Bookmaking for Artists: Cover and Bind

Let's get back to bookmaking! Now that we know how many pages our book is, and what size this fabulous little project is going to be, let's look at creating a cover for the book, and a stitched binding technique called chain stitching or Coptic stitching. We are focusing on this stitch because it can be used in a fully covered book, or an open spine book. We will make an open spine book in this tutorial.

- Cover material
- Awl or small gauge punch
- Hole punch
- Beeswax
- Needle & Thread

Creating the Cover
Your book cover should be thick enough, and strong enough, to protect your book pages. Most book covers are created from cover weighted paper, card stock, or even cardboard and other recycled materials. Consider materials that might not be a traditional cover material; we like foam board because you can apply a large number of artistic treatments.

Use the stencil you created for sizing your pages to cut the cover board pieces to fit. Depending on the look you want for your book, you can cut the cover pieces to fit exactly, or you can add a little bit of overlap, cutting the pieces slightly larger, to be more protective of the page edges.

Tip: If you are just starting out exploring bookmaking, we recommend cutting your cover pieces slightly larger than you page signatures. As you become more familiar with the binding process, and how the stitching can pull at the pages and cover, you can experiment with different cover shapes, sizes, and materials.

Once you have cut the cover pieces to fit, finish them with whatever treatment you can envision, whether it is painting, wrapping, or otherwise. This book cover will show the thread holding the book together, as well as an exposed spine, so plan your cover accordingly.

Plot the Punch Points
Now it is time to determine where you will be stitching the signatures together, as well as attaching the cover pieces. You can place the binding stitches creatively so that they are their own beautiful part of the finished book by using colored thread or sewing the signatures together in graphic-like patterns. For this tutorial, we will do simple stitch placement to show the basic technique.

Stack the signatures together with the spines all facing the same way. If you have a specific top (also called the head) or bottom (also called the tail) of your book, be sure to place the signatures together accordingly. Clip together with binder clips, and use a pencil or marker to mark the punch holes in each signature's spine where it will be stitched together. Be sure the pencil marks align as perfectly as possible. Stitching that is even slightly out of alignment can move your signature out of line, or even tear the paper pages when the book is finished. Be sure to mark the cover pieces as well.

Tip: For first time book makers, we suggest an odd number of punch holes.

Tip: Mark the very edge of the signatures for your punch holes, but mark your cover pieces on the flat part close to the spine. They should be at least 1/8th inch in from the edge to ensure the threading doesn't tear through over time.

Punch the Holes
Now, unfold your signatures, and keeping them perfectly aligned, use a small awl to punch holes in all the signatures where you have marked. Make the punches clean and even. (We suggest using a cutting mat for good follow through on your punched holes. This will minimize ragged edges and tears.) Use a larger hole punch to punch the holes in the cover pieces.

Tip: Your punch holes only need to be big enough for the thread to fit.

Prep Your Thread
This is where the beeswax comes in. Thread can be pretty tough on paper, so rub your thread across the beeswax several times to coat it well. The wax prevents the thread from tearing the paper while you stitch the binding. You can also use waxed thread as an alternative.

Stitching the Binding
For this open spine book, we are going to use what is called a Coptic stitch, or a chain stitch. Start with one cover board and one signature.

1. Start on the inside of the first signature, at the what will be the tail of the book (or the bottom). From the inside out, thread through the signature and through the tail hole of your cover board, leaving enough thread inside the signature to tie off later. The thread should lead from the inside to the outside. Align your cover board with the signature, and bring the thread around the cover edge to thread through the tail hole from the outside of the cover in, bringing the needle between the signature and the cover board, and creating a small loop. Don't pull the thread tight again the cover and signature; bring the thread through the small loop to make a knot, pull the knot snug, and then thread the needle back into the first signature hole from outside. Your thread should be exactly where you started.

Tip: If you don't want a knot on the outside of your spine, loop the thread through just the cover hole again and then back into the signature hole. Tie your knot on the inside of the signature to secure.

2. Next, from the inside of your signature, just move up to the next hole and take the thread back out. Repeat the looping or knotting process to secure this section to the cover, bring the thread back into the signature, and move up again until you reach the final hole at the head of your book.

3. Rather than sewing back into the top signature hole as you have done for the others, it's time to add your next signature. Sew your thread into the top hole of the second signature, keeping the signatures well aligned. Because you don't need to attach this signature to the cover, immediately move to the next hole down and thread through.

4. From here, attach the second signature to the first by threading through the first signature's spine loop, and back into the hole you just came from. Move down and repeat this process, attaching each signature to the previous at each signature hole. Repeat this process for every new signature, as well as when you get to the second cover piece.

Tip: You will be zigzagging across the book spine, and attaching a signature each time you come to the end, until it is time to attach the second cover piece.

5. When you get to the last hole on your second cover piece, instead of going back into the last hole twice, pull the thread between the cover board and the last signature, and tie it off on the inside of the cover.

Congratulations! You just made a book.