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Rebinding a Cloth Bound Book


The original book

The inside of the original book.

This was the state of the book before I started work on it. Published in the early 1900s, it's now almost 100 years old and has done a lot of living! In the first picture you can just about see bubbling in the cloth which is also very dirty and worn. The second picture shows the end of the book and the split that runs the full length of it where the endpaper has parted company with the paste down.

More often than not, the stitching in books, even ones that are 200 years old, is still sound and it is only the covers that have been unable to withstand the ravages of time. The book itself does not therefore need stripping right down and it is just the casing that needs to be renewed. I had hoped to avoid having to resew this one, but once I had taken the cover off and began to clean the spine, it was obvious that the original stitching was also in a bad way. The final row at the bottom of the spine had actually vanished altogether, so there was nothing for it, but to take the book completely apart.



The centres of each of the pages were very creased, so these have been dampened and pressed in the nipping press to remove the worst of the creases. It's very effective as the before and after pictures show.

Creasing in the centre of a section.

The section after the creasing has been pressed out.

Sewing the book on tapes

A close up of the sewing

This book has been sewn onto tapes. The larger sections on the top and bottom are the new endpapers. These are made slightly larger than the sections of the book and then trimmed to size later on.

Generally speaking, I try to find the best match I can for the endpapers and this sometimes involves dying the paper. One book I rebound for a friend was handed back with the aroma of fresh coffee still wafting from the pages as cold black coffee had proved to give the nearest colour match. (I'm not sure I'd want to try this method on a valuable book though!)

This particular book has no special value except for the pleasure it gave me when I read it, so I can take more liberties with it. I've printed off some coloured endpapers decorated with sprigs of lavender as the title of the book is "London Lavender" by E. V. Lucas.

After all the sections have been sewn onto the tapes, the first and last sections are tipped onto the sections next to them with paste. This is because they are the most vulnerable to strain when the book is being used, so it adds some extra strength. When the paste has dried, the endpapers are trimmed to the same size as the rest of the book.

The book is now ready to be rounded and jointed. I can't show the rounding process as I don't have any free hands for the camera when I'm doing it, but the aim is to obtain the curve on the spine that you can see in the pictures. I have used backing boards to make the joint. These are precision made beechwood boards which are slightly thicker at the top than the bottom to obtain the maximum grip. The top surface is finished with brass plates which have a small overlap so that they will sit in a laying press. The book is carefully placed between the backing boards so that only a fraction of an inch is left showing above the brass plates. The press is then screwed as tightly as possible so the book cannot slip. (Being slightly built, in my case this involves turning the press on its ends and heaving the handles as hard as I can. Who needs a gym for exercising?!)

Once it is firmly in place, the spine of the book is carefully hammered with a large faced bookbinding hammer to form the joints. These will provide support for the boards.

Jointing the book.

A close up of the joint.


Normally speaking a book like this would have machine made headbands, but I'd like to co-ordinate the colours with the endpapers and cloth, so these ones are hand sewn. Plus I enjoy doing them!


A layer of scrim (sometimes called mull) is glued onto the spine. This is followed by a layer of kraft paper.

Next step is to make the case. Greyboard is cut to size. The thickness used depends upon the size of the book and also the depth of the joint.

It is important that the grain of the board runs lengthwise down the board and that all the sides are perfectly square. The edges of the boards are sanded to take off the sharpness which would otherwise cut into the bookcloth.


Adding scrim to the spine.

Adding kraft paper to the spine.

The inside of the book after the cloth has been added.
I'm planning to do a quarter cloth binding. On a book this size, the cloth covering the spine extends over roughly one quarter of each board. A strip of manila is glued between the two boards to add strength to the spine. (Somehow, probably due to the way the light's falling on it and me not being a very good photographer, the manila looks as though it's curving outwards in the picture although it's actually slightly concave.)

Once the glue has dried, the cloth is trimmed to the correct size. Unlike leather bindings, which are much thicker and need an angled cut, bookcloth only requires a steel ruler and a sharp blade.

Also unlike a leather binding, the book and the case are still two separate items at this stage.

I decorated the spine before the cloth went onto the boards simply because my hot foil printer is too small to be able to do it afterwards!

Trimming the cloth.    The spine cloth on the boards.
The finished case.   Everything co-ordinates and reflects the title of the book.

The rest of the board has now been covered with a contrasting bookcloth. I've used the hot foil printer to print a narrow border down the front and back of the book where the two contrasting cloths meet.

The case is still separate from the book.

It's difficult to capture colours accurately with a digital camera, but the second picture gives an idea of how endpapers, headbands and bookcloth have all been chosen to complement each other and to reflect the title of the book.


The final step is to paste the endpapers onto the case. The book is then put in the nipping press for at least 24 hours, until all the glue is completely dry.

One of the tests of a successful binding is to check that the book opens easily and without straining the endpapers.

   The finished book.     The finished book from a different angle

The book opens easily and without straining the endpapers.

Passing the test!

Detail of the endpapers.

The original book.

The original.

The book with its slip case

Detail of the endpapers. If you look closely, you can just see the tapes and the edge of the scrim beneath the endpaper. These add strength to the joint.


A slip case protects the book. This one replicates the book itself with a black spine and blue sides.

The book fits neatly inside the slip case


London Lavender by E.V. Lucas, the book shown in all the pictures, was rebound between 2oth & 26th August 2006

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Copyright Ann Dickinson 2006