Bookbinding 101: Your First Book

Last week I gave you a fast and dirty introduction to binding your own books. This week I'm going to show you just how easy making and sewing your own book can be. The easiest book to make is a one signature book, as seen in the first image. Today, I'm going to show you how to fold the folios, make a single signature, awl punch the paper and then sew your book with a bookbinding needle and waxed thread. While I am giving instructions to create a digest (5.5" by 4.25") sized book, you are welcome to cut your paper to make your book any size you want. I've cut paper and made single signature books to add into my Hipster using this method.

Before we begin, you'll need the following items from your local art store:

  • 10 sheets of regular white office paper (this article uses 8.5 x 11 but you can make your book any size you want)
  • Heavy cover paper (this can be construction paper, or thick handmade paper or a postcard weight paper)
  • A bookbinding needle
  • A Bookbinding Awl (I own a heavy duty paper awl)
  • Wax thread or book binding thread.


  1. Grab a sheet of office paper and fold it in half. If you want a smaller sized book, trim the paper down to the size you want and then fold it in half. You now have made one folio.
  2. Fold the rest of the sheets of paper in half to make 10 folios. You can fold the heavy cover-stock at this point as well.
  3. Open a folio slightly and then slide in the remaining 9 folios into that one. Doing so should give you a stack of folios. This becomes the book's signature.
  4. Put your heavy coverstock over this folio and viola. Some of the guts of the paper will poke through your cover, so you can either trim the overhang so it matches the cover or leave it. It's all up to you and your style.
  5. Open the completed book. Using a pencil, mark a dot in the center of the fold.
  6. Now make two more dots, 2.25" up and down from the center dot on the fold. These will be where you punch the holes for the thread with your awl.

  7. Punch the awl through all 11 pieces of paper. If you twist the awl after it has gone all the way through, it widens the hold and smoothes it out. It's now time to sew the signature.

  8. Take out your waxed thread and measure out roughly 2.5 feet of thread. Load up one of your book binding needles with the thread.
  9. You now have to make a choice of whether you want the leftover thread to hang on the outside or the inside of the book. If you are making a book for mostly decorative purposes, most artists choose to leave it on the outside. This decision effects whether or not you start sewing from the center of the book or on the outside. Because I am going to show you a decorative book, I will tell you the instructions for keeping the leftovers on the outside.
  10. Take the needle and thread and push it through the center of the hole on the outside of the signature.
  11. Pull the needle and string through the hole, leaving a few inches behind. This becomes what you will knot the string with to make your book.
  12. Put the needle into the left outer hole and pull the thread tight.
  13. Pass the needle and thread through the opposite outer hole on the outside of the cover.

  14. Put the needle through the center hole one more time and remove the needle. You are all done sewing.
  15. Pull both strings tight to help keep your book together.
  16. Now tie a knot (I usually make 2 or 3 knots together for security) where the two strings meet. Depending on how long you want the excess thread to be, you may need a pair of scissors to trim it down.

And that's it. You have now finished making a very simple book. Congratulations. What's even better is that you now have a book that fits inside your planner that you can now use as a separate journal or sketch book when you are out at work and feel the need to be creative. If you liked this simple journal but want to spice it up a bit more for a holiday present, here's a few ideas of things you can add to your first book.

  • Rip the edges of each folio so it has a "rough edge" to it. To do this you carefully rip about a centimeter of the page, or wet the page roughly and tear small bits off to make it rough. I will warn you that this is very time consuming but it does make a nice ripped edge.
  • Print out a sheet of paper with a title for you book and then glue it onto the cover of it.
  • College an assortment of pictures or scraps of colored paper to your book.
  • Tie decorative strings in various styles off the outside of the book to give it an artsy flair (and make it more kitty-toy friendly).
  • Braid the remaining binding and add beads to it.

Next, week I will step things up a bit more and show you how to make another, more intermediate, book that you can make.

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I've been thinking about

I've been thinking about making my own books for years. These nice, clear, and practical instructions finally have me inspired to sit down and do it. I look forward to every week's new installment.



Very cool! Can't wait for more. What's your recommendation for making a book with lines? Also, do you have a recommendation for really good quality paper to use?

Hmm, I've never tried my

Hmm, I've never tried my hand at a book with lines. However, I wonder if they sell horizontal lined sheets? Or you can make your own horizontal template for folios on your computer (or see if Doug can make one for us!) and then fold these into folios to make lined books.

I've used all sorts of paper for my books. Even black. It all depends on what you want to use your book for. If you are going to be watercoloring in it... get watercolor paper and then use 2 to 4 sheets in your signatures because of the thickness. Since I mostly use mine for notes or scribbles with gel pens, I tend to use normal 80lb office paper.

