Friday, 1 May 2015

Traditional Four Hole Japanese Binding

In this long overdue post I am going to take you through a simple four hole Japanese ‘stab’ binding. The four hole is the simplest of all Japanese bindings but it is also the basis from which the majority of other designs stem from.
This form of binding is great for sewing single sheets together but it does have the drawback of not being able to lie flat when open.
I will also be explaining how to back material with Japanese paper to create your own book cloth. An essential process if you want to use fabric for book covers, especially thin cottons and silks.
The tools we will be using for this method don’t need to be too specialised or expensive. I think the most expensive piece of kit I have in this instance is the punch. The rest you probably will have lying around the house. A good knife, rule and scissors, as usual are essential, along with your bone folder of course. Various brushes; again you don’t need to spend a fortune but soft bristles or hair are best, along with a firmer brush. A mallet for punching the holes, I use a rubber mallet as it’s quiet and most of my binding tends to happen in the evening; small children need to sleep. I’ll mention other tools as we go, so lets get started.

Our first job is to cut down our book block. There are many types of Japanese paper and all have different properties. A whole blog post could be dedicated to paper alone but certain papers are better suited to specific processes. Some are un-sized so are not suited if you intend to use it for brush work or with a fountain pen.

The paper I have chosen for the book block is Sekishu-Shi, a handmade textured paper. I will also be using Tosa Washi for backing my fabric, a machine made paper. Both are very lightweight but strong, the Sekishu is only 31gsm and the Tosa Washi is a mere 28gsm. 

Japanese paper is quite expensive so when cutting your paper down try and get as much as you can from the sheet. In most cases the paper has a right and wrong side, the right side having a smoother surface. 

Each page of the book will be a folded piece of paper with the folded edge being the fore edge. So each page is a double sheet. Remember this when measuring out. 

Cut the required amount of paper and fold smooth side out. Then collate and using a bone folder flatten the creases on the fore edge.
The sewing will be along the open edge so there will be an open space within the fold. This kind of binding is known as ‘Pouch’ binding.

We now need to make paper stitches for the primary binding. These stitches are made from strips of paper tightly rolled. Each strip is 25mm wide and around 20cm long. It needs to be rolled (not twisted) on a slight angle. This is not a particularly easy job but it does get easier with practise. Not that I condone smoking but if you have ever rolled your own cigarettes you will find this process a lot easier. If you are going to make more of these books in the future it is worth investing some time to make as many of these as you can. 
Once you have two made we then need to punch holes where we can thread these stitches. 

Knock the pages square along the fore edge and lay the lot onto a board. I use a piece of old chipboard shelving as its quite soft and won’t damage the expensive Japanese punch.
Each of the paired holes is 10mm from the spine, 15mm apart and a reasonable space from head and tail. This measurement depends on your size of book but if the holes are positioned at around a third of the whole height that should be fine.

Once the holes have been made thread a paper stitch through one hole and back up through it’s neighbour. Tie the two ends together and then flatten off the knot with a hammer. I use my backing hammer for this.
Trim the excess of the stitches and give them alight tap with the hammer again.

Now all you need to do is trim the head, tail and spine.

Next we are going to cover the corners on the spine. These are said to have no function other than being decorative but I think they add strength to the corner. For these I’ve used a lovely two-tone silk book cloth but you can use any book cloth or decorative paper but the thinner the better.

Two pieces are cut so that when formed around the corner they will measure 20mm down the spine and 10mm along the head or tail. When measuring incorporate the thickness of the spine. 

Paste the book cloth and form it around the spine 20mm down from the head or tail. 

Fold the 10mm excess over the head or tail and flatten off the ‘ears’ on the sides. 

Add a little paste to the underside of these ears and fold down. Use your bone folder to smooth and form the corners to your satisfaction and that’s the book block complete.

It’s at this stage that I’m going to show you how to back fabric with Japanese paper. Normally I would have this prepared beforehand. It’s not necessary to use backed fabric as there are many lovely decorative papers available including Japanese Katazome and Chiyogami. Being able to back fabric, however, is a very useful process to know and not that difficult to do.
The fabric I’ve chosen is one of Liberty’s Art Fabrics. Thankfully donated by my good friends at Smith & Downes (, as it’s quite expensive!
For this process you will need a smooth surface or board, I use another old Formica shelf, some wide brushes, paste, a trigger spray and a backing paper. As mentioned earlier I'll be using Tosa Washi as it is thin but very strong and a board to transfer the backed book cloth onto, to dry. 

