Bookbinding: Make a Coptic Stitch Book

Caleb Sylvest, Designer, Developer, Maker of Things

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16 Lessons (1h 23m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Materials & Tools

    • 3. Folding Signatures

    • 4. Cut Book Board

    • 5. Cover Paper

    • 6. Cover Flaps

    • 7. Endsheets

    • 8. Punch Signatures

    • 9. Punch Cover

    • 10. The First Stitch

    • 11. Complete the First Signature

    • 12. The Second Signature

    • 13. The Third Signature

    • 14. The Last Signature Part 1

    • 15. The Last Signature Part 2

    • 16. Outro

16 students are watching this class

Project Description

Make a Coptic Stitch Book


An example  of what we will be producing, a handmade one-of-a-kind coptic stitch notebook.


Reference this handy diagram if you need a guide on the pieces that make up our books.


Materials & Tools

Gather Materials & Tools

Coptic stitching will require a number of materials and tools, most are easy to find at a local craft/art store. A few of the tools are suggested but not necessary, I denote these tools with an asterisk*. Feel free to experiment or modify any of my suggestions if you like, but I do suggest following fairly closely along at least for you first book. 



Textblock Paper

The type of paper is really a personal preference, though I would suggest something lighter weight, similar to printer paper (20-30lbs) rather than a heavy card stock. The style and texture is completely up to you. Typically Coptic Stitch books are a higher class type of book, so I look for a nice paper with a natural feel instead of grabbing sheets from my office printer. You can find great options at a hobby store like Michael's or an office supply store like Office Depot.


Book Board or Chipboard

We will use Book Board to create our covers. Book Board and Chipboard are both very similar, but Book Board is a bit higher quality and more difficult to find at a local store (you will probably have to order Book Board online if you want to use it). Chipboard is easy to find at a local craft store (Michael's, Hobby Lobby, etc.) and is fairly cheap. (You could also use the chipboard cover off an old sketchbook if you have one lying around). Ex: Chipboard from DickBlick or Book board from Hollander's



For this book any type of white glue will work, but I typically suggest keeping a stock of good PVA glue for bookbinding work. We want a good, archival PVA glue, and not all PVA glues are made equal. PVA glue can be found at some craft stores or online, but I always suggest Hollander's. Ex: Hollander's Adhesives.


Waxed Binding Thread

Binding thread will be used to sew our signatures and cover together. I suggest buying waxed thread to save a step of having to wax your own thread. You can buy 100 yard spools for about $15 from Hollander's or find 10 yard snippets around $3-4 on Etsy. One coptic stictch book will probably use about 3 yards of thread, so going with a smaller quantity while starting out is a safe bet.  Ex: Hollander's Waxed Thread or Waxed Thread on Etsy 


Mattress Needle

A mattress needle will be used to sew thread through the signatures and secure them to the covers. You may never have seen a mattress needle before, but they are curved like a half circle. You can find a mattress needle at any craft/art store (Michael's, Hobby Lobby, etc), general shopping centers (Target, Walmart), or sewing store (JoAnn Fabric, etc). You don't need a mattress needle per so, and can get away with a large straight needle, but the process really will be much easier with a mattress needle (and they only cost maybe $1). Ex: Mattress needle on Amazon



An awl will be used to punch holes through out paper signatures and book cover. You can find an awl at most craft/art stores or on Amazon. Ex: Awl's on Amazon


Decorative Papers

Decorative papers will be needed for the cover of the book and endsheets. The type and design is up to you, but pick something that visually goes well with your thread and textblock paper. You can find plenty of options at craft stores. Sheets should be at least 12” x 12” and I suggest getting two of each. Other cool options could be to use old maps, posters, or wallpaper. Ex: Papers


X-Acto Knife & Blades

An x-acto knife will be needed to cut paper and board (extra blades are helpful also). I highly suggest using an x-acto knife over box-cutters or scissors! Ex: X-Acto Knife


Metal Ruler

A metal ruler will be needed for measuring and cutting.



