Bookbinding Tutorial: How to Make a Vintage-Style Needle Book

6 July 2022
image description: image description: a portrait of an Asian woman with shoulder length hair, wearing glasses; she looks direction into the camera
By Suzan Lee
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In this tutorial, we will make a small sewing-needle book in a style that combines features of antique and vintage needle books, using materials commonly found in our homes. Although bookbinding uses a specific set of standard hand tools and equipment, we will substitute alternative, more readily available items whenever possible.

Nineteenth century needle books were made entirely of fabric, often with hand-embroidered covers. Some had no pages and relied on the inside covers to hold needles, while others had several fabric pages. In the twentieth century, needle books were commonly made from a piece of folded card which held a variety of needles and were usually given away as promotional items, like the free calendar giveaways we often receive today.

For our needle book, we’ll be combining the two styles, using cardstock for the cover, and fabric for the pages. The firm cardstock cover helps the needles and pins stay in place, and reduces the risk of you sticking yourself!

Whether this needle book is for you or a gift, it will no doubt have a wonderful life with a hand sewist.

image description: a small cardstock folder, covers folded closed

Leave the cover plain, or decorate it.

image description: a needle book, open on a table; it's made of a cardstock cover and fabric pages, and a few needles and pins are clipped into the pages

Finished Size

7.5 × 10 × 0.5 cm/3 × 4 × 0.25 inches

Tools and Materials

  • Woven fabric scraps: 3 pieces of fabric, each large enough to cut into to a 14 × 10 cm/5.5 × 4 inch piece
    • Note: the fabric pages in the sample are shown with raw edges. If you prefer, you can finish them. Use pinking shears around the edge, or apply Fray Check seam sealant, to keep the straight edges clean. You can also create fully seamed pages by sewing together two larger pieces of fabric.
  • Drawing or marking tools: pencil, fabric pencil/marker, or tailor’s chalk
  • Cutting tools: scissors, pinking shears, or rotary cutter
  • 1 piece of cardstock large enough to cut out a 20 × 11 cm/8 × 4.25 inch piece (alternatively, fabric with interfacing for stiffness)
  • Thread (linen, floss, machine sewing thread, lace/fingering weight yarn)
  • Ruler
  • Sewing needle
  • Awl (alternatively, sewing needle)
  • Binder clip

All images by Suzan Lee.

image description: image description: a portrait of an Asian woman with shoulder length hair, wearing glasses; she looks direction into the camera

About Suzan Lee

Suzan Lee is a bookbinding instructor based in Vancouver, Canada. She has been teaching bookbinding and box making for over 10 years. She learned her bookbinding skills at the Center for Book Arts in New York. Her interest in bookbinding started with her fascination with the wide range of materials and techniques involved in binding books. She is a co-founder of the BC Lower Mainland chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG). Through this local chapter, she works with other book artists to help grow the book arts community in the BC Lower Mainland.

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[For Studio Members] Learn how to make a Coptic-bound book using traditional bookbinding methods, out of materials and tools you already have at home. In this final tutorial in a three-part series, expert bookbinder Suzan Lee provides a detailed tutorial on how to use sewing techniques traditionally used for non-textile craft, with textiles.

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