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Vending at the Common Ground & the Japanese Stab-bound Binding

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.

A little over a week ago, I sold books for the first time as a Youth Enterprise Zone vendor at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. The minute I found my table for set-up I felt like I was going to cry and throw up all at once. It didn’t help that I only slept for three hours the night before while trying to complete a decent stock of books. I knew I was on the older end of kids there- at 19, I was technically part of the Youth Enterprise Transition Zone, the only difference being I was required to pay for a full eight-foot table rather than being given the choice to go halfsies. I knew I was older and I also knew my table presentation was extremely lacking. My confidence was lowered even more when a customer asked where I was from, and I, after floundering with such a loaded question, replied to their further push of “Where do you live?!” with “Lewiston”. So, I became not only a late-blooming newbie, but also a city kid at a fair meant to celebrate rural living.

Despite my weaknesses, I pulled through with a decent profit, and really great ideas to improve my table’s game. Perhaps the most rewarding part, aside from the complements on the quality of my product, was the chance to chat with and encourage others to try book-binding. I sat making books all day, and curious passers-by would ask what I’m doing and how I learned. I had the most fun talking with them. And I think this brings me to this week’s question, which was posed to me after last week’s blog post: does making books for money ruin the enjoyment of just making books?

I think it has the potential to. If I were making books nonstop like I did the week before the fair, my enthusiasm for making books would be very low. When you are alone in an activity, the purpose of doing it becomes clouded. It was easy to think at 2:00am the “morning” before the fair: “Why am I doing this?” But it was being there, and interacting with customers that renewed my motivation. I make books to share them with people, whether that means selling physical books or spreading my knowledge of book-making. I want to continue selling books in the future (hopefully with words in them!), and I want to go-on with that mindset. I make books as much for others as I do for myself.

A bit of brain-picking: Is it naive to think that the ability to share book-binding techniques and knowledge to others is a greater reason to sell books that for the reason of earning money? Is it not of a higher, intangible value than money? Why not just give books away?

So in lieu of giving each reader a book, today you will receive knowledge. At the Common Ground Fair, one of my books that received a lot of attention was this Japanese Stab-bound book made from a Captain Eli’s Blueberry Pop box:

The stab-bound binding was the second binding I learned, and quite honestly one I need to practice more. We will be learning together!

First of all, what you will need:

  • One piece of thicker paper for a cover*
  • 16-20 pieces of paper for the inside (Printer-paper or another similar weighted paper)
  • a metal ruler
  • an exacto knife (if you do not have a paper cutter)
  • an awl
  • a bone folder
  • a book-binding needle
  • linen thread (for this tutorial, I used 5-ply pre-waxed white linen thread)
  • pencil

*the size of your cover does not matter, as long as it is the same size as your inside papers. In this case, I used 8.5″x 11″ inside papers, with a cover paper of approximately the same size.


  1. Position your cover paper horizontally, and cut it in half vertically.
Fig 1.1
Fig 1.2

2. Fold your inside papers horizontally.

Fig 2.1

3. Unlike the three-hole pamphlet, the folios will NOT be stacked within each other. Each folio will actually be bound on their open ends, with the folded side (the peak) opposite of the spine, making each page 2-ply. Sandwich all of the folios between the cover papers.

Fig 3.1

4. Now, it’s time to measure where the holes on the spine should be punched. Here, I’ve secured my book-block and cover together with binder clips, using some scrap pieces of mat board to prevent damaging the cover. Keith Smith recommends the holes be punched 3/8″ from the spine. You will be measuring 4 stations in total. Station one and station four should each be 1/2″ from the head and foot of the book, respectively. Stations two and three should be equally spaced between station one and station four.

Fig 4.1

As you can see here, I only measured three holes. It seems I am accumulating a track-record of screwing up my measurements when I make tutorials. Call it a case of stage-fright. My first and last stations are 1/2″ from the head and foot, and my middle station is directly in the middle of those stations, at 4.25″.

5. Take your awl and punch the holes. It may take a bit of twisting, depending on how many folios you made.

Fig 5.1

6. You should begin sewing at station two. For me, I will begin at my middle station. You will start from inside the book, directly in the middle of the book. (I had 15 pages, so mine was between 7 and 8 pages). Leave a tail of about 4 inches behind.

Fig 6.1

7. From there, sew all the way through station one.

Fig 7.1

8. Bring your needle back down through station one, making a loop over the spine of the book.

Fig 8.1

9. Bring your needle through station one again, wrapping over the head of the book.

10. Then, bring your needle all the way up through station two. It should look like this:

Fig 10.1

11. Bring your needle through station two again, wrapping around the spine.

12. If you have four stations, for station three you would go down through station three, wrap the thread around the spine, and proceed to station four. Station three should look the same as station two.

13. Because I only have three, my process will be a little different. How I treat my “station three” should be how you treat your station four. I will start by sewing down from station two.

Fig 13.1

14. Bring your needle down through the last station, wrapping the thread around the spine.

Fig 14.1

15. Bring the needle back down through the last station, wrapping the thread around the foot of the book.

Fig 15.1

16. Then, you will bring the needle back up through the middle station, making sure to bring through only until the middle, where you originally began.

Fig 16.1
Fig 16.2
Fig 16.3

17. Now don’t forget to tie a knot in the middle!

Fig 17.1

18. Enjoy your Stab-Bound book!
Because of my error, this tutorial may be a little confusing. Please do not hesitate to comment if you have any questions!

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