Staples, glue, thread.
All of these can be used to hold a book together.
But for how long?
And how strong are they?
Classic bookbinding always included the use of threads and stitching.
Over time, you’d observe dogged edges of pages, peeling covers, ripped spine covers.
But the core spine of the book remains intact.
Because of these delicate stitches.
Strands of thread that when put together in a systematic manner, yields strength that withstands the test of time.
As technology improved, and book production was up scaled.
Glue and staples were introduced to speed up the process.
These books were weak.
They were after all mostly for quick reading and short storage.
And along with the strength is the disappearance of the romance of bookbinding.
But the books we make here are meant to be stored long term, and the contents close to our hearts.
They could be gifts containing precious memories in the form of words or photos or sketches.
They could be personal memory keepsake.
They could be meaningful items made for a special someone.
Hence, we stitch most of our books.
And we use threads.
Honestly, you can use almost any type of thread for bookbinding. They work the same way. The only difference is the strength.
If you are attempting bookbinding as a hobby, just grab any thread you have at home, wax it and get started.
Or find the most common choice here
If you are serious about bookbinding and want to know more before making a purchase, this article is for you.
We’ll dive into the type of threads use in bookbinding and everything you need to know to make the best selection of threads for your next bookbinding project.
- Type of threads
- Common bookbinding thread
- Where to buy thread?
- Just tell me which thread I should get
Types of Thread
Walk into an art supply store and you’ll probably be distracted by the many available colors of threads.
But, before we get distracted by color, let’s talk a little about the different types of threads.
Material of Thread
1. Linen Thread
Firstly, if you ask for bookbinding threads, you will usually be presented with linen threads that are usually white in color.
Colored options are usually more expensive. And unnecessary if you are making a book with a cover that hides the threads.
Linen is a natural fiber and was used historically because it was known to be able to last as long as the book itself.
Also, linen threads (sometimes also sold as flax thread) are known to be stronger, as compared to other natural fibers.
Depending on where you reside, it may be difficult to find linen threads in general / all purpose stores. You might need to look for an art supply store or purchase it online.
2. Nylon Thread
Nylon are synthetic polymers.They are durable and are often used in upholstery.
They are gaining popularity among new bookbinders.
Some bookbinders find nylon rougher and less aesthetically pleasing compared to linen.
Nylon threads may be more easily available compared to linen, depending on where you reside.
3. Cotton Thread
Cotton threads are usually used for embroidery and quilting. They are thinner and tend to be weaker compared to linen or nylon.
However, they may be cheaper and more easily available.
They are usually all-purpose and come in various colors and thickness.
I started out with spare cotton threads that I had found lying around the house. You might need to double stitch for increased strength.
There are different grades of cotton threads. Mercerized cotton threads and silk finished cotton threads are processed to be stronger, smooth, with a nice luminous tint.
4. Polyester Thread
Similar to Nylon. Polyester threads are made from synthetic polymers.
Strength of threads:
Nylon > Cotton > Polyester
5. Silk Thread
Silk threads are fine and durable.
But they comes with a price tag that can’t be justified if you will be covering the stitches on your book.
You can consider it for exposed stitches.
Do not confuse Silk threads with Silk finish cotton threads.
Silk finish cotton threads have processed to produce threads that are stronger and smoother.These threads are cheaper than pure silk threads.
Thickness of Thread
Material aside, the thickness of the thread also contributes to its strength.
Generally, the thicker the thread, the stronger it is.
Plus, when using thicker threads, there is no need for double stitching, so it helps save some time.
But there are payoffs.
The thicker the thread, the more difficult it is to sew and handle.
You will need a thicker needle during stitching and it generally requires more strength to pierce through signatures with a thicker needle.
And they form big, ugly knots too.
Thick threads may be preferred when you are doing a bookbinding project with exposed stitches.
So remember these when you are selecting the thickness of your threads.
Number of Strands in Thread
Denoted as the number of ply.
Threads can be sold as single strands or have multiple strands twisted together to make the thread.
Threads made with multiple strands are generally stronger. The more strands, the stronger it is.
Think of that old Aesop tail of the Bundle of Sticks.
However, there are payoffs too.
Firstly, more strands usually means more cost. So, it’ll be more expensive.
Also, the strands tend to tangle up when they unravel.
