Longstitch Bookbinding Tutorial for a Leather Journal

The most common type of sewn bookbinding that I often default to, falls into the category of longstitch binding. It’s really a general categorization for many different methods of sewn binding. People have invented their own patterns and techniques and have probably called it something else as well. Suffice to say, it’s a general way to denote sewing your paper to the cover of your book. I’m sure you’ve noticed journals out there with exposed sewing in the binding in a variety of patterns and designs. They are all technically longstitch binding techniques, but in different patterns. In this tutorial, I’ll take you the process of creating a leather journal using a simple straight longstitch pattern through slots in the cover instead of holes. Here’s what we’ll be making…

The materials for this project include leather, paper, thread, needle, an awl and cutting device of some sort.

Regarding the thread, I’m using a natural linen thread in this example, but you can also use waxed thread sold specifically for bookbinding to prevent knotting up when sewing. For this method, you’ll be using a short piece of thread in sewing, so I don’t think you really have to worry about knotting. Even regular embroidery thread or ribbon can be used for binding. Anything that doesn’t stretch out and has some strength to it will work.

Regarding my little awl, I use it to punch holes in the paper. Some folks use a drill to go through huge stacks of paper or you can even use a tiny hole puncher if you have it. An awl is a traditional tool and you’ll really find it quite convenient. Along with the awl, I keep an old catalog to punch on top of…keeping my table hole-less. :)

Let me first explain how I made my leather cover, although you can do this with any other type of material. You can certainly substitute the leather with thick paper, fabric or any material that can wrap around the entire book. If you want to use something rigid, like cardboard, just make sure you cut out three pieces for the back, front and binding of the book cover. You can connect rigid pieces together with bookcloth, fabric or strong tape. Some folks connect two pieces of board with bookcloth or fabric which just leaves the binding really soft and malleable.

If I use a very heavy weight type of leather, I usually just cut it to size and consider it ready. Note the extra material on the right hand side as well. I freehand cut that extra part, so it can wrap onto the top of the journal as a closure. Entirely up to you if you want that extra flap. In this particular case I had a much thinner piece leather though and decided to glue a piece of cardstock to it as a liner paper, giving it more strength. To calculate the size of my liner paper and cover material, I usually give and extra 1/8″ all around to give the inside papers room to breath, plus the width of binding depending how many signatures you have. A signature is a term to refer to the folded sheets of paper that you will sew into your book. Usually you have several stacks of these, depending on how many pages you want in the finished book. I usually allow for 1/4″ per signature, since I’m usually pretty thick cardstock papers, 8 folded sheets per signature. If you are not sure about the measurements, the best thing to do is to prepare all your signatures, then use it to measure out what your final cover size should be. You can score your liner paper and/or cover material as well, so that it’s ready to be put together.

Let’s prepare the signatures of paper that will go inside your book. I usually go with the natural sizes of the paper I use. I don’t like to waste material, so I take whatever size the paper is and fold it in half to create the signatures and therefore, size of my book. To go smaller in size, I cut all the sheets in half, then fold to create my signatures. This pretty much creates a predetermined range of sizes for my books, since paper comes in predetermined sizes. I just don’t like cutting paper into a custom size as it’s hard to use the leftovers. In some cases, I have made strangely sized books from leftovers I’ve had lying around, so in it’s really up to you on the size. I’ve also made journals with varying sizes of paper inside, a nice way to make an eclectic junky journal. In this example, I’ve taken regular A4 sized paper (similar to Letter-size) and ripped them in half. I actually really like the deckled edge when you rip paper instead of cutting it.

I folded all these papers in half, each signature containing 8 sheets of paper. With two signatures, I have 64 pages if you are flipping through it like a book. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but really it is enough for the first time. It’s better to make smaller books, so you can keep making them and evolve after using them. You’ll start to realize what you like and don’t like. Once you have all your signatures, it’s time to punch the holes. It actually doesn’t matter how many holes you make, it can be an even number or odd number. In the end there will always be a way to sew it together. You just want to make sure there are enough to secure the book together and that they are not so far apart to create a weak/loose part of your book. Often the pattern and number of holes created is decided by what the bookmaker intends for the sewing seen in the binding. In this tutorial we’ll go with 4 holes in each signature, unevenly spaced because I measure in from the edges of the paper and just guessstimate something that looks good. After some experimentation you’ll get the hang of it and will probably start to design your own patterns!

