Bookbinding is a craft as old as books themselves. Artists and craftsmen have spent a few hundred years perfecting the craft. Bookbinding is a calming and rewarding process enjoyed by both professionals and hobbyists alike.
The art of bookbinding requires you to invest in a few different tools and raw materials like threads, paper, and bookbinding cloths.
You can find these materials in a wide range of quality and prices, and you want to invest in the best type of materials that can help you create a fine binding.
What is the best type of cloth for bookbinding? Leather, binder’s buckram, Japanese book cloth (linen), cialux, and cotton are the best type of cloth for bookbinding. Consider the desired durability, what colors, if any, you’d like the book to be, and your skill level when choosing the material.
In this article, we will help you understand the characteristics of bookbinding cloths and help you pick the best type of cloth for bookbinding.
How To Choose The Right Book Cloth Material
The textile industry wasn’t always so innovative. Before the 19th century, leather was the prominent material used for book cloths. This material was readily available, and it was, at the time, the strongest, most durable material there was.
Leather is still a beloved material for bookbinding today because it is durable, stain-proof, and waterproof.
As the printing press exploded at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a demand for a cheaper bookbinding material increased. Fabric book cloths became the trend, and the industry started experimenting with different ways to make book cloths as durable and waterproof as leather.
Some of the ways to increase the strength and durability of book cloths were to coat the cloth with starch or line the fabric with paper. Coated or paper-backed book cloths are designed that way so that the glue used in the process of bookbinding won’t seep through the cloth and ruin its appearance.
Alternatively, you can find book cloths that are uncoated that allow you to appreciate the softness of the fabric. Strong and durable materials like linen or rayon can be uncoated.
Let’s take a look at the difference between the different types of book cloths below.
Coated Book Cloths
Coated book cloths usually have a layer of starch coat on the wrong side of the fabric. This layer of starch can affect the thickness and the weight of the book cloth, and the thicker the starch layer, the stiffer the book cloth will be.
Starched back book cloths are usually very durable and easy to keep clean. They are relatively waterproof and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.
Starched-back book cloths are suitable for books that you use daily since the material is highly durable and low maintenance.
Paper-Backed Book Cloths
Paper-backed book cloths are designed to have a layer of paper on the wrong side of the book cloth to increase the material’s thickness and durability.
Depending on the weight of the paper, this design can also make the book cloth relatively stiff and waterproof as well.
One plus side about paper-backed book cloths is that you can totally make your own book cloths at home!
If you decide to do so, make sure to use a tightly woven and non-stretch fabric, which is easy to work with and won’t be distorted during the process. Cotton, linen, or rayon are prime candidates for this.
To turn fabric into book cloths, you only need to reinforce the fabric with tissue paper. You can cut out two identical squares, one from your fabric and one from your tissue paper.
You can also cut the tissue paper to be bigger and trim down the excess water, so you won’t have to fuss around trying to align the two pieces.
Then, use a wheat starch adhesive (or an iron-on adhesive for a quicker application), attach the tissue paper to the wrong side of the fabric. Once you let the adhesive dry or cool down completely, you should have a DIY book cloth that you can use in your craft.
Uncoated Book Cloths
If you want to retain the softness and elegance of beautiful fabrics such as rayon, you can use an uncoated book cloth option. Uncoated book clothes are usually popular with coffee table books or photo books that don’t need to be handled on a daily basis because they won’t be as durable as the other materials.
Non-stretch fabrics that are tightly woven and highly durable can be used as book cloths on their own. If you want to use an uncoated book cloth, we recommend using wheat starch adhesives rather than PVA, which is the type of glue normally used in bookbinding.
Wheat starch won’t stain the fabric even when it seeps through the other side of the fabric, so you have a higher chance of maintaining the fabric’s colors and general look during the bookbinding process.
This way, you can protect the looks of the fabric when you bind your books.
Bookbinding Cloths – Differences And Uses
There are so many different types of cloth that can be used for bookbinding. However, some of them cannot be used for the same purpose. This is because they have different properties and handling strengths.
Depending on how your books will be used, you can find the right material for your book cloth.
If you will use the book regularly or if you have a thick book with a lot of pages, it is best to use a thick, durable, and waterproof book cloth that will maintain its appearance and resist wear and tear.
On the other hand, if a luxurious and elegant look is what you are going for, then using light and uncoated option can give you that great look.
We recommend uncoated book cloths for books that you won’t be reaching for on a regular basis since the protection is much lighter than a coated book cloth.
One way to test whether a fabric is suitable for bookbinding is by testing it out with glue. You can apply the glue onto the fabric and stick it to a piece of cardboard.
If the glue starts to seep through the fabric, staining the color or distorting the shape of the fabric, you will know it’s not the right material for book cloth.
If you are unsure about what type of material to use, it can always be beneficial to make a mockup of your book and test out the book cloth in question.
This step is especially important if you are making several books using the same material – you don’t want to start the bookbinding process only to realize the material is a mistake.
Making a mock-up with a few different materials will help you answer any questions you may have about the materials.
Best Types Of Cloth For Bookbinding
Now that you know some bookbinding basics let’s talk about some of the best types of cloth for bookbinding.
