Make a Book

**Update – February, 2017** I recently made a midori-style bullet journal. It’s a simple, simple thing that can be made to personalized specifications. Similar to the tutorial below in that it relies on basic signatures, it skips the more intricate sewn binding by relying on elastic cord. I can’t improve on Darbin Orvar’s tutorial, but if the version I made is of interest, leave a comment below and I’ll put up some pics. In the meantime, I’ve got a totally unrelated poll at the bottom of this post – come, share your opinion about my novice image-making skills!

Now, back to your tutorial.

How to Make a Simple, No-Glue Book


I’ve been making my journals since 1994, when I was also doing letterpress printing.  A fellow printer loaned me a copy of Keith Smith’s Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue.  One poetry book that I wrote, illustrated, printed and bound utilized a stab binding from that reference, but for my journals I glommed onto another technique and I haven’t looked back.

I’ve forgotten the name of this binding style, but it’s a simple, sturdy way to transform sheets of paper into functional, customized books.

My first books were thin – only a few signatures made of only a few sheets (signatures are sheets of folded, nested paper that could conceivably be books themselves, think pamphlet or brochure – the way we see them the most often, they’re simply stapled).  I used regular sewing thread which proved to be too flimsy and a challenge to work with, having the tendency to snarl up because I had to use longer pieces in order to create thick enough connections between signatures.

In recent years, though, I’ve switched to better thread and have tidied up the stitching (that first blue one is such a mess!) as well as experimented with different ways to cover the books, both for aesthetic and protection reasons.

The process is not difficult, doesn’t require expensive supplies, and is relatively quick (it gets faster as you get used to it, but I don’t think a first-timer will find it too bad).  I hope you find it useful!


Tools and Supplies: Among the tools you will need are items grouped according to category.  Work within a category and it won’t matter if you don’t have the exact tools I have.

Paper:  This is where the beauty of making your own books becomes apparent.  You can choose any

paper you want and thus affect the mood and purpose of the book.  If you sketch or paint you can use heavier, toothier paper, possibly even watercolor paper, and the size can be sketch-book size.  If you absolutely love to write on lines, you can use lined paper.  I recommend checking out incompetech’s customizable pdfs – for a lined paper that can work with this style of book, modify your paper settings so they’re the reverse of your normal printer paper (11X8.5, instead of 8.5X11 for Americans, etc.) and the lines will be printed in a landscape layout which will be appropriate when the paper is folded in half and bound together).  Personally, I love blank pages.  I write small and I don’t need margins, preferring to completely fill my pages so I get the most use out of each book.  Likewise, I’ve used legal sized paper for my most recent journals, meaning that I can write more before needing a new journal. Nice cotton papers, flecked recycled papers, colored paper on which you write in light gel ink, handmade pages, already-printed-inserts – whatever you can think of can be used!  One small notebook I made utilized gold and silver-leafed paper “money” offerings (meant to be burnt, I think) I found in a Chinese market in San Francisco.  All the subsequent blank pages were cut to the same size and they were all bound together.

In the realm of paper we can also talk about covers – in my books I’ve used card stock, manila folders, dense cardboard (not corrugated, but that could work too) and leather.

Folding:  I use a bone folder simply because I have one from my letterpress/book making days.  It makes a crisp fold – but to be honest, if your paper is light enough, your fingernail can do the trick.  Anything that is firm but doesn’t scratch or drag through the paper or mar your work space will be fine.

Measuringa ruler.

Markinga pencil.

Poking:  something sharply pointed – an icepick, an awl, or a probe (a medical probe, or one used for ceramics and other crafts).  You’ll be poking the holes that the needles will thread through – if you can’t find anything that works, use a needle and a thimble (to save your fingers) and only go through one or two layers at a time.  The probe allows you to complete each hole in each signature with one motion.

