Vegan Leather Limp Binding

Limp bindings are a group of book structures that have soft covers and stitched sections, bound with a minimum of glue. There are a great many variations, which explore ways to connect pages to covers, but one relatively simple idea is to sew the sections into the spine of the cover. The sewing pattern remains visible and can be designed from a selection of ready-mades, or you can design your own.

Keith Smith in his book 1-2-3 section sewing has explored these sewing patterns in great depth and I have used one or two of them in this tutorial.

see a selection of sewing patterns

Four section sewing. Each zig-zag line of stitching connects two sections to the cover.

The cover of the book above is a material made from cellulose and latex, sometimes known as “vegan leather”. It is a strong, washable material developed for the fashion industry. It can be bought online from various suppliers and comes in a few different colours. It is useful for this structure because the sewing holes are strong – the material doesn’t rip but it remains flexible and soft to hold. It will also hold a fold and so can be used to make a nice square shape to the spine.

For this model you will need the following:

Paper to fold into 4 thick sections

Remember you can mix up the paper you use and the pages don’t always have to be the same size. Try interleaving a few smaller sheets but keep most of the pages to same height.

A piece of vegan leather large enough for the book cover

Strong sewing thread

Bookbinding tools: cutting mat, knife, ruler, pencil, hole making tool (bradawl or Japanese screw punch for example), pricking cradle, bone folder, sewing needle, scrap paper.

Step 1: Make sections

Cut, fold and assemble four thick sections. Try to make them 3-4mm thick when you squeeze them between your fingers.

We can work without a guillotine and make “rough” edges to the sections. This will give the book a more organic feel (but if you wanted the edges to be cut you would have to do this before you sew them to the cover).

2. Cut the cover material roughly to size 

Measure the pages (height and width)

Width of cover = twice width of pages + 16mm +1cm

Height of cover = height of pages + 4mm

3. Design or choose your sewing pattern – the patterns on the link above all sew two sections at a time. If you have the Keith Smith book you can see more alternative sewing patterns.

For this model, I am using a pattern called “lattice” which will sew two sections at a time. I will use it twice to sew four sections.

Draw the hole pattern on a piece of paper first:

1. Draw a rectangle that is 16mm x 21 cm. Draw four lines inside the rectangle parallel to the long edge at 2mm, 6mm, 10mm and 14mm (so 4mm between each line and 2mm at the outside bits). Each line represents a section.
Next, draw cross lines at all the sewing stations. The space between them here is 1.5cm with 0.5 cm at the top end and 1cm at the bottom end. (You could even the end spacing out if you want to – so 7.5mm at each end)
Then mark up the holes that you need on to the grid where the lines intersect. (I have gone for a symmetrical arrangement of the two lines of lattice.)

4. Make spine creases

On the cover make the two creases for the spine. They are 16mm apart and in the centre of the cover piece – so find the centre point of the cover long edge first and then measure 8mm either side of it. Make any pencil marks on the inside of the cover. Score the folds then fold the material into a square shape.

Try it on for size – fit the cover around the sections. Do they fit well? You should have spare cover material on the fore edge – we will trim that down later.

5. Use your template to make spine holes

Use masking tape to fix the paper template in place between the spine folds on the inside of the cover. Remember the cover is 2mm longer than the pages at top and bottom.
Pierce the holes through the cover using a Japanese screw punch or bradawl or similar. Try to make them a reasonable size – so more than just a pin prick. The needle should pass through easily but snugly.

6. Make corresponding holes in the sections:

Fold a sheet of A4 in half and mark up in pencil along the fold. Start at 5mm (or 7.5mm) from the top edge and then at 1.5cm intervals until you get to the end. You should have a spare cm (or 7.5mm) at the end. Make a note of which sections need which holes.
Number your sections and use a peg to mark the centre of each section. This should make the sewing easier.
Then use the guide and a pricking cradle to make all the holes in the sections. (Substitute a thick open magazine if you don’t have a cradle.)

7. Sewing sections to the cover

Before you start sewing draw a pattern of the route you are taking in pencil on paper. This will help to familiarise yourself with the pattern and should make the sewing easier.

Start the sewing on the inside of the last section at the top hole.

Thread up a needle with a meter of thread. Follow the sewing pattern and sew the sections to the cover. For this pattern you will be sewing two sections at the same time – it might seem a bit tricky at first. Remake the holes as you go with your hole making tool if you need to.  Be careful that you are sewing through the right holes in the cover so keep checking the pattern.

When you have finished sewing, check the tension of the thread and tighten it up before you tie off by – start in the middle and pull it a stitch at a time, working towards the ends. Unless you are a very tight sewer, you should be able to pull up quite a bit of slack in the thread.

Use a double half hitch knot to tie off on the inside of a section.

8. Trim the fore edges of your pages as required.

Lay a piece of scrap board under the page you want to trim, hold the ruler firmly in place and use a sharp blade to trim off a slither. You can use this method to trim off some of the “page creep” inside the sections and make the edges look more randomly rough.

9. Trim the fore edges of your cover to the size you want:

Measure and mark up on the inside of the cover first then cut carefully with a sharp knife. I tend to add on one or two millimetres so that the cover is just a smidgen wider than the pages.




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