Tuesday 9 February 2010

How To Tuesday - How To Make A Japanese Bound Book

Do you have lots of scrap paper around, don't know what to do with it all? Or maybe your ideal sketchbook just isn't available in the shops? Or perhaps you'd just like to feel the satisfaction of drawing/ writing in something you've made yourself?
Read on.....
What you will need -
*Paper for the pages
*Paper for the cover, you don't want anything too thick for this type of binding, it's not going to be a hard back book, maybe handmade paper, or watercolour paper. I've used an old proof of one of my etchings, it's about 300gsm.
*Linen thread, you want a good strong thread, one that wont break half way through sewing the binding. I've also been told dental floss works very well for this.
*A ruler
*An awl or a tool with a sharp point to make the holes. You can also use a mini hand drill if you have one.
*A book binding needle, or a darning needle works well too. Has to have a sharpish point.
*Chopping board or thick cardboard to protect your bench.
Also usefull -
*A bulldog clip to hold the book together while sewing
*A bone paper folder (I can't find mine anywhere)

Ok, ready to start. Decide on the size of your book, rip the pages down for a traditional look or cut them down for a clean sharp finish. Fold the pages in half. A bone folder is useful here, but not essential.
Your cover will be made of doubled up paper too. One for the front and one for the back. Fold these in half too.
Put the book together ready for sewing. You will be sewing the opposite edge from the folded side.
A bulldog clip is useful to hold everything in place. Clip the folded side together. If you are worried about the clip marking your paper you can put  a strip of leather on either side of the book under the clip to protect it.
Now you want to make the holes that you're going to sew through. Measure equal distances along the book. Mark them with a pencil or with your awl.
To make the holes you can either use an awl (or any tool that has a sharp point) or a mini hand drill. You can buy these mini drills in jeweller supplies shops, they are quite useful, especially if your book is quite thick.

Place your book on the wooden board or thick card and pierce the paper all the way through. This can be tricky, but the straighter the hole the easier it will be when sewing. You will see when it comes to me sewing up my book one of my holes is not straight, this will make the finished book look not as neat as it should. Bad me.
So, you have all your holes made. You can have as many holes as you want, some japanese bound books have lots and it looks great, but takes a lot of work. 
Measure out your thread, I was told use 5 times the height of your book, I don't know if this is true, I always seem to have a lot of thread left over, but this is preferable to running out of thread half way through and having to start again.
To start with you put your threaded needle through the middle hole BUT from half way through the book. This leaves all the tied up thread inside the book, not visible on the cover.

Leave a nice long tail, it will make the final part easier.

Now this is where it gets confusing, I will try and explain as best I can. Put the needle through the next hole and pull the thread through, careful not to pull it all out!
You then wrap the thread round the spine of the book and put the needle through the same hole again. If you are finding it difficult to pull the needle through use a pair of pliers, it can take a bit of effort especially if you have lots of pages.Put the needle into the next hole. 
and again wrap the thread round the spine and through the same hole.
For the corners you wrap the thread round the edge and put the needle up through the corner holes again. 
Make sure you keep all the sewing nice and tight, otherwise your book will fall apart. Put the needle through the next hole to fill in the missing piece, then up through the middle one again. You're not going to do the spine thread for the middle yet, that is the last bit you do.
Start sewing the other half in the same way as you did the first. If this seems complicated it's better to just give it a go, it's easier when you're actually doing it.

The final bit of sewing is around the spine of the middle hole, wrap the thread round and put the needle through the hole, but only to the middle of the book, to the page where the other end of the thread tail is. This can be fiddly.
You now need to tie the ends of the thread together, tie them a few times just to be sure. If you want to keep your pages with the folded edge (very Japanese!) this can be fiddly, but if you want the pages to be separate just use a ruler to rip the pages apart and the tying is a bit easier.
And now your book is ready for use!


  1. I love this! I might just try it.
    Thanks so much for sharing, Bridget. :)

  2. That's fab, love it. My problem is I buy myself lovely notebooks and then don't think my doodles and scribbles are worth wasting them on, so they sit on the shelf. So if I made one myself I'd be so proud of it I suspect it might sit on the shelf too. Bit silly really....!

  3. do try it balanced, if you have any questions you can ask me!

    I know what you mean Alex, I give people hand bound books as presents and when I ask what have they done in them they often reply that they couldn't bring themselves to do anything in them, which I think is a real shame! They're made to be used! I find if I buy a really nice sketchbook I do better drawing in it! Imagine how good your work will be if you've made the sketchbook too Alex, think about that!

  4. this is fab! i love it!!! i think i will give it a shot

  5. hi bridget,
    fantastic tutorial with wonderful illustrations :) thank you for sharing this!

    and thank you so much for adding me to your favs :))
    luthien :)

  6. this is great! I love it.... I don't have the right tools but I'm sure i can come up with something (hopefully without losing a finger!)
    H :)

  7. What an amazing and thorough tutorial?!!

    Thanks for sharing!

    I hope to try this one day.