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zaterdag 5 april 2014

Coptic sketchbook

A while ago, I made a Necronomicon-style sketchbook. It was a pretty easy project, because I used a store bought blank sketchbook, all I did was modify the cover. Now I'm taking it a step further by creating a sketchbook from scratch! This will be my first attempt at actual bookbinding, all my previous projects focused on custom covers, and not the book itself. My biggest inspiration for this project was "It's a little like magic", wich features lots of cool tutorials and build logs. The technique I used for binding, the so-called Coptic stitch, is explained in detail in this video. I'm not gonna explain it myself in this tutorial, because the video does a much better job than I could ever do.


  • Drawing paper, A4 size, 200 gram thickness
  • Book binding thread and needle
  • Cardboard, 3 mm thick (for the cover)
  • Thin cardboard (for cover decorations)
  • Hole punch
  • Hammer and small nail
  • Acrylic medium
  • Glue
  • Kraft paper
  • Paper towel
  • Paint
Creating the signatures
The individual signatures will consist of four sheets of paper. I used quite thick paper, is you use thin paper you can put more sheets in one signature. I folded each sheet in half and made six signaturesof four sheets. This will make an A5-sized sketchbook with 96 pages.
Now you have to put the signatures in a book press, to make the book more compact. Put them on top of each other, the same way they will be bound together, and put them in the press. My press is a favourite among hobbyists: the big, heavy stack of books. Leave it in for about a day and the sections will be flat and compact.
After a day in the press, I punched holes in them. I put seven holes in each signature, 3 centimeters apart, but you can make more or less if you want to. I wouldn't use less than four holes, though. I used a small nail and a hammer for this.

Creating the covers
This is where you can let your creativity go crazy! For my first attempt, I didn't go too crazy, though. I used the same faux leather technique I used before, except for the part near the spine of the book and the corners. Instead, I glued a layer of paper towel on it. It gives quite a special texture after painting!
I wanted to paint the faux leather blue, but this turned out to be more difficult than I thought. As always, I started with a black base color. For brown leather, I painted a dark brown over it, followed by light brown, but for blue this doesn't work. Dark blue painted over black simply doesn't show, it still looks black. So instead, I painted a lighter blue first, then a darker color over it, and finally finished it with some drybrushed gold. The parts with the paper towel were painted dark gray, with silver drybrushed over it. Very interesting effect, looks a bit like dull metal.

 After all painting was done, I glued cover sheets on the inside and put both covers in my book press (aka the big heavy stack of books). One word of advice: leave them in long enough! Even after the glue has dried, leave them in for at least another day or they will warp!
Finally, punch holes in the covers, the same distance apart as with the signatures. They don't have to be very big, I used the smallest size my hole punching tool had. Be careful with this, because I somehow managed to injure myself doing this...

Stitching together
With the covers and signatures ready, you can start stitching them together. You have to start with the back cover and work you way up to the front. The length of thread you need is approximately the height of the book times the number of signatures times two. I first wanted to use real book binding thread, until I saw it in the art supply store. It cost 30 euro for a 100 meter roll. Excuse me? That much, for thread? What is this stuff made of? No thanks! I bought a 1000 meter roll of ordinary thread for half the price and it worked great.

For the stitching itself, I highly recommend using a curved needle if you can find one. You'll have to stitch each signature to the previous one, and it works much better with a curved needle than with a straight one.
The most difficult part was stitching the covers on, but the rest was quite easy. Next time, I'm gonna use clamps to keep everything together while stitching.

Here's what the finished sketchbook looks like. It clearly demonstrates the coolest feature of the Coptic stitch. Because the book doesn't have a spine, it lays perfectly flat when open.

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