Sewing Headbands onto books.

Until I joined our bookbinding group some years ago, I had not really noticed headbands much. The more expensive hardbacks that sit on my bookshelves have the more usual mass produced ones, maybe some of the older ones are hand sewn, I am not sure.

The workshop that I attended yesterday was my first introduction to the art of headband sewing, using the same techniques that fine binders use to create their exquisitely bound volumes. I have been to numerous bookbinding exhibitions and have been impressed by the exquisite workmanship that goes into the creation of a fine binding and now that I have tried out some of these techniques I have an even greater appreciation of their skills.

We started by sewing a single headband and progressed onto a double headband, which we all found much easier, oddly enough. The single headband was sewn around a thin strip of leather, which had been backed with vellum. We used two contrasting threads to compliment the design of the book. ( I should say that stitching the headbands happens after the book block has been sewn and before it is cased).

Once the threads have been chosen they are cut to the desired length and knotted together. It would take too long to explain in detail the sewing procedure; suffice it to say that the threads are looped around the core alternately after being secured within the text block. The core can be made of a variety of materials, cotton, cord, rolled paper, vellum or leather. I have found a lovely blog which explains this in more detail, called Journeys in the Bibliosphere.

The second exercise involved sewing a double headband around a two cores of cord, one thick and one thin. This core can be made of a variety of materials, cotton, cord, rolled paper, vellum or leather. The threads can be made of silk, cotton perle or linen, anything that is not too fibrous.

I am showing you my own feeble attempts at this craft and hope that you will not look too closely at my mistakes, believe me, sewing hand bands by hand is extremely difficult. Now I can see my work in close up I can see all the irregularities and gaps in the stitching!


  1. Looks very difficult, Acornmoon! I'd love to have a try - maybe find a group - I imagine one couldn't really attenpt it without someone there to guide first?

  2. Ooo these look great! I've had a go at the single headbands (using this tutorial... http://piedcrowpress.blogspot.com/2008/10/hand-sewn-headbands_23.html

    For ages I used the machine made stick in ones, and its so satifying to be able to sew my own, another step on the way to an entirely self made book (its the paper I want to make next :) )

    I'm hoping to attend a SoB workshop this year, its one of my resolutions!

    ps. I love your feather lino cuts. I've been making prints of feathers this month too! Some kind of zeitgeist perhaps...

  3. Finishing off / fastening off anything always seems the hardest part to get right - and neat!


    P.S. to Sarah - I tried making paper once but never managed to make anything better than blotting paper - for which there is little demand nowadays! L.

  4. Oh yummy! I've dabbled in bookbinding, years ago, and this makes me want to dabble all over again.

  5. Dear Ralph, if you can I would find a group but you can always have a go yourself, try out on an old charity shop book. Remove the cover, save the boards for holding the book whilst you sew.

    Sarah, you should come to our next meeting, details on the S.O.B. website. You would be made welcome and have lots of fun. If you can't join in you can always observe.

    Lucy, hand made paper is like blotting paper, that's it's charm.

  6. Well, not if it falls to bits as soon as you try to write on it!


  7. THis is an interesting post to me, as I have not attempted this yet. So many good links shared by others too.

    My attempts at making paper have not yielded very stable results. I was told by a very experienced paper maker that a well made piece of paper will rattle when fanned in the air. Mine tend to be more like fabric, not much rattling and not a lot of fanning either.

    Thank you Valerie for posting this.

  8. Fascinating.
    I'd love to give book binding a go.
    Thanks for sharing Valerie.

  9. My first effort at this skill was a disaster. Until you have done it you don't realise how difficult it is - well done, I say.

  10. What a grand way to enter the new year, seeing that someone is trying to keep a tradtion going, and learning along the way all the skill involved.

    I do like the picture of your headband, and that you might just be hooked on another way to make your beautiful drawing and painting into books.

    Knowing that this is yet another skill that appeals to me, but that I would never, never have time to master, I will admire it from a distance.

    When I go to the deepest stacks of my marvelous local anachronistic library, The New York Society Library (www.nysoclib.org) I will be taking a careful look at those precious vintatge volumes. (Think that you would love this place.)


  11. I am so impressed! This looks quite difficult to me, but such a beautiful art. I think you have done a wonderful job.

  12. PG and Karen I am sure you would make great Designer Bookbinders.

    Dana, I like "fabricy" paper with lots of fibers.

    Frances, I have taken a look at your library, it's beautiful and so interesting the way they have scanned in book covers. Yet another place to while away my time.

    Thanks to all of my visitors for your very encouraging comments, I know I will never master the art but trying these things out helps to further my understanding.

  13. The stitching in your pictures looks really good--not feeble at all!

    I haven't taken the time yet to learn to stitch headbands--I used to do more case bindings, before I got obsessed with leather (so to speak). Wish I could just nip across the Atlantic to attend SoB workshops like this, but alas...

  14. Fascinating :) I've dabbled in bookbinding in the past (and keep meaning to take it up again, but you know, life gets in the way...) but have never done this.

  15. Love the blog, love the photos and what fabulous bindings. I will look forward to being a regular visitor