A Simple Bookbinding

How to Bind a
Single-Section Book

Peter E Taylor ©2004

Poems, short stories, anecdotes and many other pieces of writing can often fit on a small number of pages, probably less than 16 page sides, which can be sewn together to make a single-section book.

When writing or typing prose, try to make lines of writing more than 5 words long, preferably with an average of between 7 and 14.

It is also good to study the effect of increasing and decreasing the space between lines. (If using Microsoft Word, select the text, click on Format, Paragraph, Line spacing: (choose multiple) At: (try 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 …and 'OK', until you find the effect that you like.))

A slightly wider spacing of lines is usually more pleasing for poems than for prose.

When deciding on the final shape and proportions that a book will have, a good, pleasing, starting point is for the book to be rectangular when closed, with the long side : short side in the ratio of 4 : 3.

Study the proportions of margins to text in books that you find attractive. Traditional proportions are calculated in 1/16ths of the longest side. For a book with pages in the 4 : 3 ratio, these have been 2/16ths at the top, 4/16ths at the bottom, 3/16ths at the outer sides and 1½ /16ths for margins either side of the fold.

If the page dimensions are closer to 2 : 3, the margins may look better with proportions around 1/16th of the longest side for each inner margin, 2/16ths for the fore-edge (front edge parallel to the crease), 1½ /16ths on the top and 3/16ths on the bottom.

Of course, these are just a guide, and you can choose whatever proportions you like best. Many people decrease the size of the inner margins in particular.

Remember that, when the pages have been sewn together, the edges will receive a slight trim, so allow for this in your calculations.

Write a 'good' rough copy (the writing size and line spacing that you hope to use on the finished copy) and photocopy it, or type a copy of the words and print it off to determine how much space will be needed.

Fold some scrap paper and stick on to it what will go on each page of the book when it is finished.

Choose a suitable paper for the pages and fold it in the direction of the grain for easy opening and flatness.

The paper is chosen to open flat under its own weight after having been creased.

To test for the grain direction of paper or card :

By resting the card or paper lightly on the finger tips, and bringing the edges together as if going to crease it (but without doing so), first one pair of sides, then the pair at right angles, you can often tell which is the easiest and correct folding direction. The grain runs in the direction of the crease. This method usually works for card, but thin papers are harder.

Another way to test for paper grain is to use the pinch test. The sheet buckles when your fingernails are drawn across the grain at right angles to it. The sheet remains smooth when your fingernails are drawn along the grain. The same result will occur if the paper is moistened along both edges. (Some people lick it!)

To get pages of a reasonable width after folding, it may be necessary to cut them from A3 (11 inches x 17 inches) sheets, or large sheets obtained from an art shop.

Handmade paper does not have a grain and can be folded in any direction. Grain is created in the paper manufacturing process when paper fibres in water are poured on to a moving belt. The fibres tend to line themselves up in the direction that the belt moves.

You will also need some thin card for the covers. Something about the thickness of the card used for manila folders is ideal. Usually, this is easily available from newsagents and art shops.

Two sheets of paper will be required for 'endpapers' (between the cover and the text). These could be fractionally thicker than the text pages. I often use 'Ingres' paper, from an art shop. This comes in two thicknesses. The thin variety is good for endpapers; the thick one is excellent for the outside cover paper.

The outside cover paper should be selected so that, with the grain in the right direction, it is at least 1½ times, but preferable close to twice the width of the finished open book.

The colours of the endpapers, cover paper and cover cardboard should be co-ordinated. You can see from this little recipe book that the outside cover has had a hole cut into it to reveal the white card as a decorative feature. However, sometimes it's good to choose the card to be similar in colour to either the endpaper or cover paper so that it's edge is not obvious when the book is viewed from the top or bottom. The cover card and paper have both been cut through to reveal the colour of the endpaper for the second apple cutout.

All writing or printing of the pages must be done before sewing the book.

If writing the text in calligraphy and illuminating it, care must be taken with gilding. In humid climates any glue base for the gold may become tacky and stick the pages together - particularly if the gold is raised. Gilded areas must never meet on opposite pages when the book is closed.

The pages, endpapers and cover-card are sewn together, and the paper cover added later. Before sewing, holes are pierced. The book is opened at right angles, with the spine just hanging over the table edge. As shown, a needle is pushed through the crease at 45 degrees to the pages, in three places.

I prefer to use linen tread if I can. This diagram shows the sewing path, starting off by going out through central hole. It must be tightened, however, by only pulling in the direction that the thread has just come from, then tied with the long internal central loop between the two ends. When the thread has been cut, the ends can be frayed and, together with the knot, pressed with the fingernails into a butterfly shape.

The pages and cover are trimmed together using a steel ruler and craft knife. It is usually best to put a lot of pressure on the ruler and make many light cuts with the knife.

One of the major benefits of a paper cover is that it can be decorated by a wide variety of means, such as embossing, linocuts and other artistic media.

Cut the cover paper so that, when folded, it will extend about 3 cm (1 inch) above and below the book-block, and about 1/3rd or 2/3rds of the width of the book beyond the fore-edge.

The cover may be left loose, or it may be attached with a 5mm (¼ inch) strip of glue on the back cover next to the spine.

Lay the book spine in the crease of the cover paper. The next stage is to rub a rounded object (like the bowl of a spoon if you don't have a purpose designed 'folder') around all the book edges to mark the extremities of the book-block. However, it is best to put one or two thin sheets of paper over the areas top be rubbed so that shiny marks are not created on the cover.

The cover paper is folded crisply along the marks defining the fore-edge, and the flaps tucked inside the book. At the fore-edge corners, a protruding ¼ circle is marked by drawing around a large coin. The top and bottom edges of the cover paper are trimmed flush with the book-block, but most importantly, leaving the ¼ circles intact. I usually trim around these with scissors, but find a blade and steel ruler better for straight cuts.

The book is then opened up. Each projecting semi-circle is folded under the raised cover flap, and over the outer endpaper.

The large flap can be cut decoratively if desired.

The completed book may also be shaped, as with this apple recipe book, providing it doesn't weaken the structure, and I have found this technique effective for winning competitions.

This link will take you to an excerpt from a book that I am writing on ideas to help people Win Competitions

Please let me know if you find any of these instructions hard to follow.

Thank you.