The Art and Science of Cloth Rebacking

Last week I spent four days, 9:30-6ish, up at the San Francisco Center for the Book, learning how to do cloth rebacking.

WTF is Cloth Rebacking?

Well might you ask!

Cloth rebacking is when you take a cloth-bound book that is falling apart and fix its binding.

Fitting the clothBasically, it involves putting new cloth underneath the old cloth and rebinding the book. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I put up a ton of photos on my personal Flickr detailing the process.

It was really fun!

The teacher, Dominic Riley, is a professional bookbinder and book repairer from the UK, and he has done over 900 cloth rebackings alone in the course of his career. He knew all kinds of tricks and methods of dealing with the various odd bits of damage and peculiarities of the books my classmates and I were working on for the class.

There were a few steps that were incredibly stressful, like cutting into the bookboard to make a channel for the new cloth to go into, and working the cloth into it. My book’s bookboard was very old and fragile, and really uncooperative!

Front Cover: progressWeirdly, my favorite part was repainting the cover — a very painstaking and exact process using the finest brush I own (which I originally bought for detail work painting lead miniatures). It was also the part I did the best at — Dominic seemed very impressed with my work. So gratifying!

I’m looking forward to practicing on several of my own books and on some of my family’s books — and then I’m going to start offering this service to all of you!

Got damaged books?

Start making a note of which books you have that could use some TLC. The Book Roadie’s Book Hospital will be taking patients soon!

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