The Eyes Have It

  • The Eyes Have It

What makes a needle suitable for bookbinding…well it’s mostly about the eye.  Fabrics are quite flexible so the material can be pushed around.  If you look closely at the eye of a regular sewing needle (right), you will see that in the area around the eye the forming of the hole creates a swell to the diameter.  Leather and especially paper are less forgiving at being pushed around.  Needles designed for leather work and bookbinding (left) have eyes specially formed to reduce the swell.  This allows them to pass through the stiffer material with less resistance.


Bookbinder and Saddle Harness needles are the same needle except that the Saddle Harness needle has a blunt point. Because in leatherwork holes are usually formed prior to the sewing, the blunt point will follow the pre-formed hole.  As most bookbinders use awls to pre-form the sewing stations, they should consider using a blunt needle so a new hole isn’t accidently created, which could be the case with a sharp point.  The other advantages include the reduced likelihood of piercing any existing thread and the horrible possibility of blood on the book.


As with threads, the larger the needle number the smaller the diameter.  The #18 (aka 1/0) is probably the most common diameter, which is suitable for threads in the 18/3 to 30/3 range.  The #16 or #15 are suitable for cord-like threads.


The Darner needle, with its long length and sharp point, is very useful when sewing endbands where a long reach into the gutter of the book is required. 


Curved or bent needles are especially handy when sewing Coptic and such books where you required to loop the thread around previous sewings or sewing supports.