How to Make a Cloth Book Binding


Whether you have an old classic book that you can't imagine tossing in the trash, or you want to make a blank book as a gift to someone special, knowing how to make a cloth book binding can add a personal touch to any book project. Because of the technology of the 21st century, few people know how to bind a book by hand, and most people, even avid book lovers, don't know how a book is bound. With a little practice, however, you can turn this craft into a rewarding hobby.

Things You'll Need

  • 8 ½-by-11 inch paper
  • Ruler
  • Awl
  • Book-binding thread
  • Binding tape
  • Bookbinders needle
  • Neutral pH adhesive
  • End sheets
  • Decorative paper
  • Book clamp
  • Open weave cloth
  • Book cloth
  • Binding headband
  • .060 to .100 inches thick binder boards
  • .010 to .012 inches thick acid-free stock paper

Creating a Text Block

  • Fold your sheets of paper width-wise to create the pages for your book. Crease the folds with a sturdy ruler. Insert the pages into one another as though they were stacked and folded together. This unit is called a signature. For beginners, try not to have more than five sheets of paper, or 10 pages, in each signature until you get the hang of things.

  • Create a stitching template for the book. Mark along the edge of an 8 1/2-inch-long side of a piece of thick scrap paper or thick cardboard. Place a tick mark at 1 inch down from the top and 1 inch up from the bottom. Draw a second set of marks 2 inches in from each of the first marks, leaving four marks altogether.

  • Open a signature and insert your marked paper up to the crease from the inside. Use an awl to punch two holes, ¼ inch apart, through the paper at the premarked points. Place a long piece of binding tape perpendicular to the direction of the fold at each of the four holes. Sew through the paper and tape to secure the pages together and secure the tape.

  • Add tape and sew the pages of the other three points on the same signature, leaving a length of binding thread connected at each point. Set the next signature over the top of the first. Sew the pages by attaching the second signature to the same binding tapes on the first. Pull your thread tight to bring the spine together. Continue to add signatures until you have the number of pages you want.

  • Add a strong end sheet to each side of the text block. You may choose to attach a decorative paper to the end sheet that should face into the book. This paper is typically marbled or has other decorative elements. You may choose to draw or design your own paper for your end sheet. Sew the end sheet on or glue just the edge of the page to the text block with neutral pH adhesive.

Making the Cover

  • Set your preprinted book or handmade text block in your book clamp and press. Place a strip of open weave cloth over the spine and binding tape. This cloth is called a super and should be wider than the spine. Brush a coat of neutral adhesive over the super. It will work through the weave and to the spine and tape. You may choose to add a headband to each end of the text block during this step.

  • Cut two cover boards from binder boards to 8 ½-by-5 ½ inches. Measure the width of your book spine and cut a spine from your acid-free stock 8 ½ inches by your measured width.

  • Lay out your book cloth with the outer-patterned side facing down. Place your covers and spine on the cloth. Leave a ¼-inch gap between the covers and the spine and a ¾-inch border of book cloth around all of the edges. Mark an outline of your three pieces on the book cloth. These lines keep your layout in place while you work and move the pieces around.

  • Spread adhesive between the covers, the spine and the book cloth. Set the covers and spine down following your marks. Press out air bubbles between the boards and cloth. Let the entire piece dry. Turn the excess ¾-inch border of cloth over the edges of the boards and spine and glue it down. Miter the corners so that they lay flat.

  • Remove the text block from the clamp. Glue the excess edges of the super to the end sheets on the front and back, catching the binding tape in between the two. Place the text block on the inside of the cover. Glue the covers to the end sheets, front and back, trapping the super in between the layers. Set the book back into the clamp and press. Let the glue dry.

Tips & Warnings

  • For a blank book or journal, choose fabric and decorative paper for your end sheet that match the recipient's tastes. If it is a rebinding on a print book, choose a fabric and paper that reflects the theme of the book.
  • Practice your technique with regular thread, cardboard from cereal boxes or notebooks, and inexpensive muslin fabric. If you bind a simple practice book before you begin, you will save on using up your actual supplies.

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  • Photo Credit Photos by Margaret Telsch-Williams of binding by Mark Noble
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