A Quick Guide to Bookbinding Materials
Bookbinding materials and techniques sometimes feel as if they have a language all of there own, so here is a basic guide to some of the most common materials used. It is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any questions about bookbinding terminology you may come across, do get in touch.
Book cloth is a specially prepared cloth which is used to cover books. They became popular in the 19th century because they made books easier and cheaper to produce. Cloths are usually coated, impregnated or backed with something to make them stronger than regular fabric. Buckram is a term used for a cloth which has been plastic coated making it very durable, easy to clean and strong. Some book cloths are coated with a plastic material which is embossed with a grain to resemble leather, but are a poor imitation of the real thing. Book cloths are manufactured in a wide variety of natural and man-made materials and are available dyed in a huge range of colours and finishes. They are normally supplied from rolls and sold by the metre.
Books have been bound in leather for hundreds of years and it is still seen as a mark of quality. Mostly, the leather used for book binding is either Goat or Calf. Leather can be supplied in a natural light beige colour or in a wide range of dyed and embossed finishes. The way leather is tanned and finished for bookbinding is different than for other uses such as clothing or upholstery. The finish has to be top quality, it has to be able to take gold tooling and other decorative elements, it needs to be thin (usually under 1mm thick) and have minimal stretch when being worked. A bookbinder would expect to pay in the region of £60 to £100 for good goatskin which may only be sufficient to cover one large book. Leather is sold by specialist suppliers and it is usually priced per square foot.
The covers of books often have decorative paper both on the outside and/or the inside. There is a long tradition of using hand-marbled paper for this purpose, perhaps alongside a leather spine and leather corners. Marbled papers are still produced by hand today by a small number of specialist artisans. There are of course many types of hand made and printed papers available which can also be used to cover books. One example of a particularly attractive decorative paper is a Japanese paper, screen-printed by hand, known as Chiyogami which is available in a wide range of beautiful designs. Importantly, all paper used in bookbinding has to be used with the grain direction running from head to tail. This avoids warping the boards or 'cockling' of the paper causing unsightly wrinkles.