The theory of japanese stab binding

…or at least how I understand it. I’ve had many questions since I began posting my own Japanese stab bind designs: about how I create them, the thought process behind the designs and sewing mechanisms, the tools I use, etc. I’ll break down my personal process in another post; for this one I want to explain some of the basics for those of you just starting out in the world of bookbinding and are looking for a style that allows for incredible expression.

If you have researched bookbinding at all, you will have most likely come across the basic Japanese stab bind (JSB). It looks like this: four holes, four wraps around the spine, and a wrap around each edge.

Fold line
The most import part of the traditional JSB to remember is what I call the ‘fold line’. This is made by the holes that are farthest away from the spine, or closest to the content on the inside of your book. It is vital that they be in a straight line, otherwise your book will end up with a crooked fold and the cover will be more likely to tear.

Having thread run along the fold line is helpful because it keeps the cover from tearing off as easily – there is more surface for the cover to bend against, instead of just single holes. It also keeps with the traditional JSB look. I’ve only sewn a handful of binds that didn’t have thread reinforcing the fold line, but the holes were even.

“Butterfly” bind.

Edges and spine
It isn’t absolutely necessary to include the edge wraps, but good practice to do so. If you have a tendency to sew loosely, or if you ever have trouble making your knot tight enough, it is important to include the edge wraps. They also help with reinforcing the fold line, and keep the book together better. The spine needs to always have some kind of wrap. As you can see from the example binds in this post, there are numerous ways to do this.

Holes
The absolute minium of necessary holes would be one hole…but you would end up with a fairly wobbly and shaky book and your design would be limited to a triangle. Two holes would still create a weak bind, but if the book were quite small, or had only a few pages, it would probably work. But good news: there is no maximum limit to how many holes your design can have, and it doesn’t matter if it is an even or an odd number. You are only limited by your patience, persistence, and stamina when it comes to drilling all of those holes! I would say my patterns have an average of 30 holes each.

“Crocus” has 53 holes.

**A potential problem area is how close your holes are to each other…the closer they are, the more likely your book block will rip when you pull the thread tight. And NOTHING is more disheartening than when that happens! I try to keep my holes at least .25″ (or 7 mm) apart. On occasion I will place them closer, but I then sew the book very, very carefully.

Process
This is where it gets a bit complicated to explain by using words and not physically demonstrating (maybe one day I’ll try to create a video tutorial).

The traditional JSB with 4 holes has the sewing start at hole #2. But if you have a complicated design, it’s easier to start at the very edge.  The central objective of JSB is to sew your entire bind while never repeating the same line; in other words, never having two threads between the same two holes.


To achieve this, you essentially sew half of the design in one direction, then at the halfway mark you return back to the start by sewing the pattern in reverse. You must get the concept “over-under-over-under”…then, “under-over-under-over” firmly in your mind. This is fairly easy to figure out on a geometric pattern – and it can become convoluted with an organic/non-geometric design very rapidly! The ease or difficulty is very much dependent on what the design is and who is sewing it.

For example, below is “mushroom”, which is a geometric pattern with 5 repeats. The first ‘mushroom’ segment is completed before the second is begun. In fact, because of the gap between each segment, each mushroom is sewn exactly the same way. If they had been touching at the fold line, the needle direction of the second mushroom would have been completely opposite of the first (every ‘enter’ would become an ‘exit’). The third mushroom would have been like the first, the fourth like the second, etc.

In “peacock”, an organic pattern, the sewing starts in the middle, creating the feather’s rachis first, then the center circles, then the final circle with fringe coming off of it. It looks complicated, but once you have mastered the concept of ‘over-under-over under,’ it isn’t too difficult to figure out.

“Woven” is an exception to the rule: it is a geometric pattern, but the sewing actually goes from one side to the other and back again just to complete one ‘V’ shape. But the edges and the sides still use the ‘over-under-over-under’ approach.

======
Early in my experimenting I decided that straight perpendicular lines by themselves were boring. I figured out that the spine could be wrapped with a ‘V’ shape by crossing one loop with another previous loop (or loops). So far the only shape that seems impossible is a circle, but I’m working on it!

I hope this is helpful. If you ever run into a snag with your own pattern or design (or with one of mine) send me an email. And send pictures of your creations, I would love to see!

japanese stab binding tutorial: butterfly

Dedicated to former adviser, Robert…I know you miss my ‘butterfly’ days… :)

An intermediate bind with a difficult hole pattern.

