These instructions can be downloaded Caterpillar Stitch   (2MB)

This stitch is from Keith Smith’s book Non-Adhesive Binding, Volume 3 which has a number of innovative exposed spine sewings.

His detailed instructions for the caterpillar stitch need concentration; we have broken the stitch down into parts so that this version needs much less dedication. It was been tested at a Guild evening workshop with 26 people stitching a caterpillar in around an hour. Participants used pre-drilled cards A technique for finishing the tail is included.

It took some time to understand how to get the legs to stand out from the body rather than remain slanted and close to the body. To ensure the legs stand, out you need to wrap down on the leg threads (rather than at where they come off the body) thus forcing them to splay.

Start with long threads as the stitch uses a great deal of thread. To ensure that you make the most of the thread it is worth using a weaver’s knot when joining. The beauty of using this knot is that you can manage if one of the threads is very short.

Once you have mastered the basic stitch, moving on to incorporate it across a book spine is really simple.

Assuming that you have sewn your exposed spine book together (top and bottom) and wish to embellish it with caterpillar stitch across the centre you don’t need to go into every section – go into the first and last and about every third section – there are no strict rules. If you have Keith Smith’s book it is worth looking at the cover critically to see how he has done it. If not find a website which has a book using the stitch and examine it or use the Penland Book of Handmade Books (p 17) which has Daniel Essig’s caterpillar book showing his spine treatment.

You can also use caterpillar stitch exclusively to sew an exposed spine book together.

When going from the cover to the spine don’t do the stitch too tightly – the covers won’t close (bitter experience?).
Until you get confident the stitch works well as decoration on the lid of handmade box.

A curved caterpillar is much more difficult because you need to account for the way the legs will fall round the curves.

Happy sewing!!