For the cover, instead of punching matching holes for each signature I’ve decided to go with slots. This just means cutting a little line across where the holes would have been in the cover, instead of punching the individual holes. This makes it easier especially if you have a lot of signatures and don’t want the mess of aligning all the holes. In some cases you’re holes would be so close together they might actually make a slot anyway. I personally just like the ease of sewing when there’s a slot to go through and it looks pretty cool too. Mark your slot lines on the cover and carefully cut them with your knife, making sure you’ve gone completely through to the other side of your cover material.

Now that you have all your materials prepped, you are ready to sew! I work with one signature at a time, planning to leave the tied knot on the inside bottom hole of the signatures. This knot can end up anywhere you like though, since you weave in and out of the holes, you always end up next to where you started to tie the final knot. Just to give you an example of why this matters…if you like ribbon let’s say, you might actually want to use ribbon to thread your book together and make a knot on the outside binding. This could give you a decorative binding with ribbon knotted bows on the outside…just an idea! So here goes with the sewing. I start at the bottom hole inside my first signature and thread my string through to the outside cover…leaving a little tail like so.

With needle on the outside, I thread it into the next hole through the cover and signature of paper. I just keeping doing this weaving in and out until there are no holes left.

This is what you see on the outside binding…

And this is what you see on the inside. You then continue by going back down, weaving in and out the same holes.

Weave the thread in and out…making sure to keep your thread tight, papers in their position and the end tail still there!

This will basically fill in the spaces you see that doesn’t have thread running across it. In the end you’ll see thread straight across the binding, hole to hole. Finally you will reach the hole right next to your tail end and that’s when you tie it off.

I just tie a regular knot to secure it. You can also double knot it, especially with a thinner type of string to make it more secure. First signature done – wahlah!

This is a really simple way to bind your signatures into the cover one by one. Just weaving in and out with the longstitch binding technique, making sure you are tightening the thread, everything tight and nothing loosey goosey. I really like the fact that there’s thread all across the binding, but it’s created with the weaving and not a loose piece across the whole way. The most important thing is to check your thread tightness, I think.

After sewing in my second signature, you’ll see the binding looks like this…

Pretty cool, huh? If you have more signatures, you’ll probably be playing around with tightness of the threads and pushing them up and down, so it’s all straight and pretty on the binding. I finalized this journal by braiding some ribbon and attaching it to the closure flap. I also added a bead to the end of the ribbon and now I have a wraparound closure that really completes the whole look of the journal. Functional and pretty…nice, huh?

With this example there were only two signatures, but of course you can sew as many of them as needed to complete your book. If you use super thick paper, you might have more signatures by including less sheets in each stack. Here are some other journals I’ve made using longstitching and slots in the cover. You can see that a variation in the number of holes or thickness of the signatures can really change up the look.

With all the sewing in the binding, this type of book looks complicated, but it’s really the simplest kind with the straight stitching of each individual signature. Think of the possibilities if you vary up the materials, size and pattern. Happy bookbinding!

  • http://www.sarahvazquez.blogspot.com Sarah

    I really like the bookbinding with the leather – it gives a nice cozy feel of a journal. love it! i haven’t tryit yet – i need to get the tools!! Happy Monday!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks Sarah! Hope you can get the basic tools and try it out… have fun!

  • http://gingerblue.com chel

    This is wonderful! My husband binds books but I’m just going to have to shoo him away and try this for myself. Thank you for the wonderful instructions!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Oh wow, does your husband share any tips on a blog by chance :) I would love to learn more…but just sort of dabble on my own and experiment… I’m one of those try it and learn kind of gals! Hope you’ll try it!

  • http://jqlinesocuteithurts.typepad.com/ jacqueline

    Dearest sweet linda, this is such an amazing tutorial!! Thanks so much for sharing this for i have always wanted to try something like this!! Hope your weekend was wonderful and have a lovely merry happy week! Love to you sweet friend!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      You are very welcome and I hope you give it a try!

  • http://hybridj.blogspot.com Hybrid J

    Thank you for such detail and easy to follow tutorial. You have such generous soul! :)

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Very welcome…I just want to share and spread the joy of creating your own books!

      • eli

        where would you get the leather from for this? :) xxx

      • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu

        hi eli! you can actually use any kind of cloth-like material for this… I get leather locally here in Italy, but I know you can order it online as well!

  • http://www.juneatnoon.com gretchen/juneatnoon

    Very informative!

