So, this little project is what I was doing in secret this November — a Christmas present for my boyfriend. I learned to bind my own books by taking a class in the art department one summer in graduate school. Because the class was taught by a sort of cerebral, conceptual artist, we focused not only on the technique of assembling a book, but also on designing and building a book that could be an art object in itself.

This requires many tools and quality materials.

Tool Box

You have to work carefully with the paper, finding the direction of the warp and woof and folding and tearing each giant sheet into a signature of pages. I used eight sheets of 100% cotton paper and tore and folded each one, by hand, into a 16-page signature.


I bored holes into the signature folds with an awl at measured intervals. These would then be sewn together.

Waxing the Thread

Thread coated with beeswax is sturdier and easier to work with; it won’t tangle, twist, or unravel.


Linen tape helps support the spine while the stitches connect each of the signatures. A single thread binds all eight signatures (128 pages) together.

Pressing the Bound Signatures

Once it’s sewn, I let the book take a little vacation underneath a bunch of other, heavier books.

Sewn Spine

The sewn spine is one of the prettiest parts of a hand-bound book — just imagine it lurking, hidden, underneath the hard case and layers of further reinforcements. The spine of the book is actually held together with: thread, linen tapes, a layer of very strong Japanese mulberry paper, and a layer of muslin.

Spine Reinforcements

I snuck a bookmark ribbon in there between the mulberry and muslin.

Muslin and Bookmark Ribbon

Making the case comes next, and it can be one of the most stressful parts of bookbinding. The measurements must be exact — I had to throw away the first case I made due to a faulty measure of just 1/8 inch. The second case was perfect.

Cutting the Boards for the Case

It consists of two boards, a paper reinforcement for the spine (it should be flexible), and some linen.

Case Building

Binding the book to the case is called “casing in,” and it can be quite tricky as well. This is the step where you add the fabulous marbled endpapers you’ll see below, but I forgot to photograph that step. Honestly, I was too busy being nervously meticulous to pick up the camera.

Once you case in, the book takes another little vacation under a heavy stack of tomes (or bricks, if you have them) while the glue dries.

Pressing the Case and Book Block

The exposed edges of the paper will have a beautiful torn deckle like this (remember that every 16 pages was once just one large cotton sheet, folded and torn by hand).

Beautiful Deckle

Here are the endpapers. Imagine my great pride to see that they lined up precisely, 1/8 inch away from the edge of the linen case, all the way around. Perfectly flat and free from bubbles or wrinkles. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief!


If the spine is strong and tight, but not too tight, the book will lie open with lovely curves just like so, somewhat evocative of the human form, I think.


And that’s how I made a book.


  1. Wow. Did you put stuff in it? Or was it meant to be a journal. THAT’S AWESOME. I remember when you took that class. Still jealous!


    1. I left it blank for journal/sketchbook purposes. This is actually the first one I’ve made since that class and the first one I’ve given away. Honestly, the materials are SO expensive or I’d do it ALL THE TIME!


  2. That is a VERY beautiful book! I also took a bookbinding class in college, but none of my books came out quite that pretty. I hope your boyfriend loved it!


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