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Bookbinding 101: Needles

We use two kinds of needles, straight and curved (we'll teach you how to make your own curved later in this post). Which one we use depends on the book structure we're working on. Curved needles work very well when sewing a coptic stitch, while a straight needle works great on a long stitch. You can make either book with either kind of needle, but we find it much easier using curved for coptic, which we find also allows for the binding to be tighter, and we find it less awkward to use straight needles on something like a longstitch.

The curve allows you to "hook" around as you are sewing. The photo at right should get the idea across.

Curved needles are pricier in the U.S. than are straight needles, at least as far as we've found. However, for those in the U.K., Shepherds Falkiners sells straight and curved for the same price. Not sure what the sizing numbers mean over at Shepherds, but in the U.S. we use the darning #1, which we use for sewing 3-ply (3 cord) linen thread and as thick as 6-ply. In the U.S., both straight and curved needles are available at Hollanders andTalas.

You can also make your own curved needles out of straight ones.

To make your own curved needles, you just need a candle, and two needle nose pliers. 

Holding the needle with pliers on both ends, bend it ever so slightly as the needle starts to heat up. It only takes a few seconds.

An angle that is slightly larger than 90 degrees works well. Remember that the needle will be hot, so place it on a heat-resistant surface to cool down once you've bent it to the angle you'd like.

The needle will have soot on it so remember to clean it off with soap and water before using it to sew your nice clean pages.

A little trick to help in pulling the needle and thread through a tight hole is to grab the needle with a balloon. We keep a bag of water balloons on hand for just that purpose. That's unfilled water balloons, in case you were wondering (you never know). You may also find it useful to use a pair of small needle nose to pull the needle through.