DIY: Make Your Own Chinese Book!

By Stefania Miletti

I’ve always had a passion for books, the felling of the paper in your fingers, and the emotions that words can provoke, are my favorite things. So when I learned that I could make them, I was so excited! And thus begun my journey to learn all the different techniques to make books. 

I have to admit that usually I make European bond style books, but I was intrigued by the idea of learning Chinese binding methods, so after a bit of research and different trials, I think I got it. 

I’m going to keep this tutorial as simple as I can, but if you would like to know more about specific terminology or bookbinding tools and techniques, fell free to ask! 

The Tools You Will Need

  • Paper sheets, I used 40 A4 sheets 140 gms, but you can use whatever paper size and gms you want your book to be
  • Book cloth (if you don’t have book cloth you can use whatever fabric you have at home)
  • Cardboard 2mm (if you don’t have this particular height, you can use whatever you have at home, even cereals boxes)
  • Bonefolder, if you don’t have a bonefolder you can use a flat ruler
  • Ruler
  • PVA glue, better if liquid
  • Brush
  • Waxed thread, if you don’t have this you can use whichever thick thread you have or normal thread
  • Sewing needle 
  • Screw hole punch, or an awl in alternative, to make stitching holes in your paper

Optional:

  • Decorative paper
  • Book press, if you don’t have a book press any weight will do, for example a big dictionary or a pile of heavy books.

A Little Bit of Background

Chinese booking is an ancient art that as seen many different types of bookbinding techniques. One of the most known is the “stitched/stab binding”, which is not only traditional in China, but many East Asian countries such as Japan and Korea. Many, including myself at the beginning, often confuse Japanese and Chinese stab binding. Although very similar, they are different. In fact, it is not a surprise that, like many other aspects of Chinese culture, bookbinding techniques were spread throughout Japan during the Tang dynasty. The Major difference between the two techniques is that in Japanese bookbinding, the distance between each sewing station is the same, while in Chinese booking usually the middle length is smaller than the others.

Japanese Binding
Chinese Binding


How to Create the Cover

I find that when books have a hardcover, it makes them more durable and easier to carry around.

For the hard cover, we start with the cardboard. As I mentioned before I’m making an A4 book, which measures, 210 × 297 millimeters, but I want my cover to be a little bit bigger than the paper, so that the angles of the paper do not get ruined.

  • Cut 2 cardboard pieces that measure 2 millimeters, more than the A4 size, on every side EXCEPT the side where we are going to stitch our book. So the overall measurements for each cardboard should be 212 x 301 millimeters.
  • Since we want our cover to bend, we need to cut out a joint piece. A joint piece is a small strip that we eliminate from our cover to allow it to bend. This joint piece is usually quite small. I measured 3 cm from the left and cut a strip of 4 millimeters wide. Do not throw the joint piece away! We’ll need it for later.
  • Cut 2 pieces of book cloth, of length 30.1 + 4 cm (2 cm extra for each side) and height of 21.2 + 4 cm (2 cm extra for each side).
  • Glue the book cloth to the cardboard. Tip: I would advise to help yourself with the ruler in order to glue all the pieces straight.
  • Now is the part where our joint piece come to place. Do not put glue on the joint piece but place it right in between the 2 pieces of carboard, and after you glue everything else in place, take it off.
  • With the help of a bonefolder, or a ruler, smooth the surface so that all air bubbles and excess glue are eliminated
  • Now the corners! For this part I think it’s best that I actually show you how to make them. They are called librarian corners, they are round, different from the normal pointy corners. I have to admit that are my favorite type of corners to make.
  • After you made all the corners, with the help of a bonefolder or a ruler, you can fold the sides.
  • Gently tap all the corners with the bonefolder or ruler to make them rounder.
  • Cut 2 pieces of decorative paper, to glue on the inside of the cover, that are the same size as the inside pages of your book, in my case A4 paper (210 × 297 millimeters)
  • Glue the decorative paper on the inside of the cover, and smooth with bonefolder or ruler to avoid air bubbles and wrinkles. Don’t forget to score the gap created by the joint earlier, so it can bend properly. 
  • Let it dry in the book press or under some weights and repeat the process for the back cover, and the cover is done!

How to Create the Text Bock

Now let’s dive into the text block. 

  • First of all, we need to mark for sewing stations. Taking a pencil, a ruler and a guide paper, mark 4 spots. Measure 2 cm from the edge of the paper and trace a straight line, this is where our stitching stations will be situated. Station A and D are around 2 cm from the border, station B and C are around 8.5 cm from the border.
  • Alling the guide paper to sections of papers (I did 7 to 10 sheets of paper per block)
  • Using a Screw hole punch or an awl, pierce the stations. It can be difficult but don’t be discouraged, because at the end the stations holes won’t be seen except the ones on the cover.
  • Once we pierce everything, including the cover, we can start sewing.

Stitching 

Now it’s time for the fun part! Take your needle and thread. I’m using a thick sewing needle and thick waxed thread. If you are using normal sewing thread, please double or triple thread it to give your stitching strength.

  • Take your thread and measure 5 times the height of the cover. With Chinese binding, it is better to have more thread than run out of it. 
  • Take a portion of the pages, and start from the bottom of C station hole, put a little bit of tape (one that does not ruin the paper), on the end, so that it stays in place. This will be where our final knot will be tied. 
  • Take the whole book and wrap with the needle around the spine and back into station C. Then move toward station D as shown in the picture 
  • Go through station D, wrap again the needle around the spine and through station D as shown below
  • Now wrap the needle around the head/corner of the front cover and back through station D
  • Go again first through station C, then through station B and finally through station A. Once reached station A, wrap around the spine with the needle and back into station A.
  • Wrap the needle around the head/corner of the front cover and back through station A
  • Then go toward station B
  • Wrap the needle around needle around the spine and through station B, and move toward C
  • Remember that at the beginning we took part of the papers and left part of the thread in between the pages to tie a knot in the end? Now, instead of pulling our needle all the way through station C, we are going to return the needle in between the pages where the end of the thread is. 
  • Ensure that the stiches are all tight and with the 2 ends tie a knot.
  • Cut the excess thread and we are DONE! 

Now you have a Chinese bound book!













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Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact Chinain 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

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