Thread-Sewn Binding

Thread-sewn binding is one of the oldest forms of bookbinding, and remains the most durable and longest-lasting method. Pages are bound together with pieces of thread and adhered to the book's spine. Choosing the right bookbinding method is a critical decision when printing, as it affects the margins and page size, while also saying a lot about the book's use, quality, and content.

What is Thread-Sewn Binding

At its core, thread sewn binding assembles a book by stitching its pages together. This method begins with printing and folding pages into signatures, which are then sewn one to another to form a solid, cohesive unit known as the book block. The key to this method's durability is its minimal reliance on glue, often applied sparingly at the spine to secure the cover, whether soft or hard.

This technique allows for a more flexible spine, enabling the book to lie flat when open and ensuring a seamless reading experience without the risk of pages loosening or the binding cracking under stress.

The Thread Sewn-Binding Process

When thread-sewing a book, we organize pages into groups of 16 to 32, called signatures, and fold them together which is called a signature. We stitch the pages along the folds the threads go through each page several times before being tied off. Once a section is finished, it's sewn together with the other sections and is now our book block.

An adhesive is used along the edges to seal the spine tightly. The cover of the book is then attached to the spine, to protect the pages. Sewn binding is most often used for case bound books but is also used for softcover books.

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Trade Sewing

Offering trade sewing for bookbinding at an affordable price.

Setup is £30, and each page costs only 0.5p.

This service ensures your books are durable and professionally finished. Ideal for any book project.

The Advantages of Thread-Sewn Binding

There are several advantages that thread sewn binding offers over other binding methods. One of the key benefits is the ability to open a book fully without any risk of pages coming loose or falling out. This is especially important for books that need to be held open for long periods, such as textbooks or reference materials.

Another advantage is the strength and durability of thread sewn binding. Unlike methods such as perfect binding, where pages are glued directly to the spine, thread sewn books are stitched together using threads. This ensures that the binding can withstand frequent opening and closing and provides added stability to the book.

It also allows for easier repairs and restoration. If a page becomes torn or detached, it can be easily reattached by restitching it to the binding. This makes thread sewn books a wise investment for collectors and those who cherish their books for generations.

Thankfully, we now have machines that can do most of the work but it wasn't too long ago skilled book makers would carefully sew each signature of the pages together.

The visible stitching on the spine adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to the book, making it a desirable choice for special editions and high-end publications. Most books sewn today will have the spine covered by a cover; however, Chinese binding usually sews the cover to the text block.

Stack of books with Chinese Binding

Chinese Binding - Credit: (whispering-woodlands.com)

Benefits of Thread Sewn Binding

  • Sewn-bound books lay flat on a table when opened, which makes them ideal for books with images that span across two pages.
  • Extremely durable and high quality, the binding will stay together as long as the pages last.
  • It is designed to withstand wear and tear, making it an excellent choice for books that will be well-used over periods of time, such as textbooks.
  • Books that use sewn binding are tamperproof, as someone cannot remove a single page without damaging the entire book, making it popular for sensitive documents.
  • Pages cannot fall out as they are sewn together in signatures.

Durability and Longevity of Thread Sewn Books

Thread-sewn books are unrivalled in durability and longevity. The stitching creates a secure and robust binding that can withstand years, if not centuries, of use. This is particularly important for books of historical or sentimental value that must be preserved for future generations.

Furthermore, thread sewn binding distributes the stress of opening and closing a book evenly across the entire spine, preventing individual pages or sections from becoming weak or detached. This ensures that the book remains intact, even with frequent usage.

St Cuthbert Gospel - British Library

St Cuthbert Gospel 1321 years old - Credit: (wiganlanebooks.co.uk)

Additionally, thread sewn binding allows for the expansion of the spine to accommodate any additional pages or inserts. This flexibility provides an advantage over other methods, which may limit the book's ability to grow in size.

Thread-sewn books are often preferred because they lay flat when opened, making them ideal for annual reports, catalogues, cookbooks and brochures. This feature enhances the reading experience by eliminating the need to hold down pages, allowing for hands-free reading and easy note-taking.

Comparing Thread Sewn Binding to Perfect Binding

While thread sewn binding is undoubtedly a superior method in terms of durability and longevity, it is worth exploring how it compares to another commonly used binding technique - perfect binding.

Perfect binding is a modern method that involves glueing the pages directly to the spine. It offers a clean and professional look, making it a popular choice for paperback books. However, perfect binding has some limitations regarding durability and long-term use.

Unlike thread sewn binding, perfect bound books are more prone to pages coming loose or falling out if not bound correctly, especially with rigorous use or heavy paper stocks. Additionally, the glue used in perfect binding can become brittle over time, leading to a weakened spine and potential page loss.

Perfect binding is often ideal for specific book formats like novels or magazines, which typically aren't opened and closed repeatedly. Yet, when it comes to books that need to withstand regular use over time, the thread sewn method proves to be the better option for longevity and durability.

Alternatively, binding with PUR glue presents a stronger solution than the conventional EVA glue used in perfect binding, offering enhanced strength.

Generally, the rating of strength for soft-cover publications goes as follows:

  • Thread sewing
  • PUR bound
  • Perfect bound

While PUR-bound books are sturdy, thread sewn books offer an extra layer of security and are therefore often used for publications such as annual reports, catalogues, cookbooks and brochures.

How Sewn Books Are Produced

We print all our books on cut sheets and insert them into our Universe Sewer. This machine takes the sheets one at a time and then folds and gathers them into sections. A set of needles then sews each section together.

The resulting book block then has hot-melt glue applied to the spine and the cover drawn on before being trimmed on three sides.

If your job is to be Case Bound, we produce a thread sewn book block, and instead of a cover, we use endpapers to finish the book block before it has the hard cover applied.

The video below shows you how we produce our sewn book blocks.