Cutting the Red Tape – How to Sew a Legal Document

The term ‘cutting the red tape’ is believed to have derived from the works of Charles Dickens; an international campaign in February marked the bicentenary of the writer’s birth.

The expression relates to avoiding bureaucratic barriers to fulfilling an objective and is often applied to government, corporations or other large organisations. It also refers to tape that is in fact now pink in colour (originally the red faded to pink over time, and therefore, probably to save money, it was later manufactured in pink!) which is used to tie up bundles of official papers. Pink tape is still in use today in legal circles. Such tape is strong, cotton-like material which has been dyed.

You will come across this tape in a variety of situations. For example, pink tape is used to tie up bundles of legal papers for sending papers to Counsel, green tape is used to sew up other documents, and black is/was used for wills and probate papers.

Legal firms have different preferences as to contemporary documents and deeds. In the Legal Secretary Diploma course, you are given instructions on how to set out a backsheet for a legal document. The methods of binding such documents are varied; some use a small corner of card with their firm’s name and logo printed on it where one staple suffices, and others prefer to bind their deeds using a binding machine. Types of binding machines also vary, such as a thermal binding machine which uses pre-glued spines. You apply the paper into the pre-glued spine and place it in the preheated holding tray on the machine. The machine heats the glue up. After the glue cools off, you have a well-bound document. Another option is a comb binding machine which first punches the holes for the paper; then you place a binding comb on the machine and pull a handle which opens the combs up for you so that you can place the comb through the holes and close the plastic comb.

However, some deeds must still be bound using the old-fashioned method of sewing the document together. Here are step-by-step instructions to assist you in sewing together a legal document:

  1. You need to create five punched holes approximately 2 centimetres away from the left-hand edge of the document with equal spaces between them. The top and bottom holes should also be about 3 centimetres away from the top/bottom of the page, and one hole should be in the middle when measured vertically. Some firms have a single hole punch whilst others use the traditional method of a bodkin with eye. This looks similar to a screwdriver but has a sharp, needle-like point and pierces documents quickly and neatly.
  2. You can now start sewing your document. In order to do this, you will need proper sewing tape and a large needle. You should follow these steps in order:
  • Start by placing the ribbon through the middle hole from the front of the document to the back.  Ensure that you leave a good amount to tie in a bow once the sewing is finished (about 5 cm).
  • Your needle should now be at the back of the document. You will need to loop the ribbon around the hole by sewing from front to back. Your needle should end up on the back side of the document.
  • Then place the ribbon through the next hole up from back to front and repeat the looping action. Your needle should now be at the front of the document.
  • Thread the needle from front to back through the top hole and repeat the looping action. Your needle should now be at the back of the document in the top hole.
  • Thread the needle through the second hole from the top, then through the middle hole, without creating any more loops.
  • Next, place the needle through the fourth hole (next one down from the middle) from back to front and repeat the loping action. Your needle should be at the front of the document.
  • Place the needle through the fifth (bottom) hole from the front of the document to the back and repeat the looping action. Your needle should now be on the back of the document.
  • Place the needle through the back of the fourth hole, resulting in your needle being at the front of the document.
    You can now tie the two ends of ribbon together in a bow.

When I first came to the law, sewing up documents was one of the first things I was taught by the legal executive I worked alongside, and perhaps one day you will be passing on these skills too.