Sewingneedles – tapestry needles are best for thicker thread like I prefer to use – whatever is easy to thread and feels good in your hand will be fine.  You will need two similarly sized needles.  Also, thread.  Regular sewing thread can work but it has limitations – it’s particularly thin and prone to tangling.  I found crochet thread to be much better, though.  It’s sturdy, and colorful.  In my case it was simply utilitarian – I had a lot on hand and it made sense to use it.  Any variety of thread/string could probably work – so long as you’re happy with the thickness – keeping in mind that the thread will go through each needle-hole at least 3 times so something like a shoelace would make the binding stitches extremely thick.

Adhesive:  (Optional, after all this is “no-glue binding.”) The adhesive is used only for attaching a cover – so in that regard this doesn’t fit the original design of the Non-Adhesive Book.  I use methyl cellulose (which is a really trippy substance!  Take a look at that wikipedia article – I’ll bet you didn’t know that glue, shampoo, k-y jelly, and treatment for both constipation and diarrhea all had something in common!).  Methyl cellulose is often sold at art supply stores (or here, or here).  I like it because it’s non-toxic and pH neutral. It also lasts a very long time in both its dry and hydrated forms.  I’ve had my baby-food jar of dry methyl cellulose for 15 years and it’s still powdery and ready for use.  Likewise, the little bit I hydrated lasted nearly 10 years in the little airtight rubbermaid container seen above.  It’s economical, needing only a thin application.  If you don’t have access to methyl cellulose, a glue stick might work (for a lighter cover), as might white glue – if applied in a thin layer.  Ideally you want something water based.  pH is considered simply for longevity.

Work surface:  I mention this simply because it’s nice to not get glue all over the dining room table (though it is water soluble and thus easy to clean up), and to avoid poking holes in wood furniture, as is likely when you’re using the probe to poke through layers of paper.  I have a cutting mat now, but in the past, my hole-poking work surface was an old phone book. A vinyl table cloth or even freezer paper (stuck at the corners with masking tape) can protect the table if you need a layer between it and the glue. Gather up the items you need and you’ll be ready for the next lesson.

Once you’ve gathered your tools and supplies, the next steps are very simple.

To begin, you need to have decided what size paper you’re going to use.  For a first book I recommend using what is commonly available to you:  printer/copy paper. (See Lesson One for other paper considerations) If you find that it’s too thin you can find quality paper at an office supply store. Whatever paper you choose (letter sized, A4, or legal sized), the book will be the size of a half-sheet.  You’re certainly welcome to customize your paper, though, by cutting it down to the dimensions you prefer.

A standard, easy to work with signature is going to be made of 7-10 sheets.  When you use thicker paper, fewer sheets may “nest” better.

The book which is demonstrated here is made of 5 signatures with 10 pages each.  So I used 50 sheets of paper.  Once folded and sewn, I’ve ended up with 196 writeable pages (four pages (two half sheets) have been transformed into covers), I’ve sacrificed paper quality for two things – great cost (my paper was given to me, free) and something I can term “low-pressure value” – in my experience, expensive or fancy paper intimidates me by requiring that everything I write be important.  With cheaper paper I’m free to scribble nonsense and complaints and honest insights equally.

Starting with your paper laid out in landscape position, fold each sheet in half so that the crease extends in the shorter direction.  I usually fold two sheets at a time but I don’t recommend more than that because the inner sheets have a tendency to slip and the crease can be skewed.  Once they’re all folded I go over the creases with the bone folder.  This makes the pages nest tightly: taking 10 sheets (or however many you’ve decided your signatures will contain) simply .insert them into the middle, one by one.  Do the same for the remaining pages.

Next, open a signature up to the middle.  Align a ruler to one edge, and using a pencil, make the guide marks for sewing.  Below are two variations.  The first variation is the pattern I used for this current book.  If you’re making a smaller book (one with fewer signatures) the three-stitch version would be sufficient, but for a larger book I opt in favor of stability.  Sorry, the measurements are in inches, but you can see that it would be easy to come up with metric equivalents simply by following the patterns given (click on the photos for a closer look):  everything is equidistant from the outside edges, and symmetrical from the midpoint.

Note, you do not need to write the measurements on your pages – these are merely illustrating the locations for pencil dots.

