Binding - Book Block - (02)
Our Smyth sewn signatures

The backbone of our journals and books is a Smyth sewn binding. Widely recognised as the highest-quality binding available in today’s market, Smyth sewn refers to a classic style of bookmaking in which the signatures (sheets of paper folded into groups of pages) are sewn together and reinforced with adhesive and fabric binding. We have selected this style of binding named for David McConnell Smyth, who invented the sewing machine that automated the technique, for its durability and lay-flat qualities and are proud to use this method for the majority of our books.

Over the years, we have also offered a variety of designs with a Handstitched spine, which have been created using an ancient Egyptian technique known as Coptic (or chain) binding.

Coptic Binding
An example of a Coptic binding

While Coptic binding was being developed in Egypt, a method known as stab binding was being used in the Far East. To properly appreciate Smyth sewn spines and the modern bookbinding techniques that we employ, it is necessary to understand the innovations and advances that got us here. We have already covered the “7 Important First Steps in the History of Bookbinding,” so today we will focus on stab binding, an ancient technique that is now especially popular for making homemade scrapbooks and photo albums.

Here are five things you need to know about this foundational bookbinding method.

1) It Is Exactly What it Sounds Like

Using an awl or a similar sharp pointed object, the binder stabs holes along the left edge of a book in a straight line or more complex pattern and then sews thread through the holes to both bind and decorate the book.

2) The Style is Also Known as Japanese Bookbinding But There are Chinese and Korean Variants

The foundational Japanese version of stab binding is called Yotsume Toji, which roughly translates to “four holes.” This is also the basic Chinese version, while the Korean standard has five holes (a more favourable number in Korean culture). All styles were practiced during the Edo period in Japan and the Qing Dynasty in China.

Image Source: Spectrum of Japanese Stab Bindings (C) Erin Zamrzla., Feb. 28, 2012. Via Flickr
Image: Spectrum of Japanese Stab Bindings, © Erin Zamrzla, Feb. 28, 2012. Via Flickr

3) There Are 4 Basic Variations

  1. Yotsume Toji (Four-Hole Binding) – the most common and straightforward style
  2. Koki Toji (Noble Binding) – a Chinese variant, also known as Kangxi, which has two extra holes near the corners for additional strength and decoration
  3. Asa-No-Ha Toji (Hemp Leaf Binding) – a variation of Kangxi with more holes, including corner stitching, creating a more elaborate and durable binding
  4. Kikko Toji (Tortoise Shell Binding) – similar to Asa-No-Ha Toji, without stitching around the corners

4) It Is a Low-Cost and Simple Binding Technique

Stab binding continues to be a popular choice for bookbinders in many parts of the world, especially those seeking a low-cost alternative. It does not involve many tools, expensive materials or any machinery. Many “Do-It-Yourself” enthusiasts have latched on to this style for that very reason and have developed unique variations on the standards listed above. iBookBinding has put together a great list of online tutorials to help get you started!

5) There Are Countless Video Tutorials Online

If you are interested in creating your own simple stab-bound book, it is pretty easy to find YouTube videos. We especially love the series of tutorials that Sea Lemon has put together, teaching you everything from binding technique to how to wax your own thread!

About Paperblanks®: At Paperblanks®, we believe that art should have a place in all aspects of life. That’s why we follow the artist’s way in everything we do – creating, crafting and releasing designs we believe have the power to touch people. For more about Paperblanks®, go to our website at paperblanks.com.

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