Leather and Long Stitch

Leather and Longstitch
Leather and Long Stitch

Sewing together a book has great appeal to me. I’ve tried my hand at long stitch binding a couple of times (which is a way of binding a book with exposed sewing that wraps around the head and tail of the book block)  but it just never settled into my brain. So, when I saw that Susan Mills was again teaching long stitch in her one of her Full Tilt Bookbinding Classes in NYC, I signed up.

Cutting the leather
Cutting the leather

It seemed to click with me this time around. Just to be sure, I came home and started making books. I knew my husband had a pile of old, dirty leather rotting in the barn, so I grapped some up, brought it in, cleaned and cleaned, and I  couldn’t believe how nicely it cleaned up. Not perfect, still has “character” but I’m happy with it.


folded 8 inche x 5 inch paper,
Folded size: 4 inches wide x 5 inches tall

I folded 32 sheets of 8″ x 5″ paper to make 64 leaves (128 pages). Stacked together, they were about one inch deep, so that measurement became the width of my spine.

Marking the slits for the sewing
Preparing the spine, including adding slits for the sewing

Turns out that, since there is no gluing with this binding, the leather is fast and easy to work with. I cut the shape, prepared the spine with folds and slits, and that was it in terms of prep for the cover.


I used a cord called rattail. I wanted to be extra sure that I didn’t run out of cord before the sewing was done so I decided to use an 84 inch piece. Turns out I only needed 72 inches.

longstitch 7
Thinking about the cover

After the sewing was done, I started thinking about closures for this book. In the class Susan had shown prepared a book with a wrap around cover, which I liked.

The book on the left is the one I made in Susan Mills class

I like the design of the leather cover wrapping around the fore edge of the book, but I wanted to change the long leather strap that was sewed on to the overlapping flap.

A closure solution, to be changed

My first attempt to make a change in the closure was to add a small button-like piece, and use the cord to keep the book closed. I sewed on a  decorative piece to the cover and used it as a place to put a pencil. My husband didn’t like the look of the cord, and I guess I didn’t either, though didn’t want to admit it at first. Turns out, for me, that designing the closure is the most challenging part of making this book.

So I kept making books, experimenting with ways of finishing them off.

Trying out closures
Cutting a shape on the overlapping flap

The image belong shows what turned out to be my favorite solution. Closure successInstead of sewing on something extra, I cut a shape into the leather, cut a button hole into it, and sewed a bead on to the cover for the hole to hook on to.

Pencil inside

As a bonus, I also put a few slit on the fore edge of the cover, so that a pencil could slip in ( see the book on the right). The book on the left in the photo above shows how I changed the cover on the first book that I made at home.

More books
More books

Now I’ve made even more books, and I think I’ve figured this out well enough that I feel like I know what I’m doing. Next I’ll start fiddling with the pattern on the spine. I’m understanding why I didn’t quite get how to do it before: I just didn’t do it enough.




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