Bookbinding allows you to create something that is both beautiful and functional, while also indulging a love of paper. Paper is, of course, an essential component of bookbinding, and there is delight to be had in selecting papers of specific colours, weights and textures to suit a particular bookbinding project.
A book’s pages need to be able to withstand repeated opening and handling, so consider using card-weight paper. Watercolour paper, printmaking paper and calligraphy papers work well, as do stiffer handmade papers. These papers can also be used to make soft covers. Ordinary photocopy paper can take some wear and tear, so you can choose to use this for pages of a notebook. Photo albums and scrapbooks, however, require sturdier pages.
Hard covers are made from boards covered with paper or book cloth. Regular cardboard is too thin and vulnerable to piercing to use for bookbinding, so millboard or pasteboard are used instead. Millboard is the strongest and highest quality board. However, it is very dense and difficult to cut by hand. Pasteboard is of medium density and so easier to cut and less expensive to buy, and is available from good art supply shops.
A pliable and sturdy cover material is usually glued to a board. Look for paper that is thin enough to fold neatly around the corners and produce tight, crisp points and edges. Very thick paper will not fold neatly and is dificult to make into a point.
Book cloth is another option. This is a cotton-based material with a paper backing that ensures that the adhesive does not penetrate the cloth.
Adhesives are referred to as either pastes or glues. Paste is made from wheat flour cooked with water to create an inexpensive, effective adhesive. Its slow-drying characteristic makes it very useful when positioning and repositioning a board on cover paper. It is applied with a brush and must be refrigerated to keep it fresh. PVA glue is quick drying and an excellent complement to wheat paste: store it in a small cone-topped bottle for handy application and airtight storage.
There are many options when selecting a binding material, such as colourful embroidery threads, linen bookbinding threads, ribbon and raffia. Select a material that best suits the overall look and functionality of the book. For a sewn multi-section book, a thin, strong bookbinding thread will secure the sections tightly.
Coating binding thread with a thin layer of beeswax helps the thread to pass through the holes smoothly and makes it grip the paper once in place. Decorative ribbons should not be waxed; embroidery and bookbinding threads should. Alternatively, look for waxed linen thread in the beading section of your local craft shop.
When starting out in bookbinding, begin by purchasing the basic tools listed here. Other equipment can always be purchased later.
- Craft knife
- Cutting mat
- Metal ruler
- Paste brushes
- PVA glue
- Bone folder
- Bookbinding or embroidery needle (needles should be relatively small with a very sharp point and an eye of a size to accommodate your thread)
- Binding materials
- Awl and hammer (the size of awl will depend on the width of your binding material)
- Brayer (small roller)
- Weight (such as a brick wrapped in protective paper or cloth)
- Metal clips (useful for holding pages together)