Nineteenth Century Style Textured Bookcloth For Sale

Some nineteenth century style textured cloth I’ve made.

Dot pattern nineteenth century style bookcloth for sale. Made with conservation grade materials.  14 x 22″ pieces. Order here.



Starting around 1823, bookcloth was embellished not only with color, but with texture. Although there were plainer types of cloth used on books before this, such as silk, velvet, canvas and muslin, when people refer to bookcloth, they often are referring to a starch filled, textured cloth.  It was used on some of the earliest publisher’s bindings, like the Pickering Diamond Classic below.

A Pickering Diamond Classic. Le Rime del Petrarca, London, 1822. Height: 3.625 inches.

The origins of bookcloth has been recounted many times, notably in John Carter’s The Origins of Publishers’ Cloth Bindings, Leighton’s Canvas and Bookcloth, and Sadleir’s The Evolution of Publishers’ Binding Styles.

In the 1990’s, Tomlinson and Masters’ Bookcloth 1823-1980, provides a fascinating account of cloth manufacture, detailing how the early cloth was manufactured at the Winterbottom cloth company. The earliest book cloths seem to have been made in small pieces, like I make mine, but soon continuous rolls of textured bookcloth were cranked out. The complexity of the process is astounding, with at least five specialized types of machinery used, including three bowel padding mangles, backstarching mangles, friction calendaring machines, sentering machines, brush dampening machines, and embossing calendars. One wonders if any of this machinery is still extant. And if anyone could figure out how to operate it.

More recently, Andrea Krupp’s Bookcloth in England and America, 1823-1850 compared various bibliographic systems that describe these cloths, and includes an incredibly useful appendix with actual size photographs of many cloth patterns. And of course, we have the artifactual evidence on the books themselves to guide us.

A book bound in my dot pattern book cloth among a few 19th century books.

So we know some things about how early bookcloth was invented, was originally made, and has evolved. Since there are no commercially available bookcloths that remotely resemble these early cloths, how can bookbinders and conservators make something similar on a small scale?

I’ve been interested in bookcloth for a while. I described replicating an earlier, untextured muslin using XSL dyes a couple of years ago. I’ve taught a number of classes on nineteenth century binding and done more cloth rebacks than I care to remember.

But the only source of published information about texturing book cloth I’ve found comes from Bill Minter in 1999. He briefly gives an overview of his methods in the Book and Paper Group Annual, Vol. 18. He begins with an unbleached muslin, to which he laminates an acrylic dyed Japanese tissue and sizes with methylcellulose. He creates texture by using wire screens as dies. This was in the context of creating a sympathetic new spine for a reback.

Another approach, by Vernon Wiering, uses dyes, starch paste and texturing plates to achieve a very realistic looking cloth, which he uses for his period and facsimile bindings.

Tim Ely, my first bookbinding teacher, has also experimented with texturing cloth using his etching press to create texture, and has an interesting conception of this as decorating the skin off the book, before attaching it.


An English style case binding covered in dot pattern cloth.

My own goals for making the cloth were fairly straightforward. I wanted to make a cloth that looked and felt similar to nineteenth century textured cloth, in a size that would be useful for a majority of books, that was made of conservation grade materials, was durable, and could be blind and gold stamped. I also wanted to make a cloth that would be affordable. On this last point, I may have failed. Mea culpa.

After a couple of months of experimenting, I developed a product that basically meets my criteria.  The base is a scoured muslin, the coloring is conservation grade acrylics, and the sizing is methylcellulose and wheat starch paste. The die to texture it is made from stainless steel, and it is tissue backed to make gluing and handling easier. Each piece is 14 x 21 inches, big enough for two smaller books or one large one.

Detail of the dots.

The texture is pretty durable, though you have to use a light touch with your bone folder when turning-in, and be careful when casing-in. I lined my pressing boards with volara, aka. closed cell polyethylene foam to avoid smashing the dots.

To field test the durability, I recased a book I’m reading (Edmund Morris’s Edison, which I have mixed feelings about, btw) and treated it roughly by hauling it around in my backpack and for over a month. The cloth became a little abraded around the edges of the spine, on board edges, and on the dots, but overall survived quite well.

Tooling by precision dampening of the cloth and a heated roll.

The color is not completely even in the pieces I make, but varies slightly in order to blend in with the irregularities of a older cloths in historic collections. So far I’ve made muted browns, greens, and blues. The dot size and pattern is not an exact reproduction of anything historic, but meant to look sympathetic with a wide range of nineteenth century books. If you have an important nineteenth century book or need to make a box in a historical sympathetic cloth, this cloth will be perfect.

