Creative Bookbinding

Creative Bookbinding

by Pauline Johnson


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"Unusually well done and informative." — Lafayette (Indiana) Journal & Courier
A book bound by hand can be a work of art in a way that machine-bound books can never be. And in this comprehensive, profusely illustrated guide to hand bookbinding, a noted expert in the field explains the techniques needed to create your own choice specimens of the binder's art. Directed especially toward beginners, Creative Bookbinding shows how this ancient craft offers a satisfying hobby and rewarding aesthetic experience — even for those with little previous knowledge of the craft. As Pauline Johnson states in the Preface: "Even with a limited background of knowledge [the craftsperson] can experience a great deal of enjoyment in binding his own books and building up a distinctive personal library of which he can be proud. Each product can be an artistic creation to be cherished."
Detailed illustrated instructions for achieving such beautiful hand-crafted volumes are presented here in a readable, informal, and easy-to-follow format. After a brief history of printing and binding, the author provides an in-depth discussion of book design — the proportion and size of books, the parts of a book, materials, tools, and equipment needed for book construction ( a list of supply sources is included), and more. Working procedures are clearly explained, progressing from binding simple folders, notepads, folios, pamphlets, and magazines to full-size sewn books with bindings of cloth and leather. You'll also find an indispensable chapter on the preservation and repair of valuable or irreplaceable volumes.
Over 600 photographs and diagrams explain and clarify each step of each process, as well as depicting an abundance of beautiful bindings, both ancient and modern. With this book as a guide, bookbinders at all skill levels can strive to achieve similar magnificent results.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486263076
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 06/01/1990
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 11.00(h) x (d)

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1963 University of Washington Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13738-4


Book Design

The subject of bookbinding includes more than the knowledge and application of binding techniques, for the matter of personal taste in the selection and use of materials enters into consideration. The structuring of a book, whether conceived in its entirety or limited only to the application of the cover, should be approached as a problem in design to be solved by the application of the principles of art. It takes more than functional considerations, skills, and the following of rules to make a good binding. It takes emotional involvement, followed by the release of creative energies thoughtfully and sensitively employed. In a successful design there is more than mere technical achievement; there is a relation of good craftsmanship with fine feeling.

The designing of a book should be considered from the standpoint of the total production, for out of the assembling of the parts grows the harmony of the whole, down to the last detail. This includes the selection of the paper for pages and the establishment of their size and proportion, the choice and use of colors and textures, and the appropriate combination of materials. All the parts should be unified, and no ornamentation should be added as a separate or unrelated element, for a good decoration must support the total plan.

There must be a relation not only of the parts to the whole, but of the whole to the purpose, so that the result is an artistic production, uniting form with content. The trend today is away from thinking of binding as decoration only but rather toward considering it as related in some way to the character and intent of the book.

The medieval designers worked for fine space relations both on the covers and on the inside pages of their books. They were sensitive to the relation of page margins to the text area and carefully laid out their page designs with much thought and feeling for proportion and shape. Two pages seen together, facing one another, were a problem in balanced relationship, and the designer sought to unify them. The Persians were particularly successful in bringing all the parts of the book—binding, writing, and illustration–into an orderly, balanced harmony.

Every page can be viewed as a space in which text, illustration, and margins are rectangular shapes to be related to one another in good proportion. The text appears as a gray tone, formed by the black lines of type merging with the white spaces between. When seen through half-closed eyes, this gray contrasts with the lighter tone of the surrounding margin. It should be considered as an area to be positioned. To study various arrangements one can place on a sheet of white bond or typing paper a smaller contrasting sheet, gray or off-white, about 6 by 9 inches or less in size, and move it around to form various margin widths. It can be centered first, pushed upward to reduce the space above and widen the space below, and then shifted toward one side or the other. In this way the darker paper is seen as text or illustration related to the total page area. It is also helpful to study well-designed book pages for their page plans and observe each in relation to its facing page.

All written and printed medieval books followed established traditional margin spacings which varied in width but usually followed the plan of having the inner margin the smallest, the top larger, and the bottom the largest of all (diagram A). The Greeks arrived at a formula for pleasingly proportioned rectangles based on the golden oblong, which varied in size but always had the same proportion of approximately 5 by 8. They usually avoided such obvious proportions as a rectangle made of two full squares or a square and a half, preferring one of a square plus an unequal division of a square.

Most books are proportioned as rectangles in pleasing shapes and sizes to fit the purpose for which they are intended. When a square is selected, all parts of the book should be adjusted to this proportion so that its structure is dramatized. Whatever the shape, all lines when possible should conform to the horizontal and vertical directions of the outer frame to maintain balance and unity; diagonal placements are generally avoided because of their disturbing influence, unless they are structurally related to the cover or the page.