Now, take your probe or awl and making sure that all the pages are aligned, gently poke a hole through all pages of the signature.  It’s critical to keep your pages lined up here – you want the holes to extend right through the crease on all the pages.  If you prefer, you can work with just a few pages at a time, but I don’t think you’ll need to.

Afterward, the holes should be lined up, like so:

Believe it or not, you’ve accomplished a lot.  In the next lesson we’ll sew the signatures together!


By now you’ve folded and stacked your paper, marked and punched the preliminary holes, and now all that remains before holding a plain but functional book in your hands is stringing it all together. Video of the following steps is provided, in case this gets confusing.

Using the two tapestry needles (or whichever needles can handle being threaded with the crochet thread or whatever you’ll be using), thread one piece of 4-5 feet long thread with needles at both ends. This length is an estimate – I tend to just use one full “arms’ length” of thread without really measuring it, but I have gotten really close to the end before. If your thread is not long enough, be prepared to take the stitches out and start again with a longer piece.

Once the needles are threaded, do not tie the thread, simply let a portion hang down. Take both needles and insert them into a matching pair of holes at the middle of the signature. Pull both needles so that the thread becomes taut and both threads are the same length. With the threaded needles now outside, thread them through the alternate holes (one needle going in where one just came out) so that the needles are again on the inside. Cross them then send them back out. Now you have two stitches appearing on the spine of the first signature (and three stitches on the inside).

Take up the second signature and align it above the first. Using both needles (never letting one get more than one step ahead of the other), insert and thread the yarn through the back of the matching set of holes in the second signature. Do as you did for the first section, so that you end up with two stitches on the outside. You’ll have four stitches on the interior. Be careful to not let your thread get tangled and try to avoid inserting the needle into the fibers of the thread.

Continue in this way, making sure that you lead the thread inside and out enough times that you have two stitches showing on the binding and that you keep everything tangle-free. Proceed through the remainder of the signatures.

The last stitches should bring the needles back out to the outside of the book. The next step will serve to strengthen the connecting threads while adding a little decorative finish. If you don’t do this, the book will probably be fine (in fact, I forgot on one set of stitches on my book – it’s not a big deal).

Here’s a video of the sewing steps up until this point (NOTE: starting at :50 I mistakenly tell you to start sewing from the outside of the first signature. This is incorrect (what was I thinking?). You should, instead, START FROM INSIDE, as detailed in the written instructions above). Everything else remains the same. Sorry for the confusion – obviously I followed the right instructions for the other sewn sections of the demo book since I counted 2 rather than 3 stitches.):

(Also, for clarity: I notice I say in the video “I never cross them” – which of course contradicts some of what I said earlier. So what do I mean? All I mean is that once I’ve made two complete stitches (which involves crossing left to right and right to left), I DO NOT cross the threads when they’re traveling to the next signature to start the process again.  If this is still confusing, let me know and I’ll figure out another way to explain it.)

Once you have both needles back out, pick up one and send it under the connecting thread just below where it exited. You can go from left to right or right to left – just remain consistent for the remainder of this step so nothing unwinds.

Upon reaching the top (or bottom, depending on how you’re holding the book – it doesn’t matter, as you can see in my video I hold it the opposite from how I held it in these pictures), you may decide to go around the stitch completely or just work your way back down. As has become obvious, this whole process is open to interpretation and experimentation. See the next video for one version, and the pictures below for another.

This last step is shown in the video below.

I hope this tutorial was helpful and that you find it easy to make your own books. If you make this book, tell me about it!  I’d love to see what you’ve done.  If you have any questions about the tutorial, let me know and I’ll clarify the instructions.


35 thoughts on “Make a Book

  1. I need help with a metal book! All metal pages that I enameled and now I need help binding it… single sheet binding. Can you help me???