And this happens pretty often when you are trying to correct a stitch or back stitch, or trying to untangle the entire thread.
This is pretty depressing if it happens while you are almost done with your book.
Lastly, there’s a threshold for the thickness of each strand when you use multiple strand threads. I.e. threads with multiple ply are usually produced using thinner threads.
It’s give and take, so many bookbinders tend to focus on the number of strands and find it more convenient to only look at the number of ply.
If you are planning to use threads with many strands, wax them well to prevent unraveling. Or use pre-waxed options.
Useful Annotation you should know
When shopping for threads, you may see the following numbers that denotes its thickness and the number of strands: 12/3.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what that means.
X / Y
X: Thickness of the thread.
**Higher number refers to a thinner thread.
Y: Number of strands
And here’s what the numbers roughly equate to
12/3 = 1mm thickness
18/3 = 0.6mm thickness
30/3 = 0.45mm thickness
35/3 = 0.4mm thickness
(Source: John Neal Books )
Length of Thread
You will also find a range of length of threads available in the market place. From 10 yards to 280 yards. (Use an online length converter to convert that to metrics that you are familiar with)
Longer threads are cheaper by the meter (or metre, depending on where you are from).
Make your choice depending on your bookbinding project and whether you intend to make more books in the future.
If you are purchasing colored threads, you might want to get shorter options but more variety.
Waxed or Unwaxed Thread?
Other than material and thickness of thread, you will also have an option of purchasing either unwaxed thread or waxed thread.
Waxed thread require additional processing, hence they tend to be more costly.
In bookbinding, threads are usually waxed lightly with beeswax.
So…Why wax threads?
Waxing thread has many advantages, hence it has become a common process in bookbinding.
Waxed threads tend to be stronger and are less lightly to entangle.
This makes it easier to handle during the stitching process.
I also find that waxed threads are easier to sew because the wax reduces the fiction experienced during stitching.
Should I get waxed threads?
since there are so many advantages…
Well, not exactly.
You see, you can actually purchase beeswax separately and wax your own thread before use.
So..if cost is a factor.
It might be more cost efficient to purchase unwaxed threads instead.
You can learn how to wax your threads here:
Common bookbinding thread
With so many options, you’d be spoilt for choice.
We hope this article gives you some background before you buy your threads for your next project.
Here are some common bookbinding thread options:
- Linen/Nylon Thread
- Thickness: 30 – 35
- Number of strands: 3 – 4 / Some bookbinders prefer 7 strands for exposed stitches for aesthetic purposes
- Length: 50 yards (45.72m) / shorter options if you are getting colored threads
- Waxed Thread for convenience
Remember, these are not die-hard rules that you must stick to. We have listed them here just as a guide, especially for those who are totally new to thread options.
Where can I buy Threads?
There are various sources you can shop at. You can get threads at major online e-commerce stores like Amazon.
Or visit bookbinding specific e-commerce stores such as:
- John Neal books (USA)
- Hollanders (USA)
- Colophon Book Arts (USA)
- Ratchford (UK)
- Shepherds Inc (UK)
Just tell me which thread I should get
If you are too busy to read through the entire article, or just scrolled all the way down, this could help you.
P.S. These are based on popularity from Amazon.
The most common thread that new bookbinders start with is:
You can go for the waxed version to save some time:
KINGSO 284 Yards Leather Sewing Waxed Thread DIY Craft Beige (View on Amazon)
Or just purchase beeswax and wax your thread on demand.
This post is part of our Bookbinding Materials Series, you can get the full list of articles at the Bookbinding Resources Page.
2 thoughts on “Thread | Bookbinding Material 101”
Just finished your tutorial. I liked it very much, its great of you to make this available to anyone who asks! I filled out your informative tutorial with other sources of info also, they helped some by expanding on details. Well done! FYI There’s a great number lousy videos on bookbinding, have to watch out for them. Difficult for a brand new beginner like me! For instance There seems to be a lot of confusion re just what a coptic stitch is vs a kettle stitch, I’m still not sure. I think “kettle” is the name of a knot and coptic is the name of a stitch. ANYway, thank you again and congratulations.
The best and strongest thread for bookbinding is the classic dental floss. It comes waxed, it is very thin, it is incredibly strong, ( there is no way to snap no matter how tight is the binding), it never tangles, it is almost transparent ( it looks like silk), it smells nice and it is cheap.