Making Book Cloth

Book cloth making time! I first did a few sheets following the directions I learned a long time ago from a book, using rice starch paste. Then I experimented a bit.

[Please be patient and try not to get confused, since I took pictures at various times when I was doing different cloths. We might jump around from florals to squirrels without notice.]

First, you need a smooth flat surface to work on. I’ve saved my old worn-out cutting mats and use the back sides of those. Spritz the cloth with water–get it good and damp. Smooth it out with the right side of the fabric facing down:

On a piece of scrap paper (here, newsprint), brush an even layer of paste onto the backing paper, which should be just a bit larger than your piece of cloth. Always brush from the center out to the edges and be sure not to miss any spots. I’m using basic Japanese kozo:
Smooth backing paper, paste side down, over the fabric:
Using a dry brush helps smooth the paper:
As does using a rolled up towel to tamp down the paper onto the fabric. This also, especially, helps create a better bond between fabric and paper:
I also use another method to smooth down the paper onto the fabric, but almost hesitate mentioning it. This could potentially stretch your fabric and push too much glue onto the side of the fabric you don’t want it on. That said, carefully using a roller (going, as you always should, from center outward towards the edges) will give you incredibly smooth and well-bonded book cloth (for some fabrics, you might not even want it that smooth):
The original method I was taught was that one should now carefully turn and smooth the book cloth over onto a new, clean surface, right-side up, then paste around the edges to hold it down flat as it dries:
From recent experience, I can report that this is also an excellent way to drop your wet, newly-made cloth and ruin it. (I did not take a pic for posterity.)
So what I started to do was just leave the cloths in place–don’t 
touch!–right-side down to dry, without an extra turning step. (Do you know why we are supposed to turn over the cloth? Does not turning increase the likelihood of paste getting onto the side of the fabric you don’t want it on?) Regardless, I’ve found that, at least for the dropping-prone, the leave it alone method works:
When dry, peel it off, trim off the extra paper edging and voilà–book cloth:

15 thoughts on “Making Book Cloth”

  1. Great! I hope it helps. I've also used fusible web from the fabric store, rather than paste. Less messy–and less risk of damaging the front of your cloth–but I've also had problems with uneven fusing–little pockets where the paper and fabric didn't stick (due to my poor ironing technique?). I also find myself trusting the archival qualities of paste more than a fabric store product like "Heat 'n Bond" (although I've heard it claimed that it is actually archival.) Whatever you do, I recommend starting with fabric you don't care about too much. I think it's one of those things that improves with practice…

    Btw, ironically after your comment about Blogger glitches on your blog, I had a heck of a time getting signed in to this blog to leave this comment! The sign-in page it offered just didn't work. I wound up having to go to another Google page to sign in. Definitely weird things going on with the Big G.

  2. Here's one who does the turn-over step, taking the risk to make room on my table to do another piece. I'm usually pasting the paperbacked fabric to every smooth surface in the house (door panels are my favorite *lol*) to dry.

  3. Ah yes, the clear the worktable thing would be a problem. I've destroyed enough cutting mats over the years, and work so slowly, that I have enough. I just pick up the whole thing and proceed to pile damp cutting mats on top of whatever is still sort of level enough in the room. Maybe one day I'll get fancy and invest in a few pieces of plexiglass too. Doors… now there's a good one…

  4. My three attempts at making book cloth have all failed miserably so far! I've tried using paste, PVA and watered down PVA on both fresh and laundered cloth. Both turning and leaving to dry as is. It always peels off!! Aghh! But I didn't do the towel padding thing, so maybe fourth time lucky??

