06. Sewing / Stitching the Book

The 6th part of our book-binding series on how to craft a book from scratch.

Stitching the First Signature

Waxing your Thread with Beeswax
Waxing your Thread with Beeswax

Take a piece of thread that is almost 30 inches in length; a smaller size can cause inconvenience. If your book is thick, you may need to use an additional piece of thread, which will be discussed in detail later. For right now, apply wax (available here on amazon.com) onto your thread with beeswax; pinch the thread against it at least two or three times as shown in figure 48. This makes it easier for you to sew the signatures, prevents the thread from knotting and increases its life. Once you have waxed, tie a knot at about three inches from one end of the thread.

At this stage, you would have already placed your signature on the platform with the marks and the tapes aligned. Open your signature a little bit at the centre as shown in figure 49. Now pass the needle through the hole you made for the bottom kettlestitch until it reaches the open centre. Hold the needle in your hand and pull the thread as shown in figure 50 until there is no space between the knot and the signature edge on the outer side. Pass the needle through the hole near the bottom tape as depicted in figure 51, and pull the tread once again to tighten it. Let the thread pass onto the tape, and then insert the needle into the hole above the tape. This has been illustrated in figure 52. In this same manner, pass the thread in and out, sewing the signature along the folded edge. When you reach the top kettlestitch, bring the needle on the outside edge, and straighten out the thread such that it aligns with the signature’s side as demonstrated in figure 53. Snug up the thread, but make sure that it does not become too tight.

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Now place another signature onto the one which you just sewed. Pass the needle through the top hole for the kettlestitch and in the manner described above, sew the signatures over the tape. Do this until you reach the bottom hole for the kettle stitch as shown in figure 54. Pull the thread, and once again make sure it is not too tight. If this happens, it would just tear apart the paper. Now tie up the two signatures at the top and bottom kettlestitches. Take the knotted end of the thread in your hand, and make a loop such that the thread goes around and below the knot. Pass the needle into this loop, and pull the thread until the stitch is tight. See figure 56.

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Continue sewing the rest of the signatures with the same technique. Whenever you reach a kettlestitch, make sure to tie it together with the previous ones as demonstrated in figure 57. Ascertain that all the kettle stitches are firm and tight, but slightly flexible at the same time so that the book can easily be opened up later on as shown in figure 58. In case, the kettlestitches are too tight or bear a high amount of tension, the book would become misshaped from the back or the signatures would tear apart.

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Splicing the Thread

Cutting the Thread, Splicing the Thread during bookbinding
Cutting the Thread, Splicing the Thread during bookbinding

In the previous section, it was mentioned that the thread length should not be more than 30 inches long because that would make sewing difficult. But what if your book is a thick and bulky one, and you need to use more thread? If this is the case, splice a new piece of thread when only four to five inches of the previous thread are left. However, you would have to do this, when your needle is on the outer edge of the signature and not in the centre portion.

Tying up the end after stitching, square knot
Tying up the end after stitching, square knot

Usually, when you insert your needle on the outside edge, you pass it onto the tape and into the next hole. However, this time, just cut the thread at the head of the needle as shown in figure 59. Now tie up the end of this thread to another piece that is also 30 inch long; secure the two pieces with a tight square knot that should be close to the hole from which you just brought the needle out as demonstrated in figure 60. If you knot the threads near the next hole, it would probably create an obstacle in sewing, and becoming jammed, would just loosen the work you have done so far.

knotting up mulitple threads during stitching - bookbinding
Knotting up mulitple threads during stitching

Before knotting up the threads, wax the new piece of thread. You can knot up the two pieces of thread in as similar manner with which you create a knot in a single thread piece. Knot up the previous thread, but before tightening it up, pass the new thread through the centre of the knot. Take both of the loose ends in your hand and pull them to tighten the knot as illustrated in figure 61.

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Knotting the Last Stitch

Tightening the Taps after Stitching the Signatures
Tightening the Taps after Stitching the Signatures

When you sew the last signature onto the rest of them, you would have to create the final knot. Tie the last kettlestitch and then secure it with a double knot. Cut off the remaining thread piece except for a quarter inch of it. Remove the tapes from the crossbar, tightening them up by pulling them from both sides as demonstrated in figure 62. Stick the tapes onto the signature for additional support.

Handling the Bulge

If your book is heavy comprising of many signatures, it may swell up because of the threads that lie between the signatures. You can reduce this effect if you press every two or three signatures with a loaded stick while sewing them as depicted in figure 63. This would force the thread into the paper and would make the folds more compact. You can decrease the swelling even more if you tie the threads together over the centre tape as shown in figure 64. Pass the needle carefully beneath the thread and tie up each group separately. You can tie together three to four groups as well, but do not increase them beyond this because it would misshapen the back of the book, tear apart or weaken the paper.

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When all the signatures have been sewn together, there is often a tendency of the threads loosening up and the book gaping open, particularly at the first two and the last two signatures. To avoid this from happening, paste these signatures along their back edges as shown in figure 65.

Now you are done with all of your sewing work.