Directions for making a soft-covered Coptic Book
Meisterin Katarina Helene von Schönborn, OL
- Bone Folder
- Wood to protect tabletop when punching... about 5" square
- Right Angle Triangle (preferably one that is about 6" or more on one side)
- Waxed Linen Thread (2 lengths about 36" long)
- Bookbinding Needles (4 each) #16 blunt
- Text Weight Paper (9" x 12")
- Leather (about 5" x 12"), plus a long 36" strip for tying the book together
1. Fold all sheets of paper (12 sheets to start) in half and tear carefully. The book should have no less than four gatherings of six pages folded in half (Fig. 1). It would be best if the pages are folded individually and then placed together in the gathering.
Fig. 1 — 6 folded pages per gathering.
2. Before you do any punching or sewing, you should do the page layout if you intend to use this book in a Medieval manner... you should also do all calligraphy and illumination before it is sewn together, ideally. If this is to be a book just for notes, then you don’t need to follow through with this layout. (See directions for page layout.)
3. You will need four holes punched in each gathering, starting in no closer than ½" from outer edges. I suggest you set them about 1" to 1.5" apart, but the distances are your choice. It looks good to have a wide space in the center between the two sets of holes (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 — All four gatherings marked for punching.
Holding all four gatherings together, mark them all at the same time. Then, turn each gathering outside-in so that the marks are now on the inside fold.
4. From the center inside fold, using the marks you made, punch each gathering all the way through its six pages... make hole large enough to get your needle through after it has been threaded. Try your best to keep all the holes even. (Fig. 3.)
Fig. 3 — Punching through all pages of each gathering from the inside.
5. After you have punched all four gatherings (or more... only in even numbers), it is time to set up the leather for punching. Depending upon the weight of the leather you chose, this is an easy task or a difficult one. You want leather with enough body to hold up to abuse, and yet soft and suptle enough to be flexible. Open out our leather with the suede side up and place your first gathering at one end, cut/torn ends about 1/4" from the edges of the leather. Use a pen to mark the holes of your gathering. Now, using your triangle as a ruler, set another three sets of markings... more if you have more gatherings... no less than 3/16" apart. Much closer and you might experience difficulty with punching all the way through the leather without tearing it. (Fig. 4. Sorry that the marks aren't darker, but if you look closely you can see them.)
Fig. 4 — Marking for punching of the cover.
6. Thread one needle onto each end of your two lengths of waxed linen thread. You don’t need to leave long tails, as the waxed thread should hold fairly well once it is folded over the eye tightly.
7. Start from the inside of the first gather. You should have two pairs of holes, so you will use one thread for each pair. (Fig. 5.) Your first stitch will go from the inside of the gather to the outside of your leather (with the suede side on the inside). Once all four needles are on the outside, either just cross or do a single knot cross and bring the needles up through the next set of holes in the leather (Fig. 5a)... from the outside back to the inside... they will not go into the next gathering yet. When they are back inside then take them up from the outside fold of the second gathering to the inside. Pull the thread snug, but not overly so... you don’t want to tear your paper. Also, make sure you have no knots or extra thread between the gatherings (this can happen very easily).
Fig. 5 — Starting the sewing from the inside of the gathering.
Fig. 5a — Crossing stitch on the outside after first gathering.
8. Now, from the inside of the second gathering, you need to cross the needles of each set of holes to return them back through the same holes to the outside of the leather (Fig. 6). Do the knot cross again on the outside, moving to the next set of unused holes. Continue in this fashion until all gatherings are sewn in. You should end up on the inside of the last gathering.
Fig. 6 — Inside second gather, switching sides through same holes to outside.
9. To tie off your threads, start with each of the sets. Make your knot a square knot if you can, but it isn’t overly important, as the wax will hold the knot. Place the knots as close to the center of the book as you can (Fig. 7). Now take the four threads and tie them off in the direct center of the book (Fig. 7a). Cut as close to the final knot as you can without actually touching the knot... spaly the threads with your fingernail a bit to ensure security.
Fig. 7 — First set of knots inside last gathering.
Fig. 7a — Second set of knots for final knots of the last gathering.
10. At the opposite end of the leather as where you started, cut your leather so it forms a triangular flap. This does not have to be a real sharp triangle at the center, but looks nicer if rounded just a bit. Cut a slit that is about ½" long near this point, running the long way (not the short way – Fig. 8). Tie a single overhand square knot in one end of the thong and draw it from the smooth side of the leather through this slit. You can now use this thong to wrap around your closed book, with a single overhand knot to lock it all in place.
Fig. 8 — Outside showing final knots and slit for the tie thong (punch is holding it open)
NOTE: The figures are made using a much smaller version of this book, and a scrap of leather, it is not quite large enough for this project... nor was the thong long enough... it should wrap around the book at least twice.
The Completed Book
Greenfield, Jane, ABC of Bookbinding. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE, and The Lyons Press, New York, NY, publishers, 1998. ISBN: 1-884718-41-8 (pages 80 & 81)
Jarman, Christopher, Illumination, A Source Book for Modern Calligraphers. Dryad Press, publishers, 1992. ISBN: 0-85219-747-0 (pages 100 to 103)
Szirmai, J.A., The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, VT, publishers, 2001. ISBN: 0-85967-904-7 (pages 7 to 13)
Page Last Updated: 11/05/04