Japanese stab binding is one of the oldest binding techniques in existence – it’s as old as books themselves. This style of bookbinding is known for its simplicity and elegance. It doesn’t require any adhesives or complicated tools, and it can easily be done by complete beginners.
What is Japanese stab binding? Japanese stab binding is a simple style of bookbinding where all the papers (including the covers) are sewn together at the spine using one single strand of thread. The result is a simple binding that is minimal yet quite secure.
There are some variations to this technique, so in this article, we’ll introduce you to Japanese stab binding, what you’ll need to bind a book using Japanese stab binding, and how you can create a simple version of Japanese stab binding.
What To Know About Japanese Stab Binding
Although the technique originated in Korea and China, it was perfected by the Japanese and eventually became known as Japanese stab binding.
It is commonly associated with the use of Japanese paper and silken threads, but nowadays, you can use any kind of paper and thread that you like.
The basic structure of stab binding is based on the Japanese technique of stitching. This involves sewing the back cover, front cover, and pages together using a very strong thread.
Unlike other styles of bookbinding, such as saddle stitching or loop stitching, where the stitches are hiding in the spin, Japanese stab binding has a signature look because the stitches are quite prominent in the spine of the book, becoming a design element itself.
That’s why, besides the simple stitching style, you see many variations of the stitches in Japanese stab binding, where you create designs at the spine of the book to become a part of the book’s decor.
Another reason why stab binding is popular is that it is quite simple to carry out, and it doesn’t require a lot of tools. All the pages of the book are sewn together in one go; there’s no glueing or complicated sewing required.
Because of this, the thread used in Japanese stab binding must be strong and stable because it is truly the only thing that’s holding the book together.
Variations Of Japanese Stab Binding
Since Japanese stab binding originated in Korea and China, there are Korean and Chinese variants of Japanese stab binding.
The signature look of Japanese stab binding, with four holes at the spine, is called yotsume toji, which translates to Four-Hole Binding.
A Korean variation of this style of binding is called seonjang, which means ‘thread binding’ in Korean. The binding technique was quite popular during Korea’s Joseon dynasty (1392-1897).
This binding has five holes at the spine instead of four; that’s because the pronunciation of the word ‘four’ in Korean sounds similar to the word ‘death,’ and this number is believed to be unlucky.
A Chinese variation of Japanese stab binding is called Kangxi. This style of bookbinding is named after its creator, an emperor during China’s Qing dynasty (circa 1644).
Compared to Japanese stab binding, the Kangxi variation has one more hole that is slightly tapered at each end of the spine. This design adds more strength to the binding and is also used as a design element.
Japanese stab binding also has small variations which differ in the number of holes, which allows opportunities to create designs with the stitching.
The tortoiseshell binding is a great example, with 12 holes in two rows, where the bookbinder can create a shell design with the stitching.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Japanese Stab Binding
One of the biggest advantages of Japanese stab binding, and the reason why it has remained a popular method of bookbinding after hundreds of years, is the fact that it requires very few materials and space.
Compared to other booking binding methods that require a lot of tools and materials (and sometimes even machinery), Japanese stab binding only requires a hole puncher, strong threads, and a sewing needle.
It’s a very simple technique that can be done in just a few minutes by a complete beginner, which is also a huge plus for those who wish to enter the world of bookbinding.
Another advantage that artists will enjoy is the fact that you can add or remove pages to your book quite easily.
Since the entire book is sewn together using just one single thread and a few stitches, you can easily snip the thread, add or remove pages, and sew it back together again in just a few steps. This is quite an advantage if you have a photo book or a sketchbook that you want to grow with.
One disadvantage of this method is that the spine consumes some of the spaces from the pages, which means that when the book is open, the spine will crease on the page.
In comparison, some bookbinding methods require pages to be sewn together in the middle, so the spine doesn’t eat into the spaces on the page, and the book can seamlessly open without creasing.
Because of this disadvantage, books that use Japanese stab binding usually don’t have a lot of pages. The more pages you have, the more difficult it is to open the book, especially from the middle pages.
Another disadvantage of this style of bookbinding is that it doesn’t protect the pages from the spine, so dust and moisture can easily attack your book from all sides and damage the pages faster.
Since the entire book is held together by just one thread and a few stitches, the binding can also be quite flimsy, especially if your stitches are not tight and secure.
Even with secure stitches, if your threads are not sturdy or of high quality, they can break off easily, and you’ll have to replace the whole binding. Fortunately, the stab binding is quite simple to replace with just a few simple tools and steps.
Finally, since there are only a few variations of Japanese stab binding, there’s not a lot of room to grow and learn new techniques.
Japanese stab binding can be a starting point for learning about bookbinding. If you want to experiment with new techniques, you can learn about other, more complicated bookbinding techniques.
What You Will Need To Create Japanese Stab Binding
The steps to create a Japanese stab binding are very simple, and it doesn’t require a lot of supplies.
