, you need to turn them into folios. Don’t worry, a folio is just fancy talk for a piece of paper folded in half. Fold the paper in half widthwise and use your bone folder to press the crease down. Beware of burnishing! Burnishing can happen when you rub your bone folder over the paper. It will press down the fibers in the paper and create an unsightly shiny spot. To avoid this try and use just the tip of your bone folder to press the paper.


Next, arrange your folios into signatures. A signature is a bunch of folios stacked inside one another to form a sort of mini book. I usually have between 4 and 6 folios in each signature (remember earlier when I told you to have your number of sheets divisible by 4, 5, or 6? This is why). I’m using 5 folios per signature for this book, and I have a total of 8 signatures.

Step 4: Now we need to sew it all together. First, use the awl to pre-punch the holes your thread will be traveling through. Make one hole about ¾” from the end through the spine of the signature. Then evenly space an even number of holes through the rest of the spine. How many holes you will need will be determined by the size of the book, but I don’t like my holes to be much more than 2″ apart. I ended up adding two more holes to the spine. This has to be done for each signature, so it helps to make a template out of scratch paper that can simply be inserted into the spine of the book to guide the awl.

Now cut a length of the heavy duty thread that’s as long as your book times as the number of signatures you have plus a few more for good measure. So as I have eight signatures I cut my thread eleven times as long as my book. Now run that thread through the beeswax to coat it. This will help prevent tangling and strengthen the thread.


As far as the actual sewing, the pattern is basically just simple up and down, but you jog back and forth between the signatures. You go down into the center of the signature with the first stitch up and down through the center stitches then up through the last hole. Then you go down into the second signature and back up through the next hole. Then you go down into the adjacent hole in the first signature. Come back up through the next hole in the first signature and down into the second. And so on. Look, a helpful diagram!

Step 5: Now we are getting to the point where it really looks like a book! Now to add some spine reinforcement. Cut a piece of your spine reinforcement cloth the width of your spine plus about 2 inches, give or take, on the sides. Then, leaving the center portion the width of the spine, cut off the corners of the reinforcement so that it is a really lopsided hexagon.

Cover the whole thing in glue and attach it to your book’s spine. It will be kinda like handling a big sheet of snot and you will get glue all over your fingers. I hate this step every time.

Loosely cover the spine with wax paper or cling film and put a big heavy thing on top of it. I used a coffee table book. Leave it to dry a while. Tidy up your scraps, watch a little TV, grab a snack, or whatever. PVA glue dries fairly quickly, so it won’t be terribly long.

Step 6: Cut two sheets of the decorative paper the same size as your original sheet. Cover one side of one with glue and stick one to the first two pages of your book, the other to the last two. Pat yourself on the back now because the guts of your book are done. Now you just have to make the cover.

Step 7: Cut a piece of your book board that is the same width as the spine of your book guts but slightly longer (¼  to a ½ inch). Book board is beastly to cut, so make sure you have a sharp blade. Now to figure out the size your covers should be. This is a little tricky. If you want the book to be able to lie flat when you are done you will need to leave a space between the spine and the cover board that is the same width as your spine. Aesthetically this can be odd looking, so often I see people leave about a quarter inch. Whatever size you decide to make the gap, subtract that amount from the width of the book guts, then add â…›- to  ¼- inch to that and that is how wide to cut your cover boards. They should be the same height as the spine. Cut two of them (one for the front and one for the back). Cut a bit of scrap paper the same hight as the boards that will span the spaces between the boards. Then fold it  so that there is a space in the center for the spine, a space for the gaps between the boards and tabs at the ends to glue to the boards.

Step 8: Cut two pieces of your fancy paper that are big enough to cover one side of your book board and wrap around three of the four edges. Note: if your paper’s pattern has a definite up and down make sure you line it up to the book board accordingly. Knock the corners off on the two sides that need to go around corners. Cover the back side of the paper in glue and set the book board on it. Wrap up the corners first then fold over the sides. Smooth out any bubbles.

Step 9: Glue the spine to the outside of the scrap paper fold (so the fold pushes up underneath it)

Step 10: Cut a piece of your bookcloth wide enough to cover the ends of your coverboards, the gaps between them and the spine, and the spine. Make it tall enough to wrap over the top and bottom of the cover. Mark on the inside of the cloth where each piece will line up with something bold enough that you will still be able to see it when you cover it with glue (I like bright colored pencils). Cover it with glue and set all three pieces of your bookboard on and wrap the ends over. Smooth it out and avoid bubbles. If you like, you can cut a second piece of bookcloth to go over the inside.

Step 11: Almost there! Cover the outside of the book guts’ first page with glue and glue it down to the cover. Then cover the outside of the back page with glue and simply close the back cover over it. And that’s it. As soon as your glue dries you are done! You have made a book!

By Opifex

Opifex is a former art student, unrepentant nerd, and occasional annoying liker of things before they were cool. She keeps two sets of polyhedral dice in her purse, in case the first set stops being lucky. That's kind of how she rolls.

18 replies on “Bookbinding”

I took a class on bookbinding in college, so all this is very familiar to me. I think I would have enjoyed it more if my professor (and the class) hadn’t been so prententious. Like, some of our book projects weren’t even books — they were more like weird installations/boxes/conceptual pieces than anything else. And our professor played favorites so much (you could tell she liked the students whose work fell in with her vision more than anything.) Let’s just say that I ended up eating my feelings a lot that semester before I finally dropped that class.

Oh. Yuck. My bookbinding course was just a six week sampler, so the prof really just wanted to cram as many different binding techniques into that time as possible. The closest we ever got to “art books” was when she had us cover a really large sheet of paper with an image on both sides then had us turn that into an accordion book.

But I was kind of in that position with my photography class. I did everything the prof asked for. Came in after class to get help when my car had a meltdown and I couldn’t get to class. And I landed a C- because I wasn’t into the same sorts of photographs she was (and I refused to buy the $80 photo paper for a foundations course, particularly when she said we could use the less expensive stuff. Still couldn’t help but notice that the kids using the expensive paper were given a lot more attention). Whatevs. I’m not bitter or anything.

I’m currently in the process of unfucking my crafts space and have vowed not to bring anything new in until it is under control, otherwise I would love some. But for now I need to get the supply mess under control. Thank you for the offer though.

It’s fun, but like all new crafts, the desire to hoard supplies is strong. Last trip to the paper store ended with me coming home with silver paper that has a lime green flocked paisley pattern. I have no idea what I will do with it. But it is beautiful.

Bookbinding is amazing.  I admire anyone who does it, but after watching my sister take a college class on it I don’t think I would describe it as “not all that difficult”.  Perhaps it’s just not something that my skill set complements, but I got a headache just watching her make a book.  Your book looks amazing!  I love the paper.

Getting a BFA in college can skew your definition of easy, I guess. To me, if all I need is to measure and glue, and not say pull any complicated finger positions, or use hazardous chemicals it is on the easy end. I tend to rank hard the things my crafts major friends can do like glass blowing and using a MIG welder. I considered doing a smaller pamphlet stitch book (and I teach those to 8 and 9 year olds, everyone can do them), but I kinda feel like those books are less attractive. Also they are tiny and less useful.

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