Book binding techniques

What is So Great about Smythe Sewn?

When you peruse Love Notebooks you will have discovered that smythe-sewn is a word we throw around a lot and you may wonder what the heck does it mean and do I really need it.

Smythe Sewn

Smythe Sewn

Books that are smythe sewn are library quality and are constructed to last. Smythe sewn books are durable and made to be handled a lot and open flat. Smythe sewn refers to the centuries old book binding technique. First sheets are folded into signatures, that depending on size and thickness of the sheet can be anywhere from 4 to 32 pages.  A stack of signatures will result  in a book block. Top and bottom as well as right side of the book block will be cut to create pages. Each signature is then sewn through holes on the center line and to the other signatures of the book block with a single thread. The result is a stitched book block which is then stitched or glued into the hard or soft cover binding via end papers.

This process was done by hand until American inventor David McConnel Smythe invented a machine to sew the signatures together in 1879. Nowadays the stitched together text block is often glued on the spine to keep the thread in place and sometimes further reinforced by gluing a piece of fabric over thread on the spine. Head bands and foot bands made of decorative ribbon are sometimes glued to the top and bottom of the pages to further beautify the binding and hide stitching and glue. Paperblanks are a good example of a smythe sewn journal with decorative head and foot bands. Smythe sewn is the standard if you are looking for durability; Hymn books, coffee table books and text books are often smythe sewn for that very reason.

Perfect binding, which is the primary technique for books that are glued and not sewn is not as durable and in our opinion far from perfect for a journal, that you intend to revisit over time or a notebook that you handle and write in a lot. In perfect binding the stack of signatures is cut at the spine roughed up to increase the glue-ing surface and then glued into a cardboard cover.  A glued book by its very nature has a certain rigidity to it which makes it strong but not necessarily durable. Its rigidity and inability to lay flat work against the glued book over time. A smythe sewn journal is less rigid an gives a little when it needs to. Its ability to lay flat invites less abuse and we believe is an essential feature for most writers. As the famous quote says if you do not bend you break.

If you would like to learn more about how a smythe sewn book is bound by hand we recommend this extensive online tutorial from the university of Indiana.

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Saturday, October 23rd, 2010 Products Comments Off on What is So Great about Smythe Sewn?

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