Book binding

How to make a leather journal with raised cords on the spine

After multiple tries, I was finally able to make a leather journal with false “raised cords” on the spine, with a spine that’s flexible and with a binding that feels reasonably solid! 🙂

To give some context, when I say “raised cords”, I mean the look that you see on the spine of the book below. It looks so beautiful! I wanted to learn how to achieve a look like this but almost all videos or articles that I referenced online, did not go into the details of how to prepare the spine of a leather bound book.

Beautiful cords on the spine!

After watching a bunch of videos on binding a leather journal (such as this one), I realized that at the very beginning of book binding as a craft, books were bound using cords and cords were a part of binding the signatures together. The spine was then rounded and when the leather was put on top, the cords used for binding the book could be seen through the leather. It is there cords that gave the book’s spine this “raised cords” effect.

As an amateur book binder, I don’t own any equipment for binding books using cords, so the question was – was there a way to achieve this same effect without using the traditional binding method?

Turns out – there is! In the 1700s, the hollow back spine method was developed that allowed a binder to use leather bands to create a fake “raised cords” effect. I discovered this method in this video.

Eventually, I ended up following these steps:

  1. I first made a text block, by following the instructions in this video. I went all the way till gluing the end pages to the text block, and adding “mull” on top to further strengthen the book.
  2. I then added a “hollow back” to the spine (this video) – this was the “new thing” that I hadn’t known about before. This allowed me to create a spine that held the book together, while still being able to achieve the raised cords effect. To get the hollow back right, it’s important that it fits the spine exactly – length wise and breadth wise. Otherwise, it can create weird creases once you start opening and closing the book.
  3. Glued cords to the spine – for my first book, I simply used a thick string, cut it into pieces, and glued the pieces to the spine. Note – the cord pieces should cover the width of the spine but not go over it. This will allow you to open and close your book easily.
  4. I then covered the book with hard covers and leather. For this book, I used a nice shade of brown leather.

The result was a hard bound leather journal as shown below!

Raised cords on the spine

I must have gone through atleast 20 odd videos and articles to try and understand how to achieve this effect, without sewing the book together with cords. It’s perhaps not the most traditional way of making a book, but it looks great and is much easier to do at home.

I’ve gifted this journal to my husband for making notes 🙂 Definitely running out of ideas on what to do with all these journals that I’m making!!

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