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Hard-Cover Books Pt. 1: Making the Book Block

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.

Since we’ve gone through most of the basics, I thought it was about time to introduce the steps to making a hard cover book. Hardcover (also called case-bound) books are most people’s traditional image of a book. Hardcovers are typically higher quality than paperbacks- but more expensive, too. The kind of hardcover I’m introducing here is not super expensive to make, and is a rather easy practice with a bit of practice.

I’ve divided the process into two or three parts: Making the book block and then making/attaching the cover. I’ll be releasing the tutorials for each part in separate posts. Today’s is making the book block! (And at the end, a quick side tutorial on how to make your thread longer if you run out while binding…)

A book block is the stack of signatures that makes up the inside of a book- the pages. To begin, here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Eight signatures made of 3 folios each. This would mean a total of 24 sheets of paper, folded in half. (In my case, I cut 14″x 10″ sheets, which folded in half, make a 7″x 5″ book block)
  • Two to four scrap pieces of cardboard (non-corrugated) or matte board. Depending on the size of your pieces you will want two or four. You just have to have enough to have a piece on either side for the book block at the head and the tail. It will be used to protect the pages from the binder clips.
  • Ruler
  • Linen thread (a length about as long a your arm-span)
  • Beeswax
  • Pencil
  • Bookbinding needles
  • Two Binder clips
  • A utility knife or exacto knife
  • An awl

And now, the process:

  1. Make sure you’ve folded eight signatures, each made of three folios nested together.

    1.1 The Signatures
  2. Stack the signatures together, securing them with the binder clips. Make sure to clip the cardboard/matte board between the binder clips and the book block, so as to not mar the paper.

    2.1 The signatures stacked together
  3. Take a ruler and measure, making 5 marks. The first and last marks should be 1/2 inch from the head and tail of the book block, while the 3 other marks should be evenly spaced.
    3.1 The measurements lying flat
    3.2 Measuring on the spine

     

    3.3 the marks on the spine 

    4. Take a utility knife or exacto knife and cut a slit on each of the measured lines

    4.1 The slits on the spine

     

    5. Take the awl and punch a hole through each notch that was created in the spine of each signature.

    5.1 Holes in the spin

    6. Time to begin the sewing! First, bring your needle into the the second station through the middle of the signature. Make sure to  leave a 2-4″ tail loose on the inside of the signature.

    6.1 Starting the sewing

    7. Bring the needle into the signature through the third station.

    7.1

    8. Bring the needle back down through the fourth station.

    8.1

    9. Bring the needle to the inside through station five.

    9.1

    10. Now, bring the needle to the outside through station four.

    10.1

    11. Bring the needle back to the inside through station three.

    11.1

    12. Finally, bring the needle out through the first station. This process will only be done for the first signature, and creates a structure that the other signature will attach to- you’ll see in the next few steps.

    12.1 The needle skipping station two and going out through station one
    12.2 The completed first signature sewing

    13. Next, we’ll add the second signature. Start by bringing the needle through the first station of the second signature.

    13.1 Putting the needle through the first station

    14. Next, bring the needle through the second station, and thread it through the thread on the outside of the first signature.

    14.1 Pulling the needle through the thread on the spine of the signature

    15. Make a loop around the thread by bringing the needle back through station two. Pull it tight enough that there will not be a gap between the signatures, but loose enough to pull the need through.

    15.1 The loop loose around the thread
    15.2 The loop pulled tight

    16. Repeat step 15 for the third and fourth stations. Once you reach station five, just bring the needle to the outside and DO NOT make a loop.

    16.1

    17. Position the third signature on top of the second, and bring the needle inside the third signature through its fifth station.

    17.1

    18. Then, bring the needle back out through station four.

    18.1

    19. From this signature on, you will be bringing the needle through the loops made on the previous signature and bringing it back through the station to create another loop. This is called kettle stitch.

    19.1 Putting the needle through the loop
    19.2 Bringing the needle back through the station

    20. Once you pull the needle outside station one, you will do the same as you did with station five on the second signature- DO NOT make a loop. Stack the fourth signature on top and bring the needle through the first station.

    20.1 Bring the needle into station one of the fourth signature

    21. Repeat steps 16-19 until you have all eight signatures sewn together. End off by making a loop at the last station of the last signature and tying a knot on the inside of the signature.
    The end result:

    21.1 The end result! 8 Signature book block

    Side tutorial time! Even though an arm-span worth of thread is rather long, it is not uncommon to run low on thread mid-binding! There is a remedy: the slip knot.

    1. When you are about to run out of thread, make sure your sewing in inside of the signature and that, after removing the needle from the thread, you leave a 2-4inch long tail.

    The tail inside the signature

    2. Cut another long piece of thread. Create a loop in the thread.


    3. Fold the loop over the longer end of the thread.

    4. Pull a bit of that longer thread through the loop.

    The loop (very loose and exaggerated for effect)

    5. Pull the shorter end (the tail) to tighten the knot around the loop.

    Ta-da!

    6. Now, take the loop and thread the thread from the binding through it.

    The binding thread going through the loop

    7. Pull tight both the binding thread and the long end of the thread. This will caused the slip knot to tighten around the binding thread!


    8. Thread the needle onto the long end of the slip knot and continue binding! Don’t forget to trim off the ends once you’re done.

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