I just finished binding my fifth sketchbook, and I think this time I finally got the thread tension just right – not too tight, not too loose, and consistent. Coptic stitch is not difficult to do (especially if you’re adept at hand sewing), but getting the tension right required more practice than I expected.
If you’re interested in learning the Coptic stitch, which is the binding method I use for all of my sketchbooks, you might want to look at some of the many instructions and tutorials available online in photos and videos. I use the instructions found in a book called Handmade Books and Cards, by Jean Kropper. The book seems to be out of print, but I found it in my public library. Some of the written instructions are a little confusing, but it is well-illustrated, and following the diagrams is probably the easiest way to understand the construction of the stitch.
It turns out that the Coptic stitch is considered to be one of the most difficult and advanced hand-stitched binding techniques. I didn’t know this when I decided to use it for my sketchbooks (I might have avoided it if I did); I chose it because I wanted to use a technique that involved only stitching and no adhesives, and I also wanted the pages to open completely flat. As an added benefit, I do like the way the exposed stitching looks on the spine. If you know of another binding method that meets those two criteria, I’d be open to trying something simpler. But so far, this is the only one I know of.
Now that I’ve settled on using 140-pound paper, I think the format I used in this last sketchbook is the one I’ll stick with for a while: three folded sheets per signature, six signatures bound together into a volume, yielding a 72-page sketchbook. Since there’s no show-through at all with 140-pound paper, I sketch on both sides of the page (I always have, even with 100-pound Stillman & Birn paper, though I sometimes regretted it when scanning a page revealed darker lines or paint on the opposite side).