You need: -Paper  -Good solid cardboard  -Scissors or cutting edge  -Gluestick  -White glue or rubber cement  -Cheesecloth or similar fabric  -Pretty paper or fabric for covering  -More pretty paper for inside of covers -Thread and needle

As I mentioned once before, I managed to take a book-making course during my final year of art-school. We learned various techniques to make books, and some of the simpler ones I’ve outlined here. I did promise to go over the method of making a “real bound book”, though, and now it’s time to deliver on that promise! Happy New Year… let’s make us some books!

A classically bound book has a few elements. There is a cover, there are the pages, and there are the things that hold them all together.

The little parcels of paper pages that are sewn together to make the body of the book are called signatures. When I make a book, I make my signatures first. I decide on how many sheets will be in a signature, and then I decide on how many signatures will make up the book. In some situations, you might only have so much paper available, so this guides the size and number of pages in the book. A single piece of paper that is in a signature is actually four pages, if they were numbered within the finished book. A paper-piece in the signature is the height, and then twice the width, of the finished page, folded in half. You can layer two pieces of paper, or three, or four… or many. It depends on how thick your paper is. Normally, for “art-grade” paper (thicker) I would layer about two or three pieces of paper in a signature. An older book in my collection has about ten very thin, but strong, layers of paper in each signature.

In the inside of a signature, you will see the stitching. This is an old book, finely crafted.

Once you have decided on your layered papers for a signature, you fold the pages in half, re-layer them, and sew a little stitch or two down the centre. I recommend knotting at each stitch on the outside, binding edge of the work. This will add strength and stability to the binding, and to the signature. Use about three or four strands of thread to add even more durability. Make your stitches on the “inside” of the signatures about a half-centimeter, and make the stitches on the “outside” about two centimetres. Don’t worry about the outside, binding edge of the signature, it can be messy. You won’t see it later! If you were to rip the outer binding off of a finished book, though, you would see a mix of knots, threads, glue, and something similar to cheese-cloth covering the whole mess.

When you have a number of signatures ready to be bound, the next step is in to bring them together. I can’t show you this in person, unfortunately. But simply put, just weave a threaded needle between the threads that are on the “outside” of the signatures. Knot. Tie. Weave. Make it sewn together… keeping the thread OUTSIDE. Don’t puncture the papers again. This will all be hidden, so don’t worry if it looks bad. Just try to keep the inside of the pages neat-looking!

As soon as the signatures are bound together, you have the basics for a book. The next step is to make the cover. Cut two pieces of good cardboard to a little bit larger that the size of the inside pages. Good, solid cardboard is normally found in craft stores. If you don’t have any, use your imagination. You’ll want a material that is pretty tough, that you can cut, and that won’t roll up with a bit of moisture from something like glue. An old piece of rubber or plastic could be interesting…

Once you’ve cut the outer covers, you can cut a binding-cover, too. This is big enough to cover the ugly, outside edge of the bound-together signatures. It’s ok if it is a little thinner than the depth of the book. This piece just basically provides a little structure and protection to the sewn-together signatures. In some books this piece is rolled back and forth to form a rounded-binding, in others it is straight and flat. For your first book, though, perhaps just leave this piece flat.

One of my early books: Signatures, Three cardboard pieces to make the cover, Decorative covering. Note I also sewed some pretty gold thread along the edge of the bound signatures.

You need an outside surface for the covers… a piece of fabric, a piece of decorative paper… and old fancy pillowslip, a shiny satin skirt, anything that is pretty will do. You just need enough of this to cover the outside edge of the entire book. If your decorative paper or fabric is thin (like satin or fine paper) you should glue it to another piece of good, strong and flexible paper (such as rice-paper) first. Lay this piece out on your table, pretty-side down. Lay the two covers and the little binding-cover next to one another on this piece. Keep a small distance of about 1/8″ between the covers and the binding-cover. This space is important so that the covers can open and close… this is a hinge. Make sure that this pretty covering extends at least an inch past the edges of the cardboard covers. Rub a bit of glue-stick on the surface of the cardboard covers, then place them again on this pretty covering. Press flat with your hands, just making sure there are no “bubbles” or lumpy bits of glue. Fold the edges in, glue down to the inside of the book-cover with white glue or rubber cement. What you are doing is sort of like wrapping a present, and you are doing the outside first.

Next, take your bound signature-pages. Using a bit of cheese-cloth (or similar fabric… I’ve used a number of woven, light-weight fabrics at hand for this task), cover the ugly outside edge of the bound-together signatures. Make sure there is about two inches extending past the edge, as though the cheese-cloth wants to grow into a book cover. Rub white glue or rubber cement glue over the cheese-cloth, so that it is truly adhered to the outside edge of the binding. Let this set. Good time for a coffee or tea. Cake. A film. Really let THIS glue set.

Here you can see the "decorative inside page" that is glued to the front cover, and slightly glued to the front page of all those signatures.

FINAL ASSEMBLY: Once this signature-set is dry, take the cover that you’ve previously prepared, place the signature-set in place, and glue the cheese-cloth to the inside of the covers. It helps to know that there will be a final, decorative piece of paper attached to cover all the mess. I recommend using a bit of glue-stick, then closing the book to set for a few minutes. Open the book, and rub in some white glue. Close it again, and leave it at least half an hour to really set. You can check it a couple of times to make sure it hasn’t shifted, but be careful.

Once it is dry, the very last thing is to add a thicker, decorative paper to the inside of the covers. This paper is cut to just a little shorter that the original “double-page” size, and you need one for each inside cover. The function of this decorative paper is to cover the inside of the cover (remember the “wrapped present”?), and also to be a decorative front and back page. Glue (with white glue or rubber cement) one side to cover all the uncovered-part of the inside covers. Glue a little bit on the first page of the signature-bundle, so that it is stuck to this decorative paper… about 1/4″. This way the book is solidly made, and is held together by the cheese-cloth as well as the decorative paper. Set it aside… let it dry thoroughly. Press it between some heavy books, leave it overnight. It’s all in the layering…

This old book is made with a gently rounded binding-cover. You can see the importance of leaving space between the three pieces of cardboard, so that the covers can hinge.

When you examine an old book from your shelf, or look at my photos here, you will see the basic elements to a bound book. Don’t be afraid… my first bound book was a gluey mess. The binding-cover was cut too big. I used an ugly fabric to cover it. However, by making my own book, I was then inspired to work out a fun comic to live inside the book. This developed into the first storyline for my “Cluck and Lurt” comic series! Drawing in my own book was inspiring for me. I hope that you are inspired to try some book-making yourself.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal