Bookbinding Workshop with Mary Ellen Buxton

In our most recent Process & Skills class, Mary Ellen Buxton provided us with a Bookbinding Workshop. I was super excited to participate in this workshop.

First, Mary Ellen showed us some intricate examples of bookbinding that she has done and her process in solving a bookbinding problem. She creates many drafts of the book and keeps a “cheat sheet” of how she got there inside the draft with a smaller mock up. She also showed us examples of other books such as the accordion fold books, and tunnel books.

How to Determine Grain

She then explained how to determine long grain and short grain and that the spine should always run along the long grain. To determine the grain, roll up a small part of the edge and gently press down to fell the bounce in the paper. The lighter bounce side is the longer grain. Since we want the spine to be along the long grain, we folded and cut the paper against the grain. When this occurs, you will notice buckling/cracking in thicker paper. She also showed us how to use a bone folder to fold and crease the paper. The trick to using a bone folder is to start in the middle and go outwards.

We used a color sheet for the cover and three white sheets for the inside. Each sheet is approximately 4″ in width and 20″ in length. The color sheet is then folded in half along the long grain. The white sheets for the inside are then folded into threes and one panel is then cut off and then folded in half. With the bigger folded sheets, we used the French fold and stitched the open sides into the spine. The smaller folded sheets were then added in to the first larger sheet with pamphlet stitching.

individual sheets


Pamphlet Stitching

In order to do the pamphlet stitch, use a bulldog clip to hold the smaller pages to the large page, leaving half and inch of space from the folded large sheet. Open the small book to the middle and draw three points; one in the middle of the crease and the other two between the middle of the point and the top and bottom edge of the sheet. Now, taking the awl, poke holes through the three points. Number the middle hole #1 and either of the other two #2 and #3. We need to prepare our thread for stitching, measure three to four times of the spine length worth of thread. Take the thread and run it through the beeswax so that it doesn’t rip the paper and to wax it together so it is easier to thread into the needle. Taking the needle and thread, start from the inside and pull the thread through #1 hole to the outside then from the outside, leaving approximately 3″ at the end. Then, pull the thread through hole #2 from the outside to inside then to hole #3 going from the inside to the outside this time. Finally, bring the thread through hole #1 from the outside back to the inside and tie a knot (right over left, then left over right). Cut the thread leaving 1″ of the ends.

pamphlet stitch

preparing for Japanese stitch

Japanese Stitching

Finally, we bind the french fold pages to the cover sheet using a simple Japanese stitch. Use two bulldog clips to hold down the pages and cover in place. Prepare two pieces of threads that are four times the length of the spine. Create two holes half an inch from the two corners. Working with one hole at a time, take one of the threads from the front of the book to the back, leaving 3″ at the end, bring that thread around the top and through the hole again from the front then around the side and through the hole again from the front. Tie a knot here when you are done. Repeat on the other side. Now that both sides are down, tie a knot in the middle of the two loose from the spine and then again approximately 1″ away. This now creates a hook for the book to be hung from. Cut off the excess, leaving approximately 1″ at the ends.

Japanese stitch

final booklet

final booklet hanging

final book inside

This was my first time participating in a bookbinding workshop and I’m hooked! I would love to explore other methods and come up with my own solutions to my bookbinding problems. I think I will check out the workshops at the Center for Book Arts next. I also found a YouTube tutorial I would like to attempt for my next DIY sketch book using a Coptic Stitch.


One thought on “Bookbinding Workshop with Mary Ellen Buxton”

  1. I am so pleased that you got “hooked”. Who knows where this new discovery will take you (to The Center for Book Arts and beyond)?! I can’t wait to see the ‘book” configuration you choose for your photo essay.

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