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Begin with the Basics: The Three-Hole Pamphlet

By Syl Schulze

Busy Mind Bindery is a blog dedicated to providing instructional tutorials on book-binding while inviting readers to think about themselves and the world around them.

     Greetings binders, old and new! Through some means, you have stumbled upon the debut post of Busy Mind Bindery. Since I am a beginner, I will assume we begin at the beginning. 

I want to take some time today to ask- what does it mean to be a beginner? Generally, a beginner is thought of as somebody who has only just started learning a certain task- someone inexperienced, and of a lesser standing compared to those who have done that certain task for a long time. But a beginner can also just be “one who begins” (Oxford English Dictionary). Isn’t it  more joyful to think of oneself as a beginner in the sense of starting something special, rather in the sense of being a novice?

I have always felt an unwarranted shame in being a “beginner”.  I am just now learning to shake that shame away. There is no need to feel bad about being a beginner, and no need to fear making mistakes- after all, that is the job of the beginner: to fail, to learn, and to try again.

Having started book-binding only 8 months ago, I was hesitant to create a blog that centers around binding tutorials. I thought that I surely must not be qualified enough to act as an “expert” on the subject. Says who? What kind of authority can tell me I am not a proper book-binder? The real experts? But if I do not practice, I will not reach the level of a “real expert”; I will never match the standards I need to be qualified, if they even exist.

Is that what separates a hobby from an art- that qualification? In order to be an artist, with book-arts as my focus, how long do I need to study it? If I do not have a degree in it, will I be labeled as a hobbyist by those who do?  Is there shame attached to being a hobbyist, similar to the shame of being a beginner?

Despite these questions that linger at the back of my mind, I find the most rewarding part of learning about a subject is sharing my knowledge with others. And with the creation of this post, I have just begun.


Before we start the tutorial- some basic terminology:

Folio- a piece of paper folded in half to create two pages

Signature- a section of a book composed of multiple folios stacked within each other

Jig- a stencil or other guide to aid in work

Head- The top of the book/cover, assuming the spine is on the left

Foot- The bottom of the book/cover, assuming the spine is on the left

Station- The place where a hole has been made in the cover/ inside papers and from

which the sewing of stitches is done


     Although I can’t speak for everyone, the first binding I learned was the Three-Hole Pamphlet. It’s simple, clean, and it will be fundamental for future binding projects.

Three-Hole Pamphlet

Supplies you will need:

Fig. 1.0 Supplies you will need
  • 10 or less sheets of paper (can be printer paper or anything with a similar thickness)*
  • One sheet of thicker paper to be used for a cover
  • Bone folder
  • Awl
  • Bookbinding needle
  • Unbleached linen thread
  • Beeswax (optional but recommended)
  • Ruler (metal is best, especially if you’re using an exacto knife to cut your paper)
  • Pencil
  • Exacto Knife (or a paper trimmer, anything that will give a straight edge)

*the size of your paper doesn’t matter, as long as it is the same as your cover. In this case, both my cover and inside papers were approximately 11½ ”x8¾ ”.



  1. Take your paper cover and fold it in half horizontally.
Fig 1.1
  1. Fold each sheet of your inside paper in half horizontally. Each folded sheet is now a folio.
Fig 1.2
  1. Nest all the folios inside one another. This creates a signature.
Fig 1.3
  1. Now, it is time to determine where to punch holes in the spine. First, measure the length of the spine. In my case, it would be 8 ¾”.
Fig 1.4
  1. Next, we have to make a jig. To do this, take a piece of scrap paper and cut it down to be the same length as your spine.
  2. Measure on the piece of scrap paper three marks. Start by marking the middle of the paper. In my case, that would be 4 ⅜”. (Unfortunately, I am human, and in photographing this tutorial I marked my middle as 4 ⅝”. So if you would, for this time only, pretend that is the middle, I will work harder to be a better role model next time.)
Fig 1.6

The remaining marks should be equidistant from the middle, as well as, according to Keith Smith’s Non-Adhesive Binding Vol. 1: Books Without Paste or Glue , no less than ⅜” from the head and foot of the spine. I made mine each about ¾” from the head and foot of the spine.

Fig 1.61
  1. Now that the jig is made, it can be used to mark the places in the spine of the book that need to be pierced through with an awl. Stack the folios inside the cover, and position the jig so that it is in the very middle of the signature

    Fig 1.7
  2. Use an awl to pierce three holes in the crease of the signature in each of the places marked by the jig. These will be called stations. The stations will be numbered from head to foot: one, two, and three.
Fig 1.8
  1. Now we prepare to stitch the pages and cover together. You will want to cut a piece of linen thread at least two and a half times the length of your spine. Should you choose to wax your thread, you can do so by holding one end of the thread against a chunk of beeswax with your thumb, and then pulling the thread through the beeswax. Thread your needle without making a knot at the end.


  1. You begin sewing at the middle, station two. You can choose whether to start from inside or outside the cover. If you start from inside, your ending knot will be on the inside, and if you start from the outside your knot will be on the outside. Pull your needle through the station, leaving at least two inches of thread. As you can see below, I decided to start from the outside.
Fig 1.10
  1. Next, pull your needle through station one. Be careful not to pull your thread all the way through!
Fig 1.11
  1. Then, bring your needle all the way to station three. Pull the needle through.
  2. Finally, you will be pulling your needle through station two again. Now, you should have two strands of thread coming out from station two. Make sure each of these threads is on either side of the stitch that you have running the length of the spine. For example:
Fig 1.13
  1. Tie a knot, and you’re done! I like to tie little bows on my outside-the-cover knots, because I think it’s cute.
Fig 1.14
  1. Don’t forget to sign and date your work!






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