Coptic Bookbinding Workshop

Earlier in November I ran a workshop on Coptic bookbinding in the bindery at Yale’s Davenport College, where I’m a graduate affiliate. Coptic binding is an ancient bookbinding technique that uses no adhesive, only strong bookbinding thread and the paper or parchment signatures (or sections, or quires) to create a strong and flexible book. It’s an open-spine binding, which means the covers are only on the front and back of the book and the spine is exposed so you can see how the thread holds it all together. I use the directions in Keith Smith’s Non-Adhesive Binding, Vol 3: Exposed Spine Bindings book – clear, concise, with lots of varieties of sewing patterns – to have the students create a blank book with the 2-needle across-the-spine coptic sewing.

This was not a binding technique we covered in my undergraduate “Art of the Book” year-long course I took at Brown with Walter Feldman: I came across Keith Smith’s books after graduation. Over the years I have made many photo albums and black books with the coptic sewing because it’s a durable, elegant, and unusual way to bind books. The process is akin to knitting: it requires all your concentration so you get into the flow of it and produce a beautiful piece of art while the world slips away.

Witbout any previous bookbinding experience all four students (freshmen through seniors) got the hang of the sewing right away and produced very handsome blank books in our 2-hr workshop. Thanks also to my faithful assistant Hilary.

Hard at work in the bindery

Add another signature; link and lock...


Clearing up a knot

I see some very fine sewing here.

Close-up of my sample books: the black on the left with a less successful 1-needle pattern; the red with the 2-needle sewing patterned turned out the most elegant, and easiest, option even for beginners. Once you establish the sewing pattern 2 needles are not hard to keep track of.

A student justifiably proud of her beautiful finished product!

Only one more set to go.

Almost done!


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