The Joy of Raw Materials: Bookcloth

When I was a little girl my mother sewed. She made me lovely little halter dresses for summer and pretty, fancy, dresses for the holidays. I remember going to the fabric store and helping her choose fabrics. Oh, how I loved the fabric store! Aisles and aisles of color, pattern, texture and spools of ribbon, lace and buttons – what is it about buttons?

Fast forward to seventh grade and an elective class appropriately named, “Beginning Sewing.” I discovered in this class that I did not inherit my mother’s ability to sew amazing garments from sketches and ideas. In fact, even with a carefully followed pattern and a lot of hand-holding, my efforts rarely resulted in anything resembling the picture on the pattern package.

Between seventh grade and my first handmade book were many years of sewing projects that reached a point of no return and ended up in a box. I once made a “Quilt In A Day” out of a Woman’s Day magazine and, after 14 years of partial completion and storage in a box, I finally gave it away. I never gave up though, I can’t resist fabric.

In the first book arts class that I ever took, at the San Francisco Center for the Book, we used bookcloth. A pretty and basic cloth that reminded me of library books. The instructor, Laura Russell, gave us a list of book arts suppliers including Talas and as soon as I got home I started shopping online.

The first thing I did was order a swatch book of  samples of Dover cloth, because of the broad range of colors. I was so tickled to again get to choose fabrics — but this time in a way that I could be successful!

A few orders from Talas later, I ordered the Asahi bookcloth swatches. I can’t even begin to tell you how tickled I was with this swatch book. These beautiful washed silks, slubbed fabrics and iridescent shimmering squares made my heart sing. Right away I ordered a teal silk that I used for a book I was making about my niece, Samantha’s, transition from adolescence to adulthood called Pendulum:

I recently ordered Asahi cloth in a delicious burnt orange, an intense burgundy, a lemon-lime green and more of that teal silk. Honestly, I can’t resist. If they weren’t so expensive I’d order some yardage of each just to have them in my studio. Here are the covers I made with some of those bookcloths:

And this last order? Well, I resisted the swatch book for the Genji cloth because although it is truly beautiful, at $42, $79, and $95 per square yard, it is beyond my budget. But I did splurge on the Texlifil (vibrant wildflower colors) and the Chromo (very high-tech and futuristic feeling) swatchbooks and now I’m just itching to design some books around them. In fact, I may need to change one of my current projects to the Chromo. Hmm.

Do you have a favorite book cloth? A favorite supplier?


3 responses to “The Joy of Raw Materials: Bookcloth

  1. I’m a sucker for the Asahi as well. I’m on my second swatch book from Talas because I worried that I was missing some of the newer ones. My latest favorite bookcloth is Duo. I bought a bunch of it at the Focus on Book Arts conference last month. The colors are so yummy!

    You can buy 1/2 yards of Duo from Colophon Book Arts Supply ( Nancy, the owner, is a sweetheart.

  2. Dear Ginger, This I understand all too well, being the daughter of a seamstress and having sewn all my own clothes through young adulthood. So I have drawers full of fabric and scraps I can’t get rid of. A few years ago I learned to make bookcloth from my own fabric using methylcellulose and good old mylar acetate. If the fabric is thin enough you can just brush the methylcellulose over it onto the mylar fabric, and it will dry stiff enough to work with to cover boards. You can even use pigmented paste to make patterns in it: my next experimental project in the studio, to try and make bookcloth that echoes the interior of the book, using plain muslin to begin with. But I’m itching to try some of my old fabrics in this new way! Thanks for sharing your process and your work, always interesting!

  3. Hello, I love your post because I too was the daughter of someone who made me lots of clothes as a child and I also fell in love with fabric and haberdashery. In fact, I still have stashes of off-cuts that are slowly making their way into my work and in fact I use them to make my own bookcloth, usually using a very thin double-sided fusible interfacing and very thin Japanese paper. It’s worked really well and gives me an on-going supply of lovely bookcloth! Best wishes, Sara

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