Bookbinding bad habits – a giveaway

While I was teaching my workshop at Studio Place Arts last night, I realized that several times I prefaced a technique with the following:

This is how I do it. You may take another workshop and they’ll tell you that you have to do it a different way. I’m not sure how I learned to do it this way…it could just be a bad habit I picked up along the way. However, it works for me and my books have always turned out okay.

It seems I have quite a few bad habits [a.k.a. not done using widely-accepted technique]. The biggest one is that when I glue covers, I put the glue on the board and not on the cloth or paper. I wonder if I saw someone do it this way once and it stuck with me. Regardless, it works for me.

In light of my naughty bookbinder behavior, I have decided that I want company. Up for grabs – a bunch of goodies from the French Paper Company. Besides making rocking paper, this company has the best promotions ever.

Promotions from the French Paper Company

Including in the prize are the following items:

  • One inflatable Jerry French (read this post for more information)
  • 3 sample books for the Speckletone, Dur-o-Tone, and Muscletone lines
  • Paper Specs

As I mentioned earlier, what I want from you is validation – I want to know that I’m not the only one ignoring the rules. Reply to this post telling me what you do that’s not-quite-kosher.

Don’t worry, I’m not judging you.

The deadline for entry is October 15, 2009 and the winner will be chosen at random – it has to be random, otherwise I’d be judging you and I already told you that I won’t do that.

Let the confessions commence!

32 Responses to “Bookbinding bad habits – a giveaway”

By sue bleiweiss - 2 October 2009 Reply

oh my gosh too funny – I put the glue on the board and not the paper too and I say pretty much the exact same thing to my students!

By Abi Sutherland - 2 October 2009 Reply

I drink coffee while binding. I hold my paste brush like a paint brush, not the reins of a horse, and brush side to side instead of middle-out. I stop sewing a book in the middle and trust the tension to even out.

When I teach children to bind, I don’t start with paper grain. And I let them use non-archival materials.

And…hanging head, whispering shamefully…I keep my wheat paste for several days at a time, in the fridge, instead of making it fresh. (I use clove oil to keep it from reverting.)

I tell these things in solidarity, but I’m not actually entering the giveaway.

By Liz Conley - 2 October 2009 Reply

I too put my glue on the board. I tend to glue by putting a little pool in the center and brushing that out and doing this tends to warp my paper slightly, so I always use the sturdier board. The small pool of glue could probably also be considered a bad habit.

By Alexia - 2 October 2009 Reply

I ALWAYS put the glue on the board. makes more sense to me. 😉 I don’t need the stuff, so you don’t need to put me in the contest… Just wanted to let you know you’re not alone!

By dinahmow - 2 October 2009 Reply

I hoard stuff. And my paper has to live, loosely rolled, on the top shelf of the linen cupboard. If I called my “stuff” rubbish I would have to throw it out. If I call it ephemera I can keep adding to it, for “one day.”

I often apply glue with my finger.

By elissa - 3 October 2009 Reply

Diane –

Hoarding is not a bad habit, it’s a right! I apply glue with my fingers too. 🙂


By Velma - 3 October 2009 Reply

ha! love this question. i learn the rules, and then i break whichever one i need to after i understand why the rule exists. over at the bookartslistserv they can get real revved up about glue. and paste. i’ll tell you a little secret. a famous letterpress person i know uses plain old elmer’s. he he he. me, i keep my worktable messy.

By elissa - 3 October 2009 Reply

Velma –

I prefer to consider my messy studio as status quo. I’ve never met an artist with a clean studio, outside of an open studio or consultation situation.

Clean studio = Abominable Snowman


By Camolai - 3 October 2009 Reply

I always use my glue brush like a paint brush and never spread out the glue properly (in other words, always side to side). My worst habit is that a lot of times I’ll forgo the precautionary wastepapers, electing instead to throw caution to the wind and just glue freehanded. It actually works just fine for me when I’m really into the project since I have a fairly steady hand and all but the few times I’ve put off making a book until the last second, well… we’ll just say it didn’t go so well. :/

By elissa - 3 October 2009 Reply

Camolai –

No waste papers? I believe you are now officially the originator of “extreme gluing”.

