Pen Holder as Closure

ivory notebook with pencil holder closure
Ivory notebook with the pencil closing the book

I had the idea for this type of closure some months ago and last week I finally found the time to try it out. – And it works perfectly: The pencil closes the book neatly, and will always be where you need it. I already added two journals with it to my Etsy Shop (check here and here).

This is how it works: After you did your limp leather binding (I wrote an instruction for the style that you can see in the photo before) you cut a short strip of the same leather – about 2 inches or 5 cm long, depending on how thick a pencil you want to stick through the hole.

Place a pencil on the cover where you would want it to sit, not too near the front edge of the leather leaving enough room for the stitch with which you will attach the strip to the cover. Make small marks on its left and right.

Cut two slits, slightly larger that your strip is wide parallel to the book spine and front edge at the position you just marked.

see the loop on the lower flap and the hole in the front flap
see the loop on the lower flap and the hole in the front flap

Pull your strip through the slits. Put your pen in to judge how much of the strip should be on the outside on the cover. Take into consideration that you will need a little more room since the pencil is going to sit at the other side of another layer of the leather. But also don’t make it too slack – the pencil should still hold on to the loop by itself. Punch holes through the strip and your cover and sew your strip onto the cover.

Put the front flap over the loop. Mark the position of the loop inside the front flat and cut a window into the leather to just let the loop get through.

– Done.

I think it was a success

that's me teaching
that's me teaching

I like teaching a lot. Especially if the students are willing to get into the subject. The photo was taken yesterday when I was teaching the indirect tacketing to (sadly only) one student. I would have liked at least another student at the same time, but other that that I really enjoyed myself – and I think she enjoyed it, too.

We jumped into the matter immediately with cutting and folding the paper into signatures to give them some time to relax under a weight. Then I had time to explain some more theory and how we were going to proceed. This was when the picture was taken.


Later she said that for her doing the primary sewing on the book was the hardest part. – But she did really well!


At some point my little friend on the left came visiting. – I see this squirrel every other day. I think it digs in stuff into my plant boxes. A good reason to stop caring for them – I rather want the squirrel return than tidy flower boxes.


And there she is done. I think she was surprised by her own abilities in the end and quite pleased with her book.

Theory Thursday: Paper Grain direction and Papermaking

Welcome to this first Theory Thursday! If you missed the introduction to this ‘paper’ series, it can be found: here, as a guest post on Rachel’s blog. Today I’m going to babble about grain direction in paper. This is one of the favorite topics of every bookbinder I know. If you don’t want to know about paper grain direction, head directly to the end of this post: The video about Korean papermaking is  embedded at the bottom and is well worth a view in any case.

Experiencing and Determining Paper Grain Direction

paper grain direction is indicated by the arrow
paper grain direction is indicated by the arrow

Take a rectangular piece or sheet of office paper and wet it from only one side. For example with a brush, or by placing it on top of water. In one direction it will be staying straight  and in the other direction it curls up thus almost forming a tube. If you take other sheets from the same pack or other pieces from the same sheet you will note that it is always the same direction that stays flat (the grain direction) and the other direction that curls up (cross grain direction).

This is because the paper stretches more in one direction than in the other when it gets wet.

Another way of testing paper grain direction

Take a sheet of paper. Bend it double without really folding it and gently lay your hand on the curved fold. If folded across the grain direction it will resist your hand more and feel more springy than when folded with the paper grain.

Consequences for Bookbinding

Both properties make it necessary to bind the pages in a book such that the grain direction runs parallel with the spine: The signatures fold better and nicer (otherwise one often gets unaesthetic ripples along the crease) and the whole book reacts better to the moisture to that it will be exposed inevitably, even if you are binding a book without glue. For example there is always some moisture in the air.  The degree of moisture will vary though time, and thus the book block ‘works’ and moves a bit all the time. Books bound across the grain will curl up unpleasantly or maybe, in the worst case, can’t be opened properly anymore.

But what exactly is paper grain and how does it get a direction?

from Brockhaus' Konversationslexikon. 14. Auflage
from Brockhaus’ Konversationslexikon. 14. Auflage

Paper is  sieved and dried from a watery suspension (slurry). The details of how exactly the slurry is composed can vary immensely depending on what the desired properties of the paper are. But the common thing about all papermaking, no matter whether you end up with really thin Japanese paper, thick rag paper or standard office paper, is that you start from a slurry that contains fibers that will form the base structure of the finished paper. The slurry is spread onto sieves, dried and then further treated.

langsiebmaschineHow the paper is put onto the sieve and how it is dried effects the paper grain direction. Industrially produced paper comes in long rolls, more or less in an endless strip which moves at quite a speed through the machines. This movement makes the fibers orient themselves mainly in the direction in which the conveyor belt (or rather conveyor sieve) moves, just like you would expect from strings floating in flowing water.

When paper is made by hand, individual sheets are pulled with a sieve from a vat. In that process, the fibers arrange themselves randomly, and therefore without a specific direction. (Like you would expect from strings floating in still water.) So handmade paper expands evenly when wet, without curling up. But this does not necessarily make it preferable to bookbinders. Many other materials, for example the book cloth also have a fiber direction. Wen glued together all the strain and pull that is induced by the materials have to be balanced so that in the end you end up with something flat.


I picked some videos about industrial and hand papermaking. If you want to see more, check this playlist that I also put together for you.

The first video shows industrial papermaking:

This video shows a special Korean way of making paper by hand:

Making Hanji from Aimee Lee on Vimeo.

That’s it for today.

I hope you enjoyed this post about paper and papermaking. Next week I’ll still be talking about paper. (Probably I’ll have more information about traditional papermaking in Europe and rag paper. – But the post is not finished yet. So, no promises.)

