Friday, October 7, 2016

Pamphlet Stitch for a Sketchbook

A while ago I shared a photo on facebook of the sketchbook that I made for my daughter. She completely filled it with paintings! I thought I'd make her another one with better paper and using one of  her own paintings for the cover. A couple people were interested in how to make one themselves, so here's a little how-to post. 

This type of simple book sewing is called a pamphlet stitch. It has a paper cover not hard boards. You don't need many tools and it's fun and rewarding to make even for someone that's never sewn a book.

Some supplies to gather: linen thread (or embroidery floss), an X-acto knife, a ruler, a large needle, a pin tool (or  you can use a needle but it's harder) a bone folder (or something hard to help fold the paper like a scissors handle) scissors, pencil, a cutting mat or piece of paperboard to cut on, a stack of paper (4-8 sheets), and a cover paper which is a little sturdier.

Cut the paper and cover to the same size. First it's best to find the grain of the paper. Pick a sheet up and fold it gently over itself in a u shape. Feel how resistant it is. Then fold it in the other direction. Whichever way it folds easiest is how you will want to fold the book pages. If you fold against the grain the paper may crack a bit and not fold nicely. I actually did this on purpose for my cover because I didn't have a big enough painting to fold it with the grain. It the close-ups you can see a little cracking along the spine of my cover.

When you have everything cut to the same size, line them all up neatly and fold them over all at once. Don't fold each sheet individually or they won't stack together. Your interior pages will stick out but don't worry about that, just try to line the cover edge up the best you can. Use a bone folder or something else to help crease the fold more sharply.

With your cutting mat or paperboard under the book, line your ruler up with the edge of the cover. Press down hard and use the X-acto to trim away the extra paper sticking out of the book.

Next, take a scrap of paper exactly the height of your book and fold it in half lengthwise. Use your ruler to mark the middle and a spot about 3/4" away from each end. If your book is taller, you can add two other marks centered between those. The book in these photos has 5 holes. The other orange book has 3 holes.

Line your paper scrap up inside the book and use your pin tool or maybe a needle (and pliers?) to poke the holes. Always make a hole from inside the book to outside. Try and have the pin tool come out right on the fold of the spine. The best way to do this is line your book up exactly on the edge of the table with the spine closest to your torso. When you poke the hole, angle the pin down a bit. It will come out of the book pointing at an angle toward the floor, but it's ok because the edge of the book is lined up with the table and you won't gouge the table.

In this photo my pin tool is sticking out of the fold. Do this for every hole you marked. Then cut a piece of thread or embroidery floss three times the length of your book.

Here is the sewing pattern for 3 holes or 5 holes. You always start inside the book. Start with your needle and thread inside at the center hole and feed it through to the outside. Make a figure-eight pattern with your needle and thread through the holes. 

Keep the thread snug but don't pull it too tight, you can tear the paper. Leave a 3 inch tail of thread inside the book at your starting hole.

When you come to the next hole but it already has a thread coming out of it, just go into the hole by carefully trying to guide the needle alongside the existing thread without going through the fibers.

When you've gone through all of the holes and arrived back at the center it's time to tie a knot. First guide your needle under the thread above the center hole. This will keep your knot centered in the book.  

Tie a square knot and trim the thread leaving about 1/4 inch tails.

Now my daughter has a brand new painting book! This is a great way to make a small soft-cover sketchbook for kids or adults. And I've even guided a class of 6-10 year olds in sewing their own books. The pages were already cut, folded and had holes punched, but each child was able to do the sewing themselves.

If you are making one of these books and have a problem, comment below and I'll try to help. If you've never made a book, you might want to make a test one out of materials that aren't too precious first. And you are now on the road to the addictive world of bookbinding!


  1. That's great, can't wait to try it with my younger son...we just recently went on a bookbinding course and would love to do more...unfortunately the list of equipment was a bit off putting with the more complicated books we made...this seems a whole lot more possible at home! ☺️

  2. That's great! And yes, this is the kind of book you can tackle at home without a lot of contraptions and tools. There are others, too although quickly you get into needing to use glue and that feels a bit intimidating. Have fun making a book with your son!!!