  5. Hi Sarah. Nice to hear from you. The first couple of times I tried book cloth it didn't work for me either. Same problem–it just peeled off. The key, I believe, is that you have to do some kind of step to make sure the paste physically really bonds with the fabric. Just spreading the paper over the cloth and smoothing with your hands isn't enough. The book I got the instructions from recommends the tamping with the rolled up towels (which, you can't see in the picture, are being held rolled up with rubber bands–the towels are about the size of wash cloths [flannels?]). The roller is great too. I made a piece the other day that, finally, was really the way I wanted it–no sign of any paste anywhere on the front, very smooth, and very well-bonded. It was done with the roller. I do think it's one of those things that requires some practice and experimenting until you find what works for you.

    Just to note, for those who try the roller, you will get some water pushed out the sides as you go. Just blot it up with a towel. And do be gentle to avoid stretching the fabric or pushing on the paste so much that any of it winds up showing on the front.

    For what it's worth, I think I'd stick with paste rather than a PVA mixture, just based on the instructions I've come across over the years.

  6. Looks good! Do you like to work with the dry brush? I found that I rip the backing paper too easily this way, and use a combination of a roller, my fingers, and a piece of dry cloth.

    I never turn my fabrics. I have a couple of plasticky finished boards (salvaged from an old closet) which I use one after the other as working surface, and then stand them up along the walls to let them dry.

  7. Thanks Buechertiger. I'm finding this so interesting, everyone's take on book cloth. I sometimes skip the dry brush. The one I was using was pretty soft (it's actually meant for cooking!), so maybe that's why it didn't tear the paper…or maybe the wet fabric makes it less likely to tear? (That's a guess–I don't know.) It's the roller that I use and like the most, honestly. I'm fascinated that you are able to do it with dry cloth. That never worked for me.

    I appreciate the input. I think it goes to show, this really is one of those things you just have to experiment with until you find what works for you.

  8. Thanks for this – a great tutorial. Will have to do some more experiments.

    I've tried the fusible iron on stuff but it didn't work out to well. When I glued it up to make the book cover the glue still seeped through and came out the other side and ruined my fabric. I was using silk organza which I would say had a medium thickness so not sure what I was doing wrong.

  9. Yike. I haven't been brave enough to try silk yet, either with paste or fusible. The fusible iron on didn't work all that great for me either. I didn't get paste seeping through, but I found that sometimes there wound up being little places where it didn't bond quite enough. Then it bubbled when I tried using it. Probably the wrong temp, I suppose. I must admit, this makes me actually want to try again with other kinds of materials (possibly strange things?)–a challenge! But I'd be bummed to ruin a nice piece of silk organza! Ach.

  10. Lovely tutorial!
    For the turning method you might like to try using a length of dowel(broomstick or rolling pin) and lifting the paper as you would a sheet of rolled pastry.

  11. Thanks Dinah! I've never tried the dowel method before, but I'm glad you mentioned it. I've similarly used a ruler before for the same purpose (and I'd meant to mention that…), but found it was actually easier for me to just pick it up with fingers. Perhaps I should give the dowel or rolling pin a try!

    Btw I went and looked at your cats' blog. Love it! One of my black cats used to post things on her Facebook page, until Facebook apparently caught on that she was a cat and took away her account. Sheesh. I do think it's wonderful that yours are together enough to blog. Black cats are so special.

  12. I tried this and it looked so nice until it dried… Now it’s all bubbly and uneven and when I tried to iron it carefully it became a wrinkled mess.
    Any tips?

    • Hi Lina — I suspect what might have happened is the grain of the cloth and the grain of the paper didn’t match. I realize now I should have said something! It’s usually not a huge problem with most Japanese type papers, but it can happen. It’s not unlike pasting paper to another piece of paper or a board when the grain doesn’t match — things will warp. Next time, make sure that the grain of the paper runs parallel to the warp (selvage edge) of the cloth. Also, make sure that the paste is evenly coated and that there are no spots that you’ve missed. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. Sometimes it can be a bit trial-and-error.

      Alternately, you could try making book cloth with a “dry” method, by using a lightweight iron-on fusible to attach the paper. I haven’t gotten around to posting instructions on this, but I’m sure if you Google it, you’ll find info. I hope your next attempt works better!


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