Chain or Coptic Stitch Bookbinding Tutorial

Here’s another method of binding your book with an open spine…a chain stitch or also called coptic stitch binding. This is a great method for when you have book covers that are individual boards instead of completely wrapped around the entire journal. You are basically binding all the signatures and covers together with a connected stitch that holds everything together tightly, but with super flexibility. The pages will open up completely flat and that’s a big reason why this method is so popular. I’m sure you might have seen lots of books on Etsy bound in this way. There are variations to the chain stitch (as with everything) but this is how I go about binding with this technique…

From a materials standpoint, you’ll need your cover boards and paper signatures to go inside. I’m also using a roll of self-adhesive paper to cover my boards. That’s actually the stuff you stick in your kitchen drawers and such…very handy! You’ll need some string to bind it all and a needle – here I’m using a curved needle. I also have my awl and holepuncher to make holes.

The first thing I do is to cover my cover boards with the decorative paper. You can use fabric or other decorative papers as well, just finish up your cover boards exactly how you want them to look bound into the book. You can see that I cut my decorative paper to size…

Then I stuck them on the boards, cutting the corners at a diagonal so that it’ll fold over nicely without too much bulk on the corners.

You just smooth down one corner and make sure everything is flat without bubbles and continuing securing the other sides.

Then to cover up the empty side, I put in some dark brown liner paper…that will be the inside of my journal cover.

Once my cover boards and paper signatures are ready, I start to punch my holes for the binding. You don’t really have to space them evenly, just make sure they are spread throughout the spine to be secure. I’ve marked up my holes on the cover then punched them out with a holepuncher.

Then I use the cover as my guide to punch holes in all my signatures. It’s nice to use an awl just because the hole doesn’t need to be huge…it just needs to fit your string or thread type.

Once your materials are prepped, you are basically ready to sew. Pretty easy process at this point and not much different from other binding methods…it’s the stitching pattern that is special in this case. Note that you can have as many signatures you would like, however once it gets really fat, the sheer flexibility will allow your signatures to be more movable and not as “together” in my mind. They sort of “snake” around… but that’s just my experience.

To start stitching, you go with one board and one signature inside. You can see I’m starting at the bottom hole inside the first signature.

You bring the thread out and under the cover board to attach it to the signature…

I like to wrap my thread around the cover board one more time, so it’s a double loop before putting my needle back into the signature bottom hole where I came from.

I make sure everything is tight and aligned, then tie a knot. The important part of this method of binding is keeping the cover and signatures on top all aligned…because that’s exactly how it’s going to end up in the end. You want a perfectly aligned stack of signatures on the covers, nice and tight.

From this point, I just move up one hole and repeat the process of looping around the cover and coming back up. Only difference is that there is no knot to tie, you just keep looping through to attach the signature to the cover.

When you get to the last hole, after looping onto the cover, instead of going back into the same signature you stack on another signature and go into that hole.

See how I’ve come up from the top hole in my second signature here…then I immediately go to the next hole…

…and on the outside I want to attach this signature to something, but there are no holes to go through like with the cover. Instead I loop my thread in between the signatures below it, in this case the first signature and cover. Just stick your needle into the left side of the stitch already there and exit to the right of it. This is a kettle stitch that connects the stitches together and creates the cool pattern on the binding. It is for this stitch that I use the curved needle, because it’s so much easier to stitch it in between the signatures.

Here’s a close-up of the needle pulling the thread behind the existing stitch of previous signatures, from the left side to the right side. You are making a little loop to basically connect the new signature to the rest of the book.

Once you’ve made this loop, the kettle stitch and tigtened it all, you stick the needle back into the hole you came from and repeat going down the line of holes.

Again, once I get to the last hole of that signature, after doing the kettle stitch instead of going into the same signature again, I add a new signature and go into that hole.

Repeat…repeat…repeat. Once you get the idea, you’ll be able to continue for as many signatures as  you have, no problem! You’ll see here I’ve added all 5 of my signatures. There are ways of binding the last signature with the cover together…but I find it all confusing. So I bind all my signatures in the same fashion until there are none left.

