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About CU ConservationObjects and Treatments

Rebinding a Children’s Book

19 January 2022
 One of the objects I’m working on currently is a children’s story book. After an in-depth condition assessment of the object and a talk with the owner, I decided that that best way to conserve the book was by rebinding it as part of the treatment. The book’s original binding is coming apart and the cover is not protecting it anymore. The illustration pages are also not part of the text block anymore. Rebinding the book is a good way to put the signatures and the loose pages back in one text block. It is quite an invasive treatment, however, the book is not for a museum, but it is meant to be used. It will be pickup, carried and read by the owners. Therefore, it was something to keep in mind during the decision-making process. Rebinding the book is a way to make the book whole again and quite sturdy. That way the owner can use the book safely without losing pages.
Why the Kettle Stitch binding?
The book I’m working on doesn’t have the original spine anymore. There was an attempt at recreating a spine with tape by previous owners. However, the adhesive has degraded enough that it doesn’t stick to the text block. Therefore, it was quite easy to determine what binding method was used to bind the signatures together. The kettle stitch is a basic one in bookbinding. It doesn’t require much in terms of materials: you simply need a needle and a thread. It is possible to use that binding method with cords or bands. However, the book was stitched without them, so that is what I’ll do.  The kettle stitch is used in multiple binding method to do the last stitch of a signature and change to another one. It creates a flat back and is a secure stitch. It is important to have an even number of stitching holes for this method.
The kettle stitch doesn’t require a lot of material. Some stitch requires a frame to hold cords or bands. The kettle stitch binding, at its simplest form, only requires a needle and a thread. Bookbinding needles are usually bigger than normal sewing ones, because the eye needs to be big enough for the thread. The needles can be straight, bent, or curved. For this project, I will use a bent one. I find it easier for this stitch. Having a bent needle will make passing the needle between signatures easier. The general rule of thumb is that you use the smallest needle possible that fits with the thread you’re using. That way you can do the smallest holes possible in the paper, or in the case of book conservation, not make the holes bigger to accommodate a needle that is too big. The thread that is commonly used in bookbinding is linen. However, people use different threads depending on what is available to them and what is the purpose of the book: repair, practice, show, competition, etc. Generally, people want the thread not to be the focus, so they choose a colour that is close to the pages. However, that is also up to the bookbinder to decide. For my book, since the stitches were visible, I could see that it was a colour similar to the pages. Therefore, I chose a colour that matches the original thread. I also tried to find a thread that was similar in size to the one use for the original binding.There is also the question of waxing the thread. A waxed thread is stiffer and will not tangle as easily as a regular thread. It also tends to be stronger, so it became a normal thing in bookbinding. It is possible to buy waxed thread or to do it yourself with beeswax. However, if the beeswax is badly applied or in too big of a quantity, the thread can leave wax on the pages. It is now possible to get linen thread that is waxed but worked afterward so they aren’t leaving residues but are strong for their size.Currently, the signature of the book needs more repair, therefore I will not show how to do the kettle stitch with it. But I will show it on another text block that I created to be similar to the one of the books. In conservation, sometimes we need to practise on smaller scale or on reproduction we do ourselves before doing it on the real object. I will also use a thread that is a different colour than the pages, to better show how to do the stitch.
The Kettle Stitch Process
Starting from the outside going to the inside of the signature, I pass the needle through the hole, making sure to get all the pages. From that point, I start to go in and out of the first signature, like a running stitch in sewing.

Once I reach the other end of the signature, I do the same thing, going the other way. At the end, it should look something like this. At the end, I tie a a knot with the thread that was already there and I can start adding another signature.

Making sure that the signature is on the right side, pass the needle through the first hole and out of the second. Once outside, I passed the needle between the thread of the first signature and the paper on both side and back in the hole. I repeated the same thing for each hole until I reached the last one of the signatureOnce I reached the last one, I pulled the needle on the outside and passed under the thread from the first signature, just like for the other stitch. However, I formed a loop and passed the needle through it, creating a kind of knot in the thread, securing that signature. After that, I added a third signature and doing the same thing. This time, I simply loop the needle behind the thread from the previous signature.

Afterwards, I simply repeated the same thing until all the signature are included in the text block. At the end, simply tie a knot when pulling out the needle from the last hole. It should look something like this.

After all that work, the text block is in one piece and all the signature have been included. It’s important to make sure that all the signature are on the right side. Otherwise the pages will not be in the right order. That is not a good thing and you’ll need to undo everything and start again. I always double check that the pages are in the right order. If you have loose paper, make sure they are at the right place before starting.


Have fun in your conservation and bookbinding projects !

Hopefully this is be useful.


Here are two website that are explaining the kettle stitch. There are also quite a few videos on the internet about the different variation of the stitch.

Paul (2014). 06. Sewing/Stitching the book. Available at :[Accessed January 18th 2022]

Stopka, N. (2014). The kettle stitch. Available at : [Accessed January 18th 2022]