Soft Cover Coptic Sketchbook

*Please forgive the crude diagrams; there were some steps that were too hard to photograph or that could only be explained with a drawing.

**The photographs are actually of my second attempt at a soft cover Coptic book, and I tried something a little different, so you just have to imagine some things a little differently. Sorry for the inconvenience.


  • bone folder
  • heavy-duty craft knife (like a box cutter)
  • cutting mat
  • metal ruler
  • blunt curved needles with big eyes (the needles I bought said they were for tying quilts); one needle for each hole
  • one blunt straight needle with a big eye
  • waxed linen thread (I got mine from the university art stockroom, but I also Googled it and it looked like there some online places to get it. Make sure it is waxed.)
  • scissors
  • handmade paper for cover; I recommend Saint Armand or Cave Paper, both beautiful, good quality papers. Think of the price as an investment towards a really nice sketchbook. Plus, depending on the size of your sketchbook, you may be able to get two books out of one piece of paper. If there isn’t a retailer near you that sells Saint Armand, you can get a few different colors at Amazon. For this project, I used Saint Armand in elephant grey.
  • text block paper; I used Fabriano Ingres,  other good options include Mohawk superfine, Arches textwove, Stonehenge (for a thicker page), or even watercolor paper. This is really up to you and what you want to use your book for. I would strongly discourage you from using printer paper. Cheap paper tends to make a cheap book.
  • archival cardboard/tag board; I don’t really know how to describe this, but it is about the thickness of a cereal box. I got mine from the university stockroom, but maybe something like this would be right.
  • awl; something like this


  1. Prepare your signatures to the desired size. Remember to have the grain of the paper running parallel to the spine.
  2. Cut out two pieces from your handmade paper for the cover. You will want your cover piece to be 2 times the width of your signature, plus extra to fold over (how much you fold over is up to you, more makes a sturdier book, but it uses more paper too. I wouldn’t go less than 3 centimeters fold over, though) by the height of your signature plus 2 times your fold over amount.

  3. Crease and fold your cover pieces. Start by measuring the width of your spine from one edge minus 2-3 mm. Make a crease with your bone folder at this point that runs parallel to the spine.

    Measure from this crease the width of the signature, plus 1 mm. (the extra is so that the edge of the cover will extend beyond the edge of your  just slightly). Make a crease with your bone folder at this point. It is more important that this second crease be parallel to the first than that it is perpendicular to the edge of the paper, because a crooked edge will be covered up, but a crooked crease will make the whole book look crooked.Now measure 3 cm up from the bottom of your paper, and mark a crease perpendicular to the spine. It is important that this crease be perpendicular with the two creases you already made. I check this using this clear ruler like so:but you could also use a drafting square to make sure your creases are square.
    Finally, measure the width of the spine plus 2 mm up from the crease you just made and make a crease there perpendicular to the spine. Now carefully fold in all of your creases and crease again with your finger or a bone folder with newsprint over your paper so you don’t mar the paper.You’ll also want to miter your corners and trim the edges of one side so it looks nice when it’s folded over. When you’re done, it will look like this when it is unfolded:
    (The white dashed line shows where your cover will be cut, this is a slight variation I was doing, so just ignore that this side is longer.) When you fold it in, the short edges will be folded under the big flap.
  4. Cut two pieces of tag board that are just slightly smaller than your signatures to fit inside the folds of the cover.
    The grain on these must run parallel to the spine.
  5. Punch holes with the tip of the awl in the spine of each signature. Usually you would use something thinner like a teasing needle, but for this book the thread is relatively thick and must pass through each hole at least twice. That being said, don’t go too deep, but you want the holes big enough to be able to get the needle and thread through several times.You need at least 4 holes and you will want an even number of holes. The way you will be sewing is in sets of two; the holes shouldn’t be too close together because the thread will tear through the paper. Also, you don’t want your holes too far apart or your book will be wobbly. I haven’t tested the extremes of hole placement, so I don’t know personally the results, but I would play it safe if you’re starting out with this binding. This and this are great examples of different hole arrangements, and the site has just beautiful books in general, so check it out. Also, below shows how I did my hole. You will need sewing holes in the spine that line up with the sewing pairs in the cover exactly (see the picture for step 6).
  6. Punch holes with the awl in the cover of your book. Fold the covers on the creases so the small flaps are tucked under the big flap with a piece of tag board sandwiched underneath all the flaps. The fold next to big flap will be the spine side. For each hole in the signature, you will need two holes in the cover that form a perpendicular line to where the holes are in the spine of the signature. You will also punch holes in the spine fold of the cover perpendicular to the spine and in line with the other holes you have punched (see below).

