Book binding

9 skills you’ll pick up as a hobbyist DIY bookbinder

A hobby is not only a highly enjoyable and energizing activity, it can help you pick up a lot of new skills that you never know how they might help you at a later point. If you’re considering learning bookbinding, here are a few skills that bookbinding teaches you. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and as you go deeper into this craft, there are many more skills that you’ll pick up. But the below list is true for even a beginner bookbinder 🙂


10 skills that you’ll learn when you learn bookbinding:

  1. Sewing: One of the foundational elements of a book is what’s called a “text block”, that is made by first folding paper together into “signatures” (Bookbinding jargon 101), and then sewing these signatures together to form a text block. Each time you make a book, you’ll do some sewing. You’ll find how there are different types of needles, and different shapes of needles. You’ll learn about waxed thread and how that makes sewing easier. And of course, you’ll become comfortable with a whole lot of sewing.
  2. Understanding paper: Paper, goes without saying, is kind of what makes the book. When you learn the craft of bookbinding, you learn how paper has grain and that there’s a right and wrong way of folding paper. You’ll learn about different weights of paper, and different textures of paper, and how some are better suited for certain purposes vs others.
  3. Cutting: Yes, cutting. You’ll be cutting paper, you’ll be cutting leather, you’ll be cutting book boards, you’ll be cutting cloth. And you have to cut in a way that your lines are straight and your dimensions match, and the final end product does not look like a combination of mismatched elements.
  4. Leather working: Almost all bookbinders start working with leather at some point in their journey. It’s the favorite material of all bookbinders for covering their books. And it’s not easy to work with leather! Leather is a much more substantial material, compared to cloth or paper. How do you make it do what you want it to do? 🙂 You’ll learn about identifying genuine leather, about veg tanned lather, about different thicknesses of leather, about paring leather, about stamping and decorating leather….the list is endless.
  5. Product photography: At some point, you’ll want to share what you’re making with others. And to do this, you’ll have to learn how to photograph your books. And photographing products is an art in and of itself. How do create a mood in your photographs? What lighting do you use? What angles do you use? How many different ways are there to photograph a book?! 🙂
  6. Craftsmanship: You cannot make a good book without being focused on the details. Craftsmanship is as important as a good design aesthetic, to make a good book. A book is as much a physical product that needs to be engineered well, as a work of art that pleases the eye and the heart. I’ve made a bunch of “bad books” when trying to skip over details!
  7. Design aesthetic: A big part of making book is thinking what kind of book do you want to make. What do you want your book to look like? Should it be hard bound or soft bound? What size should it be? What kind of color and material should it use? How should you embellish it? There’s really no right or wrong answer and you can really exercise your design sense as you make more books.
  8. Art appreciation: As you start delving into the world of book arts, you’ll become more sensitive to other art forms. For example – In my case, I am now more interested in painting, pottery and generally enjoying beautiful pieces of art. You start appreciating an artist’s work better, and develop a keener sense for what you like and don’t like.
  9. Being comfortable in your own skin: When you make something, anything, you’re kind of putting yourself out there. The book that you make is completely your own – it would not have existed were it not for you. It is your point of view on what you think is good. When you share this point of view with others, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Many will be indifferent. There will be some who might even dislike or pooh pooh what you make. Being a maker will demand you to not care about what others think, and have confidence in your own point of view.

The above is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, as you go deeper into your craft, you might get into more complex things such as working with different kinds of materials (wood, ceramics, glass, rubber, etc), making books into sculptures, getting into things such as print making or treasure binding, getting into calligraphy….but the above is a list of skills that you can be sure you’ll pick up even as a beginner.

Hope you enjoy your journey as a bookbinder! 🙂

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