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Introduction to Bookbinding

I’ve become obsessed with making notebooks and had to save this simple set of instructions for making a notebook out of a sheet of paper. I foresee these small books filled with short stories, inspirational quotes, lists, or made as last-minute gifts. Words, art, paper crafts – three of my favorite things!

Handmades and Hardware

I’ve had a longtime Moleskine addiction, evidenced by the notebooks of all shapes, sizes and colors teetering atop piles and peeking out of drawers throughout my apartment. (As I write this, I can see seven–stacked, of course, in rainbow order–in my direct line of sight.)

I just can’t help it. I always need another one.

It’s hard to say exactly where the attraction lies, but  there’s something almost romantic about a fresh Moleskine: the endless possibility of empty pages ready for notes and nonsense. But at $12.95+ a pop, my Moleskine mayhem was breaking the bank.

And those who want, but can’t afford – MAKE! (or something…)


Enter SF Center for the Book! For $65, you’ll learn bookbinding basics and take home a 5 volume set of your very own baby books. Since Monday’s class, armed with a copy of Esther Smith’s How to Make Books, (available at the SFPL or Green…

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How to Open a Book

I have a very specific memory of my eighth grade History teacher becoming angry as we opened our new textbooks. I remember his booming voice saying “By God hasn’t anyone taught you how to open a book?!” We thought he was nuts, what did he mean teach us how to open a book? He then demonstrated the above method and said, “That is how you open a book! Now back to the lesson!”

I still think of him when I open a new book and gently ease the binding. I think he would appreciate the anecdote included in these instructions, how the book was ‘violently opened.’ I might not remember too much of the history I learned but I will always remember how to properly open a book.

Beginner Bookbinding – Pamphlet Stitch

Interested in bookbinding but not sure where to start? I can recommend this simple, well-explained tutorial for a Five-Hole Pamphlet Stitch which I had saved ages ago in my Pinterest bookbinding board and now am finally getting around to sharing. It’s easy (really!) and does not require any fancy materials or tools.

The materials I used:

  • copy paper
  • scrapbook paper for the cover
  • scissors (good sharp ones)
  • ruler
  • needle
  • mattress needle
  • pencil
  • embroidery thread

Here’s a few things I did differently from the tutorial while winging my first attempt:

  • I do not have a bone folder (yet) and while it is not crucial to making small pamphlets I can see why it would be necessary for larger projects with more pages or if you were going to do a lot of these. You need to make good folds and your fingertips will get sore. However if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about it just yet – just make one of these and see how easy and satisfying it is and then worry about proper tools.
  • I also do not have an awl. I used a needle to pierce the holes.
  • I do not have a bookbinding needle. I had a mixed pack of assorted needles and found the curved “mattress needle” to be the best suited for stitching this project.
  • I took three A4 sheets of paper and cut them in half, therefore starting the project with six A5 pieces of paper, reason being that I preferred a smaller size pamphlet. You can use any size paper, just make your holes equal distances apart.
  • I used scrapbook paper for the cover – this gets stitched along with the pages of the pamphlet.

Cutting and folding the paper was the most tedious part, and the stitching took about five minutes. I was really pleased with the finished product of my first bookbinding attempt! I ended up using my new notebook for planning this blog, jotting down ideas, words, lists etc.

My first attempt at bookbinding, the five-hole pamphlet
My first attempt at bookbinding, the five-hole pamphlet

Give it a go, get creative and get inspired to challenge yourself with other techniques.

Books Are Art, and How I’m Finding My Passion

I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always known that. I want my home to be filled with stacks and stacks. I can’t bear to loan them out for fear I won’t get them back. As a child I felt sorry for a friend whose mother only let her borrow five books at a time from the library when I used to take as many as I could carry. Used bookstores are treasure troves. What I’ve only recently realized is that my love of books includes a feeling that they are art, to be admired and appreciated beyond the words contained in them.

Books generally follow a standard formula – front and back covers, numbered chronological pages, artwork on the cover, author bio at the back, and so on. We read the words inside and derive meaning from them, often paying little attention to the other details of the actual physical book. Cover art is quickly forgotten. Does anyone look at a Table of Contents? (Ok, I do.) And what is even the point of that blurb about typeface at the back, does anyone read that?

What I love is when a book is more than just a vehicle for words – when the book as a whole becomes an object of art. I had my first realization that my love for books went beyond the words when my partner gave me a birthday gift that brought me to tears. He gave me The Thing The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object (looking for a gift for a true book lover? Go get this. Now.)

What brought tears to my eyes were three things:

  1. a sudden understanding that I loved books for books, for their actual physical selves
  2. that I wasn’t the only one! There were others who understood!
  3. that my partner knew all this about me before I did.

I treasure this book. I lovingly read and admired every bit and keep it on my bedside table. More important than the book itself is the path down which it led. I started researching how books are made, the art of bookbinding, and books as objects of art. I started this blog with the general theme of Books, not sure what it would turn into, and through working at it I’m slowly realizing hey, I might have found something I feel passionate about which is pretty freaking amazing. If that’s all I ever get out of this blog then it’s been well worth it already.

And I’ve made more discoveries. There are people who design books for a living! Irma Boom is a Dutch designer whose books are in the permanent collection at MoMA – how cool is that? (Read this Conversation with Irma Boom to learn about her amazing book designs). I’ve tried my own hand at same basic bookbinding, and even gifted a friend with blank handmade notebooks. I’ve discovered the Book Design Blog which is full of inspiration and just really interesting objects. I’m fascinated with the annual book arts event Bind-O-Ramas.

So. Books are beautiful. Book design is thrilling, to me anyway. If you have something you find yourself interested in, but you’re not sure what good it does, just start exploring. You might find other like-minded people exist and learn something about yourself. Maybe find a new hobby, narrow down your interests, learn about interesting people (explore new career possibilities?). Maybe someday you’ll find yourself thinking I could picture myself an artist.

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