Then when I just have the cover left to bind, I sort of do the same thing, but weaving through the last signature again. This means the signature will have a double thread inside, but I don’t mind that for the easy of understanding the process.

With my kettle stitch done on the last signature, to add the cover I go through the same process… I do my double loop around the cover, kettle stitch to attach it securely to the book and then go back into the signature of paper. I move up one hole and repeat the steps…

When I get to the last hole, instead of going back into the paper signature, I actually go in between the cover and paper signature. I loop it around that stitch and tie a knot here to finish binding the book. Pretty easy! One of these days I might learn another method, but this works really nicely for me anyway!

You’ll end up with a book that has a snazzy binding stitch showing, very neat and secure. You’ll notice that the kettle stitches create a column of “v” or “u” looking pattern in the binding. The very left and right holes will look like half of that design, since it’s the edge.

See how the book lies completely open when flat on a table? That’s one of the big benefits of binding this way, you see the entire page and most people find it great to write and work in. Of course, if you add lots of signatures things may get imbalanced. I blogged about another chain stitched journal here and even though it looks cool, I’ve found it to be too fat!

I like this kind of binding and find it very useful, but it’s not the easiest and does require a lot precision in the tightening and lining up…otherwise things will be oddly hanging around or crooked. I often end up tightening a bit too much, so that the book doesn’t even close completely from the tightness. In this case, I put some paper weights on top for a day and it all evens out…thread always seems to stretch a bit!

There are many other coptic and chain stitching tutorials, so don’t hesitate to find a youtube video that shows the process, etc. It’s not complicated to understand, just a bit tedious depending how many signatures you have. The results are fabulous though, so it wouldn’t be bad to make this every once in a while. Have fun and let me know what you think!

Did you find this tutorial helpful? You can click through to browse books on bookbinding in the Amazon widget below. Also, please support this blog by checking out my shop of art and handmade goods. Thanks so much!

  • gizecraft

    Nei hou ma?
    Beautiful books!
    :0)I speak cantonese but dont write!

    • linda

      hou hou! me too, i speak (well enough) but don’t write…hehe… Thanks for stopping by!

    • Laurie Doctor

      Have you tried a coptic binding with only 2 signatures?

    • L.Tieu

      I have with 3 signatures… so it’s totally possible with 2 as well… it probably just doesn’t look as cool. when you have less signatures, less with show up of the cool design on the spine. But technically it should all work the same!

    • Jaymie

      I notice you’re using a curved needle. Can you recommend a specific brand and size that’s large enough for wax thread? I’ve been having trouble and am only able to find them online, so I wanna make sure it’ll work! Thanks in advance! I live in the US and was wondering if you happen to know if any of these will work…

      • LTieu

        Both needles and waxed thread comes in various thicknesses… so you have to find the combo that works for you. I bought a set of tapestry/upholstery needles, so there were straight and curved to experiment with. The needles definitely had large enough holes, but sometimes it might be too big if you are using thinner thread. You’ll have a giant hole in your paper. I think it’s best to match up the thread to the needle you are using, or perhaps go with a set, so you are certain!

  • gretchen/juneatnoon

    Nice! I found that once I got the idea, it was really pretty easy and quick to do. I did find a good explanation of how to add the second cover without the double strand in the last signature, but now I can’t find where it was. It just involves skipping the last signature to wrap the cover, and *then* going into the signature hole, and doing it that way across. Easier to do than to explain. :)

    • linda

      Hi Gretchen! Thanks…yes, there are some tutorials out there, but I never seem to like the result when I wrap both together…I think I have tension issues…hah…will have to try it again sometime!

  • natalie

    Love it! Beautiful!

    • linda

      Thanks so much, Natalie!

  • Tanya

    thanks for the detailed tutorial! great photos and explaining!

    • linda

      Glad you liked it! You are very welcome!

  • Tina

    Wow-what an amazing tutorial, thanks for sharing. I just stumbled across your blog, it’s wonderful!

