THE press-load of books should be left in the standing-press all night, and the next morning they will be ready for sewing. The press is unscrewed by pulling the press-pin round the contrary way, viz., from left to right, and the boards and books lifted out. The various portions of the books are then taken from between the boards and laid together in proper order, so as to form volumes. The next operation is to saw the backs for sewing. If the reader will examine an ancient book, say, one bound 100 or 150 years ago, he will find the cords (” bands,” they are called) upon which it is sewn project from the back. In process of time, however, this appearance of the bands came to be considered objectionable, and the adoption of the ” open back,” in place of the “tight back,” rendered them inconvenient, and “kerfs,” or channels were cut with a saw in the back of the book, to permit the bands to sink in. A ” tenon” saw is used for this purpose. It should be kept sharpened and properly set. Several books of the same size are laid together, say, four octavos (Quarterly Review], with their backs and heads together (level), and an octavo pressing-board is placed at each side of the parcel.

knocking up

They are then lifted in both outspread hands, as at Fig. 35, and brought down forcibly on the right-hand cheek of the laying-press. This is done several times to both the back and the head until all the sections are beaten up level at both places. This is termed ” knocking-up.” It may here be well to remind the reader that the four edges of a book or a leaf are termed: The top, ” the head ” ; the front, the ” fore-edge “; the bottom, the ” tail” ; the other edge being, of course, the ” back.” When the books are knocked up level at the head and back, set the two boards, one on each side, about 1in. from the back, lower the fore-edges into the laying-press, and screw up with the hands.

Sawing Bench

Stand at the side of the tub, so that you face the side of the press, and, taking the tenon saw in the right hand, make a cut (or ” kerf,” as the carpenters call it) across the back, about an inch from the head (as at Fig. 36). This is to receive the top “kettle-stitch” (or ” catch-stitch”), so will not require to be very deep, about the sixteenth of an inch, or rather more if you are going to sew the book with large thread. Next, make a corresponding kerf at about 1 1/2in. from the tail of the book. Then, supposing the book is an 8vo, with eight leaves to the section, measure with the end of the saw (as at X, Fig. 37) to find the centre between the two kettle – stitches. When found, make a saw-cut there. With a book of 8vo size, it is usual to sew ” two on” with good sized threads, so that three cords will be required; consequently, the distance between each of the kettle-stitches and the last cut made must be judged by eye, and another saw-kerf made between them.

This process is shown at Fig. 37, where A and B are the two kettle-stitches. Then the central saw-kerf, 0, is made; then D, between the head kettle-stitch and C; and, last, E, midway between the tail kettle-stitch and 0. The three latter saw-kerfs should be deeper than the kettle-stitches, say, about 1/2in. It is a good plan to have at hand the ball of cord upon which the volume is to be sewn, and to lay the cord in the kerf. The form of the latter should not be a simple “cut,” as for the kettle-stitches; but the kerf should POSITIONS OF SAW be wider at the bottom. This is effected by slanting the saw first to one side and then to the other as the sawing goes on, as at Fig. 38. By this means the bottom of the kerf is enlarged; it must not be too big, however.

Positions of saw

The size of the cord used for the hands depends upon that of the book; generally the warehouseman where you deal will sell you the usual size. The number of bands and saw-cuts depends upon the number of leaves to the section, as a rule. After the book is sawed, and before sewing, it should be “collated,” in order to verify that the sections are still in proper order. This is effected by holding the volume in the left hand by the angle of the back and head, the tail of the book being upwards; the whole of the sections held by the right hand are permitted to escape from the restraint of the right thumb, one by one, and to fall upon the left hand, the eye attending to the signature of each section as it falls over, and seeing that the sections follow in order, as ” Title, B, c, D,” &c. In order to get a nice round back to the book, when backing, there must be a certain amount of thread in the back, so as to spread it out sufficiently. On the other hand, if you get too much thread in the back, the book becomes unmanageable. As a general rule, small books (18mo and 12mo), with twelve or more leaves to the section, are sawed for two bands, and sewed all the length of each section with fine thread. Octavo, of whatever sized sheets, may be sawed for three cords, and sewed two sheets on, as follows: The first section (title – page) is laid on the bed of the sewing-press (which was illustrated at page 16, Fig. 9), with its back to the cords; the saw-marks are brought to the cords, and the cords are moved to the proper place, so that the latter enter them; the press is screwed up, so that the cords are tight. The needle (threaded) is now introduced in the tail kettle-stitch saw-cut, and brought out at the saw-cut D (Fig. 37); there it passes around the band (cord), and re-enters the section again at D, but on the other side of the band. It then passes along, inside the section, to kerf C (Fig. 37), where it emerges, and is re-inserted in the same saw-kerf, after having gone round the band; and so on, passing round each cord, until the needle finally emerges at the head kettle-stitch kerf, A (Fig. 37). The next section is then laid on, and the needle passed into the head kettle-stitch, A, and the same process of sewing round the cords repeated, only in reverse order, viz., from head to tail, instead of from tail to head. “When the thread comes out at the tail kettle-stitch of the second section, it is tied to the end of the needleful which is still projecting from the tail kettle-stitch kerf of the firat section sewed. It must be understood that the thread is not drawn entirely through or out.

