Thursday, February 7, 2013

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. 

 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. 

 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. 
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 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. Don't choose black. 

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

Click here to see more about this book.

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 or kozo. 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.

I'm still learning about book cloth. If you'd love to share your knowledge or experience using it please  leave a comment.

7 comments:

Dana Staples said...

i have a few questions! forgive me if they are stupid ones, I don't know anything about bookcloth.

You said that all not all bookcloth is backed so is there any reason to specifically buy bookcloth instead of just any regular fabric you like? it seems like most bookcloth comes in solid colors and you have a lot more options/designs with regular fabric. I've made a couple fabric covered books and used heat and bond but no tissue paper. Why is the tissue paper necessary? won't the heat and bond alone prevent the glue from seeping through? and when you say tissue paper can i just use leftover from Christmas or do I have to buy specific washi paper? how do you keep your edges (particularly on endpapers) from fraying when using regular fabric?
and where do you recommend buying wheat paste?

one more, does the japanese bookcloth usually come backed?

sorry so many questions!

Karleigh Heywood said...

Dana,

Great questions, here some answers!

Q: Is there any reason to specifically buy bookcloth instead of just any regular fabric you like?

A: Book cloth is made for books. Most book cloth has been treated to resist dirt, oils and moisture. It's far more durable than the typical quilting cotton fabric. If you want something to last a long time, then keeping it as archival and durable as you can is well recommended.

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Q: It seems like most bookcloth comes in solid colors and you have a lot more options/designs with regular fabric.

A: I know. And you can still use the fun print fabric from your local fabric shop but it will not have such a long life as the cloth that's made for bookbinding. You could always make your own prints on top of the book cloth (screen print or stamped) or make it fancy with gold tooling and lettering. If doing this option, I recommend trying out a small portion because each type of book cloth will react differently to inks and your process.

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Q: I've made a couple fabric covered books and used heat and bond but no tissue paper. Why is the tissue paper necessary? won't the heat and bond alone prevent the glue from seeping through?

A: The heat n' bond does not play nice with PVA. They'll sit on top of each other in layers and could easily be pulled apart which makes for air bubbles in your cover years down the line. If you are going the heat n' bond route, I recommend that layer of paper between the PVA and the Heat n'bond. It will give both glues something to stick and truly bond with, making your fabric more likely to stay put on the board.

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Q: When you say tissue paper can i just use leftover from Christmas or do I have to buy specific washi paper?

A: Heat n' bond is probably not archival. But still, we do know that the tissue paper leftover from Christmas is. Probably highly acidic. So I would not recommend adding that to your books. Also, washi is much stronger and would bond better to the glues and has been made to use in projects like bookbinding. You can buy local Dana, at Provo Art & Frame. They have washi and you get a discount for taking my class, just ask at the counter. Washi is not an expensive paper.

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Q: How do you keep your edges (particularly on endpapers) from fraying when using regular fabric?

A: Wheat paste. Just a thin line along the edge of it. You could also try Fray Check from your local quilting shop. It stops the fray on fabric and ribbons.

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Q: Where do you recommend buying wheat paste?

A: You can find recipes online for wheat paste but make sure they are coming from a bookbinder who is concerned about archivalness. Wheat paste that is made for wall paper is highly acidic and will eat away at your books really fast, and create a lovely meal for insects and rodents. Gross, but true.

I recommend talasonline.com or hollanders.com for wheat paste that's been made for bookbinding.
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Q: One more, does the japanese bookcloth usually come backed?

A: All the Japanese bookcloth I have purchased has come backed. When buying it in person, you'll know by looking at it but, if you are buying bookcloth online and don't know by the description if it is backed or not, I would suggest calling the store and asking a sales associate.

Dana Staples said...

thank you so much for taking the time to answer those! it will be very helpful

Lizzie said...

Hi Daniel and Karleigh-Jae! Just reading through some of your great Bookbinding 101 posts... and I spotted this Bookcloth post.

Just something to add, in reply to the "Why not just use regular fabric?" query.
Fabric is stretchy. If you pull it at an angle to the weave, it will stretch a lot. This makes it tricky to attach to the book covers, without it stretching and getting saggy or puckered. The backing paper gives it support and stops it being so stretchy. Bookcloth does, in effect, behave much more like paper, while still having the look of the fabrics you love.

And I use the "lazy" heat-and-bond method for bookcloths - it always works well, though I'm aware that the adhesive may well not be archival. It does work very well for finer fabrics - such as silks or cotton lawn - which would go rather stiff when made wet with paste. I would hope my bookcloth will last for a good many years, even if not truly archival... But I would not recommend "Heat & Bond" for any very special projects!

Thanks for these wonderful 101 posts - they are so helpful and informative!

State of the Art said...

I've been making my own books for several years, just using fabric backed with Heat n' Bond Ultra, no paper backing. So far it has worked beautifully and adheres very well to the book-board, no problems. I've avoided using glues because of the mess it makes in my cramped work-space... but I will try some paper-backed fabric and see if it makes a critical difference. Thanks for your information!

Margy

danielle p said...

Hi again, - I'm loving this site!

If we buy some book cloth, and want to decorate it- you mentioned stamping. Is there a specific ink i need to use? or a specific method of stamping? I have some scrapbooking ink - i stamped my wedding invitations with - could i use that?

Thanks again!

Fluores said...

Hi. This site has been amazingly helpful. This is probably a first for you, but i'm not actually looking to make a book (yet) I'm looking to make a legit diy makeup palette (z palette). I'm trying my best to learn the basics of making book covers for this and to do it right with bookbinding techniques like a factory would. So i'm trying to find something to cover the board of the palette that is water resistant, smooth and can be wiped clean with water etc. I'm not sure what would be best for that. I'm looking for something cheap. As an end step or if it's not waterproof, could I paint it with a gloss varnish or spray it? Maybe even glossy modpodge?