DIY book cloth

I had about 4 million yards of book cloth I wanted to make, so I thought I’d snap some photos and explain just how to make it… Or at least, how I make it.

Book cloth is the nice textured fabric material you see on lots of hard cover books. You can make your own with some wheat paste, some mulberry paper, and an iron (among other things which I will get into in a sec). Making your own book cloth is awesome because you can make any natural fiber  fabric into book cloth. DIY book cloth is also awesome because commercial book cloth is crazy expensive and you can make so much for very little money.

Making book cloth takes a bit of time (depending on how much your looking to make), is a bit messy and can be slightly frustrating. Despite all this, I find it well worth my time and once you get into the groove time just flies on by and all of the sudden you’re like “whoa, check out all this totally sweet, one of a kind book cloth I just made.”

You’ll need a few things to get started:

  • wheat flour
  • water
  • double-boiler (you can just rig one up with a big vessel to hold water and something to sit inside on top of the water)
  • mulberry paper
  • brush
  • newspaper
  • iron
  • towel
  • brayer

First you’ll have to whip up the wheat paste. I hear wheat starch makes a more archival paste, but I think wheat starch is a bit hard to find.  Wheat paste is works like a dream though and is still pretty archival as far as I know.

I made 2 cups -ish initially which was ridiculous because I ended up needing 4 times that.. :/  Thats a pretty fair amount though, so I’ll stick with that recipe. First heat up your double boiler and get ready 2 cups warm water and 1/2 cup  of wheat flour.

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Put that 1/2 cup of flour in the top part of your double boiler and add about half a cup of water. Using a whisk break up the flour and mix it together until its smooth. Sifting the flour before you add the water usually works best, but I don’t have a sifter.

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Stir in the rest of the water to the flour/water mix when the boiler starts boiling, place it over the water and stir pretty regularly with a spoon.

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Eventually it will start to thicken up and you can pull it off the boiler when it starts to stick to the sides like in the picture. When it cools, it gets a little thicker too, so keep that in mind.

And your done! Making the wheat paste…

For the book cloth you’ll need the fabric you want to use,  mulberry paper*, an iron, some newspaper, a towel, a brush, a brayer and all that fresh wheat paste you just made.

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You’ll want to pre-cut all the fabric your using sized to pieces of mulberry paper first. If the fabric is odd sized, or even if not, it’s good to trace the fabric on the mulberry paper. It will save you from glueing more than you need to.

With it laid in front of you, gently pull up half the fabric and fold it over the other half. Starting from the middle, lay the glue down horizontally with your brush all the way to bottom corners of where the fabric will be. Try to avoid bubbles on the mulberry paper but don’t freak out if you get them.

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Lay the fabric down over the glued part gently. Smooth from the middle down and out to the sides with your hands and/or a brayer.

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Now do the same thing to the other side.

Flip the cloth and mulberry paper over so the mulberry paper side is up, on top of a towel.

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Use a pretty big piece of newspaper to cover the parts you are ironing. I usually turn my iron to maximum heat and make sure there is no moisture in the little spray/steam nozzles on some irons.

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When the paper turns opaque white you know it’s dry.

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When I’ve dried the majority of the back I usually flip it over and iron the front as well. Don’t worry if it’s a bit crinkly. When you glue it onto binder’s board it will flatten out (but only if its crinkly due to thin fabric and not if there are air bubbles between the fabric and paper… I’m afraid you’re stuck with those.)

And voila! Book cloth.

Here’s all the cloth I made!

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*note on mulberry paper..

I’ve heard ‘mulberry’ paper used interchangeably with ‘rice’ paper but I believe they are different. Mulberry paper is made from the bark fibers of a paper mulberry tree but I have read of some mulberry papers being made from rice straw…? Mulberry paper is what you’re after for this project, although I’m going to do a bit more paper research and get back to this…

Author: mulemotherbooks

I own and operate Mule Mother Books- an independent bookbindery specializing in handmade multi purpose books that make life a little more organized. In addition I also do limited edition custom publishing, teach book making workshops and do book repair in my home studio in the North End of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Aside from my full time bookbinding gig, I am a full time momma and part time house cleaner, and as if all this did not keep my busy enough, I also love some good ole home fermentation, making art, diddling stringed instruments and singing a tune... Once upon a time I trained as a jazz vocalist and still thoroughly enjoy busting out my pipes from time to time when the spirit moves me.

3 thoughts on “DIY book cloth”

  1. Hello! Love this tutorial and can’t wait to give it a try! Wondering can one make “wheat” paste with other kinds of flours? I’m gluten free and though I realize I won’t be consuming the book paper, I’d really prefer to keep gluten out if my space as cross contamination is an issue plus I don’t know about skin absorption. :/

    Cheers!

    1. So glad you enjoy! Thanks a million… I totally understand, since you’d likely be using your cook ware to make the wheat paste, probably best to use something else…So there is something called rice starch you can use but I’m not sure where to buy it other than at an art supply store/ online shop and it’ll cost you a bit. There must be a grocer that carries it, if I hear of it I’ll let you know. I’m pretty sure the process is very similar to make the rice paste, I have a wee bottle and have experimented with it in the past. Will keep you posted if I hear of a better source for the starch!

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