What is Bookcloth and How to Make Your Own

A couple of years back I was wondering how the book covers with a textile cover were made. It took me quite some time to figure that out (back in the day the internet was brand new and you couldn´t find too much information on there). Eventually, though I found a bookbinding shop in my city. The store owner was kind enough to explain to me how these textile backs were done and she introduced me to book cloth.

Bookcloth or bookbinding cloth is a bookbinding material, that is used to create a textile style cover. Book cloth is usually woven cotton or a similar kind of fabric that has a paper or plastic backing that protects the fabric from any adhesives that may be used to glue it to the cover of the book or other surfaces.

You can buy commercial bookcloth in a huge variety of different colors, patterns, and textile types. But no matter the pattern or fabric the bookcloth will always have protective backing in the form of a paper or a plastic backing.

The protective backing makes it possible to glue the fabric to almost any surface without damaging or altering the fabric on the other side in any way.

This is extremely important because you will use a lot of glue when you are binding a book. And you will need a lot of glue in order to permanently and securely glue the bookcloth to your book cover or your board. Well actually you don´t need a lot of glue but you have to evenly spread the glue.

You can use regular bookbinding glue to glue bookcloth, so you don´t need to get any extra glue, which is very convenient.

If the book cloth is of high quality then you could even dye it or you can paint the fabric with some fabric paint if you want to personalize it further. There really is a lot, that you can do with bookcloth and it isn´t all that expensive either.

You can create your own book cloth (more on that further down) or you can buy commercial book cloth.

You can find a huge variety of high-quality book cloth right here on the Blick art store or in your local crafts store.

How to Make Your Own Bookcloth

If you don´t find a pattern or color of bookcloth, that you like, then you can simply make your own bookcloth. It´s quite easy too. I know a lot of bookbinders, that regularly make their own bookcloth because they don´t have the right size or color avaleable or the have to create a bookcover with the color of the company. So I was able to take a look over the shoulder of a bookbinder to see first hand how they make their own bookbinding cloth.

First off, here are all the materials and tools, that you will need in order to make your own bookcloth:

  • 100% cotton fabric of your choice
  • Wheat starch or, if you want the easy method, iron-on adhesive like HeatnBond
  • Iron if you are going with the iron-on adhecive

And that is really all you need!

When you are picking your fabric then make sure that the fabric is not synthetic. The best kind of fabric and the one I personally recommend is 100% cotton.

The color, pattern, and thickness of the fabric do not really matter. So simply pick a fabric, that you like!

We also need a way to create that protective layer on one side of the fabric. There are two main methods, that you can use to create that protective layer.

The first, and probably the most commonly used method, is using an iron-on adhesive like HeatnBond (you can get it here on the Blick art shop). This is the easiest method and it works really well but this is not the method most bookbinders use.

The second method is using wheat starch to create a paste, that is applied to the fabric. The paste will dry and create a very strong bond with the fabric. This is the way most bookbinders create their bookbinding cloth. This method, however, is not as fast and easy to do than the iron-on method.

How to Make Bookcloth with Iron-on Adhesive

For this method, all you need is the fabric of your choice, iron-on adhesive like HeatnBond, and an iron.

Lay your fabric flat down on a table with the backside facing up. If your fabric does not have a backside simply chose the side, that you don´t want to be visible.

You can find in-depth instructions on your HeatnBond package. Set the iron at the temperature that is written in the instructions and carefully iron the adhesive on your fabric.

Let it all cool down and your bookcloth is done. It´s as easy as that. Now all you have to do is pull off the paper backing from the HeatnBond and iron the fabric to the book cover or board.

You don´t even need any additional glue when using this method.

How to Make Bookcloth with Wheat Starch

This is the method, that I learned from the bookbinder pros and, as far as I can tell, this is also the preferred method most bookbinders like to use.

For this method, you will need wheat starch, the cloth of your choosing, some tapwater, access to a kitchen, and some kitchen utensils.

I actually found a guide online, that explains very well how to make your bookcloth yourself. It is very in-depth with a lot of very well put together pictures. You can simply follow her approach and you will be fine. It is actually almost the exact process, that I learned from the bookbinder pros.

So if you want a more in-depth guide on how to create a bookcloth with a self-made mixture, then her article is the best way to go.

I will only go over the very basics of this method.

So to make this mixture all you have to do is mix one part of wheat starch and five parts of water together in a pot. Let the mixture sit for about 40 minutes. Then simply stir the mixture on low heat for about 40 minutes until the mixture has the consistency of thick white syrup.

The mixture will have a wax-like consistency once it is completely cooled down.

Now you can mix the “wax” with some water to get a glue-like consistency. Simply apply the mixture to one side of your fabric as evenly as possible and press the mixture flat with some parchment paper or baking paper. You can also use a piece of wood or a ruler to evenly spread the mixture on the fabric.

You don´t need to apply a lot of the mixture. A thin layer will be more that enough.

Simply leave the fabric to dry for a few hours, once you are done with applying the mixture. It will take a couple of hours until everything is completely dry.

Don´t worry if the paper starts to curve in or it if gets a few small wrinkles. You can get rid of them when you glue to paper to the book cover or to a board.

And with that, you are done. You have made your very own bookcloth! Now you can glue it to your bookcover or to a board.