This week I finally learned something I’ve been meaning to for a long time: I learned how to sew a chapbook/pamphlet in a workshop on basic bookbinding. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University) is hosting three free workshops to promote Night Shift, which is an annual exhibition of artwork created by students and instructors in NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies. On Wednesday, June 8th between 12-1 p.m., Niko Silvester (NSCAD instructor and fellow Letterpress Gang member) showed a gaggle of eager book lovers the basics of bookbinding. We only had enough time to create one chapbook, but I was amazed at how simple bookbinding really is.
I decided to share my new-found knowledge with you so that you can create your own beautiful, handmade books. With a few supplies and this basic knowledge you can create lovely chapbooks, journals, pamphlets, and zines; you can self-publish your poetry for family and friends or make small keepsake scrap books, and notebooks, etcetera. They make great gifts. And, with the exception of needing to use an exacto knife, an awl, scissors, and a sewing needle, this is also a great craft project for kids and teens (depending on the age of the child, parents/teachers can take care of the cutting and punching).
As I learn more about bookbinding techniques I will be sure to write posts about them but, for now, here is a lesson on basic bookbinding:
Step #1: Supplies
For basic bookbinding you will need the following supplies:
- an exacto knife
- a cutting mat or a clean cutting board
- a ruler (if you’re using one with cork underneath, flip the ruler over so that it lays flat against the paper; the cork creates a space between the ruler and the paper, which means that your knife may wobble and the line you cut may not be straight)
- 1 sheet of card-stock or thick construction paper for the cover (For this book I used handmade paper, which is thicker than regular paper)
- 10 sheets of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper (style, quality, and colour of your choosing) for the inside of the book
- an awl
- a bone folder (optional)
- linen string/twine, or a thin ribbon, or needlepoint floss
- a sewing needle
I didn’t have all of these items on hand so I made a trip to DeSerres in downtown Halifax, but any art/craft/hobby store should have these basic items for sale.
Step #2: Cut Paper
As I learned during Night Shift‘s Bookbinding Workshop, paper has a grain (which, of course, makes sense since paper is made out of trees). Paper grain is important to consider when bookbinding. Try bending a sheet of paper along its length and then along its width; you’ll notice that a sheet of paper is easier to bend lengthwise than if you try to bend it along the sheet’s width.
When bookbinding you want to fold with the grain. If you do this with a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper you’ll end up with a long and narrow book. This might be appropriate depending on your purposes (ie: if you are making a pamphlet or zine); however, I prefer a shorter, wider chapbook.
Fold your 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper in half. If you like ragged book edges (like I do) then use a bone folder to cut/tear your paper.
If you would prefer straight edges then use an exacto knife to cut a straight line along your fold. Alternately, you can play around with your chapbook size by measuring the length of the paper you want. And feel free to experiment with sheets of paper larger than 8 1/2″ x 11″.
Once you’ve cut your sheet of paper in half, stack the two halves together and fold your stack of paper along the grain. This is the inside of your chapbook.
Step #3: Create Book Cover
Measure and cut (with either the exacto knife or bone folder) a piece of card-stock or construction paper (or, in this case, handmade paper) so that its height is the same size or slightly longer than the height of your chapbook pages. Fold in half along the paper grain and then place your stack of pages inside the cover.
Step #4: Punch holes
Depending on the size of your chapbook, you will need three or five holes. For the size of this chapbook only three holes are required. Make a template out of scrap paper so that your holes are evenly measured. Your scrap paper needs to be the same height as your chapbook. Fold it along the grain (its length) so that it can sit in the crease of the centre of your book. Next, fold the scrap paper in half along its width; the point at which your creases meet is the centre of your chapbook. Then fold both the bottom and the top of the paper by about an inch; where these creases meet is where you will punch the second and third holes.
Place the template inside the centre of your chapbook and hold. Next, take the awl and punch a hole in the centre of the chapbook (be careful that you don’t end up punching one of your fingers). Twist the awl back and forth until it works its way through all sheets of paper and the cover. This will take some arm work and patience. (TIP: You can make it easier on yourself by punching the paper and the cover separately, but make sure that you use your template each time so that all the holes match up when you put the book back together).
Step #5: Sew Book
Linen string/twine is the best kind of string to use when bookbinding because linen expands under the same influences and at approximately the same rate as paper, which means it is less likely to rip the paper during expansion (FYI: many kinds of paper are made with linen as well; linen paper has a wonderful texture).
Cut the length of your string to approximately twice the height of your book with some extra to spare. Thread your needle. You have two choices on how to start sewing your chapbook. You can start from the inside centre hole, which means that your knot will be hidden on the inside of your book (this is how bookbinding is traditionally done). Or, you can start from the outside centre hole, which means that your knot will be on the outside of your chapbook (the purpose of this method is to tie a bow or fancy knot as a way to decorate the outside fold of your chapbook).
If you start from the inside hole your finished chapbook will look like this:
For the chapbook below, I started from the outside centre hole so that I could tie a bow. Insert your needle and thread into the centre hole. Don’t pull all the way through, of course, or you’ll have to start again; leave plenty of thread behind so that you can tie a knot or bow. From there, insert your needle and thread through the top hole. Then go all the way down to the bottom hole. Finally, insert your needle and thread back up through the centre hole. Important: You want the needle and thread to end up back at the centre hole, coming out from where you first started. Make sure that each end of the thread are on opposite sides of the centre thread-line. Remove thread from needle, and then take each end of the string and tie a double knot over the centre thread-line.
From there, either cut your strings shorter (if your knot is on the inside of the book), or tie your strings into a bow (if your knot is on the outside of the book).
Step #6: Enjoy your new hand-sewn book
You have now made a chapbook, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s complete. If the paper is too long for the cover, trim it with the exacto knife (making sure your cover is out of the way, of course). If your cover overlaps the paper more than you like, trim this as well.
Get your creative juices flowing. Decorate the cover of your chapbook with pictures, drawings, letterpress (see right), or creative designs. Cut designs into the edges of your paper with the exacto knife or scrapbooking scissors (if available). Write in your chapbook. Use it as decoration (after all, you’ve made something beautiful–why not admire it). And now that you know how to make a basic chapbook, play around with different chapbook styles, colours, and papers, etcetera. Your possibilities are endless.
Night Shift is hosting two more lunch-hour, free workshops in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, June 15th Pam Johnston will be teaching Hand Sewing and Embroidery between 12-1 p.m., and on Wednesday, June 22nd Charley Young will be teaching Printmaking Image Transfer between 12-1 p.m. All materials are provided and no experience is necessary. Both workshops are being held at the NSCAD Port Campus at 1107 Marginal Road. Drop by if you can. Maybe I’ll see you there!
For more information about taking an Extended Studies course on Bookbinding (or Letterpress Printing), visit NSCAD’s website on Book Arts + Paper Crafts.