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Coptic Binding: Finally

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.

Here it is: the binding tutorial I’ve been putting off for three weeks. But after getting frustrated with a binding method, I think three weeks is adequate time to take a step back and try again. 

Coptic binding was something I was interested in trying when first making hard-cover books, but my professor, Éireann Lorsung, taught me the way with kettle stitch and glue like I described in my hard-cover tutorials, and then I never bothered with Coptic. 

One of the benefits of Coptic binding is that it’s not as hard as I thought it was. Another cool aspect of this binding is that it allows the book to lie open completely flat, something that’s good if you need to use it for reference (like a notebook or a cookbook). 

What you’ll need: 

Supplies
  • a ruler
  • two hard covers
  • 7 or 8 signatures cut to the same size as your cover
  • binder clips
  • scrap cardboard
  • an awl
  • a needle and waxed linen thread (5-6′, longer is better)
  • a pencil
  • scrap of paper same height as the spine of the book
  • an exacto or utility knife

Process:

  1. Start with your scrap of paper. Measure with the ruler 5 equidistant stations. Since my scrap (and book) is 5″ long, I had stations at 0.5″, 1.5″, 2.5″, 3.5″, and 4.5″. 
  2. Clamp your signatures together with the binder clip, using the cardboard to keep the clip from marring the pages. Use your knife to make notches on the signatures as to where the stations will be.
2.1 The stations measured and cut

3. Then, use the scrap of paper with the measurements on it to mark where to poke holes in your covers. The holes should be 0.5″ in from the spine. Use your awl to poke the holes. Don’t forget to poke holes in the same places on both covers!

3.1 The holes punched in the board

4. Take the first signature and set it down on top of your back cover. Starting from the left, go into your first station from the inside.

4.1 The 1st signature on top of the cover
4.2 Bringing the needle into the 1st station

5. Bring the needle up through the hole in the cover. Pull it tight. Keep the needle on the right of the thread.

5.1 The needle brought up through the cover
5.2 The thread pulled tight

6. Bring the needle around and under the thread between the cover and the signature. Then, bring the needle back through that first station.

6.1 The thread after being looped around and under
6.2 The thread being pulled back through the 1st station

7. Repeat steps 4, 5, & 6 until you reach the last station. When you reach the last station, instead of bringing the needle back through the station at the end, stack your second signature on top, and bring the needle through the corresponding station on the second signature.

7.1 Bringing the needle through the last station of the 2nd signature

8. Bring the needle out through the 2nd station. Then, bring the needle under the thread between the cover and the 1st signature and back through the 2nd signature. 

8.1 The needle going under the thread
8.2 The needle going back through the 2nd to last station

9. Repeat step 8 until you reach the first (farthest left) station. Once you reach the first station again, you are going to bring the needle under the thread and then bring the needle through the next signature. 

9.1 Bringing the needle through the 3rd signature

10. Continue this pattern of sewing until you reach your last signature. When it comes time to sew your last signature, stack it and the other cover on top of your already sewn book block. 

10.1 The last signature and cover stacked on top of the book block

11. Bring the needle down through the front of the cover. Pull tight. Bring the needle under the thread like you have been, then enter the last signature. 

11.1 The thread being bought through the cover
11.2 Bringing the needle under the thread
11.3 Bringing the needle through the 1st station of the last signature

12. Bring the needle out through the second station, then repeat steps 11 & 12 until you reach the last station. Once you go inside the last station, the only thing left to do is tie a knot!

12.1 Tying a knot at the last station

13. Enjoy your Coptic bound book! 

13.1 The book!
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