    1. Hi Rene, I couldn’t speak from experience, but have a few ideas. Are you able/willing to drill holes in the pages? If so, then you could recreate some type of binding style similar to multi-ring binders or spiral binding. Maybe something similar to the way photo albums are bound (you can see that there’s the main part of the page but also the other part that is held to the binding). You could also consider adding a “frame” to each page – something simple like soldering, take a look at what’s around free hanging stained glass pieces and how hardware can be added to that. Or something made of fabric or crocheted/knitted around? It might be good to have holes for an edging like what’s sometimes done on linens, but then again, maybe not. Pages inserted into plastic sleeves (again like a photo album) or slotted wooden frame pieces?

      Sounds like you’re working on an interesting project! I hope that even if my ideas aren’t feasible you get struck by something that does work!

  2. I just want to say thank you for this website. It is so very beautiful in every way. Another thank you for this great tutorial! I’ll be trying it soon 🙂 keep traipsing, keep learning, and do please keep writing.

  3. Hello Wendy,

    I was wondering if you had a tutorial or knew of one where I can bind book printed content. Like your journals but with print already on the pages. Without using glue.

    You also have great tutorial here, thanks you.


    1. Hi Brian,

      sorry for my late reply. I don’t have such a tutorial, but you should definitely take a look at the book I got this idea from, Keith Smith’s “Non-Adhesive Binding.” It has a lot of options. You might also do a search for “stab binding” and see if that pulls up anything that strikes your fancy.

      Good luck!


  4. HI there, thanks so much for making this very helpful tutorial. I just decided to make a journal today rather than buy one, and poof, here is your tutorial to help me, so thanks so very much.

    One place that I am a little baffled ….
    You say, “Once the needles are threaded, do not tie the thread, simply let a portion hang down.”

    I don’t understand what happens to the untied ends…I imagine I stop just short of letting the end of the thread go all the way through the signature, but do they just end up sticking out there? hmm, does my question make sense?

    Thanks for your help!


    1. Hi Zan,

      Yes, it makes sense! Since you’ve got the thread with two needles (one on each end), you work both ends simultaneously (well, relatively, obviously you can’t work two needles at the *exact* same time) until the binding is complete, then you tie the last dangling pieces just before removing the needles. Just follow the tutorial to the end and you’ll see I mention the knotting at that point.

      VERY cool that you’re making a journal!


  5. Hi Wendy,

    i am also trying to bind a book. I like that version of binding very much so i decided to bind my architecture-portfolio in this way.
    Maybe this is a little bit a stupid question, but i am a bit confused…

    you said that the crossing needles has to be repeated that there are two threads at the outside spine. but if i go in once and the cross there are one thread outside at the spine and already two threads inside. if i repeat this then i get three threads outside and four inside…but never two.

    it would be really cool if you could tell me how to get two threads.

    thanks a lot in advance


    1. oh wait….i just tried the next signature. and there it works to have just two threads outside at the spine. but inside there are four threads? is that correct?

      1. Hi Kristy,

        Let’s see if I can figure out where you are… and how I can clarify. So, you’ve got one very long thread threaded with two needles, right? And you insert each needle going from outside, to the inside of the signature, pulling the threaded needles equally so that it become taut and doesn’t sag on the outside of the signature. Then you send the left needle into the right hole and the right needle into the left (what I call “crossing”) – this draws the thread back to the outside and when you’ve done this with both needles, then there are two “threads” outside.

        What I’m trying to avoid here is for one needle (and its thread) to do all its work first before you go to the second. You should just do one step with the first needle, then the same step with the second before going further.

        What I think might have been confusing (and I’ll double check the tutorial to see if I can make it better) is that by “threads” I mean the dangling pieces with needles attached to them, what I think you’re counting is what I’d call “stitches.”

        Does that help? Feel free to keep asking questions if you need more help!

        1. Hello Wendy,
          thank you very very much for the quick reply.
          oh yes, indeed…i think there is a language missunderstanding…i talk about the “stitches”. I am so sorry.

          So my problem only occurs with the first signature which has to be sewed. I use one long thread with one needle at every end…so two needles.
          I pull the two threads from outside to the inside. This gives me one stitch at the outside spine (only for the first signatures when i begin to bind). Then inside i do crossing. That gives me two stitches on the inside. If i repeat that and i do the crossing also outsidei get after all: 3 stitches outside and 4 stitches inside.

