Cheers! CCLaP's first paper book is finally available for purchase! And to mark the occasion, I'm doing a four-part photo essay here at the website this week, showing in obsessive detail each and every step involved with the process of actually making and shipping one. After all, this is the main selling point of the books themselves, that they are made lovingly and obsessively by hand, using a drawn-out, quality-oriented process that takes almost an entire workweek from the start to the finish; so I figured if I actually showed this process here, it would help people better appreciate the final product, plus maybe get them inspired to try their own in the future.
But first, a quick recap of what's gone on already: how on Monday we printed, cut and folded the actual manuscript, plus cut out the raw materials that would eventually make up the covers; while on Tuesday we actually made those covers, a surprisingly time-consuming and fastidious process.
The first step in stitching them together, then, is of course to poke the holes where the stitching actually takes place; I have yet another little homemade jig for this, which I simply line up against either side of the manuscript and mark with pencil. Then I draw a straight line across the spine between each of these guideposts; and then I take each signature one at a time and poke holes where those pencil marks appear, using a sharp awl I purchased from Hollander's in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specifically for this purpose.
Then I do the same thing with the covers, making sure to center my jig instead of lining it up with one side or the other; don't forget that the covers are actually a bit bigger than the manuscript itself, to offer the pages better protection. With a sharp awl, it's as easy as paper to punch through cloth-covered particle board, so don't fret that this will be a laborious process.
And here's what we're left with, going into the actual stitching process, a kind of simplistic beauty of its own away from the thread itself.
How much thread to use? Conventional wisdom for Coptic stitching says the length of the book times the number of signatures and covers; plus with beginners like me, it's good to add a final book length to compensate for all the mistakes you'll be making. So in this case, that's ten book-lengths altogether; with my book being five and a half inches in length, that's a single 55-inch piece of twine that's used to hold the whole thing together. I myself am using a pre-waxed brand of four-ply thread made by a company called Crawford, which I've been very happy with.
It's also a good idea with Coptic stitching to specifically use a curved needle, in that the entire process depends on having to dart in and out of the actual manuscript in a highly rhythmic pattern, the curvature of the needle making it easier to do so. With my giant stubby fingers, threading this damn thing is the bane of my existence these days.
And here we go! Coptic stitching is all about learning a pattern and then memorizing that pattern, essentially by doing it over and over and over and over and over, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. So to start with, you open the bottom signature of your book and run your twine through the right-most hole, leaving a bit behind to eventually tie off; then you go directly under your back cover, up through its right-most hole, then back into the same manuscript hole you just sewed out of.
Repeat this for every hole of your first signature, and you get what you see in the upper-left image; then you can finally tie the beginning terminus and tighten the entire thing, giving you that upper-right picture. The bottom-left image is what the inside center of each of your signatures will eventually look like, essentially straight lines of twine; and then that bottom-right image is the first of many exhortations today to always be creasing, creasing, creasing with your bone folder, after every single signature and before adding the next one to the pile.
And speaking of which, it's finally time to add our second signature, which is where the "Coptic" part of this stitching style comes in; basically, after first running your twine in the first hole and out the second, you then loop that twine around the bit below that's holding together the first signature, then bring it back up and through the hole you just used in the second signature above. This gives you a decorative little loop, which is what the Coptic monks who invented this process eventually became most known for; in my case I'm using it mostly for practical purposes, to make sure the manuscript actually holds together well, but artists use this style all the time, using experimental materials and much thicker twine, to add all kinds of fascinating decorative elements to so-called "art books." After repeating this for all the interior holes, then, at the end of each signature you instead just tie off a simple knot using the signature below as the base, known technically as "kettle stitching."
Crease, crease, crease!
If everything's gone according to plan, you should be seeing what's pictured in that left image; and at that point you just keep repeating with each signature what you just did above, until eventually reaching a look like the one seen in that right image. This is by far the single-most time-consuming part of this entire process -- a half-hour even if I'm paying complete attention, more like an hour if I'm watching TV or listening to a podcast at the same time -- and is a large part of what your final retail payment for these books is directly paying for.
The top signature and the front cover, then, are stitched at the same time, in pretty much the opposite pattern of the bottom signature and back cover; first up and through the cover itself, then looped around the twine below it, then back through the top hole you just used to start the loop.
When it's finished, you can tighten the entire thing and tie off the final end; and then of course don't forget to crease, crease, crease one more time, being extra careful this time not to slip and damage the front cover, or God forbid snap that twine and have to start the entire thing all over again from the beginning. (How many books have I now had to completely redo, because of making a mistake in the very last stage of this process? Oh, you don't want to know.)
And behold -- a finished book! Or, well, almost finished; tomorrow in fact we'll be rifling through the last steps, including gluing on the cover image, pressing the entire thing, then getting it ready for shipping to your eager little hands. And speaking of which, if you haven't ordered a copy of the book for yourself yet, I highly encourage you to do so; this pretty much makes up for four years of downloading crap for free here, and in fact was designed specifically so that hardcore fans can help subsidize the costs of all those free downloads, to ensure that that author can achieve as wide an audience as possible, in these days of massive fights over consumer attention among a million micro-budget creative organizations. See you tomorrow for the end of this photo essay!