Well, duh. I prefer hard leaded mechanical pencils (for just about everything I do) and really love architect lead pointers, but feel free to use whatever you like!


Bone Folder*

A bone folder is handy for folding paper, but not necessary. But if you really want to feel like a pro go ahead a get one, it's a great tool to have around and to show and perplex friends! Yes, they really are made of bone (most of the time). You can find a bone folder at any craft store like Michael's or Hobby Lobby. Ex: Bone folders on Amazon


Cutting Board*

A cutting board makes for a good work surface and easy cutting of materials, but if you don't want to buy one you can instead use an extra piece of chipboard, or cardboard, or any sturdy material to cut on. Ex: Rotary Mat

Folding Signatures

Choose Paper

In bookbinding methods like Coptic Stitching we will fold individual sheets of paper, group several together, and sew the groups together into signatures. A signature is a group of individual sheets, and in bookbinding we call individual sheets leaves. In this project our book will contain 5 signatures with each signature containing 5 or 6 leaves.

Fold Paper

For most binding techniques that use a stitching method the individual sheets of paper we use, or leaves, will be folded and grouped into signatures. To get started we will fold each leaf in preparation for creating signatures.

I'm going to suggest that we bind our first coptic stitch book with 7 signatures, and each signature be made with 5 leaves. So if we do some quick math we will know we need 35 sheets of paper to work with (5x7=35).

The number of leaves per signature can change depending on the weight of paper used. In this case I'm using a lightweight paper, about 20lbs (similar to standard printer paper). If you use a heavier weight paper you may need to reduce the number of leaves per signature (I don't suggest using cardstock paper or anything that heavy). Modifying the number of leaves per signature helps to reduce page creep which I will explain more in the next step when we form signatures.

1. Fold the leaf over hamburger style, remember that ;) aligning the outer corners.


2. Using a bone folder or your finger, crease the center of the leaf.


3. Crease the leaf from the middle out toward the edge.


4. Continue folding all leaves until you have enough for the entire book, in this case that means 35 leaves.

Create Signatures

A signature is a grouping of leaves stacked inside of each other, almost like if a Pacman ate a Pacman that ate a Pacman!

1. Create signatures, each with 5 folded leaves.

In the last step I mentioned page creep. Page creep is the out cropping of the folded leaves in a signature. We want to limit the amount of page creep in a signature, and can do so by minimizing the number of leaves we use (but still maximizing our page count). If we use lightweight paper, about 20-30lbs, we should be able to have 5 leaves per signature. If you use a heavier weight paper you may need to reduce the number of leaves to 3 or 4.

For this project I recommend 7 signatures.

2. After I make the signatures I like to stack them one on the other and run the bone folder over the edge to sharpen it a bit more.


The Cover

Cut Book Board

For our Coptic Stitch book we are going to make hardback covers and wrap them in decorative paper, then sew them to our signatures. You can use either bookboard or chipboard, whichever you have access to. Bookboard is a higher quality board than chipboard, and what I prefer when it comes to Coptic Stitching, but chipboard is easier to come by.

We want our covers to have a slight overhanging lip, so the covers need to be slightly larger than the signatures (the overhang will also help fight page creep). The overhang should be 1/8" over the signature, but only on three sides, not the side we stitch. So if we started with standard 8-1/2" x 11" paper, folded it and made signatures that are 5 1/2" x 8-1/2", then we need to cut covers that are 5-5/8" x 8-3/4".

Be sure your cover has clean, sharp edges all the way around. You may be tempted to use the precut edge of the board, but I suggest trimming all four sides of the cover to ensure and great edge.


Cover Paper

The bookboard covers will be wrapped with a decorative paper. You can select any type of paper you like. A simple option would be to go to a craft/art store and find paper there. Craft stores typically sell individual sheets of decorative paper that come in 12" x 12" square sheets. If you go this route you will need two sheets to cover both bookboard covers. Other options could be to use wallpaper, old maps, or wrapping paper.

