**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 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
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.
Measuring: a ruler.
Marking: a 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.
Sewing: needles – 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.
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.