As mentioned above, leather has long been a preferred material for the craft of bookbinding thanks to its superior quality.
Leather can truly withstand the test of time – there are leather-bound books from the 3rd or 4th century that have survived until today thanks to the leather’s protection.
Leather is a hugely popular material in traditional bookbinding partly because it used to be an abundant material, thanks to the popularity of farming and animal husbandry.
When animal leather is properly processed and treated, it is a super sturdy material that can withstand different types of climates and environmental factors.
As you can see, its superior characteristics allow leather to be a popular bookbinding material for centuries.
Leather is a thick and stiff material that doesn’t require any protective coating or backing. It is highly durable and waterproof.
Thanks to its ability to resist stains, it can be easily kept clean. If the leather needs some cleaning, you only need to wipe it down with a damp cloth.
Even better, leather has a distinct look that instantly gives your creations a polished and expensive look that no other material can compare. If you want your creations to look like they came out of a medieval novel, then leather is definitely the right choice.
However, leather can be a bit expensive, especially if you are new to the craft and unsure about your abilities to work with this material. If that’s the case, you can opt for faux leather or vegan leather instead.
Vegan leather looks and feels a lot like genuine leather and can offer some of the same durability and waterproof benefits as real leather. If strength and durability are what you want, faux leather is definitely a worthy option.
We recommend this PU Leather Fabric (Canvas Back), which comes in a wide range of sizes and colors that allow you to customize your book cover.
This is vegan leather, so it is much less expensive than leather, but it will offer you some of the same benefits as leather.
This material is highly durable and waterproof, perfect if you want long-lasting protection for your book, and at the same time, give it a classy, elegant look.
Binder’s buckram is essentially cloth that has been treated to become a well-performing book cloth. You can find binder’s buckram that is made from cotton, rayon, or other materials.
Binder’s buckram is often tightly woven and often paper-backed so that the glue won’t be able to seep from one side of the material to the other.
As a result, most binder’s buckrams are very stiff and difficult to fold during the bookbinding process. However, binder’s buckram is known for its ability to protect books by resisting the wear and tear of everyday use.
One limitation of binder’s buckram is that it doesn’t come in a wide range of designs or colors, so you won’t be able to be very creative with your bookbinding craft. However, if you are just looking for something that does the job well, this is still a great option.
Books By Hand Book Cloth is a great tight-weave binder’s buckram that was designed to withstand wear and tear. It’s very friendly to beginners and hobbyists.
You will find that its construction can help you work with PVA glue and other types of adhesives without any issues.
Japanese Book Cloth (Linen)
Japanese bookbinders often use linen in their crafts. Linen is a beautiful natural material with a distinct texture that can give your books a simple and minimalistic look.
If you want to use linen as a book cloth, make sure to use a tightly woven fabric so that the glue won’t be able to seep through and affect the looks of the fabric.
We also recommend using a wheat starch adhesive instead of PVA glue since a wheat starch adhesive will dry clear and won’t stain the fabric even when it is soaked through the other side of the fabric.
A wheat starch adhesive is also friendlier and more forgiving to beginners.
Linen is known for being a strong and durable material that can be highly flexible, bending its shape to fit the type of book that you have. Conservators love using linen for older books because of these characteristics.
We recommend this 100% natural linen fabric, which is tightly woven linen that can give your book a cottagecore aesthetic.
Since this fabric wasn’t designed specifically for bookbinding, you can take some steps to enhance its stiffness and waterproof ability.
The simplest thing to do would be to back the linen fabric with tissue paper. You can use a wheat starch solution as adhesives, or a store-bought iron-on adhesive would also do the job well.
After the tissue paper is properly attached to the linen, your fabric would now perform well as book cloth.
Cialux is a fancy name for 100% rayon book cloths, a type of book cloth originating in Italy. Rayon is known for its resemblance to silk, but it is much more durable than silk.
It has a glossy, natural finish and a luxurious feel, which gives your book a soft yet vibrant look.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic material made from wood pulp, so it is much more durable than other types of natural materials.
Rayon is known for its water-absorbing abilities, which means it absorbs dyes very well, which means cialux book cloths come in a wide range of color options for you to choose from.
Cialux book cloths often have a viscose paper backing, which gives the book cloth more support and thickness. ƒrayon
On its own, rayon is still a highly durable material that can handle abrasions and other environmental factors, so your books will have a reliable layer of protection from using cialux book cloths.
We recommend this Lineco Black Superior European Book Cloth, which is a tight-weave rayon book cloth backed by acid-free paper. This construction allows the paper to maintain its stiffness and strength, especially when you work with PVA glue.
Cotton is the most popular textile in the world for many reasons. As book cloths, they can be lightweight yet highly durable and strong.
Cotton is often used to make something called library buckram, which is a thick and tightly woven cotton cloth that has been reinforced to protect against water, dirt, and the wear and tear of everyday use.
Since cotton is a highly absorbent type of fabric, it does quite well, which means library buckram can come in a wide range of beautiful colors that would suit your creative needs.
This Book Binding Super Cloth is a loosely-woven cotton cloth that is highly flexible for a soft and natural look. This acid-free material is designed to absorb adhesives without affecting the fabric’s looks and colors, so you can achieve the desired looks for your book.