I have also been a victim of last minute catastrophes…in situations like those, I find that swearing helps.


By elissa - 3 October 2009 Reply

Abi & Camolai –

I hold my brush like a paintbrush too! I didn’t even know that it was “wrong”. One more bad habit added to the list. 🙂


By elissa - 3 October 2009 Reply

Sue, Liz, Alexia, & Clara –

I think the board gluers need to take on the paper gluers and rewrite the rules. If a chicken fight is necessary, then so be it.


By Clara - 3 October 2009 Reply

Like you, I put my glue on the board, and I’ve had several teachers who do it that way as well, and I’m not convinced it’s “wrong.” I also only recently started gluing down paper over the tail and head first, and only then doing the sides. Then again, I’m left-handed, so it seems that all my life I’ve been doing things somewhat backwards.

By kindredspirit - 3 October 2009 Reply

I watch a lot of YouTube bookbinding videos. Some are quite professional in their techniques. Most are not. I get ideas from both. And yes I’ve picked up bad habits and short cuts.

I’ve use cotton crochet thread, I don’t own linen bookbinding thread. I use quick release clamps, I don’t own a bookbinding press. I make my own bookcloth. And… *gasp*… I have covered a spine with… wait for it… duct tape. Yes. Duct tape.

By elissa - 6 October 2009 Reply

kindredspirit –

I have a book press and I don’t always use it…it’s not big enough to press my largest photo albums. I often use the loose shelves from my craft show booth.

I know many people who don’t use linen thread…some swear by pearl cotton. You’re not alone.

And I’m sure that you had good reasons for using duct tape…does it come in an acid-free version?


By Ruth - 4 October 2009 Reply

I’m mostly self taught so sometimes I worry that I’m creating my own rogue bookbinding method – for example when sewing coptic I use a straight needle, and hold the book horizontally in the air, grasping two signatures at once, rather than sewing “on the bench” or on tail end, as keith smith recommends. Also I make my french groove with knitting needles rather than brass boards.

I say, don’t tell anyone your style might be a bad habit, for all they know it’s the golden rule of bookbinding (well this assumes you’re teaching to beginners)

By elissa - 6 October 2009 Reply

Ruth –

I’ve heard of many people using knitting needles for french grooves…and I bet watching you doing a coptic sewing would make for an awesome YouTube video. 🙂


By MiaL - 4 October 2009 Reply

Regarding board vs. paper glueing, there’s actually a case for both at various times and I wouldn’t say either is wrong – only depends what you need. It’s all about grain pull. Sometimes you need more pull (glue the paper, it stretches more) and sometimes you need less pull (glue the board, it stretches less).
As to bad habits… I cut material whichever way is the quickest. Was always taught to cut on the side of the area that won’t be used, rather than on the side that will be so that if the scalpel slips, you won’t ruin the bit of material you were going to use. But I aim to teach the good habits in class 🙂

By elissa - 6 October 2009 Reply

Mia –

I think you’re right on about stretch being a factor in gluing choices…I know that I put glue on bookboard because I can count on it not to move.

I never heard the tip about cutting on the “wrong” side of a material…there’s another one for my list.


By esta sketch - 4 October 2009 Reply

my teachers’ have always started out lessons with the same thing – “this is how I do it, other people might have shown you different ways…” I find it kind of reassuring, knowing that there are several ways of doing things & getting around problems. I find they’ve always really drilled in the important bits though – like using exact as possible measurements, keeping your workspace clean, when in doubt make mockup’s first, etc, and I think that’s helped keep me relatively safe despite all my other bad habits. I had always thought of bookbinding as something very neat and precise, requiring very specialized tools and materials, and I guess on a professional level it kind of is, but at least for my purposes I’ve found that it’s okay to adapt methods to better suit your needs, or use substitutes from the hardware store or craft store if you live in a town with zero bookbinding supplies! For a while I used a long thick sewing needle, held tenuously by a pair of plyers to drive holes through stacks of paper instead of an awl, it is any wonder I never injured myself!

