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Does anyone know how to replace the cloth and lettering on a slightly wizened-looking hardback book?

I've got quite attached to a 60's history book, and was wondering if there was some way to replace its cloth covering and gilt letters so it look a bit better after it's long use. As far as I can tell, the binding is solid, its just the cloth is a bit stained and fraying, that's all. Thanks a lot guys :)

Gorfram7 years ago
You can take it to a professional bookbinder and have them completely replace the covers along with the binding. However, that can be kind of expensive.

On the other end of the spendy spectrum, you may be able to improve things considerably just by cleaning the cover: most old book covers sport an amazing amount of grime.

Start with just a clean dry paper towel and see what that picks up. Then slightly dampen a new paper towel (one spritz from a spray bottle filled with water is just about right); test an inconspicuous spot (the edges around the inside of the back cover are good for this); and, if nothing bad happens there, start gently wiping the covers. Re-fold the paper towel to a clean spot often, and use new paper towels as needed - this can be a very paper-towel-intensive process. (If you're not the person who usually pays for paper towels in your household, you might consider kicking in the price of a roll.)

If slightly damp doesn't do it, try a little more water on the paper towel, always testing in an inconspicuous spot first. And if that still doesn't do it, you can generally keep going up to genuinely damp (but still well short of dripping wet).

The color may bleed quite a bit - this usually isn't a problem as long as you keep the dye away from anything but the book cover and your paper towels - you'll need to protect your worksurface with something. And if the cover is printed in more than one color, you will have to be careful not to let the colors bleed into each other.

And if just water still doesn't do it, try a very mild solution of a gentle soap (e.g., 2-3 drops of dishwashing liquid in a quart spray bottle), again starting first with slightly damp and working up as needed, and again always testing first in an inconspicuous spot.

For the gilt lettering, use cotton swabs to go through the same process as above with the paper towels. There may not be a truly inconspicuous spot anywhere on the gilt, so you'll have to test in a less-conspicuous place (for example, the base of the "t" in "History").

The frayed edges can be slightly improved by carefully trimming the frayed threads with a pair of small, sharp scissors.

To really fix the edges, you can cover them with strips of bookbinding cloth (available in some stationery and/or art supply stores) in a coordinating color. I've seen this done to books in libraries, but haven't ever done it myself, so I can't tell you how. Step Nine of this Instructable - How to bind a book - tells how to apply bookbinding cloth to a book's binding: you may be able to adapt those directions to covering the book's edges instead. Or you may be able to find better directions at the stationery/art store, or the library, or elsewhere on the internet.

(Should there be an Instructable on this? Yes. Should I be the one to make it? Maybe. Is my Instructables-In-Progress list already so ridiculously long that I'm not likely to do so anytime soon? Boy Howdy.)
paqrat4 years ago
Gorfram's answer sounds very good to me. I would add though that perhaps instead of wiping with a dampened (or dry) paper towel I would use more of a pouncing or dabbing motion. I think if any of the dye is lifted it will be less noticable than by a wiping motion. If you want to re add gilt to the letters there is foil that can be applied with a woodburning set. I would definitely try it on books that you don't care about first. You might try book stores or stationary stores that have a Kingsley machine for imprinting books and stationary. They might give or sell you a small section of foil you could use. One of the foils used real gold in it and that might be a bit pricey but there were other gold foils that I don't think contained real gold. Other colors were available too.