How to bind your own books

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Learn how to create handmade journals, sketchbooks, photo albums and more with our step-by-step guide to bookbinding

Bookbinding is the perfect way to transform leftover fabric, card, wrapping paper and more into a lovely gift for yourself or someone else. Although some parts of this guide features steps in InDesign, there’s no reason why you couldn’t skip over those bits and simply follow the stitching guides to build your beautiful booklet.

Software needed

Adobe InDesign (CS3 or later) – access the free trial from Adobe

Bookbinding materials

Cutting mat, metal ruler, bookbinding needle & linen thread, glue & brush, paper, scalpel, bookbinding awl, fraynot, bone folder

Shepherds Falkiners is a good source for bookbinding materials

Step 1 First, set up your book’s page template in InDesign by creating a new document. The page size, columns and margins will depend on your preference, but remember to add an extra 10mm to the inside margin (to accommodate the stitching) and a 3mm bleed if you intend to print to the edge of the page. Also, make sure the Facing Pages box is ticked so you can view your design as a spread.

Step 2 When you’re ready to print, export your document as a PDF and, under Marks and Bleeds, tick Crop Marks, and Use Document Bleed Settings. The pages need to be printed double-sided – either via your printer settings or by manually printing all odd pages, then all evens. Experiment with paper stocks to see which works best. With the pages in the correct order, draw a line on the top page to mark the top and bottom between the crop marks, and use a scalpel to cut through the inner crop page marks closest to the spine.

Depending on the number of pages and paper stock you use, you can cut through multiple pages at a time. If you have lots of pages, divide them into sections and mark the top of each section.

Step 3 Draw a line from the top to the bottom of the page, 5mm in from the spine – this is where the pages will be stitched. Along that line, mark a dot 10mm from the top and one 10mm from the bottom, then put some evenly spaced dots in between these. We created three holes spaced apart by roughly 5cm, but the number of holes you need will vary, depending on the height of your page. Tap the top of the pages against a flat surface to ensure they are flush, lay them flat and pierce through the dots carefully, using a bookbinding awl. Keep the awl as straight as possible when piercing through the pages to make it easier to sew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4 To stitch the pages, using a bookbinding needle and linen thread, four times the page height. Thread your needle, piercing the thread 1cm from the end and pulling tight instead of tying a knot. Starting at the middle hole, push the needle up through the back of your pages, leaving a 10cm loose thread remaining. Go around the spine and back up through the same hole, holding the loose thread to keep the pages tight.

Go to the next hole in either direction, thread your needle down, around and back up through, then along to the next hole. Repeat this process to the end, then weave the thread back along the length to the centre, ensuring it runs along the length of the spine on both sides. At the middle hole, repeat this process along the second half of the book. End back at the middle hole and tie off using the loose thread. Cut off any remaining thread about 1cm from the knot.

 

Step 5 You’re now ready to glue the spine. Place your book between two clean boards – or a couple of heavy books – to press your pages flat, making sure the spine sticks out a little. With a paintbrush, paste the spine with a fine layer of PVA glue (thinned with a dash of water) and leave it for 20 minutes to dry. Make sure the glue doesn’t collect around the edge of the pages, as this may stop them opening properly. When the spine is dry, remove it from your DIY bookpress and use the scalpel to trim off the excess paper beyond the crop marks.

 

Step 6 Once your pages are cropped, measure and cut a piece of fraynot to line the spine. It should be the same length as your pages, and wide enough to wrap around the spine, covering the stitching on both sides with a few millimetres spare. With the fraynot cut to size, place it down on a flat surface and paste with glue, then position it over the stitching. Flip your book over and wrap around the spine. Rub a bone folder along the spine, pressing the fraynot against it.

Step 7 You need two endpapers that attach to the main body of the book, which the cover will wrap around. They should be the height of your book and twice the width (plus 1mm to allow for folding), but consider your choice of stock. Cut it to the required size, measure out the middle and score it with a bone folder. Fold it in half and press it flat. Place some scrap paper over the top, just beyond the fraynot, and paste this section with glue.

Next, place your endpaper over the top, aligned to your page, ensuring the fold is on the same side as the spine. Flip your book and repeat this process for the second endpaper, at the back, and place it between two books to dry.

Step 8 Create a new document in InDesign for the cover design, set to the height of your pages and four times the width (plus the measurement of your spine), with a 3mm bleed around the edges. Drag two guides into the centre to indicate where the spine will be, then measure the width of a page out from either side of this to show where the gatefolds will be. The front cover is the second panel in from the right. As before, when you exporting the PDF, don’t forget to include crop marks and bleed.

Step 9 When your cover has been designed and printed, cut it out with a metal ruler and scalpel using the crop marks. Measure out where the central spine folds will be and use a bone folder to score and fold one of them. Place your book against this fold to double-check the measurement is okay, then score and fold over the second. Push the spine of your book into the spine of the cover and mark out where your first gatefold should be. Score and fold with a bone folder, turn your book over and then repeat this for the second gatefold.

Step 10 To finish off the cover you could print the title of your book and your name on a sticker. Alternatively, this type of bookbinding offers multiple alternatives: you could cut out a shape to reveal the inner endpaper, wrap a ‘belly band’ around the cover or encase your book in a poster that the recipient could remove and keep as a limited edition print. There is also the opportunity to include gatefolds or pages that open out within the book… the options are endless!

About the author Karen Lewis is a Bristol-based freelance designer with a passion for typography and print. From creating unique wooden type blocks to adding glitter to screenprints, Karen enjoys exploring and experimenting with materials.

This tutorial originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 200, available to buy online now.