fastening off

The usual way of making this knot is to throw the thread attached to the needle over and around the forefinger and thumb of the left hand, and then, with the finger and thumb, take hold of the end of thread which projects from the tail stitch of the previous section, gradually pulling the top of thread across the fingers, tight, with the right hand. (Fig. 39 gives some idea of the position.) This is the first kettle (catch) stitch, and these two sections have been sewn ” through,” i.e., they have thread all through their length.

sewing stitches

Now we will begin to sew “two on.” We will place a third section on those just sewn, as A, Fig. 40, and, passing the needle in at the kettle-stitch a, let it emerge at the band kerf b. The fourth section, B, is now laid on, and the needle, having gone round the band, enters this at b, being on the other side of the cord to that at which it emerged at b from section A. The needle now passes to c, round the cord, and from c to d, along the middle of the inside of section B, coming out at d. Here it goes round the cord, and is then pushed into section A again at e, passing from e to f along the middle of the section, and coming out at f, where another kettle-stitch is made.

first stage of kettle stitch

This is effected by passing the needle in between the two previously-connected sections from the back inwards, as at Fig. 41, so that it can come out between the section at the head, as shown. The needle is then passed upwards through the loop there made as at Fig. 42, and then drawn gradually up, as at Fig. 43, until it draws into a tight knot, which slips into the kerf of the kettle – stitch, so that it is below the surface of the back.

second stage of kettle stitch

The previous process is then repeated (sewing towards the tail) with the next sections, C and D, the kettle-stitch being passed under the sheet last secured; and so on. In larger books, with still thinner sections (say four leaves to the section), it will be necessary to lay on more than two sheets in sewing, and, therefore, they must be sawed for more bands.

third stage of kettle stitch

Thus, a, quarto, of four leaves to the section, should be sewed on five bands. In sawing this, the kerfs should be arranged at about the proportional distances of Fig. 44. sewing, three sections are laid on, thus: First section sewn from B (kettle-stitch) to D; second section from D to E, third section from E, around 0 to F.

sawn back of large book

As this stitch has no hold at either end, it is made longer; then, going back to first section, it is sewn from F to G, and then the second one from Gr to A, the kettle-stitch securing the whole. In all cases, the first two and the last two sections of every volume should be sewn all the way along, as shown at Fig. 40. In large establishments it is common now to supersede the manual use of the tenon saw by the bookbinder’s saw-bench (Fig. 45).

saw bench

This machine, which is worked either by the foot or by steam power, is very useful. The saws (of which seven are supplied with the machine) are circular and small. They are arranged on the saw spindle by placing collars between them, so as to separate the saws as desired (Fig. 45). The washers will give a change for every quarter of an inch. Of course, this is only for new work. The top edges of the saws project through the slots in the plate, and the pile of books, well knocked up, is gradually drawn across the plate, on which, of course, the backs rest. Price from £18 upwards.

saw spindle and saws

When the first section of a book has a steel engraving pasted to it, or is otherwise composed of separate leaves pasted together, it cannot be sewn all along the middle of the section. It is, therefore, ” overcast,” by making a small hole through it on each side of each kerf (Fig. 47), and passing the needle and thread through up and down, and around the various cords and bands, so that when it is sewn the stitches on the top side lie as in Fig. 47.


Before the next section is laid down a small piece of thick paste is taken on the end of the forefinger, and the section and stitches are well pasted up to the dotted line (Fig. 47). The next section is then laid on, and this should be well pressed down on to the pasted section with the edge of the folder. In all sewing every few sections should be pressed down with the folder, especially at each side of the cords. When sewing two or more on, the folding-stick is also used to keep the middle of the lower section. When you lay the first section, A, on, and sew from a to 6 (Fig. 40), leave the folding-stick there, projecting from the end. Then section B is sewed on. Now, in order to take the second stitch in section A, from e to f (Fig. 40), all that is necessary is to find the folder, and then the middle of section A is known directly.

When a volume consists of maps, plates, or single leaves, it should be ” knocked up” on the laying-press, held between a pair of pressing – boards of the proper size, until every leaf is up true at the head and back, the pressing – boards being also level with the leaves. The lot is then lowered into the laying – press, and screwed up moderately tight, back upwards.