    • linda

      Hi Tina! Thanks so much, hope you enjoy my blog :)

  • rein

    This is great, thanks for sharing!

    • linda

      Thanks for checking out my tutorial!

  • dymphie

    thanks for sharing your how-to, it must have take a lot of work to write all thing out so clear.

    • linda

      Thanks so much, Dymphie… it certain takes longer to do the tutorial than to make the book itself!

  • Cynthia Schelzig,,Cynnie

    What an effort to make this tutorial…thank you so much for all the time and fotos to make it comprehendable…love your end product book too!!! Like your blog….

    • linda

      Thanks, Cynthia. You are very welcome and hope you enjoy my blog!

  • Dru

    I was looking to make my own sketchbooks and this tutorial has been of great help :)

    • linda

      Glad my tutorial could help you out – enjoy bookbinding!

  • Jelle

    Hi. Looks good. I was wondering if you can do this without the two covers? So just the folded papers. What would change in the steps?

    • linda

      I’ve never tried it before, but I suppose it’s possible to connect a bunch of signatures together. You will probably just see the binding differently and have to tie in certain spots to secure it…give it a try!

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  • Charlotte

    Thank you so much!
    I love to make books, everything that looks like it.
    I like making everything myself, stories, illustrations, then print it and cut it and then turn it into books! this helped me a lot c:

    • linda

      you are very welcome!

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  • Barbra Joan

    How glad I am to come upon your site.. I’m a watercolorist, but art journals , paper creations are my second passion.
    Thank you so much for this tutorial.I’ll be looking at the rest of your site., so much to see.
    If you do visit my website, click on mixed media tab, I make themed art journals, but also love making blank books for my sketches. BJ

    • linda

      Hi Barbra! Thanks for visiting my site and for your comment :)

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  • Cindy Skillman

    Lovely! I just made one with only two signatures to carry in my purse for watercolor sketches. I want to put a book on it to make it close like you said, but I can’t stop looking at it just yet. It’s too pretty. Thanks for your wonderful tutorial!

    • linda

      Hi Cindy! You are very welcome and thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad you were able to make something useful… I just love creating things from scratch!

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  • Laurie Doctor

    I have really enjoyed the simplicity and accessibility of the coptic binding instructions. I have gotten a lot from this, and will let my students know about it. Thank you.

    • linda

      glad to be able to share – have fun bookbinding!

  • monique

    ah what a relief!! this is the first site to show this technique in a way that is understandable to my right brain. Lots of clear pics and descriptions that make sense. Thank you so much!!

    • linda

      so glad I could help out – yay!

  • Adam VM

    I’ve been trying for weeks to sew a good, tight coptic binding. All of my spines were wimpy and floppy, and it was so frustrating. Last night, following this tutorial’s example, I finally nailed it. The book I bound is -rock solid-.

    Thanks for the excellent tutorial!

    • linda

      fabulous adam! I’m sure the credit goes all to you for practicing…but I appreciate your comment :)

  • Peter Bryenton

    Well lit and photographed sequence, thanks. I can say that honestly after having made hundreds of similar pictures for a master book binder who taught me the coptic stitch when I attended her classes.

    • linda

      Wow, thanks so much! I really appreciate it!

  • Lindsey

    Thanks for the GREAT tutorial! I just used it to make a journal for my mom for christmas. 😀

    • linda

      very welcome – so happy you created a gift from the tutorial- nice!

  • Rosie

    hi Linda

    thanks, great instructions on here! hope youre having a lovely peaceful christmas there. Happy art making and holidays.

    • linda

      thanks rosie! happy to share my process – enjoy!

  • RitaJC alias aLatvia

    Thank you so much for sharing! Great tutorial!

    • L.TIEU

      very welcome!

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  • Kristine

    wow! fantastic tutorial! found another website with a tut. on how to do coptic binding and i had a horrible time following it but this was so much easier to understand, thank you thank you thank you! many many journals and mini scrapbooks to come!

    • L.Tieu

      very welcome, kristine! hope you have fun bookbinding!

