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Bookbinding 101: Book Cloth

Let's be honest. 

The first time I was told to pick out a book cloth to bind a book, I thought, Why would anyone want their handmade book to look like it came from a public library? 

That was back when I had a limited knowledge of book cloth. 

Let's be honest again. 

I still don't know very much about book cloth. However, I have come to appreciate it a bit more since my first experience in binding with it several years ago.  Here's my limited knowledge for you:

 

1  Library book cloth is often called Library Buckram. It's a very heavy cotton cloth that has been treated to resist dirt, water, oils and wear. It's thick and sometimes comes shiny. I have a sheet of burgundy library buckram and it sort of feels plasticky. Buckram can still be beautiful. When it is not (and if you ask me, it usually isn't), it is pretty much because it doesn't care to be, as its first purpose is to protect. But still, it can have its moments of beauty. 

 

2  I like working with book cloth that has been backed with paper. You can buy starched bookcloth without the paperback. However, it's nice to have the paper backing on it so you don't have to worry about any glue coming through the fabric. If you buy a starched, nonpaper backed piece of book cloth, I recommend using wheat paste with it instead of PVA. The wheat paste won't (it could, but most likely won't) stain the fabric like PVA would if it happens to soak through. 

 

3  I love Japanese Book Cloth. Especially the natural linen. It's not actually natural linen, they just call it that. The "natural linen" Japanese book cloth is actually Rayon. It looks like linen and is very similar to its natural cousin but it's really a synthetic rayon. The cover on the right in the photo shows the Natural Linen Japanese Book Cloth in action. It's beautiful and simple and I absolutely adore the texture and feel. It's expensive, but I feel like it is totally worth its price. 

 

Covers made by Amy Spencer at our Los Angeles Book Arts Workshop, May 2012, during the Raised and Inset Designs class.  Left board is lambskin and the right board is Natural Linen Japanese Book Cloth. 

Covers made by Amy Spencer at our Los Angeles Book Arts Workshop, May 2012, during the Raised and Inset Designs class. 
Left board is lambskin and the right board is Natural Linen Japanese Book Cloth. 

 

4  I also like Italian Book Cloth (Cialux). It's backed and comes in a variety of beautiful colors.

 

5  We had a custom order for a couple of silk covered books. We used silk duponi, which we first backed with paper as discussed in point eight below. The idea behind using this silk for the cover was that it would look old and worn by the time the artist was finished drawing in the book because the silk would wear very quickly. I wish I had "after" photos of these, but here are the "before" photos: 

 

Silk used as book cloth

Silk used as book cloth

Silk used as book cloth

Silk used as book cloth

Silk won't hold up on books very well, but for its purpose with these, I'm sure it did its job wonderfully, aging the covers quickly.

 

6  Black book cloth is very difficult to work with and keep nice. It shows everything. So if you are picking out book cloth for the first time we recommend you don't choose black, at least not until you gain some experience. 

 

7  Did I mention I love Japanese Book Cloth? Here's another example:

 

8 You can make your own bookcloth. There are two ways. One is more traditional, and you can make it at archival pH levels so as to make your books last longer. This way involves using wheat paste, pasting the fabric onto washi paper or kozo paper. The other way is to use Heat n' Bond or Wonder Under, first ironing it to the fabric, then ironing the now glue backed fabric to washi or another type of thin paper. Kristin Crane has a how-to-make-bookcloth tutorial. Worth a look if you have a fabric you'd love to use to cover your book.