The entire back is then lightly but well glued over with thin glue. When the glue is dry (but not hard), the back is sawed as usual. The volume is then divided into three or four portions, according to thickness; each of these is pierced on each side of the kerf (kettle-stitch only one side), as at Fig. 48. This may either be done by a fine bradawl, wriggled first a little one way, then a little on the other, or by the ordinary bookbinder’s bodkin (Fig. 49), which will require to be assisted by a smart tap or two of the backing hammer.


They may then be pulled into sections of eight or ten leaves, according to size of thread, and sewed as the section at Fig. 47 is, each following section in the same manner, and each section being well pasted. Music may be “overcast” in the way just described. There is another way of overcasting more used in London. Suppose it is a volume of music : Out away as much of the book with the plough as will make a good surface; then screw it up and glue it. Saw, and divide into such thicknesses as you think suitable, say ten leaves.


When divided, take a small needle, threaded -with fine thread, make a knot at one end, pass it through the first section, close to a kettle-stitch kei-f, and draw it through till the knot rests against the paper; then whip the section over and over, as at Fig. 50; finish off safely at the end. Now take the next ten leaves or so, and whip them over in the same way. These leaves are thus formed into sections by the stitching, and can now be sewed along the middle of the section exactly as if it were a folded sheet, and will not need pasting, although some binders never omit to run a bit of paste along. When the skein of whitey-brown thread (which is the kind used in bookbinding) is undone, each of the little knots is cut with the scissors, which leaves the thread in needlefuls.

weaver's knot

The visual knot for connecting these, as the work goes on, is the well-known Weaver’s Knot (Fig. 51), one manner of doing which is to turn the end of the first needleful over the first two fingers and thumb of the left hand, so as to form a loop, as at Fig. 51. Thus, loop B is then passed over the end of A of the used-up thread projecting from the last section, and the knot pulled tight, taking care that the end B is meanwhile kept taut or extended. This is a good and safe knot. To secure tlie cords in the press, the bottom of each cord is wound round the ” key” two or three times, and then the key is turned, so that it takes the end into its forked portion. The key is then pushed longitudinally through the slot of the sewing-press, and then turned at right angles, so that it rests against the bottom.

sewer at work

The crossbar is now raised by screwing the nuts up, which tightens the cords that are held by the keys, until they are taut enough to sew to, which may be known by their emitting sound when “twanged.” Fig. 52  is an excellent representation of the position of the sewer at the press. The left hand is kept in the centre of the section, to seize the needle when it is passed into one of the saw-kerfs from the outside. The size of the thread used in sewing any particular book should be considered. If the book consist of thick sections, a stouter thread may be used than if they are thin. Only practice will teach the tyro when his book has its back of the proper thickness. If it have too much thread in it, it will be unwieldy and unmanageable; while, on the other hand, if it have not sufficient, the back will not take a proper degree of curvature.

French and other Continental paper-covered new books are generally sewed with cotton. They have no bands or cords; but the cotton takes one stitch in the centre of the first section, then the needle emerges from the back and is thrust into the second section at the same place. It makes a stitch in the middle of the second section; then, emerging, is plunged into the third section, and a single stitch taken backward; and the whole of the book is thus sewed with one length of cotton, and each section has but one stitch, there being no kettle-stitches.

pamphlet stitch

It may here be well to mention that a single sheet pamphlet, as a sermon, list, or catalogue, is generally secured by a single etitch at the middle of the back, as at Fig. 53. The needle is pricked through the centre of the back, as at A; it is then put through the back from the outside, a little lower down, as at B. The needle is then passed upwards, inside the section, to 0, as much above A as B was below it, and is here passed FIG. 54. through the section to the outside.

pamphlet stitch

Lastly, the needle is brought down outside to A again, and is passed through beside it at D. The stitch B, C, is now between the two ends of the thread, and when these are tied together the whole stitch is secure. When there are more sheets than one, they are placed on each other, and three holes made through them, as at Fig. 54, with the bodkin a,nd hammer. Where much of this stitching is done, the amateur had better have a wooden stabbing-machine (Fig. 55), -which forces three bodkin blades through at one pull of the lever.

hand stabbing machine

The price is about 12s. Mr. Frederick Ullmer, of Cross-street, Farringdon-road, recently introduced FIG. 55.HAND STABBING MACHINE. a treadle machine of this kind (see Fig. 56), which is very useful, as it leaves both hands free. Book-sewing machines have lately been introduced from Germany.

treadle stabbing machine

They are very ingenious, the sections being secured to the back by little links of steel wire; but they are only adapted for new cloth boarded work, so we need not enter into any detailed description.