Use stab-binding to make a book

One of the souvenirs I brought home from my trip to South Korea in 2012 was an antique record book bound in the Japanese style of bookbinding. Just like several cultures in Asia have dumplings (Korea = mandu, Japan = gyoza, China = jiaozi), most of the established cultures used a stab-binding technique to secure pages. This antique book is a great example: from Korea, written in Chinese, with “Japanese” binding. Stab-binding is not exclusively Japanese.

Historically, this method was advantageous because scribes could collect a number of completed pages and then easily assemble them for binding. For the traditional style, the threads that secure the pages are typically thick and colored. Kojiro Ikegami’s book, Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions from a master craftsman, is a great reference.

This stab-binding method is still useful today because it is an easier technique to apply than sewing a collection of signatures together. However, instead of using thick, colorful thread, I use standard, thin bookbinding thread and hide the sewing inside the covers. It is possible to use soft covers or a hardcover to finish the book.

Stab-binding project

The instructions for this project will result in a small book (4.25 x 5.5) inches with 28 pages. This post covers the book block itself – the bound pages. I’ll share a simple flexible cover design and separately a more-involved hard cover design later.

A note on materials and tools: I have included both common tools and materials as well as bookbinding-specific tools and materials for this project.

Book block


  • Template (see zine)
  • 28 sheets, 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches (7 letter size sheets cut in half twice)
  • Sewing needle with wax floss or waxed bookbinding thread


  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Punching tool: awl or thumbtack
  • Cutting mat
  • 1/4 soft pad: thick cardboard, folded cloth, etc.
  • Scoring tool: bone folder or large paperclip


  1. Place the soft pad on top of the cutting mat.
  2. Separate the sheets into stacks of 4.
  3. Place a stack on the soft pad and align the template.
  4. Carefully punch a hole through the template and sheets.
  5. While holding the stack, push the awl or thumbtack through each hole. Larger holes (approx. 1/16 inch) makes sewing easier.
  6. Repeat this process until all stacks of sheets are punched.
  7. Assembled the stacks together.


  1. Thread the needle with a length 3x the height of the book (approx. 18 inches).
  2. Starting from the back of the book, push the threaded needle through the bottom hole until just about two inches of thread remain.
  3. Pull the needle through the stack of sheets and loop back into the first hole again.
  4. Pull the thread to tighten, but only until no slack remains. Overtightening can cause rips.
  5. Sew using this pattern …
  1. Finish sewing by tying a knot with the loose ends.

All of the sewing will be hidden by the cover.

Completed book block


Open the zine below for instructions to complete the book block (bound pages).


PAGE ALIGNMENT. Before separating the pages into groups for punching, I mark the edge of the pages with a highlighter or pencil. Keeping the pages aligned in the same direction while punching is helpful.

TEMPLATE ADJUSTMENTS. The template can be adjusted for different lengths of spines.

  • For book 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, assuming the longer side is the spine, the measurements for the template would be 1.25, 2.75, 4.25, 5.75, 7.25 inches.
  • For an 11-inch spine (letter size paper), use these measurements: 1, 2.5, 4, 5.5, 7, 8.5, 10. Notice that seven holes are needed rather than five.

PAGE BEHAVIOR. The way that the thread loops around the edge prevents the book from staying open to a selected page. If you need a “lay flat” book, this is not the right binding technique.

NUMBER OF PAGES. I have used this technique to bind up to 100 sheets, which is 200 pages. However, a project with no more than 50-60 sheets is easier to sew.

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