Bookbinding 102: An Intermediate Book

Last week I gave you instructions to creating your first book using little more than paper, an awl and some thread or ribbon. This week I’ll take you one step further and how you how to make a slightly more complex book. Instead of using one signature, we’re going to up the ante and make a book using 4 signatures with 5 folios each. Of course, you’re always welcome to modify the instructions and come up with more or less signatures or folios. This week’s book is going to be a lot smaller than the digest sized book but still usable for jotting down thoughts or sketching your life.

I’m going to be honest with you, the book we’re going to make comes straight from another book called The Decorative Journal, by Gwen Diehn. However, I’ve rewritten and interpretated Diehn’s instructions to make them easier and more web-friendly to understand and follow. The Decorative Journal is a great book to add to your collection because it combines the love of bookbinding and journalling with practical knowledge and examples. This book has lots of bookmaking projects as well as different types of journalling activities that will keep you writing and expressing yourself throughout the next year. It’s a great source book just for inspiration alone. And quite frankly, the intermediate journal we're making from this book is one of the better hands-on "102" bookbinding samples I have seen that doesn’t scare people with obscure sewing diagrams and gluing instructions.

As with last week, 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 with any size sheets you want)
  • 2 sheets of heavy card stock 12 x12 paper, to be used for a cover
  • A bookbinding needle
  • A bookbinding awl (I use a heavy duty paper awl)
  • Wax thread or book binding thread (or ribbons, etc.)
  • PVA Glue
  • Brush to apply glue

Making the Signatures

  1. Grab a sheet of office paper and fold it in half width-wise.
  2. Rip or cut this pice of paper along the fold.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all 10 pieces of paper are trimmed.
  4. Fold each half of the 20 sheets to make 20 folios. (you will have quartered the paper at this point.)
  5. Make 4 signatures by putting 5 folios together, inside one another. (If you need a refresher, refer to last week’s article on making a single signature.)
  6. Stack up the 4 signatures together so they look like an unstitched book. Set these aside for now.

Making the Cover
Okay, here’s the funky bit. This cover for the book is constructed from a long strip of paper. And since I was not able to find nicely cut long strips of heavy cover stock at my local art or paper store, we’re going to make our own. The following image is from The Decorated Journal and it shows you what your strip of cover should look like.

Got it? Now grab those signatures from the above signature assembly directions and follow these steps:

  1. Take the 4 signatures and loosely hold them perpendicular to the heavy card stock. Mark the end of where they line up with a pencil.

  2. Measure out two lengths and a quarter inch more after this spine piece and then draw another line separating them. This will be a double up on your cover. Now measure the spine width once more and then cut the card stock at that last line.

  3. Duplicate the last step so you have two identical looking pieces.
  4. Take some PVA glue and then glue the two sheets together at one of the spine strips. Gluing at the spine also helps strengthen it and make the spine a bit easier to fold when you make the cover. If your glue leeks out over the edges, that's okay...just take your finger and wipe off the excess glue. Thankfully PVA glue dries clear so most will not display on the final book.
  5. Fold the creases into the spine. Use your bone folder (or a ruler) to make sure the folds are tight. The following image shows you how the fold should move inward and not outward.

Remember to wash the brush after you’ve finished gluing your book! PVA glue is very sticky and if you do not wash your brush right away, it will “fuse” the bristles together and you will have to get another brush to apply glue for your next project. I just wash my glue brush under running water until it runs clear.

Binding the Signatures into the Cover

  1. Grab the first signature and rest it up next to the right edge of the spine of your cover.
  2. Punch 3 holes in the signature and the cover, starting from the center, inside the signature (just like we did last week, remember?)

  3. Take the needle and thread and push it through the center of the hole on the outside of the book’s cover.
  4. Pull the needle and string through the hole into the center of the signature, leaving a few inches behind. This becomes what you will knot the string with to make your book.
  5. Put the needle into the left outer hole and pull the thread tight.
  6. Now pass the needle and thread through the opposite outer hole on the outside of the cover.
  7. Put the needle through the center hole one more time and remove the needle. That’s it, you are all done sewing.
  8. Pull both strings tight to help keep the signature and cover close and tight to one another.
  9. 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.
  10. Grab another signature and place it to the immediate left of the signature you just sewed to the cover.

  11. Repeat steps 2-9 and then keep adding and sewing in signatures until you have sewed all four into the book. Don’t worry if your signatures do not align 100% perfectly the first time around. If you practice making this book over and over, you’ll get better as to where you place your holes and your signatures.

Now if you’ve been able to follow along with each step, you have not only made a sturdy journal, but you’ve created a more intermediate form of bookbinding. Congratulations and give yourself a pat on the back! Step back and admire your work because binding books isn’t always easy to do from written instructions. You may notice that your book may not close all the way (or at all) so if this concerns you, you may want to lay it down flat and put something heavy (an encyclopedia or other heavy reference book may do) on top of it for awhile to get all the pages to fold shut. Or you can place it on a bookshelf that already has a lot of books pressing up against one another. In a day or two your book should become flat in no time! Again, if you’d like ways to add personality to this project, here’s some ideas to do just that along with some reminders from last week’s tips:

  • Use different colored paper inside your book. Mix up the variety. Add some thick homemade papers in with some vellum and maybe a sheet of black paper or two.
  • Try folding envelope signatures into your books so that you can keep memorabilia or ephemera.
  • 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.
  • Create a clasp to keep your book closed by sewing a large button to the cover and then twisting a piece of ribbon around the book to keep it closed (or to hold a pen or pencil).