The modern designer is concerned with problems of space division and layout, and he experiments with various arrangements by shifting shapes about the page, manipulating them for balanced relationships of line and tone. He often places illustrations against outer edges, eliminating restrictive margins entirely, but always leaves supporting space for text to facilitate reading. Reference to magazines like Domus, Graphis, or Print, which contain page and cover designs from contemporary sources, will be of great assistance to students in enlarging their concepts of book design and will stimulate them in their own creative work.

The type selected is an important part of the total design, and its shape and weight have a considerable effect on the general tone value of a page. These factors should be studied for readability and appearance. Many modern types are designed without serifs, while others have simple modifications of them. The hand-constructed letters on illuminated manuscripts were carefully drawn and thought of as artistic forms. Type also must be designed and carefully drawn before it is cast in metal. Many type faces are named for their designers.

Nowhere in book design does the creative mind have more opportunity to function than in the planning and construction of the cover, for here the artist-craftsman is able to employ line, area, texture, tone, and color with imagination and forceful command of structure. He has the choice of following established concepts, where decorative pattern favors static symmetry and enclosure, or he may be experimental and daring and venture into new directions involving open design as influenced by the abstract. The newer approach affords more freedom in the manipulation of spatial relationships, resulting in a flow of movement and creation of dynamic forms.

The designing of a book can be a thrilling and adventurous experience. When color nuances of cover, lining, and page, as well as textural qualities of papers, are considered, and decorative features of cover and lining are related, the resulting harmony can be a pleasing work of art.


A great deal of flexibility is possible in determining the format and structure of a book. Children and other beginners will gain a concept of proportion and find freedom for choice within broad restrictions by folding a sheet of paper in various ways.

A 12-by-18-inch piece of newsprint is convenient to use since it is thin and can be folded a number of times (diagram A). When this is folded once, the result is 9 by 12 inches (diagram B). If it is then folded horizontally, it produces a 6-by-9-inch shape which can be turned vertically (diagram C) or horizontally (diagram D).

If the 9-by-12-inch shape (diagram B) is folded in half vertically, it will result in a narrow shape (diagrams E and F).

When the 6-by-9-inch folded sheet is creased in half the short way, the result is 6 by 4½ inches (diagrams G and H). When it is creased the long way, the resulting form is 3 by 9 inches (diagrams I and J).

Thus a sheet of paper can be folded in many different ways, producing a variety of sizes and shapes that can be used in designing a book. This provides a structural basis for establishing a book size and proportion, while allowing considerable freedom of choice.

The Parts of a Book

A book is composed of contents enclosed within a hard or soft cover. The contents are the main body of the book, made up of sections called signatures fastened together at the spine. These signatures are formed by folding a sheet of paper one or more times. A paper folded once makes a folio; twice, a quarto; three times, an octavo; and four times, a sextodecimo. Beginners may want to cut separate sheets, fold them once, and assemble two or more, one inside the other. The number of sheets in a single signature will depend upon the thickness of the paper. If too many are used the result will be thick and awkward. The paper is always cut so that the grain will run vertically, parallel with the back of the book.

End papers are folded sheets placed on either side of the assembled signatures to form a lining for the inside of the cover board, and also a flyleaf.

The super is a mesh cloth or muslin placed across the spine, extending out on either side to form a hinge for joining the cover to the book. The joint comes at the edge of the board covers where they meet the back of the book.

Headbands and tailbands are applied at the top and bottom of the spine to produce a more finished appearance. The term "headband" is often used to refer to both. They are also called bandstrips.

The fore edge or front edge is the side opposite the back or folded parts of the book. The back of a book, including the part where the folded and sewn sections are glued together, is also called the spine.

The boards are the cardboards placed on the outside of the book to form the cover. Familiarity with the parts of a book and the terminology associated with them will be of help in understanding the directions that follow. These parts can be seen in any well- bound commercial book, and if the book is falling apart there is an opportunity to get a clear view of the actual construction.


Materials, Tools, and Equipment

The amount and kind of equipment used in the making of books vary with the extent to which the binder intends to carry his work. Many simple forms of books can be produced with a limited amount of materials. Some projects require very little in the way of tools and can easily be adapted to classroom situations or to home workshops. The beginner interested in trying this fascinating craft can often make substitutions or improvise in various ways to accomplish results within his limitations. Although books can be made without the convenience of a sewing frame or press, items of this nature can be constructed along modified lines in the school shop or home workshop. Lack of expensive equipment need not prevent anyone from experiencing the pleasure of binding books.

The serious craftsman will find it of advantage to provide himself with presses and cutters, as well as the various tools necessary for advanced work of a professional nature. If he plans to work with leather, use gold-leaf printing, or put on titles, he will find that special types of equipment will be needed. The professional binder often has a considerable amount invested in his workshop, as large, heavy equipment is costly. This fact need not frighten the beginner, however, for he can start simply and add on as he wishes. The important thing is that he should respect his tools and use them to the best advantage.

A list of materials, tools, and equipment commonly used in this craft follows, with a brief description of each.