  7. Cut lengths of thread, one piece per pair of sewing holes. The way I estimate how much thread I will need (and this is totally just my own made up thing) is to take the distance between the wholes in your pair, multiply it by 2 and then multiply that number by your number of signatures, then add 15 -20 inches for attaching the covers. You will need a piece of thread this long for each set of holes. If you have a lot of signatures and your piece of thread is long and unwieldy, it’s probably better to divide your thread in half and add more thread part of the way through. You just don’t want to run out of your thread when you get to the back cover  because this is a real pain to deal with.
  8. Waxed linen thread is generally waxed excessively, so it is usually necessary to remove some of the wax. Do this by sandwiching your thread in between several layers of newsprint, and then run a hot iron over it. The wax will start to melt off and discolor the newsprint.
    You just want to take enough off so that when you run the thread between your fingernails you don’t come away with wax underneath your fingernails.
  9. Prepare your needles. Thread a needle on both ends of a length of waxed linen thread. Two needles on one thread per sewing pair.

Sewing the book

  1. Take your first signature and insert one needle of each set into the first hole of every set and then out the second hole of every set, so you will have something like this (throughout these diagrams, dashed lines indicate thread that is underneath a layer of paper; threads are divided into two colors to keep the different sides clear):
  2. Insert one needle into the hole on the spine fold of the cover and come out the first hole in the top of the cover.
  3. Go down the next hole over and out the bottom of the cover.
  4. Go up the hole near the spine but instead of coming back up through the cover,  go out the hole in the spine fold. Pull the thread tight so the edge of the cover is touching the edge of the first signature.
  5. Repeat steps 2–4 with each needle.
  6. Now, starting with the top set of needles, take the first needle and enter the same hole in the signature that the needle came out of, being careful not to pierce the  thread that is already in the hole.
  7. Come out the opposite hole in the sewing pair.
  8. Repeat steps 6–7 with each needle, so that each needle will exchange positions with its needle thread in the sewing pair.
  9. Now, starting with the top set of needles, take the first needle and enter the adjacent hole in the cover spine fold and come out the top of the nearest hole.
  10. Go down the next hole and out the bottom of the cover.
  11. Go up the hole near the spine but instead of coming back up through the bottom of the cover,  go out the hole in the spine fold. Pull the thread tight again so the edge of the cover is touching the edge of the first signature.
  12. Repeat steps 9–11 with each needle.
  13. Run your bone folder along the spine of the signature you just stitched in to set the threads into the spine and keep the spine bulk down.
  14. Lay the next signature on top of the one you just sewed on to the cover so you will have a stack of three things: cover on bottom, then the sewn signature then the new signature. You may wish to weight this stack down with something and set it on the edge of a table to sew the book from this point. **From here it is the normal Coptic stitch, so if you already know how to do the Coptic stitch, skip to Step 20.**
  15. Take a needle from the first sewing pair and enter the adjacent hole in the new signature. Come out the opposite hole in the pair.
  16. Take the other needle in this set and go in the second hole sewing pair of the new signature and come out the opposite hole in the pair.
  17. Repeat steps 15–16 for each sewing pair.
  18. Start with the needle at the top, cinch the thread so that the two signatures are snug together, and take the needle and pass it under the threads in the same row of holes that connects the cover with the first signature.

    Repeat this step for each needle with their respective holes.
  19. Repeat steps 13–18 for each signature (the number in the stack mentioned in step 14 will continue to increase). When you get to step 18, pass the needle underneath the adjacent thread that connects the signature underneath the newest signature to the one below the next signature. (See diagram.) Always move the needle in the same direction (i.e., from the left side of the thread underneath to the right side of the thread). Sorry about the messy threads here. I hope you can see the needle okay.
  20. When you get to the back cover, you will attach it as you did the front cover (steps 2–12) and when you have completed this, enter the last signature again with each needle, and knot the pairs of threads together and snip off the excess thread.
  21. Now all that is left is to stitch the edges of your cover so that all the layers are properly stabilized.  First, check to ensure that you have all the flaps tucked under the big flap that folds on the spine, and that the tag board is sandwiched under the small flaps, as well. You can stitch your cover any way you chose. I did the a simple running stitch that I doubled up.
    You don’t need a lot of stitches, either. Maybe even two on the center of each edge would suffice, depending on the size of your book.

That was a lot of steps, I know, but we made it. Now admire the finished book. Hold it in your hands and feel the handmade goodness.

Hooray for handmade books!

3 thoughts on “Soft Cover Coptic Sketchbook

  1. Pingback: Tutorial: Soft Cover Coptic Sketchbook | There Is Beauty All Around

  2. Pingback: Checking in on the Sketchbook Project | There Is Beauty All Around

  3. Thank you for this! I wanted to do a softcover coptic binding and this was the best illustration and example I found — especially the way you changed up the spine a bit to make it more durable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s