If you’ve enjoyed reading and following along with making these two different books, next week's final article in this series touches on where you can find more complex and more difficult bookbinding techniques (involving lots of glue and the aforementioned book board). I'll even try and give you some websites to go to for resources or classes on where you can get personal one on one instructions. I’ll introduce a few more tips and tricks on how to combine your books into your planners and maybe even give some make-over tips on transforming that one journal with the all-too-cute-cover-to-even-use that’s been sitting around your house for years into a personal and stylish book you’d be happy to carry with you. In any case, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this series of articles as much as I had fun finding projects for you to make.

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Useful and interesting...

Thank you for another interesting post Jaymi.

Here's a tip that maybe of use to messier readers. Paste the glue on one surface and let it dry. PVA is a themoplastic glue and can be reactivated with a little dry heat, say from a clothes iron. Put the work together and lay a piece of tracing paper over the 'face'. Gently iron the two together and vo'la no messy gluing. We often used this technic for photographs before buying a dry mount press and never had any problems with runs.

PS Please feel free to rewrite this post your web-ees are better than mine ;)

Good Tip

That is a good tip. I've never tried letting it dry, I guess a part of me gets to excited when I do art projects and I gotta get it done, sooner than later. And you got my writerly seal of approval on that tip cos well, it sounded just fine!

Glad you've enjoyed reading...


Love these articles, but was so sad to see that the next one will be the last. You've done a good job of introducing the subject and getting us started.

Many thanks.

Thank you

Thanks for the compliments... and yes, sadly next week's article is gonna be a wrap up. I'd try my hand at doing a hard book here but the instructions would be so long that it'd take me 3 hours to post them, along with pictures and everything.

In addition to that, I find (personally) that learning how to bind a more advanced book easier to do when you have a teacher or another person with you. Looking through all my books ob making books, there's a lot of them I'd love to make but the instructions on sewing confuse me. (Seems hard to believe eh?)

But don't fret... I will tell you where to go to next if you would like to try your hand at making the more advanced books like coptic stitch bindings or leatherbound books.

Thanks for reading!

Book binding

But how to binding a bood made from single sheet of papepers only? I mean - PC written papers and so on, which cannot be folded in the middle?

Pavel, if you have an office

Pavel, if you have an office supply store or a copy shop around, maybe they can bind it for you--they usually do wire binding and comb binding. Or you could do a perfect binding yourself--the instructions are at this link (See the "Glue" header):

Also, could you staple them at the side or top and then cover the staples with tape or a strip of paper? You could glue the paper down.
I like the wire bindings because they lie flat and they're just a couple of dollars. But the stapled option can also be nice, and it's free and very easy.

bind Loose pages than cannot be folded

You can put them together, an keep them even on the left side very carefully. Glue them with a brush then let them dry. When they are dry separate them in blocks of about 10 pages. Yo can sew then these blocks through, going from the top to the bottom of the block. then this way till you complete the whole buch of blocks. Glue them again once they are sewn and then you'´´l have the inner part of the book. After that, as always the covers, etc.

You can also make a bound

You can also make a bound book with paper twice as large (so the resultant pages are the 8.5x11" pages you need), and then glue your 8.5x11" printouts to them.

I have a question about PVA glue: How do I know that glue is PVA glue, or where do I find it? (I seem to remember reading somewhere that "white glue" in the UK is PVA glue, but I'm not in the UK. And I think the "white glue" we buy here - like school glue - is not.)

craft stores sell PVA glue

The easiest answer I have for you is that when you go to the store for PVA, you can ask. Let the store helpers know you're making books and if they're knowledgeable they'll point you in the right direction.

I tend to buy my glue off online providers, that way when I search for PVA Glue in Google, I know I'm getting exactly what I want. And a picture does help too.


Answering myself

I figured I'd answer myself, in case anyone else reads this later and wonders the same thing. :) I emailed Elmer's, and they told me that their Glue-All, Washable School Glue, and Wood Glue are all PVA.

Be blessed!
~Rachel <><

Answering myself

Even though Elmer's and other "white" glues are PVA, they may not be non-acidic and they may not be flexible when dry as true bookbinding glue is. It is best to use true bookbinding glue when available, however; other glues may work in a pinch.


Put to the test


I made a book today with four signatures. My very first effort, with a total lack of proper tools and materials. All in all, it came out very well.

I happen to have some cardstock that's used in the publishing industry, that became the cover. I printed all my interior pages with a grid pattern, just for the heck of it. It's classic size. I used Elmer's washable school glue, which worked just fine. I also used beading thread, since that's what I had around. DH's pick became an awl for the day. I had no good needle, even for beading, so I just brute forced the thread through my (very oversized) holes. Since my holes are so big, I ended up stringing two signatures through each set of holes in the cover. I also had no designated glue brush, so I used a glue finger. :) Talk about gimping my way through it!

I enjoyed the process, I like making crafty stuff of almost all types. But I wouldn't repeat it without having better tools for the purpose. :)

Anyway, I was very impressed with how well two layers of cardstock stiffened up for use as a cover. I will use that technique again with my rolla covers, I think. I still have plenty of beautiful cardstocks and papers lying around.

For other adventurous souls, get a needle. I really felt that lack most of all. :)

For innowen, well, when you tell us how to stitch the book, tell us which hole to start with! I had to draw it out a few times to decide what you must have meant. Step 3 above should be, I think "through the center hole" rather than "through the center of the hole".

Thanks for the instructions!