    I’ve tried Coptic and Japanese stab stitch so far, as I like the look of the open spine, but now that I see your photos, I’m liking how the cover has a spine but the stitches are still so visible. Very nice!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Yes, there are sooo many patterns out there, you can imagine the possibilities! I think it looks very nice even with a simple stitching though.

  • http://www.kateyeview.com Kat

    Wonderful tutorial. Welcome back, I’ve missed you blog lately. Hope you are having a great summer!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks, Kat! I’ll be posting just once a week in August…definitely trying to enjoy summertime!

  • kt

    linda this is great thanks! Do you know how I can buy leather around here is it from a special store?

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi kt, you are welcome! I actually buy my leather from the production shops here in Italy…but I’m sure there are places to buy leather…or you could use an old jacket…haha! This method works with any material though…

  • http://jqlinesocuteithurts.typepad.com/ jacqueline

    Dearest Linda, came to see how you are doing and to wish you a lovely merry happy weekend! Love to you sweet friend!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks so much, Jacqueline – you are the sweetest!

  • Mirjarr

    I came here via Julie Fei-Fan Balzers blog where you where guest blogging….I’m clad that I found you, because I allready love you..:) You have sooo many great tutorials and amazing work…


    Mirja from Finland

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Mirja – oh my gosh! I’m so blushing, thank you for your kind comment, I’m glad to have “met” you and hope to see you around… tee hee!

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  • http://www.fatacicci.blogspot.com eli

    what kind of paper do you use for your books? (brand, type)

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Eli! I normally use multipurpose Fabriano 160 g/m2 paper…sometimes white and sometimes ivory which is good for writing, drawing and general journaling. Sometimes I make journals with Canson brand watercolor paper and also Fabriano painting paper, which are both much thicker and heavier in weight.

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  • Candace

    Great tutorial. thanks

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      You are welcome, Candace!

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  • siddiq

    ever since i started to writing my work journal,i really to wanted to have my personnel handmade one.thank you for your shareing.looks like i found my new hobby.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks great, thanks for stopping by!

  • lori

    HI Thanks for the tutorial! I just have one question, could you send me a picture of the inside of the book where the knot would be?? i am just curious as to what it looks like. or for that matter you could post it here too.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Lori! If you scroll up the 5th picture from the bottom shows the knot. Since each signature is sewn in separately, there is a knot inside each signature of paper at the bottom hole. Of course, it is up to you if you want to stagger the knots by starting on a different hole each signature. You are literally just threading in and out all the holes to get back to your starting point then tying a knot. So although I end up making knots at the bottom by default, you could do them anywhere, really it is preference! Hope that helps.

  • alisa

    thankyou so much…i just made my first longstitch book! great help!!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      That’s great alisa! Thanks so much!

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  • http://collettes-place.blogspot.com/ Collette Grace

    This is a great tutorial, thanks for sharing, the pictures are excellent :-) This journal is on my DIY christmas gift list!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Collette! Thanks for stopping by and checking my tutorial – I’m glad to have helped you out!

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  • Morgan

    Hi! Thanks for sharing this amazing tutorial! I have a quick question though. Do you have to use leather or can you use any type of material? And where would you suggest getting the leather?

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      hi morgan! thanks for checking out my tutorial. You definitely can use any material you would like, to be the cover of your book. To wrap around however, you might prefer something like leather or fabric, that is soft. But it’s really up to you! I get leather from processing companies here in Italy, but you can order leather online from a variety of companies too, so probably a quick search online will do. Make sure to understand the size of the leather you are ordering and the thickness.

  • Alondra

    Hey Linda, I love your tutorial. Very helpful :) I just wanted to know if you did anything for the leather not to be all ‘floppy’. I hope I make some sense. Is there any way to harden the leather? I am sorry if these are stupid/silly questions.
    Thanks in advance!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Alondra – That’s a great question actually! The journals I now make in my Etsy shop have cardstock lining along with the leather, to ensure that the cover is more sturdy. You can see in my shop here http://www.etsy.com/shop/tortagialla

      So you can either use the leather to cover a stronger material for your cover or use leather that is thicker and less floppy. There are may different types of leather and thicknesses, made for different purposes, so you can search around!

  • Adam VM

    This looks a lot easier than I expected. Wow. I’m going to give it a try.

    I think I’ll be doing fabric over folded cardstock, though. Might as well use what I have at hand before ordering a new material like leather just to experiment!

