Make an Altered Book with Coptic Binding


So you want to make a book with coptic binding, or chain stitch as it is sometimes called.

cover of book bound with coptic stitch
1. The image above is the decorated cover of my finished book.
double page spread
2. Above, the finished book is open to display a double page spread.
spine of book bound with coptic stitch
3. This image above shows the binding on the spine.
book open to almost 360 degrees
4. The book above is open to almost 360°.
5. This is one signature ready for hole punching.

About Coptic Binding

This is a hand-stitched binding that has been around since the 4th century A.D.

The book's spine is exposed, leaving the coptic binding visible. This stitch resembles the chain stitching used in embroidery.

Reasons for chosing coptic binding are twofold: First, the spine of these books is particularly attractive. Second, you can open open the book to a full 360° or lay it completely flat without risk of damage to the spine.

Full Disclosure: I have limited experience in hand bookbinding. This is only the seventh book I have made, and it is the first one using coptic binding. I taught myself coptic binding from various tutorials found on the web. My technique might not be perfect, but the finished result is pretty and I am happy with it.

If you're still with me, here are my directions for making a small book with coptic binding.


1. Book Board.

Two pieces of book board for the cover, cut at 8" by 6" each. Available in various sizes and thicknesses, this product is sometimes known as millboard or binder's board.

I used .06" millboard. This thickness is sufficient for a small book like this, and light enough that you can cut it yourself using box cutters or a craft tool. If you cut it yourself, sand the edges after cutting.

Bookbinding shops often sell sheets of book board for a few dollars. My local bookbinding shop offered to sell me some scraps. Even better, they custom cut a few pieces for me. Occasionally, craft stores carry binder's board, although the cost is likely to be higher. You can also purchase it from Lineco Acid Free Binder's Board 13 in. x 19 in. pack of 4 80 pt.

2. Thread for the Coptic Binding.

Waxed linen thread, available from bookbinding shops, is popular for coptic-bound books.

However, for art journals such as this one, anything goes. I used hemp cord from Michaels Arts and Crafts store. You could also use narrow ribbon, embroidery cotton, twine, or anything narrow and flexible enough to thread through a large needle.

3. Card Stock for Pages

You need 12 pieces of card stock, each cut at 7 and five-eighths inch by 10 ¾". This measurement does not have to be exact, as it is only necessary to have your pages slightly smaller than your covers. However, all pages must be cut the same or your book will be uneven.

Equally important, when cutting, ensure that all pieces are cut according to the same paper grain. You'll find information about paper grain in the Glues and Adhesives section of this web site.

Your 12 pieces of card stock will make three signatures of four sheets each. A signature is a bookbinding term referring to a number of sheets of paper that are folded together to form a section. Refer to picture 5 for an image of one unbound signature.

Each sheet will form four individual pages after folding, so each signature will equal 16 pages or 8 double paged spreads. Adjust the number of sheets to make more or fewer pages, if desired.

4. Needle

You will require a sturdy needle with an eye large enough to handle whatever thread you are using. I used a paper needle, available at craft stores. A bookbinding needle would also be a good bet.

5. Drill or Hole Punch

You will need a tool capable of punching holes in the book board. A Japanese screw punch or book drill (available online from would be ideal. I managed to make my holes with an eyelet setter. Probably a regular electric drill would work as well.

Note: After making the book I purchased a Japanese Screw Punch. It is awesome. This tool is costly but worth saving your pennies for.

6. Long Eyelets or Grommets (optional)

If desired, protect your punched cover holes by inserting eyelets (available at craft shops) or grommets (available at sewing supply shops). I used long metallic eyelets purchased at a craft shop. They were barely long enough. If you use a bookboard wider than .06", you will need grommets or possibly hardware from a bookbinding supply shop.

7. Bookbinding Awl or Other Tool (optional)

You need a tool to punch small holes through the signatures. If you are planning on making several books with coptic binding or other sewn bindings, you might invest in a bookbinding awl, available at bookbinding shops. I have seen them from time to time at Michaels Arts and Craft store. However, for this project, I punched holes with push pins, available at Staples or where office supplies are sold.

7. Bone Folder or Other Tool for Scoring Card Stock

You need a way to score the card stock down the middle. Bone folders are ideal. You could also use a Fiscar's paper trimmer with a scoring blade, OR use a Fiscar's trimmer along with a fine embossing stylus. Bone folders, paper trimmers and embossing styluses are all sold at

9. Miscellaneous

As desired, papers and embellishments for decorating the cover and pages, gold leaf or silver leaf pen for coloring the edges of the cover, glues, adhesives, paper clamps, etc.

Speaking of glues, I began using PVA bookbinder's glue for projects like this. I like it a lot. It dries fast and strong, gives minimal warping, is relatively odor free, has water clean up and is not a health hazard. Bookbinder glue isn't always easy to find, but it's sold online at Light Impressions - The Leading Resource for Archival Supplies.

Assembling Your Coptic Bound Art Journal
In interests of keeping these pages manageable, I've created a separate web page with the instructions for assembling your journal with coptic binding.

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