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
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
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
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
It involves sewing each section directly through the cover
where slots have been made at each sewing station.
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
Again I love the simplicity and functionality of these early
Rhonda Miller, a talented maker of early books who lives in
Canada also made the two styles of binding shown below.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Particular thanks for the use of pictures and research.
Rhonda Miller http://myhandboundbooks.blogspot.com/2007/09/longstitch.html
Linda Tieu aka Tortagialla
Thanks to the Owl & Lion Gallery for the use of
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
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