Bonus Info: Sewing

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Working with a punching cradle: use scrap card stock
to soften the impact of the awl, line up your folios
against the fence at the end of the cradle,
punch straight down, make small holes.

To sew a simple pamphlet, you’ll need:

1. A single trimmed section for every book you want to make containing however many folios you’ve decided to use.

2. A cover for every book, each slightly taller than the book block and at least twice as wide as an open folio (4 times as wide as the closed book, plus some extra). Ideally, the cover material should be thicker than the text paper, but it doesn’t have to be super-thick.

3. A sewing template. More on this down below…

4. Linen binding thread. In our class on the 27th, we used different colors of 18/3 Coats Barbour thread. The first number is basically the thickness (the higher the number, the thinner the thread); 18/3 is somewhat thicker than you would use for the majority of binding projects, but it works fine for these pamphlets. The second number indicates the ply, or how many individual strands of thread make up the whole.

5. An awl. But not a carpenter’s awl or anything big and scary like that. Instead, a narrow, light-duty awl is best. Or a needle in a pin vise.

6. A block of beeswax.

7. A needle with a blunt point.

8. A punching cradle, which isn’t totally necessary for a simple pamphlet, but it helps. According to the Internet, there are tons of sources for nice ones. I got mine from Chester Creek Press. If you search for punching cradles, you’ll find lots of plans for easy-to-make cardboard versions, which work great, too.

9. A pair of dividers.

10. A metal ruler without cork on it, if possible. Sometimes the cork peels right off, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes you can find totally corkless ones. Those are the best.

11. A bone or teflon folder. You basically always need one of these. A bone scorer might be nice, too, especially for the part where you fold in the end flaps.

12. And of course a pencil and maybe some sort of little image or rubber stamp or whatever for decorating the cover of your finished book. Which, speaking of decoration, feel free to draw or print on the cover material before you bind it.

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To begin, mark your sewing stations on the scrap piece card stock that you cut to the same height as the book block. One method for finding the right placement is to fold a piece of paper the same length in half to mark the center, then to use a pair of dividers to mark the outer stations with reference to the center. Where the stations land is up to your aesthetic judgment. Transfer the marks with dividers to the card stock template. (It’s best to keep the template flat, so that’s the reason for first measuring things on a separate strip.)

Next, lay an open section down in the punching cradle. The illustration at the top of this post shows an end view of a cradle. You will, however, work from the side. If the cradle has a fence at one end, jog your section against it to make sure all the folios are lined up properly. This will become even more critical when you’re punching multiple sections for a thicker books (you’ll want all the sewing stations to stack up in a neat line and the heads and tails of every folio to align).

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Then, lay your template against the spine fold of the innermost folio. Make sure it is up against the fence and that the section hasn’t shifted any. In fact, work in a consistent way with each section, since this helps the sewing stations stay consistent. Using an awl or a needle, punch the sewing stations according to your template. Punch straight down with the minimum necessary force. The holes should be about the same diameter as your thread and your sewing needle, if not a little smaller. They should definitely not be much bigger. As you sew, you want the paper to grab onto the thread and if the holes are too big, sewing tension will always be a little looser than it should be.

Also, remember to punch the cover, which should, at this point only have one fold in it (the spine). Remember, as well, that the cover ought to be a fraction taller than the book block, which means you’ll have to set your template at about half that fraction inside of the head or the tail edge. The cover isn’t visible in the next few drawings, but imagine it’s there the whole time.

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To begin sewing, you will need a length of thread roughly 3.5 times the distance between the outer sewing stations. You may discover with practice that you need a bit more or a bit less, depending. To wax the thread, just run the whole length over a block of beeswax once or twice. Then thread your needle. You can lock the thread onto the needle by slightly rolling open the ply about a 3/4″ from the cut end and then passing the needle through this gap. Pulling the thread down toward the eye should make it secure enough. Remember to include your cover!

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Start by entering the middle sewing station from the inside of the section. Try to be careful about not making new holes with the needle. Hold the tail of the thread under your thumb to prevent it all from going through the sewing station.

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Then enter an outer station, bypass the middle, and exit again.

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Go back up through the middle hole while being careful not to pierce the thread that’s already there. Bring the needle up on the other side of the length of thread that’s laying in the fold. You will trap it under a knot a couple of steps from now.

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Put aside your needle. Gently pull on both loose ends in the direction of sewing to take up any slack in the thread.

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Make a knot.

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Then make another one.

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Trim down the tails and fray them out with the end of a needle or by pressing on them with the blunt edge of a bone folder. Place a scrap piece of card under the tails first to protect the surface of the folio.

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Lay your sewn book out on a clean, uncluttered flat surface. Slip your metal ruler under the fore-edge of the bookblock.

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Pull all the leaves over to one side and adjust your ruler so that you see a hint of metal all along the fore-edge of your bookblock. Press down to hold the ruler in place. Run a bone scorer down the edge of the ruler to crease the cover material.

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Lift up the flap and reinforce the fold from underneath with the bone scorer.

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If the flap is too long, mark where it should be trimmed. When I do this, I first press a bone folder along the fold to flatten it (although it doesn’t need to be crazy flat). I then lay the flap down and make a pinprick in the cover just shy of the spine, since I usually want my cover to nestle there when the book is closed. You can make the flap even shorter if that’s your aesthetic, but I wouldn’t do without one altogether, because a folded fore-edge is more durable than a trimmed edge (plus you can glue down the bottom edge of the flap to make a pocket). I then open the flap back up and use a triangle at the pinprick to guide my Olfa knife. Making sure first, of course, to use a cutting mat and that there’s nothing important under the book, like another book or cover stock or whatever.

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Repeat all those last few steps for the opposite flap. Your pamphlet is close to being done. Just lay it flat one last time and run a bone folder down the spine a couple of times. When you do this, you might want to use a piece of newsprint to protect your cover. Look at the book from the head and the tail ends to see if the fore-edges of the cover are lined up with each other. You can adjust them if needed by refolding them and pressing them flat again with a folder.

And that’s it. Or, at least, it’s as much as I can remember right now. I had planned to do a separate post about tools, but I kind of covered all of that here, so I think we’re okay for the moment. Pamphlets might seem simple, but learning how to do them well gets you ready to move on to more complex binding styles. And now I’m off to go take care of some other work for a while. If you have any questions, let me know. I definitely want to see what everyone’s working on.

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