Gold foil stamping.

Dot Texture Nineteenth Century Style Bookcloth. The unbleached muslin is scoured and the pH adjusted to around 7. The cloth is dyed with conservation grade acrylics, and coated with wheat starch paste and methylcellulose. The embossing is done with a stainless steel die. The resulting cloth takes gold stamping and tooling well, and the cloth is dyed throughout the thickness so you can clean up a bit by scraping without exposing white fibers. The colors are all sympathetic with an aged nineteenth century pallet, primarily muted browns and greens. If you would like a particular color, I can let you know what I have. 14 x 22 inches. Purchase cloth here.

LIMITED TIME OFFER: I have some free small samples of the cloth, just contact me with your mailing address. Domestic US only. First come first serve.

Three Holiday Gift Ideas for Bookbinders under $50!

Last chance to order inexpensive bookbinding and conservation tools for the Holidays! Please note orders received after midnight Friday December 20 will ship January 6, 2020.

Genuine Horsebutt Strop

All strops wear out over time, often because a misplaced knife has dug a small hole in it.  Start of 2020 with a nice clean horsebutt strop!   Buy your new genuine horsebutt strop for only $25.


.9mm Microknife

This was my best selling item at the Guild of Book Workers Conference a few months ago, and is new for this year. Perfect for intricate cuts in tissue and paper. Paper conservators love it for infills. Artists love it to make stencils. And everyone loves the cleaver design that retracts completely into the standard supplied .9mm mechanical pencil handle.  Order your micro knife for only $35!


Delrin Hera

A delrin hera rapidly becomes indispensable for many bookbinding and conservation tasks.  I use it to gently turn leaves of fragile books, delaminate hinges of matted artwork, hold leaves down during photography, insert adhesive into bent book corners, score tissue for dry tearing, and to pry apart covering material when rebacking. But you won’t pry this beauty out of my hand. Get your own delrin hera for only $45!

What do the Sizes of Linen Thread Actually Mean? It’s Complicated.

Some common sizes of linen thread for bookbinding, ranging from 18/6 to 80/3.

Bookbinders likely know that linen thread is classified by a two number system, such as 35/3. And most know that the second number represents the number of threads plied together, and the first number how thick or thin the thread is.  But what does the first number actually refer to?

It turns out that two different systems, an English system and a Metric system that use a similar two part description of size separated by a forward slash. However, these two systems are not the same. Most thread sold by bookbinding supply companies uses the English System.

The English system (aka. Number English, Lea, NeL, Linen Count) is based on how many skeins (of 300 yards) make up one pound in weight. I *think* this means that twelve  12/1 skeins would weigh one pound, or thirty-five 35/1 skeins would weigh one pound. I’m still not sure how adding the plied threads results in the classification. Would a 35/3 thread weigh 3 pounds?

The Metric system (Nm, aka. the Japanese Gunze Count) is based on how many meters of thread weigh one gram.  So I think for a 60/1 thread, 60 meters weighs one gram. It is the same as the English system in that overall, thicker and stronger threads have lower numbers.

Other thread systems include:

Tex — How many grams 1,000 meters of a thread weighs. In this case, the larger the number, the thicker the thread.

Denier — How many grams 9,000 meters of a various thread weights. Again, the larger the number, the thicker the thread. This is useful for very thin threads and microfibers.

Grist — Yards per pound.  For example, a 20/1 linen is 3,000 yards long per pound. Different fibers have different weights.

I’m still not sure what system the Londonderry Linen Lacing Thread in the image above uses. It is labeled only a mysterious “#4”. I love sewing with this thread, though, since it is thick, soft, easy to untwist, tangle free without waxing, and remarkably compressible. It is possible to sew a book naturally packed with it. It consists of five plies, and is roughly equivalent to a 20/5.

If you are wondering what size thread you should use to sew a book, check out my Guide to Swell.

Finally, Colophon Book Arts is a reasonably priced, one stop shop to purchase a wide variety of sewing threads.

Wait, there are more systems  … AARGH!



Cor Knops, of Knops Boekrestauratie in the Netherlands,  kindly sent me these images of some antique thread he owns.


Great name!

These packages contain hanks of thread, and all weight about a pound.  I think the package on the left is 25/3, and on the right 12/3. So if my calculations are correct, the 12/3 should contain 1200 yards of thread, assuming a 12/1 would contain 12 – 300 yard skeins = 3600 yards.  Enough thread for a lot of books in any case!