Coptic binding is a popular non-adhesive (no glue) sewing method often used by bookmakers. This sewing method is historically based in methods of bookbinding developed by early Christians in Egypt, the Copts, and used from as early as the 2nd century AD to the 11th century. It’s a popular sewing style for both beginners, and those interested in the historical roots of bookbinding.
Coptic bindings usually have multiple sections, joined together with chain stitch linkings across the spine, which is usually left visible. The sections are joined to a cover that has had holes punched through it to allow the sewing to connect it to the text block. Covers could be made out of papyrus or wooden boards, and were also often covered in leather.
There’s a single-section version of the Coptic book as well, the best known example of which is the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of 13 Early Christian Gnostic texts that were found sealed in a jar in Upper Egypt in1945. These books are valuable sources of knowledge both for historical bookbinding practice and for scholars interested in Gnosticism and the history of the Christian Church.
Today book artists and bookbinders often use the Coptic structure, for its flexibility, attractive sewing pattern, and lack of glue. You can see examples everywhere you find handmade books, and there’s multiple tutorials online for how to work the sewing. If you have a few space boards and some paper you can give it a go yourself. If you’d like to learn more about the historical Coptic structures, I would suggest tracking down a workshop lead by the Michigan-based book conservator Julia Miller, who has done a ton of research on the subject.
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