Simple Two-Colored Coptic Headbands

books with coptic double headbands
From the left: Simple Two-Colored, Poor Double, True Double, Plain Double, Fake Double

I finally finished a bookish example for each of my new Coptic headbands. (Still wondering whether I really invented them.) And now I owe you at least instructions for one of them, I guess. – So let’s go, get your needles and paper ready!

For this tutorial you already need to know how to do a Coptic binding, but you need not know how to make a usual, one-colored Coptic headband.
This is not a double headband but just the simple headband done with two colors.

Instructions for the Simple Two-Colored Coptic Headband

Materials that you will need:

  • paper for a couple of signatures for your book
  • material for book covers
  • sewing thread
  • additionally 2 different colored pieces of thread. You can take the same type of thread with which you bound your book.
  • 2 straight bookbinding needles


simple two-colored headbands tutorial 01Begin with folding you signatures and cutting and wrapping your covers as usual.
Then pre-punch the sewing holes into the signatures and covers. This is the first step where you also have to plan your headbands. You do yourself a favor if you reserve the outmost sewing stations for your headband and only sew at the rest of the stations.
Punch holes into the cover according to your preferred way of cover attachment. But at the sewing stations where your headband is going to be you make two holes (or more) into the cover, 1 cm from the fore-edge of your cover and also 1cm from each other.Then sew your book.


simple two-colored headbands tutorial 02Thread two straight bookbinding needles with the two headband colors. Let the book stand before you with the tail on top so that you are facing the open pages. Enter the rightmost hole with one of the threads. Leave a tail that you can easily knot and pull the rest of the thread through the hole, wrap around the top edge of the cover and enter the same hole again from the inside.
Now it should look like on the left hand picture.

simple two-colored headbands tutorial 03Now take the other needle, in this case with the white thread. Enter the same hole from the inside and pull the thread through until you are left with a tail which you can easily knot. Make sure not to hurt the thread inside the hole.
Go over the edge of the cover to the inside, and let the thread cross the black thread that is already in place. Pass the needle under both threads, pull as tight as looks and feels good. Then enter with the white thread the same hole from the inside to the outside of the cover.

The Stitching

simple two-colored headbands tutorial 04Pick up the needle with the black thread that is lying behind the book and go  over the edge of the cover to the inside. From the inside, pass the needle under the cross formed by the white thread. Make sure to catch both “legs” and come back to the inside. Pull the thread tight so that it forms a nice eye. Pass with the needle from the inside of the cover to the outside through the hole. Make sure you are not hurting the threads, and go to the very left (beyond the white thread that is already hanging there).

simple two-colored headbands tutorial 05Repeat this, alternating the black and the white thread until your stitching reaches about the middle between the two holes in the cover. Instead of entering the same hole again you simply enter the next. For me this was done with the black thread.

When you next pick up the white thread it is still hanging from the old hole. You proceed just as usual and enter the new hole with the white thread.
Now count how many threads are coming out of the first hole. This number should be the same for all holes you will be working on this book

Passing from the covers to the signatures

simple two-colored headbands tutorial 06When you are done with the stitching through the last hole on the cover you simply exit through the hole in the first signature instead.
Then pick up the other thread which is hanging from the last hole in the cover. Pass it under the last cross as usual and enter from the inside of the next signature to the outside.
While working with the signatures, you will never pass two ends of thread through the same hole.

Pick up the next thread, pass under the last cross and double check that you are really catching both “legs” – these may be harder to see while you are not working on the edge of the cover. Repeat, alternating the colors.

Passing from the signatures to the cover

after the first two turns through the back cover
after the first two turns through the back cover

And then comes the moment when, after forming your eye, there is no signature left to enter – so you pass through the first hole in the cover instead. Remember to enter from the inside of the cover and go to the outside.
Pick up the thread that is still hanging from a signature, form your loop as usual, and enter the same hole in the cover from the inside to the outside.

Now you just do what you already did on the first cover: Pick up the other needle. Pass is under the last cross, and enter the cover again from the inside the outside and pull tight. Viewed from top you now have the first white cross on the cover, pass the black thread under this cross in the next step (see picture).
After your number of passes through the first hole you switch to the second hole just as you did before.


simple two-colored headbands tutorial 09Inevitably there comes the moment when you have formed an eye but have no-where to enter the cover again. Let it hang on the inside for a moment.
Finish your last eye with the remaining color. (There is another thread hanging on the outside.)
Then knot both threads to the fan of thread already there, pass another time the needles through the same hole and cut off the threads flush with the cover.
Knot the tails from the start and cut them off in a similar way.

You have just finished your headbands on the tail. Now repeat with the head and your are done!simple two-colored headbands tutorial-10

Edit: Just a remark to clear a misunderstanding: This headband you see here is marginally more complicated than the usual Coptic headband. The complication comes from using 2 different colored threads. More comprehensive instructions with more photos, additional explanations and tips can be found in my book “Six Ways to Make Coptic Headbands”. The book contains the usual Coptic headband plus 5 two colored headbands, all invented by me, of which the simple two colored Coptic Headband that you see here is indeed the simplest.

Still without Headbands

Noch ohne KapitalbänderThis is the next book that is waiting for its headbands. This book was meant to illustrate the poor double Coptic headbands (white with black).
But I cannot make me add them – I think it looks much better as plain as it is now. Or have I just seen too many Coptic headbands in the last weeks?

Not very well visible is the weave stitch at the waist of the book. This time I followed my own intuition instead of K. Smith. While doing it, I realized that a) this is really the same as his Celtic weave, only that he is using two alternating colors and b) I understood what my initial mistake was – when I made it again this time.

The red cloth was once covering my couch. I used it already once for a similar book with a buttonhole stitch. The label is a piece of rag paper machine sewn onto the cloth before covering the boards.