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Learning from the UGH moments!  I fully expect this page to be updated over time as I am able to add notes to it. Which is a lot!

My Books

or, “What I Would Do Differently – Notes on Binding”

As DOING is most often the best teacher, I thought I ought to document what I would do differently the next time I bind these styles. These notes have been compiled over time, some after a few attempts at a certain style.

Limp Vellum Binding

  • Leather selection for spine
    • Choose a firmer leather.
    • Soft leathers that self-heal quickly lose the template (pre-punched holes for sewing) and become VERY frustrating and take longer.
      Firmer leather would also allow for crisper toggles on the cover. Consider using a punch or die to cut these.
  • Thread
    • Use a self-waxed thread. The pre-waxed thread was too thick and gunked up the sewing stations.
    • Do a long-term examination of threads – after much use and love one of the books saw fraying on the toggle threads (for closing the book). Not sure what can be done; this is likely why few period examples remain.
  • Needles
    • Sharps may be more useful to get through the leather, but can still pierce the paper. See note on leather and choose wisely.
  • Vellum
    • Cut the vellum to fit AFTER the quires are folded.
    • Drum skins are more economical and hold up well but fine vellum has such great color and is pet-able. Consider the use – notebook? Vigil book?
  • Bosses/brads/buttons
    • Shanked ones, even if trimmed, don’t really work. Use flat pieces and sew through holes in them.
  • Dogs like to chew vellum: rawhide. 🙁

Coptic Chain Stitch (Single and Double Needle)

  • Needles
    • Use the small curved ones. It’s not worth the grief of using straight needles and trying to keep the stitching taught.
  • Boards
    • If using pressed paper board, cover it first.
    • If using wooden boards choose if you want to go around the spine or through.
    • If using wooden boards, sand them well first and give them a light coat of beekeeper’s gold or such to protect them while working. Then touch up after completion. Else the dust gets into the wax.
  • Thread
    • Use a self-waxed thread. The pre-waxed thread was too thick and gunked up the sewing stations and detracted from the look on two-needle.
  • Headbands
    • Count stations. Again.
    • Devise a meme to chant and create a rhythm. “Around, under through; around, under through; around, under, through, DOWN…” Avoid distractions.
    • Use the lying press if available.
  • Quires
    • Trim them to fit the boards before binding, especially on two-needle or those with headbands – can’t do it after.
  • Clasp
    • The braided leather is fun and pretty! Don’t overspace the slits, and don’t over drill the holes in the boards to attach them. Use a shim to wedge from the inside and trim flat if needed to tighten.

Six Books in One Binding

Oh where to start… this section will need much updating after I’ve tried it again. See ALL the other notes.

  • More tapes on the spines of the 4 small books would give greater support to the covers and get rid of the twist.
  • Hot tooling on the leather – need equipment. Cold didn’t work.
  • Wheat paste takes FOREVER to set. Plan accordingly.
  • Trimming to fit… do the two inner together and the four outer together. Keep working this one!
  • Make the channels for the tapes a little deeper next time.
  • Make the gap in the cover boards a bit wider next time to improve range of movement of the covers.
  • Added two years later – use more sewing stations on the covers so they don’t twist about after they’ve been opened a bunch of times! It got SOOOOO sloppy. 🙁

Multi-Use Notes


  • Kettle stitch. Gets better with habit. Out of spine, under station below from the middle, out to the edge, back under itself in to the middle, up to the new quire and into the spine. “Out then in.”
  • Pull parallel to the spine to tighten.
  • Keep it tight as you go!!!
  • Chain stitch on a book is NOT the same as chain stitch on fabric.
  • Coptic stitch – the loop at each station comes out of the spine, down, back on the direction it came from but under the station below, then up and back into the spine. It makes an X and is more secure/tighter.
  • You always need more sewing stations that you think. Give yourself the time and thread to do it right.


  • High end, large sheet paper is not as forgiving. Cut in half before folding quires, it will wrinkle if you try to do it all in one go.
  • Try to find a dealer who WON’T write the SKU on each sheet. Grrr.
  • Use a backing board/paper when trimming in the plough. (Like woodworkers will do with trim.)


  • Pare more than you think you need. Keep practicing! Get a real paring knife.
  • Use the corner samples created in class at Pennsic and take your time with the corners. Trim as much as you can without making a truly ugly gap. Most medieval bindings you’ve seen are NOT super neat on the corners.
  • Research tooling, get some tools, and practice.


  • Experiment more with different weight threads.
    • The first number is the gauge of thickness. The higher the number, the thinner the thread. (The higher the number, the thinner the thread.)
    • The second number is the numbers of strands (ply).
    • 18/3 is approximately .55 mm thick.
    • 25/3 is the most popular size.
  • A 50 gram spool contains approximately 175 yards of thread.
  • Match the thread and needle to the thickness of the paper. A #1 needle is larger than a #3 needle. While it may be easier to thread, it will also leave a larger hole in the paper. As with thread, the higher the number, the smaller the needle.
  • Waxed vs. unwaxed. There are very few uses for pre-waxed thread thus far in my experience (dislike it immensely, usually). However, it is good to use when you have many sewing stations and lots of yardage. (Ivan and Matilde’s Coronation book, for example – 11 signatures, 11 sewing stations — pre-waxed would have done a better job at protecting the thread as I got nearer to the end of sewing on each side.)


Remember – there is a difference between binding in a medieval style and RECREATING a specific bound book. Decide which you are doing. Every binding is handmade and unique – mistakes and all!

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