Bookbinding is already becoming an obsolete, lost art, even before eBooks and eReaders. This was originally a free ecourse on SuiteU. Preserved here for my own interest, before SuiteU is taken down.

By Kez van Oudheusden


Bookbinding can be inexpensive, easy to do and can produce some unique and individual works. There are many basic techniques that you can use to create books and we will be starting with the simplest of all, a single section notebook that you will use for class notes and ideas. These techniques are easy to master. These are the basic techniques that you can use to build on to more difficult techniques. You can research other book artists work and combine with your own techniques to create unique books. This course will show you the basic techniques and help you get started. Once you have finished this course you will have the information you need to tackle your first project with confidence.

Don’t be afraid to experiment
There are many different mediums available to be made into a book – thick or thin papers, textiles, even bark or metal

HINT: Safety with chemicals: never combine eating when mixing chemicals; remember some are toxic. Don’t blow the dried chemicals off your work as they will rise and be inhaled. It is better to gently shake your book when dry if you are using the rusting method in Lesson 2. There is no mystery about bookbinding. It is a learning process for anyone. Take what you learn and be creative. Do you have the creative urge to express yourself but are nervous about how to begin? Simple bookbinding is inexpensive and one can begin with a very small outlay. COME AND MAKE A BOOK FOR PLEASURE!

Lesson 1: Making A Simple Notebook

This lesson will teach how to make a single book section and cover to be used for class notes. You will also learn to make a 3-hole single section of between 5 – 8 pages and manipulate the paper by various methods to create a unique book for each student. You can use this book for class notes, recommended reading, tips and tricks you learn along the way.

Materials needed:

about 10 sheets of standard size writing paper,
larger sheet of heavy cartridge paper,
large-eye needle and good quality heavy duty cotton to sew with,
inks, paints, oddments ie. old magazines, ribbon, string, buttons or other old pieces you have been saving for just such an occasion.

The one tool I consider an essential for any bookbinding is a bone folder to make sure the folds you make with paper are smooth clean folds. They are obtainable from bookbinding supply stores or online.

Instructions for Sewing

Step-by-Step Instructions for sewing section:

Measure the fold line and mark 3 holes evenly
Thread large eyed needle with strong linen thread and with outside cover facing you insert thread into center hole (#1) through pages.
Pull thread through hole #2 (to find this point easily from the inside, first push the needle through the marked spot from the outside to make a hole right thru)
Push needle and thread thru hole #3
and bring out thru hole#4 (which is hole #1)
Pull thread firmly and tie over the center thread securely.
Cut about 5cm (2inches) from knot.

Instructions for manipulating the finished book:

Tear pages, burn, drop ink, wax, cut windows, sew pockets. Use some of these methods for adding personality to your blank notebook.
Tear along page edges – wet edges for a different torn effect
Dip, splash or paint part of any or all pages with any of the following: eyeshadow, lipstick, tea, coffee, wax, ink, shoe polish, mercurochrome, gentian violet, gesso, shellac or bitumen paint – try wetting some pages first for different effects
carefully burn along some torn edges or make burn holes in pages
Melt a candle and dip the edges of pages into the liquid wax
Cut or burn a window in a page to highlight a feature on the following page
Cut a slot across page to insert small notes, photos etc.
Make a miniature one section-book to insert into a page.

Now that you have used your own imagination – download this PDF file and you may be inspired to have another go!…

Have a look at some of my books online for more ideas.

Lesson 1: Making A Simple Notebook
Making a Concertina Spine

In this section you will learn 5-hole sewing of book sections and how to attach sections to a spine to form a book containing 50 -100 pages. You’ll also learn to make covers for this concertina binding and end up with a book ready for decoration. Read the instructions below before beginning as you will need to follow these sewing steps with the folded sections held in place on the spine.

Materials and Sewing

quantity of papers,
heavy cartridge paper,
heavy cotton or linen thread,
firm cardboard or book card (from bookbinding supplier),
general purpose glue,
cutting knife,
bone folder

Step by Step Instructions For Sewing Five Hole Section

Measure the fold line and mark 5 holes evenly
Thread large eyed needle with strong linen thread
and with outside cover facing you insert thread into center hole (#1) through pages.
Pull thread through hole #2 (to find this point easily from the inside, first push the needle through the marked spot from the outside to make a hole right thru)
Push needle and thread thru hole #3 and back thru 4 (#2 hole) .. brings you back to outside cover.
Take thread thru hole #5 and back thru hole #6
From outside again, needle thru #7 (hole #5) and finish up on outside thru #8 (hole #1)
Pull thread firmly and tie over the center thread securely. Cut about 5cm (2inches) from knot.