  • Van

    Hi. Great tutorial! I have a question–where did you get your holepuncher? It looks intense.

    • L.Tieu

      Thanks, Van!

      The holepuncher is for belts I believe – got it at the hardware store!

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  • grekland

    Such a great site, thanks so much for writing this awesome article.

  • Jody

    Yes, yes, yes! I finally got a perfect Coptic stitch! Thanks for the great tutorial! I never thought if it as a chain stitch; it always seemed so mysterious before. Thanks again.

  • L.Tieu

    @grekland @Jody
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and happy to have shared a bit of fun in bookbinding!

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  • Laurie Doctor

    Great tutorial, thank you!

  • Fatima

    Thank you very very much for a well executed tutorial … I found it to be so easy, informative and fun… and the stitching looks realy neat …cant wait until I start to bind my own books ;D

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  • Ashley

    Your blog was so helpful! I am the kind of person who should just never touch a needle because I am absolutely terrible at sewing. However, your blog was so easy to understand that I was actually able to figure out how to make this! Now I have a super awesome sketchbook that I made myself!
    Thank you so much!

    • LTieu

      So happy to hear – yay! Thanks you for checking out my blog!

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  • Nicole

    A very lovely DIY book! May i ask that do you have any idea for making a book by using papers that are already cut in a size of a quarter of an A4 size paper? I want to make a book of that size.. that you can still see the entire page and it has a nice cover.. Is it possible… ><?

  • suyapa

    Great tutorial! thanks for sharing.
    I have a Q regarding the chain stitch. I try to using the coptic technique but when i finish the book i notice that the chain stitch does not show well in the first and end last holes of the book, however it shows very nice in all the middle holes. in the beginning and and of the book it looks different like if there is not chain stitch. is that normal or the chain stitch should appear nice in all the holes?
    Thank you!!!

  • judith carter

    Thank you. Your tutorial is just what I needed. Judy

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  • Kirsten

    Thanks for this great tutorial. I just finished my first attempt at making a book. I didn’t have a fancy hole punch, but I just used a drill instead, and it seemed to work out fine. The holes just aren’t as clean cut.

    • LTieu

      definitely use what you have! great job on your journal!

  • guiwenneth

    I love this tutorial! I’ve watched videos on Youtube that show this technique but I found these photos more helpful and easier to understand. Thank you! <3

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  • Amy

    So I just stumbled across your blog and just love all of the projects you’ve done and posted for us to see! I know you put this up a few years ago but i really love this tutorial on coptic stitch bindings for journals, they’re really beautiful and I definitely think I’m going to try my hand at making a few since I’ve been looking for a new creative project to get into :) A question about the journals functioning… Once they’re being used, can you fold the front cover and pages completely over so they are under the back of the journal when you’re writing inside? Or does that put too much strain on the binding of the journal?

    • LTieu

      Hi Amy,

      No, you would fold the cover all the way to the back like you would with spiral binding. Rather, coptic stitch gives you a book that opens out flat, but both sides are still on the table, so to speak. You would really be stretching the binding if you folded it all the way back and it wouldn’t lie flat anymore… if you want something to flip all the way, you would use spiral binding, in my opinion.

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  • Eliza

    Ok, this might be a really bonde question (no offense, I am actually blonde), but do the signatures have to be blank when you bing them, or can the be already written/painted/finished?
    This is the first time I have looked into book binding because I want to make a book for a school art project. I really liked your tutorial, it was quite clear, I just wasnt sure about this bit.

    • LTieu

      No question is silly!

      Yes you can use any kind of papers… decorated, painted, etc! As long as you can fold it to sew together… add a piece of cloth if you want! They can also be different sizes for an eclectic look… it’s all up to you. Have fun!

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  • Mary Adams

    Hi c: I was wondering if you could tell me about how many papers you had in each signature?

    • Linda Tieu

      6-8 papers… basically depending on thickness of your paper, make sure there are enough sheets that can hold up to your sewing!