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, (leave a tail but don’t knot it) wrap around right edge, enter 1 again
exit 2
enter 3
exit 4
enter 5
exit 6
enter 7
exit 8
enter 5
exit 8
enter 7
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4
enter 3
exit 2
enter 6
exit 2
enter 1
exit 9
enter 3
exit 10
enter 5
exit 10
enter 3
exit 9
enter 11
exit 12
enter 10
exit 12
enter 5
exit 12
enter 13
exit 14
enter 13
exit 12
enter 14
exit 5
enter 14
exit 8
enter 14
exit 15
enter 7
exit 15
enter 16, wrap around spine at an angle to below 19, enter 16 again
exit 15
enter 14, wrap around spine, point needle to the right, thread needle through loop from 16, enter 14 again
exit 17
enter 18
exit 16
enter 19
exit 17
enter 19
exit 16
enter 18
exit 17
enter 14
exit 20, wrap around spine at an angle to below 21, exit 20 again
enter 14
exit 12
enter 21
exit 22
enter 23
exit 24
enter 23
exit 25
enter 23
exit 22
enter 21
exit 26
enter 25
exit 27
enter 25
exit 26
enter 21
exit 28
enter 29
exit 30
enter 31 wrap around left edge, enter 31 again
exit 32
enter 33
exit 34
enter 35
exit 36
enter 37
exit 38
enter 35
exit 38
enter 37
exit 36
enter 32
exit 36
enter 35
exit 34
enter 33
exit 32
enter 31
exit 30
enter 33
exit 39
enter 35
exit 39
enter 33
exit 30
enter 29
exit 28
enter 39
exit 28
enter 35
exit 28
enter 40
exit 41
enter 40
exit 28
enter 41
exit 35
enter 41
exit 38
enter 41
exit 42
enter 37
exit 42
enter 43, wrap around spine at angle to below 46, enter 43 again
exit 42
enter 41, thread needle through loop from 43, point needle to the left, enter 41 again
exit 44
enter 45
exit 43
enter 46
exit 44
enter 46
exit 43
enter 45
exit 44
enter 41
exit 47, wrap around spine, thread needle through loop from 20, point needle right, exit 47 again
enter 41
exit 28
enter 21
exit 12
enter 11
exit 9
tie off with tail from 1

japanese stab binding tutorial: kissing fish

An intermediate bind, easy hole pattern. Leave a comment if you have a specific tutorial you would like to see next.

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, leave a tail but don’t knot it, wrap around right edge
enter 1 again, wrap around right edge at angle across from 2
enter 1 again
exit 2
enter 3, wrap around right edge, thread needle through loop from 1, point up
enter 3 again
wrap around right edge, enter 3 again
exit 4
enter 5
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4, wrap around spine at an angle to below 7, exit 4 again
enter 3, wrap around spine at an angle to below 7, enter 3 again
exit 2
enter 1
exit 6
enter 7
exit 4
enter 7
exit 6
enter 8
exit 7
enter 10
exit 7
enter 8
exit 9
enter 10, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 4 and 3, point right
enter 10 again
exit 11, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 4 and 3, point left
exit 11 again
enter 12
exit 13
enter 12
exit 11, wrap around spine to an angle below 14, exit 11 again
enter 10, wrap around spine to an angle below 14, enter 10 again
exit 9
enter 8
exit 13
enter 14
exit 11
enter 14
exit 13
enter 15
exit 14
enter 17
exit 14
enter 15
exit 16
enter 17, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 11 and 10, point right
enter 17 again
exit 18, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 11 and 10, point left
exit 18 again
enter 19
exit 20
enter 19
exit 18, wrap around spine to an angle below 21, exit 18 again
enter 17, wrap around spine to an angle below 21, enter 17 again
exit 16
enter 15
exit 20
enter 21
exit 18
enter 21
exit 20
enter 22
exit 21
enter 24
exit 21
enter 22
exit 23
enter 24, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 18 and 17, point right
enter 24 again
exit 25, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 18 and 17, point left
exit 25 again
enter 26
exit 27
enter 26
exit 25, wrap around spine to an angle below 28, exit 25 again
enter 24, wrap around spine to an angle below 28, enter 24 again
exit 23
enter 22
exit 27
enter 28
exit 25
enter 28
exit 27
enter 29
exit 28
enter 31
exit 28
enter 29
exit 30
enter 31, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 25 and 24, point right
enter 31 again
exit 32, wrap around spine, thread needle through loops from 25 and 24, point left
exit 32 again
wrap around left edge, exit 32 again
wrap around left edge to an angle across from 33, exit 32 again
enter 33
exit 34, wrap around left edge, thread needle through loop from 32, point down
exit 34 again
wrap around left edge, exit 34 again
enter 33
exit 32
enter 31
exit 30
enter 29
exit 34
enter 29
exit 27
enter 22
exit 20
enter 15
exit 13
enter 8
exit 6, tie off with tail from 1

japanese stab binding tutorial: plugs

This is a beginning bind with a lot holes. A drill press/hand drill would be a good idea–an awl would be a huge pain (literally and figuratively)!