The cover paper is going to overhang the bookboard covers because we are going to fold the overhanging paper around the edge of the bookboard.

1. Lay cover paper facedown on the table. Ensure the table is clean so the cover doesn't get messed up.

2. Paint a thin layer of glue across one face of the book board. I suggest examaning your board closely, you may see that it has a slight warp in one direction, like a soft "C". Paint glue on the outside edge of the "C". That way the pull of the glue will help reverse the warping.


3. Adhere the book board to the backside of the cover paper. Be sure to place the board so that it has at least 3/4" of paper over hanging, though I suggest 1-1/2" or so. Also, be aware of any patterns or designs on the cover paper and place accordingly (consider if you have lines or some other directional design).


4. We need to trim the cover paper to leave a 3/4" over hang around the book board. Measure 3/4" on each side and trim accordingly.


5. Here comes the tricky part, we are going to trim the corners of the paper, what some people call mitered corners. There are multiple methods of handling corners, but the option I show you is my personal favorite (and in my opinion, the best).

The cut needs to be at a 45° angle about 1/8" away from the corner of the bookboard (or at least the depth of the bookboard). It's always better for the cut to be farther from the corner than closer, so I usually cut a very healthy 1/8" from the corner. With the corner technique I cover it's okay to cut farther away from the corner, the fold will still look perfect, but you never want to under cut the distance.



6. Once you miter your corners, gently fold the cover "flaps" to create a crease. You can be fairly firm as you fold, it's better to over crease at this step then not enough. Take your time repeatedly folding the flaps on all side.


7. Time to glue. Always start gluing on the long sides of the cover (unless you're making a horizontal book). One edge at a time, apply glue to the flap (and a little to the bookboard where the flap will land). Don't add so much glue that it becomes runny, but pay attention to add enough to the edges and trimmed corners of the flap.


8. After you apply glue, gently fold the flap over the edge of the bookboard, starting in the middle. Work it with your fingers from the middle out, ensuring there are no air bubbles or creases. Also, be sure the crease around the edge of the cover is nice and sharp.

Repeat with the other long edged flap. But hold off on the short edges until the next step.


9. Apply glue to a short flap. As we fold the short flaps in, gently tap the edge ruffle in the cover paper with a pen or bone folder. If we fold the edge ruffle in (and if we cut far enough from the bookboard corner) the flap should fold over nicely and overlap the long sided flaps.

And, in my opinion, this corner looks wicked sweet! Repeat with the other short flap.


End Sheets

Our endsheets will cover the inside of our cover, currently showing the bare bookboard. The endsheets will overlap the cover paper flaps that we folded, but leave a 1/8" gap from the edge of the cover.

We need to cut two endsheets, the size will be close to the size of the folded signatures. Since our folded signatures are 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" we need to subtract 1/4" from the width (5-1/2") for the stitching and keep the height the same. So cut two endsheets that are 5-1/4" x 8-1/2". Who knew there was so much math required for bookbinding!

In this demo I'm using an old map!

1. Cut two endsheets, each 5-1/4" x 8-1/2".


Tip: turns out my map was very wrinkly with lots of creases. My wife suggested I use an iron to smooth the creases. And voila, it worked! So if you are using some sort of paper that's very wrinkly (like a map) try an iron!


2. Paint glue on the backside of the endsheet. Don't put too much or the paper may become soggy. Having an adequate amount of glue on the edges is important to be sure all edges connect tightly.


3. Pay close attention when placing the endsheets on the cover. For one, we want to place the endsheet with a 1/8" spacing from the top, bottom, and outside edge, and leave a 3/8" space on the inside edge (for the stitching). And two, if your endsheets or cover paper have any special designs or patterns on them you want to be sure to place the paper facing the correct direction.

In my example below I'm using a map and want the front cover endsheet and back cover endsheet to correlate correctly with one another.


Punch Holes

Before we start sewing our signatures we need to punch holes in the signature groups and cover. We will mark our signatures with a pencil before punching holes.

