Cloth Book Repair Project

This was a project to do basic book repair on a cloth book. This book was selected from a somewhat random pile of cloth-backed books in need of repair that my teacher, Juliayn Coleman, brought in to our class a few months ago.

The first step was to take full stock of the condition of the book. Anyone who provides quality book repair services will provide this type of documentation and most will include detailed photos of the condition of the book when it was brought in. In addition to this documentation, they will also provide a diagnosis of the repair to be done and the treatment plan.

The fun part of book repair is that each book has its own unique characteristics and so there is no single formula for repairing books. Each project will require a new analysis, creativity, and skill to repair. [On a less practical level, I believe books are like people and each one has a unique story to tell, but also a history of its own. If you don’t take the time to listen to what they are hiding in all parts of their structure from the written word to the structural binding, then you are missing something important and you won’t do as good of a job caring for them.]

Here is the documentation and the recommended repair: benblairtreatmentrecord

With this book, I noted that the joint was torn. The boards needed to be removed and mended with Japanese paper. The corners of the board were worn and bent and needed to be strengthened. The textblock was intact and did not need to be resewn. However, it had yellowed with age and had dirt, pencil marks, tears and there was a detached page. Because the sewing was still intact, I only did a link stitch to strengthen the structure. The spine needed to be reinforced so that the repaired cover could be reattached and the original endsheets retained. New endbands were added after the spine was cleaned and reinforced.

When taking a book to be repaired, ask about the philosophy of the repair person. Personally, I try to retain as much of the original book as possible during the repair process. This is in line with conservation standards. The goal for me is to preserve the book for future generations by making it strong and safely readable again if that is possible. If it is not possible to do this, for example if the paper is too brittle and the text block is falling apart, then I would have a box created for it and the book would rest in the box to protect what was left of the book. This would be done rather than risk damaging the fragile book by repair or attempting to add too many new materials to the project that would detract from the quality of the original.

There are people who want their old book to look new and are more interested in restoration practices that will remove and replace the original items or add to the original in ways that will cosmetically make the book look new. This is not the work that I do, and while it does take considerable skill to do restoration practices, philosophically, I prefer to respect the original book and conserve as much of the original structure and materials as possible in the process.

It might take two days for the total amount of this work to be done if this were the only thing a person were working on for two business days. A fair price for this work might be around $250. Again, the time and cost really depend on the diagnosis and each book will be different.

Below are pictures from the project with short descriptions:

The cover of the book was detached. You can see some of the cloth mesh from the spine still attached in the joint. The boards of the cover were removed with a knife.
This is the removed cover and one of the endsheets that had become detached. This endsheet was tipped back in using PVA at the end of the process.
Here is a dissected cover. Using wheat paste, I removed the red paper from the back of the spine piece until nothing was left but the green cloth that would be added back to the completed cover at the end of the re-casing.
There were a few pages where the paper was torn. I used Japanese paper with wheat paste to mend these. When repairing for conservation purposes, it’s important to use wheat paste because it is water soluble and therefore reversible, whereas PVA or methylcellulose or a mix, would not be reversible if in the future someone else needed to repair the book again. In this picture, the paper is still drying, but once it is dry, the Japanese paper is almost not noticeable on the original paper.
Here is the spine prior to cleaning. Again, using wheat paste to moisten the original spine backing, I was able to take a spatula and scrape off the original backing.
Once cleaned, I was able to reinforce the spine with wheat paste, Japanese paper, Linen/Cloth Super, and Western paper.


After rebacking the spine, I started preparing for link stitching. This requires using an awl to put holes in specific places in the first and last three signatures in the text block. These holes should not be noticeable and not tear the paper if done correctly.
This is what the link stitch looks like when it is finished. Most people will never see this part of the process because it will be completely covered by repaired cover. This process strengthens the text block and ensures that the book will remain functional for the reader for many more years without loosing signatures.
To repair the corners of the board, I first cut into them to open up the area that was weakened and bent. Then I took a spatula and PVA and injected the PVA in-between each of the areas where the board had splintered. You can see in the upper part of the picture that after this process, two boards were clapped around the corner so that the board corner would dry straight and stay tight.
This is the repaired spine piece. You can see that care was taken to detach it from the boards and to preserve as much of the original as possible rather than just cutting out the title. Japanese paper was pasted to the backside.
Japanese paper repair was attempted on parts of the board where the cloth had been worn thin or was torn off. Again, wheat paste is used to adhere the paper so it is reversible. Acrylic paint was used to attempt to dye the paper to match the worn book prior to pasting it on. This not only helps strengthen the corner of the book but it also cosmetically replaces the torn cloth areas. The crumpled paper with the dark substance on it was used to add a “burnished” look to the dyed Japanese paper so that it looked more like the cloth that was dirty and worn.


A lifting knife was used to prepare the book for recasing.


Here is the finished book. You really can’t tell that it went through this process, but that is the point. After the repair, the book is structurally sound and can be read without the risk of further damage and it can be protected for future generations to enjoy.

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