The Coptic binding or Coptic sewing is a bookbinding method used by the early Christians in Egypt, the Copts, and used as early as the 2nd century AD to the 11th century. They were the first true codices. There are many variations on the stitched patterns, and it is a useful binding if you need to lay your book completely flat on a table.
Daniel Essig (NC) is a book artist who creates elaborately gilded and tooled historic book structures with a personal, narrative twist.
Examples in ASU Rare Books & Collections
You will need to supply your own end sheet paper, and any wrappings for decorating the signatures.
Historic and Contemporary Artists' Examples
Single-Needle Coptic with a Flexible Hard Cover
Prepare your signatures. We are creating 12 sets
of signatures of 5 sheets using 90 lb. paper.
Remember that the more sheets per signature, the
fatter the signature will be and the wider your
coptic stitch will be. If you want a tighter, finer
stitch, create thinner signatures. You might
consider covering each signature with decorative
paper or alternating colored sheets to give your
spine more interest.
Design your stitch pattern on your spine. If you’re
creating straight stitch lines, you can punch the
holes for your sewing stations using a paper jig as
usual, but if you would like to create diagonal or
zig-zag patterns, it’s helpful to lightly draw using a
ruler on the spine itself. Remember to include a
straight line about 1/2” on the top and the bottom
regardless of design. Be sure to jog the book block
and weight it down using a brick or weight of
some kind. You can also tighten it in the book
press in the book studio. If your design is straight
across in one direction, you can use a coping saw
or knife blade to ever so lightly cut across the tips
of the signatures. If your stitch pattern changes
direction, like a chevron, for example, you will
need to use a paper jig to line up the sewing
stations on each signature.
Cut two pieces of board about 1/16” wider than
your signatures. Using a pencil, design your
flexible joints on the front cover. Make sure to
make the first one a straight line, no closer than
3/4 of an inch from the spine edge. Number each of
the cut pieces and cut them apart. Then use PVA to
glue them onto a piece of tarlatan cloth,
leaving a board’s width or 1/8" between each piece.
Make sure to line the top edges against a
straight edge as you glue them to keep them even.
Trim the length of the hinged cover to match that
of the back cover.
Use a book cloth with strong thread grain to cover
the boards. When gluing the flexible cover, lightly
place the book board side face down on the cloth,
then flip it over and quickly work from left to
right, articulating each joint by burnishing into
the groove with your bone folder. Then finish the
trimming and gluing corners as usual.
Cut two pieces of paper for the end sheets, approx.
one 16th of an inch shorter than your covered
boards on all sides. Glue them down using PVA.
Poke holes in the covers to correspond with the
holes in the signatures. If your holes are straight
across horizontally, each board will have holes in
the same place. But if you’ve created an
asymmetrical design, be particular about measuring
the holes to correspond to the first and last
signature. The holes should be approx. 1/4” in from
the spine edge.
After all your holes are pokes and drilled, measure
your thread using the following formula: measure
the height of the book by the number of signature,
plus two for the covers, and add a comfort zone. Do
not double the length, this is a single-needle stitch.
Thread your needle and start on the inside of the
first signature. Sew out of the first hole. Sew into
the first hole in the cover. Sew around it twice,
continually adjusting the cover’s position so that
its edge is even with the signature’s spine. Work
until you think it’s perfect. Snug up the tension.
Sew back into the first hole of the signature. Tie a
knot with the loose end.
Sew into the next hole in the signature. Repeat the
process of sewing twice through the cover and
back into the signature, and snug up the tension.
Continue until the sewing is finished at the last
hole in the cover. Rather than return to the first
signature, add in a new one into the corresponding
hole for that signature
Sew up through the next hole in the signature and
start the link or chain part of the Coptic stitch.
Skip the stitch between the cover and the second
signatures, and sew under the stitch between the
cover and first signature.
Continue until all the holes are sewn. At the end of
a signature, add a new signature, and continue
sewing, repeating the process. Continually snug up
the tension. Smooth and even is the desired
To add the back cover, sew it on just like the front
cover. Lay it next to the last signature, and sew
through the corresponding hole twice. Rather than
sewing back into the signature, do the link or
chain part of the Coptic stitch. Sew under not your
last stitch, but the one before it, and back into the
last signature. Repeat until you’ve sewn through
all the holes in the back cover. Sew into the last
signature one more time, and tie a knot. Now trim