A variety of papers is needed in making selections for use as book pages, covers, and lining sheets. Common and easily available papers like bond, white drawing, cream manila, colored poster and construction, charcoal, water-color, and Japanese rice paper are suggested possibilities. Inexpensive papers that come in rolls like kraft (which is generally available in schools), butcher, and heavy brown wrapping paper are convenient for general types of work. These will be referred to in the text as kraft papers.

Some companies have large assortments of domestic and foreign imports and issue sample sheets or booklets from which selections can be made. Colorful and unusual papers can be found at Japanese stores. It is advisable to check all local sources to discover what might be available in the immediate environment.

Tough, flexible papers used for soft covers on Bibles, notebooks, or wherever limp bindings are required can be obtained from bookbinding companies.

Wax paper for pasting operations is available in flat sheets or rolls; flat sheets are preferable when they are obtainable. Wax paper is used to protect the book and keep it clean and to prevent the moisture of the paste from going through the book while it is being pressed.

Disposable paste papers can be made by cutting old newspapers into quarter-size sheets, which are thrown away after being used.


Strips of thin paper about 5/8 inch wide are used for mending tears and weak places in the folded parts of pages when doing rebinding. Japanese mending tissues can be purchased in strips or rolls, or tissues can be cut from very thin papers like onionskin.


Book cloth is the material used over the cardboard covers of a book. It may be any fairly heavy fabric, like linen, sailcloth, burlap, denim, light tapestry, brocade, or woven strawcloth, which has a pleasing textural quality. One can be imaginative in making selections. Suitable pieces can sometimes be found at remnant or upholsterers' shops. Hand-woven strips are also effective if they are not too bulky.

Book cloths referred to in the trade as "vellum" and "buckram" are available from bookbinding supply houses. They are made from cotton cloth that has been sized and are produced in various qualities, weights, and colors by the yard or bolt. Samples are usually available upon request. This material is very strong and durable and is used quite extensively on machine-made books. Many of the examples shown in this book are bound with a combination of vellum and patterned papers.

Trimmings from window shades thrown away in trash bins in stores have a quality similar to that of vellum book cloth and can be obtained without cost. They are limited in colors, however, and less durable than the vellum.

An adhesive-backed cloth tape up to 4 inches in width is obtainable in rolls from stationery stores and bookbinding supply sources.


Various domestic and imported leathers, available by the whole or half hide (or skin) as well as by the foot, can be used to cover books. These are discussed in the section on leather techniques.


Cardboards of various kinds, used as covers for books, portfolios, and similar constructions, are generally referred to as "boards." Davey boards, obtainable from binders or through catalogue sources, are available in a variety of weights. Professional hand binders generally use a binder's board called tar-board, which is tough, strong, and very rigid. This type of board is recommended for books sewn on cords where the cord is laced into the cover. A board 1/16 or 3/32 inch thick is suitable for most work. Ordinary chip board can be used when a cheaper, more easily available board is desired, especially for school work; it is, however, less rigid and more likely to warp. It is available in several different thicknesses in sheets about 24 by 36 inches in size. Other boards, like Photomount, poster board, illustration board, and mat board can also be used. Heavy tagboard is satisfactory for school booklet covers and for pamphlet covers.

Tablet backs, shirt cardboards from laundries, and discarded advertising display cards are sources to consider. If the cardboard is too thin and flimsy, two or more pieces can be glued together and pressed to form a good, rigid board.


Paste for book work can be either bought or made by the binder as needed. Cooked flour paste, wallpaper paste, laundry starch, cornstarch, and rice flour paste are all suitable for use. Recipes for these will be found in the back of the book. Library paste is generally available in schools but proves expensive when large quantities are needed. Rubber cement can be used and is less expensive when purchased by the quart or gallon than when bought in small amounts. There are a number of milky latex rubber-base glues available on the market. Certain casein glues will stick even to book cloth that has a glossy treated surface. Some binders use a strong vegetable glue that can be thinned with water to the desired consistency. Librarians use a creamy white plastic adhesive, a polyvinyl acetate, sold under a trade name, which can be diluted with water for lighter consistencies.

It is desirable to use flexible glue on the spine of a book to hold the sewn sections together in order to keep it from drying out and prevent cracking when the book is opened. This glue can be purchased as a liquid or in gelatin form from a bookbinder who makes his own glue or from a bookbinding supply company. The gelatin glue must be kept wrapped in heavy wax paper so it will retain its softness. Some glues are used hot, and others are applied cold. Glues may also be used wherever paste is needed except on leathers, where paste is generally desirable.

Padding and tabbing cements, rubbery compounds used commercially in making scratch pads, have a great deal of strength and can take the place of strong glue when a series of magazines are bound together. They are available as a white or red liquid from bookbinding supply sources.


Excerpted from CREATIVE BOOKBINDING by PAULINE JOHNSON. Copyright © 1963 University of Washington Press. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Book Design,
The Parts of a Book,
Materials, Tools, and Equipment,
Working Procedures,
Simple Constructions and Binding Procedures,
Decorated Papers,
Supply Sources,

Customer Reviews