Process: Exposed Spine Bookbinding

So this is a book that I made for Andrew's birthday. I wanted to make him a photo/journal book for his contemplative photography that he likes to do. I wanted to make him this book a year ago, but as I often did in 2010, I put it off. This is a new year, so I just sat down one night and made the whole thing start to finish. Here's how to make an exposed spine book:

First you have to prepare your paper. That involves some math (how big is your book) and a lot of cutting. I made Andrew's book a landscape 5"x7". The signatures for the text block are on the left, and the cover is on the right. Since I'm sewing the spine, I have to cut rectangles out 5"x14" and fold them in half in groups of 4 or more.

I have all my signatures lined up with my (uncovered) cover so I can mark the entry points for my needle. I usually make the holes 1 1/2" apart in pairs of 2 along the spine.

Here are my 2 sets of holes 1 1/2" apart. It's always a good idea to make the holes in the signature with an awl before sewing with the needles. I do this for every signature. Marking them when they are lined up ensures that all the holes will be lined up when you finally get to sew. I've learned that measuring exactly doesn't always work since the width of the signatures could vary by small amounts. 1/8" really does make a difference.

Next is gluing paper to the chip board to make the cover. It really doesn't matter when this part gets done, as long as it's done well before you sew the whole book together. But this is the only thing that is actually glued in the whole book. I use decorative paper, usually wrapping paper weight, but the "deluxe" wrapping paper you get from paper stores... you know the kind... Anyway I glue down the 4 corners first, then the edges. I use PVA, an acid free glue used most commonly by bookbinders, thinned with water.

After the cover is glued I take a piece of plain paper, usually a good hefty weight (I'm using Canson drawing paper, it takes glue well, and is sturdy enough for this part) that is 1/4" shorter on both sides than the size of the finished cover, so that it doesn't go all the way to the edge. Spreading glue on the cover and all four corners of the paper works best (if the paper took all the glue it would curl up and you have a higher risk of wrinkles in the final outcome).

Repeat and you have a front and back cover. At this point, it's a good idea to press the covers under some heavy books (or if you have a book press, that's even better). Then wait until the glue is dry. overnight is usually good, but if it's dry to the touch you can move on to the next step. Gluing the cover first before anything else can be helpful since it can dry while you get the rest of the book ready for sewing.

The next step is puncturing the covers. I like to line up the signature that will be sitting next to it on the book, so I know it will match up well. You can see the needles (one for each hole) that I'll be using on the right.

Next I use the method described in Keith A. Smith's book: Non Adhesive Binding, Vol. 3: Exposed Spine Sewings and sew the book together one signature at a time working all 4 needles for each signature.

The end result is pretty neat, and the book looks cool on a shelf. There are a LOT of decorative and creative stitches in Smith's book mentioned above, also at least 3 different methods of sewing a book. The way I sew books is the easiest because it doesn't require any special bookbinding tools beyond an awl and needles. Other methods use book frames and book presses to get similar results with a different look and feel to them.

So that's how I put a book together. I hope you enjoyed reading. If anybody would like more elaboration or an in depth how-to, just leave me a comment, I'd be happy to answer any questions.


  1. Katie my love, I really want to learn how to do this.

  2. should I do a better how-to, or should you come over and we'll have a book-making party?? :)

  3. I can not wait to learn how to do this too! Although I'm sure making my own won't be nearly as fabulous as getting a Katie.