Bookbinding Tools: Sewing on a sewing frame (because I forgot)

I was recently referring someone to the post that I wrote about using the sewing frame to stitch up a book when I realized that I hadn’t actually written the post I was referring to about sewing on that sewing frame I built.

Sigh (Pinches bridge of his nose)

I swear, my brain sometimes…

Okay! Let’s do this.

As we know by now, a book consists of a bunch of pages folded into signatures and sewn to supports. In the 16th century, those supports are most commonly either leather or cords of twisted hemp or linen. For this demo, I’m using a cotton cord because it’s what I had lying around that day and I didn’t want to wait and what it’s made of doesn’t matter for a sewing demonstration.

The cords are suspended from the crossbar of the sewing frame and caught in the gap below by wrapping them around keys.  The nuts on the sewing frame’s threaded uprights are used to raise the crossbard and add tension to the cords. In the photo below, you’re below the frame, looking up at the cords being held in place by the keys.


  1. The length of waxed linen thread is knotted and passed into the first signature and then in and out through the pre-punched holes, wrapping once around each cord you pass until you reach the end.
  2. A second signature is placed atop the first and the same stitching is repeated as you progress back to the hole above where you started. Knot your thread to the tail of your original knot and lay a new signature atop the second one.
  3. Pass the thread through the hole and stitch your way back across until you reach the end of that signature. It is helpful to keep the top of the signature lifted by holding one hand behind the signature to ‘catch’ the needle and pass it back through.
  4. Pass your needle backward through the loop below and then loop through your stitch to form a sort of knot known as a “kettle stitch”. I was going to illustrate this because it’s hard to describe, but this bookbinding blogger did it so much better than I could hope to, go look at how she does it.
  5. Repeat until done. If you run out of thread, tie more on and keep going until you tie off at the last with a nice square knot. Leave your tails a little long so you can catch them in the glue later.


Here’s some video my wife shot of me the first time I tried this. I’m contending with too much thread that’s too knotty, and just generally being a pain in the rear. It get better, though. This is one of those things that you eventually get into a rhythm, and it starts to move along smoothly and gets meditative, and suddenly you’re done and wondering if you have more paper in the house that needs booking…



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