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, leave a tail but don’t knot it. wrap around right edge, enter 1 again
exit 2
enter 3
exit 10
enter 3
exit 2
enter 1
exit 4
enter 5, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 2 & 3 (both sides)
enter 5 again
exit 6, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 2 & 3 (both sides)
exit 6 again
enter 9
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4
enter 7
exit 8
enter 7
exit 9
enter 10
exit 11
enter 12
exit 13
enter 20
exit 13
enter 12
exit 11
enter 14
exit 15, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 12 & 13 (both sides)
exit 15 again
enter 16, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 12 & 13 (both sides)
enter 16 again
exit 19
enter 16
exit 15
enter 14
exit 17
enter 18
exit 17
enter 19
exit 20
enter 21
exit 22
enter 23
exit 30
enter 23
exit 30
enter 23
exit 22
enter 21
exit 24
enter 25, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 22 & 23 (both sides)
enter 25 again
exit 26, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 22 & 23 (both sides)
exit 26 again
enter 29
exit 26
enter 25
exit 24
enter 27
exit 28
enter 27
exit 29
enter 30
exit 31
enter 32
exit 33
enter 40
exit 33
enter 32
exit 31
enter 34
exit 35, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 32 & 33 (both sides)
exit 35 again
enter 36, wrap around spine, pass needle under thread between 32 & 33 (both sides)
enter 36 again
exit 39
enter 36
exit 35
enter 34
exit 37
enter 38
exit 37
enter 39
exit 40, wrap around left edge, exit 40 again
enter 39
exit 37
enter 34
exit 31
enter 30
exit 29
enter 27
exit 24
enter 21
exit 20
enter 19
exit 17
enter 14
exit 11
enter 10
exit 9
enter 7
exit 4
tie off

japanese stab binding tutorial: snake eyes

For all that this bind is a beginning level pattern, it was very hard to write the tutorial! I kept confusing myself. Which is why it has taken me so long to post it. So… if anyone tries to sew it and runs into a snag, let me know and I will edit the instructions.

**click on an image to enlarge**

hole pattern

sewing pattern

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1 (leave a tail, but don’t knot it), wrap around spine
enter 1 again, wrap around right edge
enter 1 again
exit 2, wrap around right edge
exit 2 again
enter 3, thread needle through loop from 1, point RIGHT
enter 3 again, wrap around right edge
enter 3 again
exit 4, wrap around right edge
exit 4 again
enter 3
exit 2
enter 5, wrap around right edge
enter 5 again
exit 4
enter 5
exit 6, wrap around right edge
exit 6 again
enter 4
exit 6
enter 5
exit 2
enter 1
exit 7, wrap around spine
exit 7 again, wrap around left edge
exit 7 again
enter 8, wrap around left edge
enter 8 again
exit 9, thread needle through loop from 7, point LEFT
exit 9 again, wrap around left edge
exit 9 again
enter 10, wrap around left edge
enter 10 again
exit 9
enter 8
exit 11, wrap around left edge
exit 11 again
enter 10
exit 11
enter 12, wrap around left edge
enter 12 again
exit 10
enter 12
exit 11
enter 8
exit 7
tie off

japanese stab binding tutorial: bridges

This bind is a fairly easy to sew. The most difficult aspect is the punching holes. If you place them together as closely as I have (.125 in/3.5 mm), be VERY careful about how you punch the holes. Also when you sew, do not pull very tightly, or you’ll rip an unintended hole.

**for an even easier variation (v-neck tshirts), ignore stations 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, and 28. Also, reverse all directionality (enter becomes exit, and vice versa) except for at 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29.**

