Sewing Your Book (Creating a Text Block)

After you have printed the text of your book, things get exciting. It is time to bind your book.

I follow the directions from Sea Lemon, in her text block case binding tutorial. Sea Lemon uses blank pages in her books, and I have found that there are a few things that matter more when you are using a printed book rather than a blank book. I have included tips and tricks from my experience binding books, but my instructions here are incomplete without watching her video.

Materials:

  • Printed book pages (Sea Lemon uses blank pages)
  • 1 sheet 5” X 8” paper (just an extra piece of paper. It can be scrap as you won’t see it in your final book. Alternatively, or additionally, some cheesecloth.)
  • 2 thick sheets of 8 1/2” X 11” paper. (Use something decorative to go with your cover. These are the sheets that make up the inside of your cover. Scrapbook paper works well.)
  • Thread (Sea Lemon suggests waxed in the video but in later videos she says any thread works. I use nylon upholstery thread.)
  • Ribbon (Sea Lemon adds a ribbon bookmark. I haven’t bothered, but go for it!)
  • PVA glue. (My regular Elmer’s glue appears to be a type of PVA glue, and that is what I have been using.)

Tools: (as suggested by Sea Lemon)

  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Cutting mat. (I haven’t needed the cutting mat, but I do put my signatures on top of the cutting boards used to make my book press when I am using the awl. Otherwise you will make little holes in your work surface.)
  • Bone folder (very useful and inexpensive. Sea Lemon has a video to suggest alternatives if you don’t want to buy one.)
  • Awl (We had an awl in the garage. It came with our screwdriver set.) Sea Lemon has some suggestions for alternatives to using an awl.
  • Needle (For the needle, I really like the curved needle. I had one sitting in my sewing box.) You can see what Sea Lemon has to say about needles for bookbinding here.
  • Glue brush (an old paint brush for the glue works well.)
  • Sandpaper (I haven’t needed the sandpaper – it is intended to smooth your pages if you decide to trim them.)
  • Utility blade and scissors. (I used the utility blade to trim my first book as Sea Lemon suggests in her video, but haven’t done it since. I think it looks better without the trimming, and saves time!)
  • Book press. (Sea Lemon shows how to make a book press. It was cheap and easy to do and makes creating the book much easier. I highly recommend it. I bought two identical cutting boards and some stick on rubber feet at the dollar store and the carriage bolts and butterfly screws loose at the hardware store. Sea Lemon’s version only uses 2 bolts. I made mine with 4 because I think it makes it press more evenly. The book press can also be used as a flower press!)

Directions:

Again, please watch the Sea Lemon video for full directions.

Fold & Create Signatures

Your book is made up of several signatures, or booklets,sewn together. Each signature consists of several pieces of paper nested inside each other. Sea Lemon uses signatures of 4 pieces of paper, which would make 8 pages of a book (16 if you count them front and back!). I have made books with between 3 and six pieces of paper per signature.

In the video you will see Sea Lemon carefully fold each of her sheets of paper individually and press down the folds with a bone folder. Do this carefully, making sure to fold your pages in the correct direction. Remember that the page numbers are a little difficult to follow as the booklet pages are all out of order! The flow of the page numbers should be from smallest to largest, and when the sheets in a single signature (booklet) are all fitted together, the pages should run in the correct order without skipping any pages or having any pages out of order. Take your time and make sure your book pages are in the correct order and that each signature is complete. This is probably the hardest part of making your book!

Fold by hand first.
Smooth your folds with the bone folder.
Combine your signatures (or booklets).
The hardest part is done!

Mark & Make Holes

I mark 7 holes 1“ apart, with 1 ¼ inches at the top and bottom. This divides nicely on a 8 ½“ high spine when using 8.5 X 11 printer paper.

Make sure your book is piled up in the correct order, with your front page at the top, and your last page of the last signature on the bottom before marking the holes. Keeping them in order helps keep your book square.

Transfer the marks from the first signature to the rest, and make the holes in each signature using an awl as shown in the video.

Measure for your binding holes, 1″ apart, with 1 1/4″ at the top and bottom.
With the signatures stacked in order, carefully transfer your marks.
Use your awl to make holes through the paper. Do all the pages of a signature at once, but do only one signature at a time.
All the signatures have their holes!

Sew the Binding

Notice that Sea Lemon starts sewing the LAST SIGNATURE FIRST. She doesn’t make a huge fuss about this, because it isn’t a huge deal with blank book, but it is of critical importance for a printed book! When sewing the book, you start with the last signature of the book and add the next ones, ending by sewing on the first signature.

Start with the last signature first. The very last page of the book is facing down. The first page of the last signature is facing up.

The stitching can seem intimidating, especially if you aren’t a sewer. But it is not as hard as it might look at first. If you don’t find her explanation of the sewing clear enough, Sea Lemon did another video later that goes over the kettle stitch again, using black thread so you can more clearly see what she is doing. Sit in front of the computer with your book and needle in your hand and pause as needed! That’s what I did with my first book.

Make sure that the threads are pulled through for each stitch. You don’t want loose stitches.

Also, it is easy to add more thread when you need to, so don’t worry about having enough to sew the entire book together.

Through the holes…
Under the thread…
And back into the hole…
Later, go around the previous stitches…
to hold the suignautres together.
All sewn up!

Glue the Binding

I made a book press as Sea Lemon suggests. It was cheap and easy to do and I think it is one of those cases where the right tools make the job easier. I’m sure you could get away with using heavy books on top if you want.

Into the book press.
Applying the glue.

Sea Lemon adds a bookmark ribbon here too. I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to do it on the next book I print for my daughter. She loves books with ribbon bookmarks.

Apply End Page & Extra Paper on Spine

The end pages are the paper that will glue your text block to your cover, so choose strong paper. I use scrapbook paper. Also, make sure you like the appearance of the paper and that it looks nice with the materials you plan to use for your cover. If you paper for your end pages has a pattern on only one side, fold the pattern inwards, not outwards. The outside will eventually be glued onto you hard cover and will not be seen. The inside is what will show on your finished book.

Pretty side in!

After the end pages have been applied and dried, Sea Lemon adds a piece of paper along the spine to give it strength. My mother, a librarian, suggested adding something like cheese cloth instead of the paper on the spine to make a stronger, longer lasting book. I haven’t tried that yet, but it seems like it would be a good idea.

Trimming the Pages

Sea Lemon finishes by trimming the pages of her book to make them even. I tried trimming the first book I made, and I wasn’t very happy with the results the first time. I found it very, very difficult to make it look perfect. I tried again with a sharper utility blade, and the results were better, but with my subsequent books, I left them un-trimmed and I think they look lovely the way they are.

When you have completed the steps in this video, you could stop and have something you could use as a book… but a few more steps to add the hard cover creates a beautiful book that should last a very long time, and look lovely on your bookshelf.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block (You are here!)

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover

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