An Illustrated Guide to Butterfly Stitch
By Maia Balint, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies, specialising in Books and Library Materials
Learning bookbinding techniques is an important aspect of training as a book conservator. Knowing how different structures and decorative techniques were achieved helps a conservator to understand the object they are looking at and to make decisions about how best to conserve it. Sewing techniques are one of my favourite things to learn, so I was very excited when a visiting instructor, John Mumford, introduced us to Butterfly Stitch.
Butterfly Stitch is a modification of all-along sewing - one of the most basic patterns for sewing multi-sectional textblocks - in which the stitches are gathered together every three to four sections. This results in little bundles of stitches, resembling butterflies, along the spine. Textblock sewing can be supported or unsupported. In supported sewing, the thread is secured to another material (such as lengths of cord or tapes) that connects the sections; in unsupported sewing, only the thread connects the sections. Butterfly Stitch is typically supported on flat, textile tapes and each tape corresponds to a sewing position.
Finally, a note on changeover positions: there are a variety of different techniques for moving from one section to the next. In a sense, changeover techniques are independent from sewing styles as they can be used interchangeably with many different sewing patterns. For Butterfly Stitch, John taught us to use a full-loop changeover stitch. In this guide, I have included close-up diagrams for few different changeover techniques, including John’s full-loop changeover stitch. However, for the sake of clarity, I have used the simplest changeover technique - the span stitch - in larger illustrations.