to start: **click on either image to make it bigger**

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1 (leave a tail of thread, but don’t knot it)
exit 2, loop around spine
-exit 2 again
enter 3, loop around spine
-enter 3 again
exit 4, loop around spine
-exit 4 again
enter 5, loop around spine
-enter 5 again
exit 6, loop around spine
-exit 6 again
enter 7, loop around spine
-enter 7 again
exit 8
enter 9, loop around spine
-enter 9 again
exit 10, loop around spine
-exit 10 again
enter 11, loop around spine
-enter 11 again
exit 12, loop around spine
-exit 12 again
enter 13, loop around spine
-enter 13 again
exit 14, loop around spine
-exit 14 again
enter 15
exit 16, loop around spine
-exit 16 again
enter 17, loop around spine
-enter 17 again
exit 18, loop around spine
-exit 18 again
enter 19, loop around spine
-enter 19 again
exit 20, loop around spine
-exit 20 again
enter 21, loop around spine
-enter 21 again
exit 22
enter 23, loop around spine
-enter 23 again
exit 24, loop around spine
-exit 24 again
enter 25, loop around spine
-enter 25 again
exit 26, loop around spine
-exit 26 again
enter 27, loop around spine
-enter 27 again
exit 28, loop around spine
-exit 28 again
enter 29, loop around left edge
-enter 29 again
-wrap at an angle over loop from 28, under 27, over 26, to the point half way between 26 and 25, hold with thumb
-(reverse side) return to 29 over 26, under 27, over 28
-enter 29 again
exit 28
enter 27
exit 26
enter 25
exit 24
enter 23
exit 22, wrap at an angle over loop from 23, under 24, over 25
-thread needle through loop from 29, needle pointed to the left, pull tight
-(reverse side) return to 22, over 25, under 24, over 23
-exit 22 again, wrap at an angle over loop from 21, under 20, over 19, to the point half way between 19 and 18, hold with thumb
-(reverse side) return to 22 over 19, under 20, over 21
-exit 22 again
enter 21
exit 20
enter 19
exit 18
enter 17
exit 16
enter 15, wrap at angle over loop from 16, under 17, over 18
-thread needle through loop from 22, needle pointed to the left, pull tight
-(reverse side) return to 15, over 18, under 17, over 16
-enter 15 again, wrap at an angle over loop from 14, under 13, over 12 to the point half way between 12 and 11, hold with thumb
-(reverse side) return to 15 over 12, under 13, over 14
-enter 15 again
exit 14
enter 13
exit 12
enter 11
exit 10
enter 9
exit 8, wrap at an angle over loop from 9, under 10, over 11
-thread needle through loop from 15, needle pointed to the left, pull tight
-(reverse side) return to 8 over 11, under 10, over 9
-exit 8 again, wrap at an angle over loop from 7, under 6, over 5, to the point half way between 5 and 4, hold with thumb
-(reverse side) return to 8 over 5, under 6, over 7
exit 8 again
enter 7
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4
enter 3
exit 2
enter 1, wrap at an angle over loop from 2, under 3, over 4
-thread needle through loop from 8, needle pointed to the left, pull tight
-(reverse side) return to 1 over 4, under 3, over 2
-enter 1 again, loop around right edge
-tie off with beginning tail

japanese stab binding tutorial: chevrons

I’m still playing around with how to best portray the top and the underside of each binding pattern. The gray arrows indicate the direction on the underside of the book block.

**click on the image to enlarge**

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

enter 1, leave a tail (but don’t knot it)
exit 6
enter 5
exit 6
enter 1
exit 2
wrap around edge, exit 2 again
enter 3
exit 5
enter 4
exit 3
enter 4
exit 5
enter 3
exit 2
enter 1
exit 7
enter 8
exit 9
enter 8
exit 7
enter 9
exit 10
enter 6
exit 11
enter 6
exit 10
enter 14
exit 13
enter 12
exit 11
enter 13
exit 12
enter 11
exit 13
enter 14
exit 10
enter 15
exit 16
enter 17
exit 16
enter 15
exit 17
enter 18
exit 14
enter 19
exit 14
enter 18
exit 22
enter 21
exit 20
enter 19
exit 21
enter 20
exit 19
enter 21
exit 22
enter 18
exit 23
enter 24
exit 25
enter 24
exit 23
enter 25
exit 26
enter 22
exit 27
enter 22
exit 26
enter 30
wrap around edge, enter 30 again
exit 29
enter 28
exit 27
enter 29
exit 28
enter 27
exit 29
enter 30
exit 26
wrap around edge, exit 26 again
enter 25
exit 23
enter 18
exit 17
enter 15
exit 10
enter 9
exit 7
enter 1
wrap around edge, tie off end

japanese stab binding tutorial: marionette

I would call this tutorial more intermediate than arrows. Mainly because it isn’t simple in how the bind crosses the spine and requires more finger-coordination. As I was drawing my diagram and thinking about my method of sewing this bind, I realized that there might be a second, somewhat easier way. However, since many of my other binds use this technique (and must be done this way) I decided to stick with this.

