It’s been a couple of years since I did any bookbinding projects.  My last one was full-on hardcover bookbinding (with glue). Here are some books I made earlier:


Last weekend I decided to try Coptic binding, which is a sewn binding that does not require any adhesives.

I once attended a seminar on bookbinding, but it didn’t include coptic binding.  I knew how to do kettle stitch, but not how to attach the cover boards correctly.  So I browsed tutorials on Youtube.  I found DaphLife’s tutorial friendly and easily followed.

I did two practice books, a “pocket-size” book (a page is half a legal-size sheet folded into two) and a “standard” (letter-size sheet folded into two) one.  They’re quite minimalist; I didn’t cover the illustration board covers with fancy paper anymore since I was impatient.  Besides, I was only going to use them for ordinary note-taking and not for journalling.  I’m frustrated that I can’t find in the bookstores quality bulk paper whose surface can take fountain pen ink properly enough that I can write on both sides of the page.  At least my book block paper is acid-free.  Next time I’ll do the fancy cover wrapping and all.

Coptic binding usually requires a thicker thread, usually of a color that contrasts with the paper and the cover board.  This makes sure the decorative aspect of the sewing comes through to the viewer/user.  I just used what I had at home, a 100% cotton crochet thread. I used the single-needle version (yes, there is a two-needle version, but I only had one needle big enough for the crochet thread).

What I like about this method is that the book opens flat, is stackable (compared to my comb ringbound notebooks) and is 100% biodegradable.

Yes, yes, I know, next time I’ll make prettier wrapped cover boards.


I used to think that one day I’d write a book.  Somehow I never made the jump into longer narrative fiction, as I woke up one day complaining of how work killed my creativity.  I still haven’t written a publication-worthy poem since I left Australia, but I did wake up another day to realize that creativity extended to what I could make with my hands.

You all know about the knitting and how it forced me to use Math.  I’d say that’s karma, since I chose a college course on the basis of what I did well and how few Math subjects were required, haha.

Now I’m binding books by hand, after taking a course with paper artist Loreto Apilado last May.  I always thought Moleskines were the kind of thing I’d never leave home without.  In the pre-Moleskine days I lugged around a Philamlife black diary, in which I wrote, colored and pasted everything that made life more interesting.  I didn’t know that would be called journaling and collecting ephemera today.  The black diary had really bad paper, although a Pilot 55 with a Japanese fine nib worked well on it.  I kept nine years’ worth of journaling in them, enough to fill a small baul (a mother-of-pearl inlaid chest my mother gave me when I turned 18).

My particular favorites were the Toyo Rock Drill engineers’ notebooks that my dad brought home from Japan.  Not only did they have the best paper, they also LAY FLAT when opened.  There was a major section with unlined paper and a smaller section in the back with grid-lined paper.  The pages were smooth and somewhat coated, perfect for fountain pens, without bleedthrough or feathering.

I kept thinking of this when I learned to make books.  Moleskines are ridiculously priced, and the paper quality is uneven.  If the only pen I can use on it is a Lamy with an extra fine nib, that would mean my other pens would go relatively unused!  I did go around and tested different brands of papers, and found some that fit my requirements:  smooth, no feathering with a wet medium nib, no bleedthrough.  Since I do support a number of fundraising projects, I thought my blank journals would make a good charity bazaar item.  They make splendid gifts people would actually use (well, if given to the people who appreciate these things).

So this month, after scouting around and accumulating materials, I was finally able to make two hardcover blank books with ribbon markers, one each for my good friends Jenny and TAO.  It’s good that I hadn’t forgotten how to make the books since May.  I tried as much as possible to make them look neat but they do retain hallmarks of the handmade (the deckle edges remain untrimmed, there are a few non-obvious glue bubbles that bug me, etc.).  The very first book I made, the product of the workshop, is now being used as an “ideas” journal for my knitting and binding.

May and Reg’s books are next up for production.  May made me a gorgeous silky pen wrap and I’m making her a book in exchange. Reg’s is a belated birthday gift. I’m also raffling off a couple of journals at the FPN-P Anniversary Pen Meet in July.  Then I’ll maybe try exposed-spine binding.  Ambitious, but when I get it done, you’ll know.  This year is full of creative opportunities.


Today, on the third of a three-Saturday classical bookbinding workshop, I finished this.  It’s 192pp, with a cranberry-colored Philippine handmade paper cover and a yellow bookbinder’s paper spine.

Don’t mind the dark blots on the left-side endpaper.  That’s archival glue that hasn’t dried fully yet.  This is also Philippine handmade paper.  The swirls are made of paper as well – it’s NOT a print.  I believe this paper was made in Batangas although it is being sold at the malls or in National Bookstore, in different color varieties.

The pages open flat, which is what I love about sewn bindings.  We used lock stitch.  I love how neatly I was able to do this.  (One day I will learn Coptic stitch.)

Next time I will add a ribbon page marker.  I also want to try a smaller format, like a pocket-size journal.

Some of my classmates are librarians, but some, like me, wanted to learn how to make pretty and useful things.  This three-day workshop was held on May 16, 23 and 30, at the Lopez Museum in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Paper artist Loreto Apilado, our teacher, is conducting a Book Repair workshop soon.  I want to study that too!

For more details on activities at the Lopez Museum, visit their blog.