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Maintaining tension in sewing

I learned much about sewing from BOOKBINDING BY HAND by Laurence Town, out
of print but available from used book sources. The author taught
bookbinding in schools for many years and his instructions are written with
classes on students in mind.

These are paraphrased instructions on sewing (left handers must reverse
these instructions): Place the first signature, or endpaper if it is being
sewn-on, on the bench, the back along the bench edge, head of book to the
right. The sewing is best done when the worker is sitting sideways just
behind the tail of the book, i.e. with his left side next to the bench, and
his left elbow actually resting on it.

Open the signature to the center (I use a small weight to hold it open and
in place) and insert the threaded needle into the head kettle-kerf with the
right hand from the outside. The needle is received by the first finger and
thumb of the LEFT hand, immediately turned round and pushed back through
the first tape mark, when the thread is then drawn through with the RIGHT
HAND. "It is most important to remember that the thread is never drawn
through by the left hand. This is not one of the duties of that hand. There
is a two-fold purpose in having the the left hand inside the book, namely
to keep the book in position on the edge of the bench whilst sewing, and to
turn the needle round and push it back through the next point." Having
emerged at the first tape mark, return through the second mark and out
again at the third, and so on until the tail kettle-kerf is reached. (It is
a very common fault to try and pull the remaining thread through from the
inside of the section.) Always pull it along the length of the section,
either to right or left, whichever way the sewing is going; never pull at
right angles to the back of the book.

Pull the thread through, leaving 3 inches or so hanging out at the head.
Put the second signature on top of the first and, entering the kettle-kerf
at the tail, come out again just clear of the first tape; enter at the
other side of the same tape and proceed to the head kettle-kerf pulling the
thread taut from the outside with the right hand after each stitch. (Or,
you may do as William Minter suggests, waiting until you have come out at
the kettle stitch to pull the thread taut. It would certainly speed things

At the end, pull the thread left at the head of the first signature taut
and tie it to the sewing thread. Add the third signature and continue until
finished. To help keep the thread taut and to reduce the swell of a book
with many signatures, some binders make a tie every 3 or 4 passes across
the book. I once took a class where the instructor taught us to pass the
needle under each stitch in the preceding signature, thus connecting each
signature and tightening the thread in the process. It works but makes for
slow going.

I hope this long post is helpful,


Betty Storz   storz@mcn.org
Mendocino, CA

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