Artists Books

Artists Book Exchange #3

So far I’ve covered a little of the ideas and gestation of the subject matter of the book. This post will be about the physical structure of the book. This is a small A6 size pamphlet stitched book – a booklet I guess.

I do lots of these; they’re quick and easy, and as the stitches are clearly visible on the outside, they can look quite self important too. There are quite a few options too, making this style reasonably versatile in its simplicity.

In my experience, there are five main variations to the pamphlet stitch. The first of these is the number of stations (pierced holes through the pages that are sewn through) which just needs to be an odd number – three being the minimum:LESTARET-bio-pp-19
The second variation is number; how many stations pierce the spine:

The third is pattern; which is where you choose to place the stations. I tend to favour a symmetrical layout with even spacing, but there is no reason why an asymmetric approach can’t be taken, providing that there are sufficient stations to secure the pages :

And the fourth is whether to include ‘over the edge stations’, and use the cover fold as additional parts of the stitch:


Whilst not technically a ‘hole’ to sew through, the edges function in exactly the same way as pierced holes and can give an additional visual impression. Note that although the diagram above shows only three holes, it would be considered as a five station pamphlet stitch.

The last, and probably the most visually significant variation is whether to expose or hide the ‘tying off.’  I tend to favour the exposed version, where the knot and and some excess is on the outside of the spine and becomes a prominent part of the overall visual appeal of the book, but this can be easily hidden away in the centre for a sleeker finish:

How many stations you use depends upon the spine length of your book and aesthetic judgement/practicality; a small book like this could actually accommodate up to 13 stations, but this would look too fussy. And with that many stations and pressure points along the spine, I would expect some weakening or even tearing of the spine along its length. I believe it is well worth experimenting to develop this judgement. All the others are entirely aesthetic – with the exception of the ‘over the edge’ stations, which affects whether or not you can trim the completed book – with this variation you would cut the the stitching at the head and foot of the book. In the end I opted for a five station and unlike the image above, with an external tie-off.

These images are of my actual working model, where I determined all my measurements and  collated the pages in preparation for printing. I attached test prints, drawings and notes with paper clips to allow for plenty of changes – I needed this flexibility as the book was developing in order to try new ideas and experiment with the composition.

According the the specs set at the beginning, this book was to have a minimum of seven folded sections:

This is not an issue, but the thickness of the paper will affect how it folds. Usually when I make pamphlet stitch books they are smallish, but tend to have fewer pages with a slightly thicker card cover. They fold well and lie flat too.LESTARET-bio-pp-29
Seven sections increases the thickness and this also affects the position of the pages in the stack by pushing the inner pages outward into a peak. This diagram has been exaggerated to illustrate the point:

Whilst the thickness of the block only amounts to 3mm, this is not a major factor, but if I trim down the edges after folding for a neater finish, I will lose some of the page width towards the centre. Something to consider when placing imagery to get the correct balance when trimmed…

I intended to use quite a substantial paper for this my ideas were becoming increasingly ink heavy, but this prevented the book from closing and lying flat.


I tested a few pages on thinner stock and found a reasonable 150gsm stock that reduced the bulky width a fair bit. I had decided to create a formal cover too, with covered boards. With a little careful measuring I worked out how much additional space to put between the boards to create the ‘spine’, and with even more careful cutting and gluing, made a mock up cover that was duly sewn to a mock up block:
This ‘spine’ allowed the thicker boards to lay flat over the pages and gave me a suitable place to sew into:

The mock up was made with scraps left over from old projects – I tend to keep anything vaguely useful for this kind of thing; its a good way of making your paper and board stocks go further (and keeping costs down!) I had some good quality deep blue cover paper with a buckram finish already put aside for this but just about enough for the finished work, so really needed to use something else for my mock up.

For the last part of this post I want to show you my pagination diagram. This is the layout of the pages assembled for printing to ensure that all is in the correct order when assembled. The pages in the right hand column are printed onto the back of those on the left.


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