Glad you are giving these one signature books a try. They're easy to make, and are surprisingly fun to do.


free source of lined pages

Here's a site that has a free PDF for lined pages, somewhat customizable:

type of paper

You need washi. It is a type of japanese paper that is both strong and beautiful. Most good craft stores carry it.


If you want lines, you could draw them with a ruler, that way you dont have to buy new paper, and you can customize it (you could make the top line differnt, or add a date space if its a journal, or add an image, or whatever you think of)

Easier Way

I make a weekly journal that matches my hpda and can slip into my Moleskine. I couldn't take all that time to do it, I just print out the cover on card stock, my daily review and schedule on the inside cover on three more sheets (thus giving me seven days), and I run them through a sewing machine set to wide straight stitches. Fold along the sewn center, and you have a weekly journal (trim it if you want it to fit inside a Moleskine).

It takes less than five minutes, and I wind up with a journal for the week.

Just be sure you don't try

Just be sure you don't try to do any fabric sewing with the needle you use to bind books -- paper is amazingly harsh on needles, and you'll quickly end up with the needle so blunted it will snag threads instead of piercing them.

hPDAs and books

That's a creative way to do it. However, I don't own a sewing machine and am not 100% adept with them anyways. I also agree that putting paper through a sewing machine is not the best thing to do becaue of the needles. (Do sewing companies MAKE book needles for their machine?)This book only requires 3 holes to be punched and an really easy sew that can be done in about 30 seconds.

Unless you rip the page edges of course, then it can take longer. (letsee here, last night I did that with the book above and it took about a half-hour to get through 20 folios).

I'd love to see a pict of your mini-books.

An even simpler solution for

An even simpler solution for a small book of a few pages: use a stapler instead of sewing and awls or sewing machines. Not very crafty or elegant, but it works.

Long-reach staplers are less

Long-reach staplers are less than $25 at Office Depot.

Very clear and easy to

Very clear and easy to follow directions!

Personally, I've always found that putting more than five sheets of paper into a signature means it won't lie 'closed' very well. Maybe that depends on the paper.

Two additional thoughts:

Paper has grain. It is *much* easier to make a clean, tight fold when your fold runs along the grain. With office paper, the grain almost always runs across the paper, so folding sheets in half to 8.5X5.5 works well. Folding the other way (11X4.2) is harder. So if you are cutting paper down for very small books, keep in mind which way the grain runs.

Binding: That very thin ribbon sold on spools -- 1/8" maybe -- can be used to make a very decorative binding. You'll need to find a big eyed needle (or take a length of thin wire and bend it in half.

Start sewing from the outside: Go in the top hole leaving enough ribbon outside to run down the entire length of your book PLUS however much you want the ends to dangle down. Go out the middle hole then right back in the middle hole BEING SURE YOU LOOP the ribbon over the ribbon end that hangs down the outside of the book. Then go down and sew out the bottom hole. This will have the ribbon showing the full length between the holes both inside and out. Tie the two ends of ribbon together snuggly outside the bottom hole.

You can then thread any type of dangly ornamental bits onto the tails. If you want even more glitz, add a second (or third, or whatever) more lengths of doubled over ribbon, catching them in place as you tie the bottom knot.

Large Signatures and closing

You raise a good point. I've usually had the closing issue with 10 or more sheets in my signatures. Then again, I don't mind that the book does not close upon first creation. That and I LOVE fat books that have many pages. So usually I make my signatures with 10-20 pages in them, but never more than that.

Then again, if you want to use more sheets in your books but are worried about how they close, you can always get them to stay shut by putting them between heavy books and allowing time and gravity to keep the papers shut.

And thanks for adding more creative ideas to the mix, I love using ribbons and different fiber strings to add dimension to my bindings.

Thanks so much

These instructions are very clear, and so is SusanBeth's contribution about using the ribbon.

Several years ago I was thinking about using some quilted squares made of some fabric I really loved to make a cover for a planner. I never got started on it, but I was thinking about just a cover that I could use with a purchased binder with one of those slide-in three-ring binder inserts.

This has awoken my thoughts along those lines. But I don't like the three-ring any longer. I'm thinking about a cover that I could slide these journals into, printed with forms I use for work. I tend not to use them as much as I should, but if I had several, one for each purpose, maybe I would. And I could also find some way to slip in other accessories I need, so maybe I'd carry it around and actually use it.

I've already bought four 2006 planners and was thinking I might be buying another (none of the others was exactly the right thing for me)--yes I know it's wrong but it happens every year-- but maybe this will get me set up with just what I want and will use.

Also, these journals would make great Christmas gifts--I could buy some special paper for the covers and let my imagination go.

I deconstructed a moleskine planner and saw how the accordion file was made and bound in (much ado about a very simple idea--but that's one of those things that make the world of commerce keep turning, I guess), and that's something else I could include.

