Bookbinding/Japanese side stitch

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Intro - Why? - Perfect - Japanese side stitch - Saddle stitch - Long stitch - Equipment - Materials


Japanese Side stitch is a simple non-adhesive binding that is an excellent intro to bookbinding. Also known as Stab Binding, this traditional binding was practiced in China, Japan, and Korea. It has the advantage of being very cheap, as thread and paper are the only materials needed. A simple 4-hole stab binding can take about an hour from start to finish. This binding works well in these situations:

  • Sketch and art books
  • Scrapbooks
  • Notebooks
  • Small technical documents
  • Repairing a paperback
  • Non-permanent bindings

One of the downsides of the stab binding is the exposed thread on the book. The threads could snag on things and, if cut or torn, will cause the binding to fail completely.

To make smaller books, fold several sheets of paper carefully into halves or quarters, clamp the stack together and punch and bind it. Optionally, you can then slit the pages apart with a sharp knife afterwards, being careful not to cut the binding threads.

To bind a book using stab binding you will need:

  1. Paper or book to be repaired
  2. awl, or thin wire brads and a small hammer
  3. heavy thread, six times as long as the book's height
  4. needle
  5. pencil
  6. ruler

Binder clips are optional, but useful to keep the pages from shifting while you sew.

For a scrapbook or blank book, cut covers from card stock or a file folder.

Here's what you do:

Hole spacing for Japanese binding.PNG 1. Using a ruler, draw a line from the top to the bottom of the front cover, about 14 in (6.4 mm) from the spine. Make two marks on this line, one 14 in (6.4 mm) down from the top of the book, the other 14 in (6.4 mm) up from the bottom. Now divide the distance between these marks into thirds and mark the two middle points.

2. Even up the pages and clamp the book together with binder clips, or weight down the front edge to keep the pages from moving. Protect your work surface with a piece of scrap wood or an old phone book as you punch a hole at each of the marked points using the awl or wire brads.

Making these holes should not damage the text in the book. Most paperback books have an inner margin of 12 in (13 mm) to 34 in (19 mm), leaving plenty of room for rebinding.

Sewing a Japanese book-Anchoring the thread.PNG 3. Thread the needle and tie the ends together with an overhand knot. Open the book a few pages and, next to the lower middle hole, push the needle through about twenty pages. You may need to use the awl to start the hole, but make sure you make it smaller than the knot or it will slip through. Pull the thread through until the knot is snug against the pages. Go back out to the front cover by pushing the needle up through the awl hole. This step anchors the thread.

4. Now sew the rest of the book as shown in the accompanying illustrations. Pull the thread tight each time you go through a hole or your binding will be loose.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 1.PNG Go around the spine and back up through the starting hole, then down through the other middle hole. Pull the thread tight after going through each hole.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 2.PNG Around the spine again, then up through the top hole.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 3.PNG Around the spine, then...

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 4.PNG ...around the top of the spine and up through the top hole again. Keep going, down through one middle hole, back up through the next, and down through the bottom hole. For holes that already have a loop of thread around the spine, you can just go to the next hole.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 5.PNG Around the spine again and...

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 6.PNG ...around the bottom of the spine and back through the bottom hole. Go up through the starting hole again.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 7.PNG To finish, tie off the thread so the binding won't come loose. Do this by slipping the needle under two of the top threads coming out of starting hole and back through the loop to form a tight knot.

Sewing a Japanese book-figure 8.PNG Run the needle back down through the starting hole and cut the leftover thread flush with the back of the book.

After that, you have a completed book! If the pages of your book shifts more than you like, you can make sure to pull the thread tighter as you go. Slightly flexing the paper while you bind the book can also help take up some of the slack when it lays flat.

The great thing about stab binding is that it isn't required to have four holes. You can do any number of holes and can even create decorative patterns using the thread. Some patterns are even able to spell words along the spine!