Longstitch Binding, Tutorial, Plus Economical Leather.
Named for the long stitches visible on the spine, the Longstitch binding, which involves sewing directly through
the covering material, is an ancient bookbinding method that has become popular in Europe and America since the
1980’s, though it must be said that Longstitch binding has never died out completely.
It was practiced by a previous generation of bookbinders and has origins dating back to the 2nd-3rd centuries
but more familiarly were found to be popular in the medieval period where variations of Longstitch binding and
Tacketed bindings were prevalent.
The Longstitch binding was certainly in use in the middle ages (possibly as early as the Romanesque period,
certainly by the 14th century) as a structure for stationery bindings across Europe, and continued to be used for
small notebooks, etc, well into the 16th century.
They were used for printed books by the 1490s in Italy and were made with full-covers or guards of parchment in an
unbroken line from then until the early nineteenth century.
The Longstitch binding was popular in Germany throughout the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth for school
and university student books, often sewn through leaves of medieval manuscript waste, they were also widely used
with parchment and cartonnage covers in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century (and probably earlier) and
survived there as the preferred binding for almanacs until at least 1906.
It was the Florence floods of
1966 that triggered investigation into these ancient binding methods, Christopher Clarkson was
instrumental in investigating and re-discovering these ancient binding styles, and gathering a huge amount of
information about various early styles of binding, including the limp vellum binding.
Although Chris Clarkson was responsible in large part for gathering information about these early bindings, It
was Jen Lindsay who practically single handedly disseminated this knowledge in England through teaching privately,
and from 1983 at Digby Stuart College, England.
In America at around the same time, Gary Frost, Pamela Spitzmueller & Maria Fredericks were responsible for
teaching these methods.
The beauty of the Longstitch binding style for me is it's simplicity and robustness; also you need very few
tools to make this style of book.
There are many variations of the Longstitch binding style; some are sewn just with the Longstitch.
The picture on the left shows a binding by Rhonda Miller, described by Keith Smith in his book
“Non Adhesive Bindings” as the "Long stitch through a slotted cover".
It involves sewing each section directly through the cover where slots have been made at each sewing
This sewing method creates a staggered line pattern visible on the spine. Keith Smith indicates that this type
of long stitch was used as early as the 18th century in some parts of Europe, and possibly earlier.
But many of the variations involve two types of sewing, the longstitch and the chain stitch.
In the picture below the longstitch is clearly visible, but if you look at the head and tail of the spine you
will see another stitch, the chain stitch.
This particular sewing method is very old and originated in Germany as early as the medieval era. In Szirmai's
text, "The Archaeology of medieval bookbinding, the author describes this method of bookbinding being used on
parchment covered books with reinforced spines between 1375 and 1500.
Binding using Long stitch and Chain Stitch combination.
The chain stitch is the earliest form of book sewing dating from the 2nd century and used by the early Egyptian
Christians. Coptic style bindings are sewn entirely with the chain stitch.
Again I love the simplicity and functionality of these early bindings.
Rhonda Miller, a talented maker of early books who lives in Canada also made the two styles of binding shown
These are all variations of the Longstitch method, the idea of incorporating buttons on the spine as part of a
closure is not new, in medieval times these buttons were made of horn.
There are many ways to elaborate on the simple long stitch binding.
Besides altering the stitching pattern to include crosses, altering the length of the longstitches to have their
own patterns, and other patterns, artists have also used multiple coloured threads.
There are also a number of different ways to close a longstitch book. Though some longstitch bound book covers
are just trimmed to the edge of the book block, there are a variety of ways to fold over one side of the cover and fasten
Buttons can be stitched into the binding and a thread attached to the cover flap. A slit can also be cut into
the front cover and a strip from the back cover can be slipped through the slit. Modern book artists have
elaborated on closure styles.
A tip for you. Wax your sewing thread, doing so will prevent the thread from tangling and forming knots as you
sew with it, the wax will also provide a protective coating for the thread, of some importance when dealing with
books which have exposed sewing.
Just get a block of beeswax and pull the thread through the wax, the thread will cut into the
block of wax, but this is fine as by doing so it will coat all of the thread.
When you have waxed your thread, place it between two sheets of brown paper and press it with a hot iron, the
wax will melt into the thread and be ready to use.
Linda Tieu, another book artist living in Italy, has the most simple and easy to understand longstitch tutorial
that I have been able to find, you can find it here.
If you don’t mind paying a modest sum, we now have a series of tutorials by the very well informed and talented
Margaret Woods of the Marcade Arts Press.
Click here where you will find this and several other tutorials
which feature simple, yet interesting and functional styles of binding which require only a few simple tools, such
as a craft knife, awl and bone folder.
Leather is expensive, so we are happy to say we have found a supplier of vegetable tanned
Nigerian goatskin off cuts and second quality skins at very affordable prices.
To give you some idea of the bargain this leather is going to be it will be priced around
£6.00 - £7.00 a sq ft. For those of you who know goatskin leather prices I can feel you reeling in your seat, for
those that don’t, goatskins, even of second quality cost between £120.00 - £130.00 a skin, we will be selling
second quality skins at about £50.00 a skin!
My thanks go out to all the people I pestered for information, listed below.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Longstitch binding, I hope the results obtained by people like Rhonda Miller and
others will inspire you to have a go at this simple, durable method of binding.
Sarah Burns SoB
Doug Mitchell SoB
Jen Lindsay Fellow of Designer bookbinders
Angela Sutton Fellow of Designer bookbinders
Maureen Duke Fellow of Designer bookbinders
James Brockman Fellow of Designer bookbinders
Paul Gailiunas Fellow of Designer bookbinders
Lori Sauer Fellow of Designer bookbinders
Pamela Spitzmueller. Harvard University Library
Maria Fredericks. Morgan Library and Museum
Christopher Clarkson, ARCA
Particular thanks for the use of pictures and research.
Rhonda Miller http://myhandboundbooks.blogspot.com/2007/09/longstitch.html
Linda Tieu aka Tortagialla http://www.tortagialla.com/2010/08/09/longstitch-bookbinding-tutorial-for-a-leather-journal
Thanks to the Owl & Lion Gallery for the use of pictures
Etsy is a website devoted to those who wish to sell or purchase hand made objects, at this link you can see just
how many people are making longstitch bindings.
Smith, Keith A. (1999). "Non Adhesive Binding” Books Without Paste or Glue
Szirmai, J.A. (1999). "The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding."
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