Lesson 1: Making A Simple Notebook
Attaching the sections to a concertina spine

To sew sections onto the spine (which needs to be a bit less height than your book spine wide) and about 40cm (34 inches) long,

fold the spine piece into a concertina length being careful to fold as evenly as possible
make as many folds as you have sections folded
mark the holes to sew on the back side of the spine and hold the sections in place as you sew each one into place
push the valleys out to sew
leave threads tie-off at back for added effect
experiment further with manipulating the paper; cut burn, tear, sew, splash, paint or rip

At this stage you might like to download some extra class notes. They will give you a clearer visual idea of what you are trying to achieve and hopefully add extra inspiration!…

Lesson 2: The Last Step – Making Covers

You will learn about materials as well as methods of making book covers suitable to use for books made in lessons 1 & 2. These will be folded covers, glued covers and wrapped covers. Click to enlarge We will start with simple book covers to use with books made in lessons 1 & 2. Then let your imagination move on to experiment further with manipulating paper – cut, burn, tear, splash, paint, rip and scorch!
Materials and Techniques

heavy cartridge papers,
strong cotton or linen thread,

You can probably think of other odds and ends for use in decorating your covers! Be imaginative!

Cut 2 pieces of heavy card about 1/2cm (1/4 inch) larger all around than book.
Using bookbinder’s glue or a good quality all-purpose glue, spread evenly onto end pieces of your cartridge paper spine.
With plastic between the end pages, fold book into shape and press firmly under a heavy weight (a board and bricks) until glue has dried.
Cover can be decorated with the items listed above or aged as discussed later in this lesson.

Instructions for making fold-around cover with tie fasten

Lay your sewn book section onto a large piece of heavy cartridge paper
Mark about 1/2cm (1/4 inch) above and below the book and tear or cut along this line
Wrap the cover around your book to overlap a bit on the front. Tear or cut this size.
Sew a button/bead or decoration that can be used to wind thread around to the under side of the wrap. making sure it is clear of the foldover.
On the foldover side secure a double thread in line with the button holder.
Wrap thread around button

How about experimenting further with manipulating the paper! Cut, burn, tear, sew, splash, paint or rip!

Have you started using the book you made for class notes and ideas? Here’s another way to change the appearanceof your book. Roughly tear off the edges of the pages and dip the book into shallow wax. A candle melted in a frypan is one way to do this. I love the feel of waxed paper and will often wax a whole page. Looks good with waxed notes!

Lesson 2: The Last Step – Making Covers
Decorating Covers for a Rustic Effect

Treating the books and/or paper

In this section you’ll learn some methods to give your book an individual look – ageing the book. I have included a recipe to age paper for various uses.

If you would like the whole book to look aged, dip the whole thing into the mixture following the recipe. Lay on newspaper to dry, checking often. When the pages are just damp, using your bone folder between the pages, gently separate them. This might have to be done a few times while they are drying, to prevent them sticking together. Follow the same process after rinsing under running water to remove chemicals. It requires a bit of time and effort but is well worth it. Put on your rubber gloves and get ready to have some fun!

The Rusting Recipe

Here’s the basic recipe which is called Rusting and gives the paper a very aged and interesting surface. You can use any paper – I used plain photocopy paper for most but also some nice textured papers and heavier ones.

You’ll need to experiment to get the effects you like best. It works differently on different paper.

It’s a 3 part process so you need 3 trays about 2″ high and bigger than the paper.
You also need a couple of 5 litre (about 1 gallon) plastic containers to store the made-up chemicals.
Always wear rubber gloves as it can be dangerous on your skin.

You’ll need:
Ferrous Sulphate (or may be sold as Iron Sulphate, available in a good garden supply shop)
250grams (8 ozs) in 3 cups of water dissolved in a plastic ice-cream container.
Pour into large container and add water to make up to 5 litres.
Fill one tray about halfway.
Caustic Soda (sold in most supermarkets) – 2 tablespoons gently sprinkled onto water in plastic container than made up to 5L same as above and pour into another tray.
Strong Tea – take 30 – 50 teabags and pour boiling water over in ice-cream container. No need to store this, just pour into labelled tray (make sure the trays are all labelled)
First – dip your paper into the ferrous sulphate, drip the excess off over the tray – a minute or so
then dip the same paper into the caustic soda. Drip that over the tray again
then dip into the tea tray and do the same.
Lay on newspaper to thoroughly dry – maybe overnight or longer.When dry – fill a sink with water and wash the paper (don’t rub it, just make sure it is really wet) – and again leave to dry thoroughly before using.
Read previous notes on keeping the pages of a book separated while drying.
As an added protection against any chemicals rubbing off you can spray the finished paper with a fixative or even lightly with hairspray before using it.
I sometimes add a varnish to book covers with Shellac (from hardware stores)- mix half and half with methylated spirits and lightly paint book or paper with a soft brush.

Lesson 2: The Last Step – Making Covers
A Few Last Words

I hope you find this as exciting a process as I do! You never know exactly what will take place as the chemicals dry and you’ll create some accidental wonders for sure!

We have now completed the final lesson of Creative Bookbinding and you have been challenged with a variety of techniques and papers during this course. We have covered different simnple binding methods and techniques and once you are confident you have mastered these you will be ready to go on to learn more. I am sure you will derive much pleasure from the books you make. Remember to look in this course resource section for different ideas on ways to fill your books.

a. observe.

b. experiment and explore.

c. apply.

Above all enjoy your books!