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Saw for Kettlestitches
Punch Holes
Sew on Tapes

This step was performed on the red and blue books.

A book sewn on tapes is one where all the signatures are sewn to narrow cotton, linen or (rarely) vellum ribbons. These ribbons hold the book together. Contrast this approach to sewing on buried cords, the experimental technique I tried on the green book.


sawing for kettlestitchesMy book had the usual line of chain-stitching at the top and bottom (kettlestitches, in bookbinding parlance). To make space for them, I sawed grooves into the spine. These grooves had the profile of a squared-off "U": | | so that a line of stitching could sink into it.


piercing the signaturesNo cuts were made for the stitches which attach the tapes to the book. Instead, I punched holes using a bradawl, which needed careful handling lest it make the holes too large.

There is some debate about whether to punch holes from the inside of each signature out toward the spine, or from the outside in. Since my marks were on the backs of the signatures, I foud it much more accurate to punch from the outside in.

2005: I now use a pricker to punch my signatures. Mine comes from a dissection kit intended for medical students (along with two good pairs of scissors and two sizes of tweezer, all in a special pouch for a tenner.) One can be easily made by gluing a heavy needle into a hole drilled in the end of a bit of wood.broomstick or pre-made handle.


It is difficult - but not impossible - to sew signatures onto tapes without a sewing frame. Since the stitching never actually goes through the tapes, they can be carefully drawn tight after sewing is complete. However, even a rudimentary sewing frame (using a dining room chair) makes the process much easier by tensioning the tapes during sewing.

sewing on tapes Sewing on tapes. The picture on the left shows the sewing frame. Tapes are fastened to the lower surface (my former book press) with masking tape, and secured to the top bar with a single stitch each. Note the cake of yellow beeswax, which prevents the thread from tangling.

To sew the book, lay the first signature onto the frame. Thread the needle into the kettlestich, then out and over the outside of each of the tapes before going back in. Don't sew through the tapes. When you get to the second kettlestich, bring the needle out and stack the next signature on. Then sew going back the way, again passing the thread on the outside of each tape. When you get back to the first kettlestich, draw the threads tight and tie the current sewing thread to the dangling end.

Sew through the third signature as before. When you get to the end, do a kettlestich to tie the work together before going on to the fourth. Continue to do so until all the signatures are sewn. Tie off the sewing thread by doing two or three kettlestiches down the signatures.

Some binders strengthen the outer signatures of their work by tying together the threads at the tapes after doing two or three signatures. I did so for this experiment, but it's really not necessary and far too complicated for any but the most heavily used books.

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