Cut the Tosa Washi slightly larger than the Cloth. Around 10mm all round should be fine.
Fabric has a grain too, this is seen in the warp and weft of the weave. The weft moves from left to right and the grain runs with the warp. So keep this in mind when cutting your cloth.

Firstly place the cloth face down on the smooth surface and spray the back with water. Smooth out the cloth with a wide soft brush.

Next paste out a piece of Japanese paper that is a centimeter larger than the cloth all round. Using a piece of dowel or slightly rounded piece of wood, pick up the pasted paper and transfer it to the dampened cloth.

Smooth the surface with a dry wide brush and with a firmer brush push the paper into the surface of the cloth to ensure it’s completely attached.
We now need to transfer the backed cloth to another board to dry. I use a piece of MDF for this. Brush a little paste to the edge of the backed cloth and place a small piece of paper to make removing it a bit easier later.

I now gently lift the whole damp, pasted cloth and paper from the Formica to the MDF and smooth it off with the dry brush. I've read that it is possible to transfer simply by pressing the one board to the other. Effectively sandwiching the cloth between boards but it never seems to work for me.

Allow to dry thoroughly before removing from the board with a blunt knife. Trim the edges and you now have a strong non-porous cloth that doesn’t stretch and can be worked like paper.

We will now use the prepared cloth to make the covers. To measure up the covers fold roughly 15mm along the spine edge of the cloth. Place the book on top so that the edge of the cloth is just visible. 

Leave roughly 15mm at the head and with the point of your bone folder mark the outside measurements of your book onto the back of the cloth. You can use a rule so as not to damage the books edges.  

A faint burnished line should be visible. Leave 15mm excess at the tail and 25mm on the fore edge and trim.
Now fold the head and tail turn-ins first then the fore edge and cut the excess material at the corners with a pair of sharp scissors or shears.

Place the book in place exactly where it needs to be and holding it firmly at the spine pull the book back and apply a few spots of paste. Drop the book back onto the cover then repeat the process for the other side.
Finally paste down the fore edge and the book is ready for piercing.

To make piercing the book easier make a template for the holes rather than marking the material. Cut a piece of paper with the exact dimensions as the spine edge. Draw a line 10mm in from the spine and mark two points 20mm in from each end. Divide the space between these two points by three and this will give you the measurement for the last two holes.

Place the template to the spine and prick through the template firmly to mark your holes. Then using a punch and a mallet make your holes.

We are now ready to sew the book. Thread your needle with plenty of thread; I’ve used a green dyed linen thread from J Hewit & Sons but any thread is fine. Thread with a little weight to it tends to look better though.
This style of binding starts and finishes inside the book so the final knot is hidden.
Remember to keep your sewing tight.
First take a few of the sheets, and the back cover, and gently open the book to the punched holes. Locate the second hole from the tail and push the needle up through the book and front cover. Pull the thread through leaving a tail poking out from the fore edge.

Now hold the book so that the spine is facing up and the back cover is facing you. The thread will be protruding from the front cover.
Bring the thread over the spine and push the needle back through the same hole. You should now have a stitch looped over the spine.  

Now move along to the left push the needle through the next hole and then go over the spine and back through the same hole. You should now be on the back of the book. 

Move along to the left; go through that hole and over the spine again. Now take the thread around the head and back through the nearest hole. 

Take the thread in and out of all the holes back towards the tail. Sew over the spine and around the tail edge, which leaves us our final stitch.

Open the book where the initial tail of thread is poking out from the fore edge and hold open. Now push the needle through the final stitch into the book so that it joins the first stitch. 

Pull tight and tie these two threads together with a double knot and trim the excess.

The book is now complete. Traditionally a title strip would be attached to the front cover but I prefer them without, especially when using decorative fabrics and papers. 

I hope you manage to find time to give this process a try.

Take care.