          All the following signatures have 2 stitches outside and 4 stitches inside.

          So my question is just referred to the very first signature which has to be sewed.

          I hope it is more clear to you now what exacty my question is 🙂


          1. Hi!

            Yes! I completely understand what you’re talking about! AND you’re right!

            I will correct the tutorial right after I send this message.

            While this mistake doesn’t change the functionality of the book, it does leave a weird number of stitches on that first signature, just like you figured out.

            The way to make the number of all external stitches the same on all signatures is to start the first signature (each time you start new thread) from the INSIDE.

            Ultimately you will end up with 2 stitches on the outside of each signature, 3 stitches on the interior of the 1st signature and 4 stitches on the interior of the rest.

            Thanks for your keen observation – catching that glitch in the tutorial has helped improve it!

  6. I want to make a book out of my wedding cards and don’t really like the idea of hole punching them because I’m worried about punching through what people wrote. I was hoping for advice on how to do it. Would this kind of sewing technique work if I just sewed each card individually like it was a signature? Also, if there are different sizes, could I just sew the center 4 inches or so of them? (the taller one’s would just have unstitched ends) I want to make a hard book cover that will hide the sewing anyhow. Thanks!

    1. Hi Robin, what a neat idea! I would think it could work to treat each one like a signature. Things to consider, though: how many cards are there in total? If there are a significant number, the length of thread needed for the double needles might be REALLY long and hard to work with. If that’s the case, maybe make more than one “book” out of the cards. If you do that, you could group similarly sized ones together so you don’t have to deal with extreme variety – and then you could measure the holes to fit whatever average size you’re working with. I would think lining them up on a midpoint (centering) would work. Just measure carefully. If you’re up to it, consider getting a couple of pieces of cardstock to practice with – make mini-cards by cutting a regular 8.5X11 size piece of cardstock into quarters and sew them together to see if it works. It might save you disappointment if it doesn’t turn out the way you want and your wedding cards are damaged in the process. Good luck and post a link to a picture when you’re done!

  7. Hey, this is a great tutorial. I’ve been wanting to make my own book for a long time, thank you. I was wondering if you have any suggestions on how to add a cover to it?

    1. Hi Amber, yes, covers seem to stump a lot of us. I’m afraid my covers have been pretty inelegant – just stiffer paper glued over my end pages to make an integrated cover. My one attempt at a removable/reusable cover worked decently but because it was hard to work with, the stitching inside was, frankly, terrible. I did come across this the other day (don’t panic, it’s a Chinese site but I just checked it and it’s not a spam link) and it has a neat cover idea: Good luck!

      1. Interesting. The pics on the Duitang site show something similar to a Midori cover, in which the book is simply held in by a cord or elastic. You could also try covering a couple of boards, and then gluing your endpages to the inside of the boards. Or you could punch holes in the edges of your covered boards to match the holes in the signatures, and sew them on as if you were doing a coptic stitched book.

  8. Dear Wendy,

    I like to write a lot and this simple idea helped me in creating my own book and its worth it. Thankyou for the steps.

  9. Thank you so much for your generosity in taking the time to post this! I have always wanted to try this but have felt somewhat intimidated…now I can try for “real”…thank you!! 🙂

  10. Oh my goodness i have been looking for another way of binding my journals and happen upon this page. Thanks for the tutorial. It was very helpful. What is your name on youtube so that i may subscribe to you. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Emily, I’m so happy to hear that this worked out for you! As for youtube… haha, this small set of videos is the only thing I have up. Honestly, I haven’t looked at this video in so long, I can’t even remember what my user name is 😀

    1. That’s great! I’m glad that even after several years of this tutorial being here, people are still finding and using it! Aww, thanks for the compliment 🙂

  11. I like what you said about making sure that your pages are lined up during the bookbinding process. My sister has been telling me about a book that she wants to get published soon. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for professionals who can help her with this in the future.

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