Even if I never actually do anything with it (tho I think with these instructions I probably will) you've really done something great. This entire site is great in that way, giving us the opportunity to make something that is our own, that we can use to improve the off-the-shelf products that don't really answer our needs.

Thanks so much!

Glad you enjoyed the

Glad you enjoyed the article. If you want to make these as christmas gifts, I say go for it. You can get a lot of different types of decorative papers for both the inside and outside and use the ribbons and beads for inspirations.

I recommend you use those fabric squares and glue them into collages on the cover with PVA glue. Or glue one square down and then cover it with a slightly smaller photograph of the person you're making the book for or a serene place.

In any case, have fun with the books and don't be afraid to try out new ideas.

I did it! It works! Thanks!

I tried it, making up a simple booklet of forms I need for business. It worked fine.
I used 10 sheets of regular 20lb printer paper--8.5 x 11 inch, plus one more for the cover. I'd like to trim the edges so they're all neat instead of stacked, and next time I'll use heavier-weight paper for the cover, but otherwise it's perfect.
Reminds me of the way books used to be made--you could see the signatures and the threads, etc.

Well, now I'm off to try a couple of other ideas, like a planner, formatted just the way I need!

And then, Christmas gifts for a couple of people I love.

Monthly Diet Minder

Okay, I made the traditional New Year's Resolution. So obviously I need a way to keep track of what I'm eating and calorie counts.

A daily index card could do the job, but I wanted some way to collect the information over a slightly longer term so I could look back and spot trends and mistakes and such. At the same time, I wanted the sollution to be small and lightweight enough not to add appreciable bulk to my hipster.

After poking through a Staples and an independent stationery store in vain I remembered these articles on creating your own book(lets.)

Since these diet logs aren't intended to be a permanent keepsake, I didn't bother to do any preplanning or gathering of special materials. Closest to hand was a packet of regular 3 hole punched binder paper -- good enough. No awl or bookbinding needle or waxed thread handy. Hmmm. Well, here's an ice pick, there's my embroidery bag with crewel needles and floss -- also good enough.

Method: Start with four sheets of binder paper. Cut off the top of the paper, just a bit above the first line. Next cut down the red side margin lines, both sides. Then cut the sheets in half. At the end of this butchery you should have 8 half-sheets, roughly 4.5" by 5.5".

Folding these sheets in half creates a booklet 2.75" by 5.5" with the lines running the 'normal' way. Hint: crease just two sheets at a time, for the sake of nice crisp folds. Once the folded sheets are stacked up, use an ice pick to punch the three holds along the spine, and sew them together using a triple strand of embroidery floss and a crewel needle. Then press the booklet flat under a big dictionary for a few hours, and finally trim any irregular edges that bother you.

And there you have it: a little booklet with 32 pages, absolutely perfect for recording a month's worth of data with the first page used as a 'cover'.

In my case, each page will be the record of one day's food consumption, with items recorded as eaten and calorie counts looked up and totaled at the end of the day. Since the final size is just slightly smaller than an index card, the booklet simply slides into my elastic bound hipster, no fuss, no muss.

Now, if only my diet is as successful as the booklet....

Another simple way

I love the stitched books but, for simple, easy-to-assemble, flexible booklets, I worked out another solution, with Innowen's tips and inspiration. I cut in half a two-pocket folder, leaving tabs to fold over, glue down and neaten the edges, then bound the two sides on the long inner edge with an Acco binder. I folded in the edge with the binder, so the binder isn't visible on the outside.

It's small enough (about 6.5x8.5) to fit into my purse very easily, and if I have more pages I can punch them and bind them in. The Acco binder mades it easy to insert more pages or take some out, and the prongs are long enough to accomodate many more pages than I'll be wanting to carry around. I especially like having the pockets so I can just fold a letter-size piece of paper in half and stick it in.

I stuck in some slash-pockets, business card pages, memo pad holders, etc from my old 5x8 binders.

Version 1 isn't fancy, but I like the flexibility and light weight. Couldn't find any 3-ring binders that were light enough, and anything with leather is also too heavy. And this is cheap--just a couple of dollars for the folders.

Thanks to everyone who's posted ideas here, it's such a practical, helpful, inspirational site.


I have used generic waxed dental floss in the place of bookbinders thread and it works very well. Thanks

I am interested in

I am interested in handbinding a book of poems my husband wrote. its about 100 pages long and printed on computer paper. what would be the best method to bind these together?

Great Journal

Thank you very much for that great journal making tutorial. I have wanted to make one for ages but always thought it was so hard. But it is not - it is very easy.


I really wanted to bind small notebooks for the 8th grade that is graduating this year and this is sooo much simpler then what I had in mind. Thank you!

Thank you for the tutorial.

Thank you for the tutorial. I've been looking for one for awhile to use with my 7 year old twins.