Mark Signatures

Take one signature group to measure and mark. Follow the diagram below for marking the signature. You can make up any pattern for stitching a coptic stitch book, but for this lesson I suggest we keep it simple. I suggest we punch 8 holes for our first book, and the outer most holes be 1/2" from the book edge. From there measure the other marks, they should be about 1-1/16" from one another.


Technically if you make 8 markes 1-1/16" from one another it wouldn't actually fit in the 7-1/2" space (8-1/2" - 1/2" - 1/2") that we are using, but the difference is so infinitesimal you won't notice.

1. Use a pencil and ruler to mark one signature.


2. After you have one signature marked, stack all signatures in a group. Use a ruler or spare piece of bookboard to mark all the signatures according to the first signature you measured and marked.


Place an object on the signature stack to prevent shifting, a book or iPad will do.


Okay, listen up, cause this is important! From here on out you must keep the signatures in the exact order you marked them in. If it helps, number the signatures in the top corner, that way you know the order and also know the top/down direction. This will be very important as we go forward!

Punch Holes in Signatures

Take each signature one at a time and punch holes along the fold using the awl. Keep the signatures orderly, don't let it shift as you punch the holes. I like to punch through from the outside, then flip the signature over and punch through from the inside, just to make sure the holes are large enough through all leaves.

Take note! Be sure to keep the signatures in the correct order and direction as you move them around!


Mark Cover

1. Use the marks/holes of the signature stack to mark one of the covers. Obviously the signatures should be centered vertically with the cover board before marking.


2. Use a ruler to make a tic mark along the x axis next to the previous mark. The mark should be centered between the cover edge and the edge of the endsheet. I always make cross tic marks, to give myself an easy target to shoot for.


Punch Holes in Cover

1. Use the awl to punch through the book cover. Press downward and rotate in small circular motions until you are sure the tip makes it through. After punching all holes from one direction, flip the cover over and work the awl through from the outside in.


2. The awl should easily fit through the hole, if it doesn't you may have trouble when it comes time to stitch. Also, I like to clean up the exit holes as the awl can sometimes buldge the paper. Use your thumbnail or bone folder to smooth the exit wounds.


3. One cover down, one to go. To mark the second cover, place the completed cover on top. You can see how close we are getting in the process!

Use the awl to mark the unpunched cover. The do what we just talked about to punch holes through the cover and clean up the exit wounds.


I hope you have kept the signatures in the correct order! Sandwhich the signature stack with the covers, dang this is looking really good!



Choosing Thread

I suggest purchasing pre-waxed thread, we really want to use waxed thread for our stitching because waxed thread holds up better throughout the long process of stitching and helps prevent tangles and binds. You can buy/use un-waxed thread and purchase bookbinding wax to wax the thread yourself, but I suggest keeping it simple and stick with waxed thread.

Unwind the thread a measure out 1 foot of thread for every signature in your book. In my case I'm adding seven signatures to my coptic stitch book, so I'm measuring out a length of 7 feet of waxed thread (I'm also going to add 4 or 5 extra inches just to be safe).


The First Signature

Follow along with the video, watch and re-watch the footage until you have a good handle on the stitching technique for the first signature.

Stitching the signatures can be tricky, and I'll do the best I can to repeatedly show the steps again and again, as well as provide some diagrams below, but for your first book it's going to be a bit of repeated viewing and head scratching to figure it out. Good luck!










The Middle Signatures

Follow along with the video, watch and re-watch the footage until you have a good handle on the stitching technique for the middle signatures. I provide to looooong videos of the second and third signatures, each follows the same stitching pattern, but figure it's better to provide to much information than too little.









The Last Signature

Follow along with the video, watch and re-watch the footage until you have a good handle on the stitching technique for the last signature and front cover. This step really is the trickiest, but take your time and follow along.

Now Run Amok

Well that's it! We made it to the end of the course, you should have a beautiful handmade book in your possession now.

The last few things to do:

  1. Post your project in the Project Gallery.
  2. Leave a class Review.
  3. Start a thread in the Discussions area.
  4. Make another book!

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