i ♥ bookbinding class: the last ones

One of the last bindings we did in the bookbinding class, and one I was really excited about, was the coptic binding. Perhaps because it’s an ancient technique, or perhaps because it one that is visible (and I’m a sucker for being able to see the construction of things!), but I really enjoyed this binding. It requires four needles to use at once, and employs a series of knots to bind the sections of paper together.

In part because I find it such a decorative technique, and in part because it allows the book to open up more than 180º at the spine, I decided to use this binding style on my final project for the class, my lookbook.

I wanted to bring together my sewing work and the bookbinding skills I was learning, so for the final project I made a little lookbook for my collection. A lookbook serves as an extended glimpse of a collection, and will sometimes include more technical information such as flat sketches, style numbers, and color information.

Another new technique I learned for this project, was making my own bookcloth. By backing a piece of fabric with japanese rice paper, or kozu, that had been soaked in PVA, I was able to make a custom bookcloth that matched the fabrics I used in my collection! I used a wool flannel, and though it wasn’t the best behaving fabric, it did come out quite nice. I also used different kinds of paper for the lookbook; vellum for some opaque pages, silk finish paper for the photos, and hand screen printed brown paper for the inside of the covers.

I was apprehensive about printing on both sides of the paper, so in an effort to avoid that, I glued pages together at the top edge with more of the kozu paper. It was a much better plan in theory, as it was hard to line things up precisely, and the glue tinted the paper yellowish! So it didn’t turn out quite the way I was picturing, but making mistakes is all part of the learning process!

Finally we made a real book. A real book — flat-backed style!

I enjoyed making this book so much. To see it grow and resemble the hardcover books we all think of when we talk about “books”, was so much fun. I took some kind of crappy cell-phone pictures of the first major step — we were covering up the spine the same day in class, so I didn’t have a fancy camera on hand.


The flat-back type of binding uses a booktape as part of the binding, where the waxed linen thread passes over the booktape for every section of paper. These tapes hold the sections together, and eventually gets glued to the cover, in between the bookboard (the rigid stuff), and the paper covering the inside of the cover. I used purple paper for this book, so the outermost purple pages in the pictures, were eventually glued to the inside of the hard covers, with the book-tapes sandwiched between.

In this picture, the sections are being glued together. The book is weighed down so it will be even in thickness everywhere, and the spine of the paper sections and booktapes gets covered in several layers of glue, as well as a mesh-like material called crush covering the entire spine – attached with more glue of course! This is part of what keeps the sections together, and looking at the top edge of a hardback book, you can often see the little wedges of glue in between the sections of paper.

Ok, so it came out a little uneven, but it looks like a book! You can glimpse the purple paper on the insides of the black cover, and right at the spine, there is a yellow and red ribbon called book-tape. This doesn’t actually have a function anymore, but it is so much a part of what books are perceived to look like, that they are added just for looks!

I would love to make more books like this, and that is perhaps the think I’ve loved the most about this bookbinding class – that I can make books on my own, in all sorts of different styles. This is one of the books that might be difficult to replicate at home, mostly because we used the guillotine to cut the entire block of paper down at once to get those smooth sides. Since I don’t have that sort of machinery lying around, my books will surely end up more rustic looking! As fun as it is to make books, I think I can live with that.

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