The first thing you need is your sketchbook paper in the size that you want your book to be and two pieces of cardstock in a matching size, which will become covers for the book.
To create the holes for the needle to go through, you’ll need an awl or a hole-puncher. We recommend using a hole puncher because it’s easier to use, and the holes created will be cleaner since the paper from the holes will be completely removed.
If you want a versatile tool, you can opt for an interchangeable hole puncher with multiple tip sizes, which allows you to create different size holes for different projects.
Then, you’ll need to get some waxed linen threads. Since the thread is what’s holding your entire binding together, only this type of thick and strong thread will do.
The wax helps the thread become sturdier so that it doesn’t get tangled while you make your binding. If your thread isn’t waxed, you can get some beeswax to apply to your thread before binding.
Of course, you’ll also need some bookbinding needles to guide your thread through the holes on the pages.
These needles are not regular sewing needles – they need to be long enough to guide you through all the pages of the book, and the eyelets are big enough to hold the sturdy wax threads.
Other convenient tools include binder clips to hold the pages together, a ruler and a pencil to mark your template, and scissors to snip the thread.
All of these tools and supplies are also available in bookbinding kits, which conveniently include all you will need to create various styles of bookbinding.
How To Do Japanese Stab Binding
Now that we’ve learned about Japanese stab binding and all the materials that it requires let’s talk about all the steps to create a basic four-hole Japanese binding.
For the purpose of this tutorial, we will be using A4 paper as an example, so there’s no paper cutting required. You can cut your paper to any size that you want.
Here’s how to make a stab binding along the width (the shorter edge) of an A4 book:
Step 1: Make A Template
For this template, you just need one piece of A4 paper, or the paper size matching the size of your book.
With your ruler and pencil, draw a straight line about 1 inch from the edge of the paper where you want the spine of the book to be. Then, fold the paper in half twice along the edge where you draw the line.
The fold will create 7 fold lines that are perpendicular to the line you just drew. Where the fold lines intersect with the drawn lines, that’s where the holes will be.
Step 2: Mark Your Template
Mark four dots at the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th fold line. The dots will be spaced evenly, with a half-space at each end of the spine. These dots are where you will need to punch your four holes for the stab binding.
Step 3: Punch The Holes
Use two binder clips to hold 5 pieces of paper together with your template for hole punching.
Since your hole puncher can only handle a few pieces of paper at a time, it’s best to repeat these steps a few times so that you can get clean cuts rather than try to overwork the hole-puncher.
Then, use your hole puncher or awl to punch the holes in the marked dots on the templates. Keep in mind that these holes should be big enough to hold 2 stitches of your waxed thread, so depending on the size thread you’re using, you can punch a big enough hole for it.
Make sure that all of your pages stay aligned when you punch the holes. If even one page is not aligned, your book may not look even at the edges.
Repeat with all the papers that you have for your book and the cardstock covers. Make sure the holes are aligned each time so that your binding will look nice and even.
Step 4: Use Thread And Needle To Bind Book
If you know how to sew a straight stitch, this step will be quite simple.
Thread your needle with a tail that is at least four times the length of your spine. You’ll want enough thread to cover the entire spine since connecting thread mid-binding can leave a bump on the exposed binding.
We will be numbering the holes #1 through #4 to make the tutorial easier to understand. The direction of the numbers doesn’t matter since the appearance of the spine will look the same no matter which end of the spine you start with.
First, insert your threaded needle through hole 3 from the middle of your stack of paper and leave about 3 inches at the end of the thread, which will make it easier to tie a knot when the binding is completed.
Make a loop around the spine of the book and go through hole 3 again, this time from the bottom to the top.
From hole 3, make a straight stitch to hole 2 (from the top to the bottom of the book). Then, loop around the spine around hole 3, from the top to the bottom of the book.
From the bottom of hole 2, make a stretch stitch to hole 1 (from the bottom to the top). Then, loop around the spine around hole 1, from the bottom to the top of the book. Then, loop around the edge of the book around hole 1 one more time, from the bottom to the top of the book.
When you’re back at hole 1, make a straight stitch from hole 1 to hole 2, from the top to the bottom of the book. From hole 2, make a straight stitch from hole 2 to hole 3, this time from the bottom to the top of the book.
From the top of hole 3, make a stretch stitch to hole 4 (from top to bottom). Then, loop around the spine around hole 4, from the top to the bottom of the book. Then, loop around the edge of the book around hole 1 one more time, from the top to the bottom of the book.
From hole 4, make a straight stitch from hole 4 back to hole 3, this time meeting the other end of your thread in the middle of your book.
Then, tie a strong knot to connect both ends of your thread. Cut off the thread close to the knot. You can also burn off the edges to keep the threads from fraying, but be careful so you won’t burn your entire book!
If you want a more visual tutorial on how to do a Japanese stab binding, watch this video from Sea Lemon: