In Brother Hugo and the Bear (which you can enter to win between now and midnight tonight), medievalist Katy Beebe walks young readers through the painstaking process of book making in the Middle Ages. If they’re eager to try it for themselves — and we’re guessing they will be — try this slightly simplified process for creating your own hand-sewn codices.

Brother Hugo and the Bear [cover] Book_79


  • Glue (spray glue or white (Elmer’s) glue)
  • Hot glue gun & glue sticksBook_01
  • 22 sheets of 8½ x 11 Paper (white printer paper works just fine.)
  • Ruler
  • Large (darning) needle
  • Pencil
  • String
  • Sturdy piece of flat Styrofoam
  • Sturdy paper towel
  • Cardboard or foam board
  • Fabric (for the cover)
  • Scissors
  • 2 large binder clips

Step 1: Separate 20 sheets of paper into stacks of 5. Then fold each stack of 5 sheets in half along the long edge of the paper. You will then have 4 folded unbound booklets of paper that are 5½ x 8½ inches. These booklets are referred to as signatures.

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Step 2: Now take one of the signatures and measure in about ¼ inch along the folded edge in at least 2 separate spots and make a mark with a pencil at each spot. Use your ruler and a pencil and draw a line parallel with the folded edge. The line should be ¼ inch away from the folded edge.

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Step 3: Align your ruler with the line you just drew and make a mark along the line at 1 11/16″, 3 3/8″, 5 5/16″, and 6 ¾”. Lay the marked signature on a piece of flat sturdy Styrofoam.


Step 4: Align your needle (or another sharp tool) with the marks you made and stab it through the paper.


Step 5: After you have all the holes in your first signature, lay it on top of another signature. Use two binder clips to hold the signatures together. Press the tip of your pencil through the holes on the first signature to make a mark on the second signature. (This will ensure that all of the holes on each of the signatures line up with each other.) Now remove the clips and the first signature and use your needle to make holes at each mark in the second signature. Repeat this process until all signatures have holes in them.

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Step 6: Stack the signatures on top of each other so that the holes line up. Use binder clips to hold all the signatures in place. Thread your large needle with sturdy string and knot the end. (Make sure the string is not too bulky, because it needs to fit through the holes on your signatures.) Now thread the string part of the way through one of the end holes of your stack of signatures. Before pulling the string tight, grab the end with the knot in it and thread the needle back through the string to hold the string firmly in place. Pull the string so that the knot and the string are aligned with the hole; then thread it over the bottom edge of the stack of signatures and back up through the same hole again.

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Step 7: Thread the needle through the next hole, then back again through the original hole.

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Step 8: Thread the needle back through the second hole, then around the side and back up through the second hole. (This will make a little loop along the edge of the book.) Repeat this process for the last two holes.

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Step 9: After the fourth hole, use the needle to wrap the string around the bottom edge of the stack of signatures. Then tie the end of the string into a knot to secure it in place and cut off any excess string.

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Step 10: Cut two 5¾ x 9 inch pieces of cardboard. These will be the front and back covers of your book. Next, cut a piece of cardboard measuring ¼ x 9 inches. This will be the spine of the book.

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Step 11: Cut a piece of fabric measuring 14 x 11 inches.

Step 12: Apply spray glue or white school (Elmer’s) glue to the back side of the fabric. (I recommend school glue, applied with a paintbrush, for younger crafters, since spray glue can be messy.)


Step 13: Place the cardboard covers parallel to each other on the gluey fabric, leaving a small space between each piece (to help the book open and close more easily) and a 1 inch margin of fabric around the edge. Use a ruler to ensure that the spacing is even and the edges align. Adjust pieces as needed. Once you have everything the way you want it, use scissors and cut off any excess material more than 1 inch away from the edges of the cardboard.

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Step 14: Place glue around the edges of the fabric and fold it over the edges of the cardboard. When you come to the corners, pinch the fabric together, then grab the edges and pull the fabric apart slightly to create a square. Fold the edges of the square under to create a shape that looks like a diamond with a skinny bottom and a fat top or a kite. (This is not an essential step, but it will make the edges look better.)

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Step 15: Cut a piece of thin fabric or study paper towel measuring 1 to 2 inches wide and about 7 inches long. Use hot glue to adhere it along the folded edge of your stack of signatures. Then use white glue to attach the edges of the fabric to the front and back of the stack of signatures. This will add stability to the binding of the book.

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Step 16: Apply a strip of hot glue to the piece of cardboard that will be the spine of the book or to the edge of the bound signatures. Then press the bound stack of signatures into the hot glue. Add extra hot glue along teach side if you think it needs more support.

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Step 17: Fold 2 pieces of 8½ x 11 inch paper in half (like you did with the signatures). These will be your endpapers. Paint the inside of one cover with white glue, and press one half of a folded endpaper into the glue, smoothing it flat with your hand. Then paint glue along the edge of the signatures and press to attach the opposite side of the paper to the signatures. Reopen the book, pull the just glued page open up to the glue line, and fold the page back on itself. Then flip the book over and repeat on the second side with the last piece of paper.

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Step 18: Let the book dry. When the glue has hardened, you will have an attractive handmade book to do with as you wish.

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