  • Patricia

    Thank you for this great tutorial! The best one that I’ve found 😀

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  • Danielle Deutsch

    Hi. I really enjoyed reading through your tutorial. I haven’t done it yet but as soon as I can round together some materials I will start at step one. I want to try doing this kind of binding for a lay flat photo album but it’s hard to tell from the last picture in your post how each page lays open. I’d love to see more views if you have them. Also if you have any recommendations for papers to use for a photo album type book I’d love suggestions. Thank you.

    • Linda Tieu

      very welcome! Yes, this type of binding does give you more flatness when opened. It’s best to use heavier weight paper for more strength and sturdiness, but you don’t want the book to get too thick and unwieldly. Remember that a signature can have less pages, depends on thickness and how many pages fold nicely together and can still hold up to your sewing!

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  • Sharon

    I love the tutorial very specific instructions. Makes it easy to follow. Do you know where I can find the paper signature pages? I cannot find them for the life of me.

    • Linda Tieu

      Hi Sharon / happy to share a helpful tutorial!

      Regarding your question, not sure I understand… the signatures of paper are created by you, using whatever paper you want to put in your journal. They are just multiple sheets of paper folded in half and punched with holes, so you can sew it all together!

  • Elaine C. ♥

    Hi, may I ask the signature books inside how do you bind the papers together? Staple binding? Or they’re not binded you just sew through it?

    • Linda Tieu

      Yes, the signatures are basically folded stacks of paper and so that is why you punch holes to sew a bunch of signatures together to get it to hold together as a book. Hope that makes sense!

  • victoria

    Where do get your paper or what paper do you use?

    • Linda Tieu

      Hi Victoria!

      I often use regular copy paper, when it comes to a journal for just regular doodling. it’s thinner, so I use more sheets to create a signature that is sturdy enough to withstand sewing.

      Otherwise, I’ve also used heavier weight cover paper, drawing paper, bristol board, watercolor paper, painting paper… you can use anything really, even cloth and leather to make decorative pages.

      Just make sure a signature is thick enough to withstand sewing and not so thick that it is unmanageable to sew. Like heavy watercolor paper is quite thick, so you can have less sheets and still be able to poke holes and sew without ripping it!

      Hope that helps! Oh and I should note that you can buy these papers from office supply stores and art stores!

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  • Paul Thomson

    A fantastic tutorial Linda! Thanks for taking the time to create it. I’ve added your site onto our page ‘Top 10 Coptic Stitch Binding Tutorials on the Internet’ –

    I hope our post will draw in some more visitors to your site.

    Keep up the good work and again, many thanks for taking the time to make it.

    Have a good rest of the day,


    • Linda Tieu

      Thanks so much, Paul. I really appreciate the link!

  • Kathleen Williams

    Thank you for posting this. The instructions and photos are clear. I do have a question though: you demonstrate sewing by inserting the needle from left to right as you move from left to right holes in the signature. Do you switch coming back and insert the needle on the right of the stitch? Most of the YouTube tutorials do this process so fast it is impossible to tell what is going on. And some of them seem to be wrapping the binding thread around the preceding stitch instead of just slipping behind it. Does this mean there are variations? Thanks for your help.

    • Linda Tieu

      If I understand your question correctly, then yes, you go with the direction you are going, otherwise you will get a different twist in the binding…. maybe it will create an interesting pattern? Not sure… but I can say that there are variations for sure… bookbinding is an artform afterall!

  • Aylah Ihana

    OMG. I’m so irritated and this chain ended MONTHS ago. So it’s highly unlikely that anyone will respond. I feel like a little girl, all one in a cemetery at night. There’s evidence that life was once here, but now it’s desolate. Silent.
    Hahha. Anywahs!!!

    • Linda Tieu

      Hi Aylah – In the blog post, I’ve used cardboard that is covered with decorative paper. You can use any material that is stiff to provide protection for your journal. Chipboard, cardboard, wood, etc… and you can cover it with paper, cloth, etc to decorate it, then just punch holes and stitch all together with your journal. Hope that helps!

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