So, to start:

**click on the image to make it bigger**

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====

Figure 1

enter 1 (leave a tail of thread, but don’t knot it)
wrap around spine at an angle, below station 4 (hold it with your thumb…see figure 1)
enter 1 again
exit 2
-wrap around spine at the same angle as before, 1/3 of the way to station 5
-exit 2 again
enter 3
-wrap around spine 2/3 of the way to station 5
-enter 3 again
exit 4
-wrap around spine below station 5
-exit 4 again

Figure 2

enter 5
-weave thread through loops from stations 4, 3, 2…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 1, pull tight (see figure 2)
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 2, 3, 4…over, under, over
-enter 5 again
-wrap around spine at an angle below station 8
-enter 5 again
exit 6
-weave thread through loops from stations 5, 4, 3…over, under over
-cross under loop from 2, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 3, 4, 5…over, under, over
-exit 6 again
-wrap around spine 1/3 of way to station 9
-exit 6 again
enter 7
-weave thread through loops from 6, 5, 4…over, under, over
-cross under lop from 3, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 4, 5, 6…over, under, over
-enter 7 again
-wrap around spine 2/3 of the way to station 9
-enter 7 again
exit 8
-weave thread through loops from stations 7, 6, 5…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 4, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 5, 6, 7…over under, over
-exit 8 again
-wrap around spine below station 9
-exit 8 again
enter 9
-weave thread through loops from stations 8, 7, 6…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 5, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 6, 7, 8…over, under, over
-enter 9 again
-wrap around spine below station 12
-enter 9 again
exit 10
-weave through loops from stations 9, 8, 7…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 6, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 7, 8, 9…over, under, over
-exit 10 again
-wrap around spine 1/3 of the way to station 13
-exit 10 again
enter 11
-weave thread through loops from stations 10, 9, 8…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 7, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 8, 9, 10…over, under, over
-enter 11 again
-wrap around spine 2/3 of the way to station 13
-enter 11 again
exit 12
-weave thread through loops from stations 11, 10, 9…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 8, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 9, 10, 11…over, under, over
-exit 12 again
-wrap around spine below station 13
-exit 12 again
enter 13
-weave thread through loops from stations 12, 11, 10…over, under, over
-cross under loop from 9, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 10, 11, 12…over, under, over
-enter 13 again
exit 14
-weave thread through loops from stations 12, 11…under, over
-cross under loop from 10, pull tight
-weave thread back through loops (opposite side) 11, 12…over, under
-exit 14 again
enter 15
-cross under loop from 11, pull tight
-enter 15 again
exit 16
-cross under loop from 12, pull tight
exit 16 again
-wrap around edge
exit 16 again
enter 15
exit 14
enter 13
exit 12
enter 11
exit 10
enter 9
exit 8
enter 7
exit 6
enter 5
exit 4
enter 3
exit 2
enter 1
-wrap around the edge
-tie off

japanese stab binding tutorial: arrows

I’ve been asked recently about tutorials/how tos, so I decided to give one a try. My appreciation for Keith A Smith has gone way up…it was pretty difficult! My first diagram was so complicated even I couldn’t follow it, and it was my own binding! If anyone attempts this, leave me a comment as to whether you were able to follow it or not. (If you have ever tried Japanese stab binding before, even the simple ones, this shouldn’t be too difficult for you).

I suggest that you practice with a scrap of foam-board first…it’s simple to punch holes in, and easy to pull the needle through. Plus you can get a feel for the rhythm of the pattern.

I only had room for 3 ‘arrows’ on my paper…but you can expand the pattern and repeat the first two arrows until you have enough to fill your spine. Don’t forget to wrap the edges! Also, you should never have doubled thread on either the top or bottom covers. If you do discover that instead of one unbroken ‘—-‘ line you have a doubled “====” line, pull it out. It might not seem like a big deal, but it will be a problem later on.

You will need only one needle, and one color of thread. I suggest that the holes have at least .25″ or 7mm between them…otherwise you run the risk of your holes ripping. Place your book on the edge of the table, facing up.

**click on the image to make it bigger**

EXIT = needle pointed DOWN and ENTER = needle pointed UP
=====
enter 1 (leave a tail of thread, but don’t knot it)
exit 2, wrap around the edge
-exit 2 again
enter 3, wrap around the spine
-enter 3 again
exit 2
enter 1
exit 5
enter 4, wrap around spine
-enter 4 again
exit 5
enter 1
exit 6
enter 5
exit 7, wrap around spine
-exit 7 again
enter 5
exit 6
enter 9
exit 8, wrap around spine
-exit 8 again
enter 9
exit 6
enter 10
exit 9
enter 11, wrap around spine
-enter 11 again
exit 9
enter 10
exit 13, wrap around the edge
-exit 13 again
enter 12, wrap around the spine
-enter 12 again
exit 13
enter 10, wrap around the edge
-enter 10 again
exit 6
enter 1, wrap around the edge
-tie off at 1 with beginning tail