By elissa - 6 October 2009 Reply

esta sketch –

It seems as though bookbinding is just a metaphor for life – take the lessons you learn and use them as you see fit. Everyone needs a little MacGyver in them.


By Louise Best - 7 October 2009 Reply

I don’t need to be entered into the giveaway as I’m in the UK but I just wanted to join in the fun!
I worked at a top notch posh bindery and we always glued the board…And not with a brush, a mini paint roller and tray is the perfect solution. A perfectly even covering of glue with no pools, it’s quick too. And when it comes to the edges flatten them out against the face edge of your bench and roll straight over them. Have a handy rag to wipe any excess from the bench and do the opposite side. I might do a tutorial on this. There are so many beautiful ways but I think this might be the most efficient, no need for waste papers.

By elissa - 14 October 2009 Reply

Louise –

I’ve seen folks use a roller for gluing and I think it’s brilliant. Do that rolling technique when I glue my edges – it’s especially useful for thick papers.


By Camolai - 15 October 2009 Reply

No waste papers? That roller technique sounds *excellent* to me…

By Susie Jefferson - 7 October 2009 Reply

Well, I must be a minefield of bad habits! I do single-needle coptic stitch and have ALWAYS held my signatures horizontally, so I sew from side to side, dropping the signature last worked on – this way you can see a nice gap to insert the needle through! No brainer. And you add the new sig on top, so you are going up in rows almost like knitting.

Also, when sewing the cover to the first signature – I’m at the last hole, and this is where you should go straight up to the second sig with the kettle stitch. Sorry, I no longer do that. I go BACK into the last hole, sig one, and take the needle around the thread and back out, creating a lock stitch. Then I go up to the 2nd sig. I have found this stops the cover feeling loose – and my students (all newbies) feel a lot more secure.

I have never read a Keith Smith book in my life – my local library doesn’t have one, and neither do the other 5 I enquired at… and have you seen the price? To post to the UK would be the better part of £50 which is ridiculous. So I do it my way. It works, they look great, everyone who makes them loves them. So there you go! (ish…)

By elissa - 14 October 2009 Reply

Susie –

I’d love to see some pics of your coptic bindings…are there any photos I should look out for your on your blog? I’m not convinced I’m doing the kettle stitch correctly myself.


By Susie Jefferson - 7 October 2009 Reply

Oh, and I also meant to add: I use a straight needle, I don’t possess any clamps, quick release or otherwise, and I don’t have a bookbinding press either! I use a pile of telephone directories – or other books!

By elissa - 14 October 2009 Reply

Susie –

For the bigger books, I use a stack of shelves from my craft show booth for pressing – as far as I’m concerned, heavy is heavy.


By Tammy - 7 October 2009 Reply

Oh no, I always put the glue on the board. I also often just use a junk mail “credit card” to spread glue rather than gum up a brush.

By elissa - 14 October 2009 Reply

Tammy –

I think using a credit card makes sense. I imagine it creates a nice consistent layer of glue.


By Stitchworks-jackie - 10 October 2009 Reply

I’ve always not followed other people’s rules, or ways of doing things. My maths teacher stood over me and glared saying’ if only you’d do it like other people’. I know he was right – there is always an easier way and its usually the one 90% of people have chosen.
My life is full of knots, and I’m the one who put them on the end of the thread – as an embroiderer you just shouldn’t do that, or lick the the end of the thread – especially when threading someonelse’s needle.
Good luck to you.

By elissa - 14 October 2009 Reply

Jackie –

I’m curious – why not lick ends of thread? They taste good to me. 🙂


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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