Instructions: Coptic Binding (Paired Needles)

I'm in the middle of reading and writing currently, but I took a little break to make a little book for a friend's birthday. The painting-lettering was inspired by images featured in Handwritten: Expressive Lettering in the Digital Age by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic. 

It occurred to me that when you give someone a birthday card or birthday book, if it says "Happy Birthday" all over it, it seems like it's only good once a year. I wanted to make a book that could be happy every day. The logic is my own, but if a birthday is just one day and every day is just one day, the book could be good all year.

At three times along the way I thought the book was finished. I'll show you where.

This is one version of a Coptic binding, a book with an unsupported spine that opens completely flat. Instructions for a larger book with four holes are on pages 181-183 of Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms. If you do make a larger one, you'll need to work with the needles dangling off of the edge of the table—all cats out of the house! (There is another version with one curved needle on pages 174-176.) The one I'm showing here is often referred to as "Double-Needle Binding;" I call it "Paired Needle." You can use any even number of holes, but they must be sewn in pairs, one needle for each hole. I've tied two colors of thread together, but you can use one long one, just center it inside and across the first signature before you start.

Example: 2"h x 3 1/4"w book
Tools: bone folder, pencil, ruler, two needles, awl or drill with small bit, scissors; small bit of board or brush for gluing; magazines or waste sheets to protect table; waxed paper; heavy book
Materials (all grained short): 5-10 pieces of 6" x 4" paper for the inner pages; 2 pieces of 3 1/4" x 2" 4-ply museum board; 2 pieces of covering paper, 4" x 2 3/4"; 2 end sheets, 3" x 1 3/4"; thread (I used waxed linen, which was a little thick for this book); PVA

I began by painting a half sheet of Velin Arches (you can order it and the inks through Daniel Smith) with FW acrylic inks (see techniques in Painted Paper: Techniques & Projects for Handmade Books & Cards) and cutting it down.

2. Fold each sheet in half the long way,
then in half the short way.
Arrange with the open edge at the top.
You can plan for these to function like 
pocket pages, if you like.

3. Take one of the pages and 
inside, along the short fold,
measure 1/2" inch from either edge.
Mark and poke holes.
Use this one for a template
and poke holes in the remaining pages.
Stack them up.

4. Using a small brush or piece of scrap board dipped in PVA, 
apply the glue to the covering papers, and wrap
 the boards with them
Apply glue to the back of the end sheets
and press into place.
(For more details, see "Covering Separate Boards" on page 209 in MHB.)
Instead of wrapping the boards, you could 
distress the boards and paint them with acrylic paints.
See this post for instructions.

5. Wrap in waxed paper and let dry under
a heavy book. You need the covers before you 
can start sewing because you will sew the covers
along with the book block.

6. Measure, mark, and drill or poke two holes in the boards,
1/2" from head and tail, 1/4" in from the spine.
Remember that the holes will be on the left for the front
and the right for the back.

7. Measure and cut your thread. Shown are two pieces
tied together with a square knot: each one is 
the [height of the book] x [the number the signatures + 2 covers] 
divided by 2.
Example is 2 inches high with 10 signatures + 2 covers.
2 inches x 12 signatures/covers=24 inches
each color is 12 inches.
I sometimes add a little more to be safe.
Thread a needle onto each end.

8. Take the first signature, and poke one needle out through one hole,
one needle out through the other, centering the knot.

9. Sew straight out and into the covers.

10. Sew back into the same signature, same holes
you started with. Note that yellow is still on the right.

11. Inside that same signature, cross the threads,
and sew back out through the
opposite holes. Yellow is now on the left.

12. Once out, take the needles under the loops
created from the previous stitch. 
The threads will catch but do not knot.
Tip: easiest if you aim the needles toward the outside edges.

13. Add your second signature by sewing
straight down and into it. Yellow is still on the left.

14. Cross the threads inside again,
and bring them out the opposite holes again.
Yellow goes back to the right.
Make sure you tighten the threads as you go along.

15. Loop under the previous stitches again on the outside.
Addendum (7/5/14): The pattern shown is a link.
For more of a herringbone or braided look, make sure
you count up two gaps between signatures (instead of the one shown) before you loop. 
Clarification will be featured in an upcoming post
You will also need to be more generous when you measure your thread.
16. Continue adding signatures by sewing straight in, crossing inside, 
sewing out, looping under the stitch outside,
until you get to the last signature.

17. Sew straight into the boards.

18. Sew back into the last signature.

19. Make a square knot inside the last signature.
Right over left, left over right.

20. Tighten and trim the knot.

Here is the finished book.
Except it didn't seem finished to me, yet.
I wanted it to feel more festive.
It needed more color.

I poked holes at the top of the open edges
and threaded some colorful waxed linen through the holes.

I still wasn't completely satisfied. While those open edges
could be used as pockets, I decided I wasn't going to use them that way.
The open fore edges looked too plain to me.
I cut some strips from my leftover painted paper, folded the strips,
and glued them to the fore edges.
I liked the added layering.

An added bonus: it looks like a cake with candles.



Velma Bolyard said…
a perfect evolution...and cake
Lucia Sasaki said…
Hi Alisa!
Thanks for this post, it is very beautiful.
Until now, I knew only coptic with circular needle and one only thread, thanks for this new way to binding in copta.
I am going to try it.
Thanks again!
Giorgia said…
Hi, i pubblic your post in my facebook page in group "club del libro" because is a good work
Ciao best regards Giorgia and Pietro
we sorry for us orrible english
Hello Alisa, cheers from Venezuela!!
Love your instructions because I have been trying to learn coptic ensamble and your instruction are very clear.Very greatful to you and thanks a lot. Atropical hug, Mariella.
Alisa said…
Your comments help keep me posting! Glad to hear the instructions are helpful. Thanks Velma, Lucia, Giorgia and Pietro and Mariella and everyone!
Els said…
What a little beauty !!!
Oh my, I should have seen this before I finished MY little booklet Challenge .... ;-)
Wonderful book, and it does look like a birthday cake! Your friend is very fortunate. Thanks for the tutorial.
Janet Hickey said…
This is lovely. Thank you for continuing to blog and share your tutorials, I have ALL Of your books - they're my first source of reference AND the ones I recommend to others. Happy 4th.
Jo said…
Thank you for posting these excellent instructions for two needle coptic binding. I did a workshop and learnt this method about three years ago but have not made a book for a while and I had forgotten the process. I used four needles and am very pleased with the outcome. Jo from Australia
Alisa said…
Wonderful! So glad this worked for you. Thanks for writing!
Unknown said…
I learned this technique in a workshop a few years ago but haven't done it for some time and needed a refresher. Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I love the effect of the two colors of thread knotted along the spine; so pretty.