    Thanks for the excellent tutorial!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thank you and yes, it is easy! With some tough string, your book will hold up really well, you’ll be surprised! Fabric over cardstock is a great option too, I have done that before…or even just used felt or fabric for the inner lining.

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  • Allison

    This tutorial was incredibly helpful, thank you so much!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.TIEU

      very welcome – glad it helped :)

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  • Samantha Willey

    My biggest gripe is when artists/crafters don’t want to share their knowledge so I was happy to see that you do. I saw your blog mentioned in a crafts magazine and the woman who followed your tutorial said she’d bought her leather in the form of a leather skirt she bought at a thrift shop – so that’s a good, inexpensive source where to get the leather. Thanks SO MUCH for sharing and making it so clear. I had a problem at first with how you finished off the braided ribbons wrapped around the journal but I finally figured that out, looks like you tucked the beaded end underneath the other part and had started out by making a hole in the flap and going from there. Thanks again.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu

      you are very welcome!

  • Lotus

    thank you so very much for the completely explanatory long stitch; I have been looking for this for quite some time. Now I am looking for a tutorial on the French stitching pattern (the cross over stitch). Do you have this information?
    Again, thank you. Lotus

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu

      Glad this post helped you out!

      As for the French stitching pattern, I haven’t tried it myself, but I suspect you just need to find a guide. I usually search in bookbinding manuals and find some sort of pattern to follow along! Good luck!

  • http://friendfeed.com/emailwire/30dabfc2/ hcg drops nigen

    Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your
    blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Many thanks!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      thanks so much! I have put a link to other tutorials… you can do a search on google as well!

  • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu
  • Rashidah Khan Vire

    Thanks for sharing :) I’ve been wanting to make a journal for some time now and your tutorial is one of the easiest to follow that I’ve read.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      fabulous / enjoy!

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  • Theresa

    I’ve read many tutorials on binding journals and yours is by far the clearest in explaining technique. Your photos complement the text perfectly making every step seem simple and easily crafted. I plan to try binding my first journal using these instructions very soon. Thanks for generously sharing your ideas.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      yay / thanks for visiting!

  • http://www.tobias-olbrich.de Hochzeitsfotograf

    Your Book looks awesome!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      thx so much!

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  • http://www.annamariastone.blogspot.com Anna Maria

    What an excellent tutorial! I’ve read and watched so many, but none were for a nice easy stitch such as this one, and I like the fabric or leather cover choice. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      so lovely to hear I could help!

  • Rosie

    hi Linda

    thanks for the lovely new years prompt, and so glad I found your bookbinding tutorials again! Couldnt see them at first so relieved when I did just now. Im in the middle of making another journal and was stuck – I knew you had that great longstitch one but couldnt remember how to do it so its great to see its still up here!

    have a great start to the New Year there with all your wonderful projects and art

    thanks for wonderful inspiration and lessons always

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com LTieu

      Glad my tutorial could help you out!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lynntaylorartist Lynn Taylor

    Thanks so much – I have long admired the look of long stitched bound books and have just made a successful mock up – now can finally use some leather up that has been stored forever!!!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      fabulous / thanks for visiting my blog!

  • jodi mcmillan

    hi…just wanted to say a massive thankyou for a fab tutorial…i have tried coptic and other ways of binding books but yours is the only one that i could follow and achieve…i started simply and today have started binding watercolour papers and have made a lovely cover painted in acrylics thanks again jodi x keep up the great blog…

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      yay, happy to hear!

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  • R0saria

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this tutorial. i always wanted a leather journal but where i am they are really expensive. This helped me make one on my own with the fabric and tools I had around my apartmant. Once again I am so thankful that you make this.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      you are very welcome!

  • Corynne Bailey

    I have been looking for a tutorial of this kind for a year. Thanks to you and edenworks for this wonderful tutorial. Is it possible for you to do a long stitch with the chain stitch at the bottom.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      with pleasure – enjoy!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com/ Linda Tieu

      and yes, you can experiment and mix up the techniques… really, it’s up to your liking how you want to bind your own book!

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  • Marisa

    I was so glad to find this tutorial! I’ve been binding for years, but am only now learning to handle leather with any measure of skill. One little tip I’d like to pass on is to punch your paper over an old bulletin board (the kind in a wood frame). There is a lot of give for the punching tool to sink into after punching the paper and it requires much less force to go through a stack of paper. Thanks again for posting this!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com Linda Tieu

      Thanks for the tip and happy to share my experience. I find that we always learn something new by doing and experimenting, year after year!

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