Japanese bindings are sewn bindings that I find very beautiful. There are different sewing patterns, including a four-hole, tortoise shell, hemp-leaf, and noble binding, these are all considered stab bindings. The first time I did any of these bindings was from a kit I bought. I wish I remembered where, because it was a great kit that included patterns for each of these binding styles. It also included all of the papers, as these are traditionally made with paper covers, and small bits of silk that are placed over the papers at the corners and are held on by the sewing to provide extra protection for the corners. I don’t have any photos of those kit books though I still have them. It had been so long though since I had done them, that I wished to relearn the tortoise-shell binding and to experiment by using boards for the cover.
So, I began by determining my size, which when covered is about 5″ x 7 1/8″. The pages themselves are 4 7/8″ x 5 7/8″. So, like any book, I began by folding the pages. Traditional Japanese binding has the pages folded in half with the loose ends going to the spine. Once the pages were folded I cut my boards and cloth and made my covers. Once that was done, I was ready to create the template for the binding.
Never having created this kind of template before, I began by marking two lines, the first was 1/2″ from the spine, and the other was 1/4″. Then I started to mark the sewing stations. Basically, each of the Japanese bindings are based on having four holes. The difference is that the tortoise-shell, hemp, and noble add additional holes to create different patterns. So, to create this template I divided the four main stations equally across the book, while trying to leave 1/2″ from the last station on the 1/4″ line from the head and the tail. Let me tell you, I did a lot of erasing before I got the pattern right to my eyes.
As you can tell from the picture, I use the binder clips that you can get from Staples to hold the text block together. I did this both for the stabbing and the sewing. I find the binder clips strong and really helpful. The thing to keep in mind with using them is that you may want to put extra paper underneath the clips to keep them from marking the paper.
I used a bodkin to stab the holes. Usually when you create the holes for sewing, you want them slightly smaller to allow the needle and thread to widen them just enough to keep the binding tight. I found with this book in particular, because I was going through the holes multiple times, I really needed to make them larger in the boards than I could with the bodkin. I ended up breaking multiple needles on this binding because the holes in the boards were too tight. After that happened a couple of times, I used an awl to enlarge the holes on the boards.
The sewing actually begins in the middle of the text block. You open the book in the middle of the second station and go out through the cover on the 1/2″ line, leaving about a 4″ tail that you lie toward the foredge.
1. You then wrap around the outside going through the opposite hole you began at and out through the cover again.
2. You then take the thread through the sewing station on the left (1/4″ line) down through the book and wrap around the spine to go in through that hole on the cover again.
3. From the back, you then enter the top hole (on the 1/2″ line) and go back to the top.
4. You now go through the hole on the right (1/4″ line) down through the book and wrap around the spine going back through that hole again.
5. From the back, you then enter the top hole (on the 1/2″ line) and go back to the top.
You then take the thread to the next station and repeat the pattern again. The only difference is in the next station, most of the pattern will be repeating from the bottom to the top instead of from top to bottom.
Once the pattern is complete at the fourth station, the thread is wrapped from the top around the tail and returns through the top hole on the fourth station. Then its a matter of sewing the straight lines between the stations by going up and down through the tops of each station to station one where the pattern still needs to be sewn. Once the pattern is sewn there, the thread is wrapped around the head, goes out through the top station and down into station two where it all began. At this point, you want to take the needle back into the middle of the text block where you began so that you can tie off the threads and finish the binding. Now, I had left a lot of space between my binding and my hinge, so I found this virtually impossible to do, so my book isn’t quite as finished looking as I would like. So, don’t leave a large gap between the binding and the hinge if you are going to use boards for the covers.
I truly like this style of binding and am thinking of using this book as a small photo album. It will easily fit 3×5 photos, but I always find it hard to actually use the books that I create. Usually, I just admire them and put them away to admire another day. Though I think I’ll put shelves up in my office and start to display them there or give them away to my friends and family. After all, books are meant to be used.