Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bookbinding 101: linen thread

A common question from beginning bookbinders is if silk embroidery thread or regular cotton sewing machine thread can be used to make books. I tell them "Yes, but don't expect the book to last very long." Linen thread is simply stronger, and will hold up better over time.

Traditionally, linen thread has been used in bookmaking because of it's strength and long life. It's also not as stretchy as other fibers which makes for a tighter binding. It does, however, stretch over time, so a tightly sewn coptic book, for example, will loosen up a bit with use.

We use Crawford waxed Irish linen thread for most of our books. We typically use 3 or 4 ply -- also referred to as 3 or 4 cord, rather than ply -- and would not recommend using anything thinner than that, except on miniature books. You can also use 6 ply, 7 ply or 12 ply. I like using the 6 ply or 7 ply for exposed sewing as it shows off the stitching much more than the 3 or 4 ply.

We use the 3 or 4 ply for book structures in which the sewing is hidden, as they allow the pages to be bound more closely together than if using, for example, 6 ply.

Our thread comes from which also ships internationally. If you want to purchase a smaller amount (say, 5-10 yards) of one color instead of an entire roll then you may oh so conveniently purchase smaller amounts from us through our shop at Alternately, Bookfindings also sells smaller amounts of linen thread.

Non-waxed vs Waxed Linen Thread

You may buy both waxed and unwaxed thread. If you buy unwaxed, you'll likely want to acquire a piece of beeswax with which to wax it with. The wax reduces friction to allow the thread to glide through much more easily as you sew and keeps the fibers from fraying. We prefer the convenience of waxed thread, but many others like the unwaxed, being able to control the amount of wax they apply as they run their thread over their piece of beeswax. And some binders simply like the process and tradition of waxing their own.

If you would like to wax your own thread, you can find a nice little tutorial to do so from SeaLemon.


Chris Moulton said...

do you know where to get non waxed linen in bulk?

Lizzie said...

Thanks for this - another very useful little article! I'll add a link to the Page on my blog, Karleigh-Jae, so others can find it.
I do like to wax the thread myself, but it's not so easy to find unwaxed linen threads in colours, so I use what I can find! It's been so useful to be able to buy from you, as I can't afford to buy all those colours by the spool! Please continue to sell these through your shop - I'm a keen customer!
I think the weight of the thread is very much a personal choice thing. I often do prefer a lighter weight thread, if I'm using lighter papers, as the 4-ply can often appear very bulky, but it does make a lovely contrast on the binding, if a heavy-weight paper is used with a lovely 4-ply coloured thread!

Karleigh Jae said...

Here's one source for bulk non waxed thread:

The above was suggested in the discussion at the following link:

Karleigh Jae said...

You're welcome!

In the link that follows there is a discussion that suggests dying unwaxed thread. One person says, "I use regular leather dye to color it - cut off what ever you need, soak it in the dye for a few minutes, as you pull it out use a cloth to pull it through to get rid of the excess. Let dry and wax."

Anonymous said...

Is it acceptable to bind a coptic book with 4-ply waxed linen thread? I like exposed bindings, but I do not like the idea of very thick thread. I am making my very first coptic book. Will the binding be stronger if it is done with 4-ply thread?

Thank you,


Karleigh Jae said...

Yes, 4 ply is great for coptic stitch. If you use 3 ply, you won't be able to see the detailing as much on each kettle stitch but the 4 ply shows up nicely. You can see some exposed bindings here (tapes bound and coptic stitch) in which I used 4 ply thread:

Good luck on your first coptic Jocelyn!

Natalia said...

Which thread should I use in a photo album (100lb pages)? Is the 4 ply strong enough?
Thank you,

Natalia said...

I found out the 180gsm paper is not equivalent to 100lb as I thought when I wrote the comment above.
... is the 180gsm paper a good option for a photo album? And again, is the 4 ply thread strong enough?

Thank you again,