Antique Embroidered Book




About: Art Director and Evil Genius of Urban Threads, an alternative machine and hand embroidery site. Every week I cuss and swear in my studio and macgyver together a new tutorial. You can see all of them in full...

If you haven’t yet taken a peek at the new Dark Fairytale series, you’re in for a treat! (Or at least, we like to think so) Crafters in general seem to love their myth, lore, and legend, and also seem to share a love of books. And who doesn’t love books?

Though, I will be honest, every time I go into a used bookstore I’m secretly hoping to come across a copy of the Necronomicon with an old, tattered leather cover with intricate engravings and spooky designs. I usually leave with a beat-up copy of a mystery novel. Nice, but never quite what I’m after.

Part of the beauty in some books is simply how they look, and if we can’t find them that way, we’ll make 'em! It’s a perfect and unusual way to display your favorite literary embroidery designs and give your book a little more character.

Step 1: What You Need

To make your antique embroidered book, you’ll need:
  • A hardcover book (decide now if it’s just for decoration, or if you want to be able to read it after we’re done)
  • Vintage looking fabric (I love linens)
  • A container for hot water
  • Some tea
  • Mod Podge
  • Brush and/or sponge applicator
  • Scissors
Depending on how you want to finish your book, you may need a few extra supplies, but we’ll get to that at the end.

Step 2: Prepping the Fabric

First, start with your fabric. Lay out a square about 2 1/2 inches larger than your book. Measure out a rectangle that’s more than twice as long, and has at least 2 inches all the way around the book for folding and gluing. It’s always better to cut more than you need rather than less. Make sure also that if you're embroidering and happen to be covering a tiny book, you leave enough fabric to hoop.

If you're adding embroidery (because machine embroidery is awesome) -

Hoop the right side of your fabric, where the cover of the book is going to be. Remember not to hoop it too close to the right edge, since you need a lot of that room to fold and glue onto the cover. Hoop your design up with regular cut away stabilizer, and stitch away.

Step 3: Trimming to Size

Wrap your book up with the design on the cover (if there is one), and trim off any excess fabric you won’t need. Remember, keep at least two inches all the way around your book!

Note to machine embroiderers - now is a good time to cut your stabilizer to size. I’d trim it so it’s exactly the same size as your book cover. That way it won’t show through, even on light fabrics.

Step 4: Tea Staining

Tea time! Well, not to drink. Unless you really fancy a strong cup of tea...

Boil up some water and pour it into your container with 2-3 teabags. How dark you want your stain to be will depend upon how many tea bags you add, and how long you let it steep. This is a pretty strong cuppa.

Soak your fabric in your tea. Leave it in only a few seconds if you want a really light stain, longer for deeper, richer colors. Tea will of course show up a lot darker on light fabrics.  When it’s ready, remove your fabric from the tea, wring it out, and lay it flat to dry.

Once your fabric is dry, you’re probably going to want to give it a good ironing, as smooth fabric is a lot easier to adhere to a book.

Step 5: The Spine

Wrap your book up in your fabric again, carefully centering your design on the cover. Taking care not to shift the placement of the fabric, open it up to the wrong side, and mark the edges of the spine on both the top and bottom of your book.

Grab your scissors and snip these marks just shy of where the book begins. Fold these flaps inwards. This part of the book we can’t glue inside the spine, so we’re folding them in so they look like the rest of the cover.

Step 6: Gluing on the Cover

Once your book is ready, give the cover a nice coating of Mod Podge to get it sticky. Center your design on the cover, and give it a light coating of Mod Podge as well. Now here comes the messy part...

You can use a brush if you just got a manicure, but I like using my fingers to smooth the sticky fabric to the cover. You’ll get a smoother, tighter fit. Smooth the fabric outwards, working towards the edges, pulling everything as snug as it will go. When you get to the edge, give the inside edge a one inch coating of glue, and then pull and smooth your fabric edge over it. Once it’s smoothed in place, add more Mod Podge on top and smooth it down with a brush or your fingers to get it really flush with the cover.

Once you’ve folded in the side, fold in the top and bottom the same way, snipping off any excess at the corners that doesn't want to lay flat. 

A tip! If you’re planning on being able to open this book later, get a piece of scrap paper and place it on top of the front page. This will stop the cover from sticking to the first page as you’re waiting for everything to dry. Once the front is done, repeat this process at the back, pulling nice and tight to make sure everything is staying all snug.

Step 7: Adding Some Age

Technically, you can be done now, if you want a lightly tea stained book. If you’re looking for something a little more worn and grungy, continue on for that truly special used book effect... 

To make your book look even more ancient, grab your brush and dip it back into the tea again. Wipe off most of the excess tea from the brush, and then gently “dry brush” just around the edges of the book, where it’s most likely to pick up dirt over time. If you want a less harsh edge, dampen the edges first with a paper towel. This will allow your tea stain to bleed a bit.

Step 8: Readable & Decorative Versions of Finishing

We have two different finishing phases, and these depend on whether you want your book to be a purely decorative and awesome way to display your embroidery, or if you want this to be a book cover on a book you’d like to still be able to read and cherish.

For a readable book-

Cut a piece of paper just a little bit smaller than your inside cover, and glue it over the raw edges of your fabric on the inside of the book. This will make it look polished inside and out! Make sure you do this on the back cover too. Your book is beautiful, and readable! It’s got a fancy new cover but you can still enjoy diving into your favorite dark stories.

For a decorative book-

Add some generous glue to the inside of the cover, and close your book, effectively gluing the cover shut (I realize the rest of the pages will still open, we’ll get to that). Do this for the back cover too. Now, to really give it that gilded, antique look, with your book closed, carefully paint the side of the pages with your gold or metallic paint. This mimics fancy books of old, and gives your book that special, decorative touch. Plus, the paint on the side will basically glue all your pages shut, so what you have now is a really cool way to display your cover design.

Step 9: The Finished Book

So, you can either keep it light and basic, with just some minor tea staining for a beautifully worn look... or you can distress the edges, stain it darker, and take it all the way to beautiful prop and embroidery display. Either way it’s going to look pretty cool on your shelf.

Could you imagine a whole row of these? I totally can.



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    16 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is brilliant and beautiful! I love the fabric you chose, and the final product is just stunning. :D Looks great!

    I like the tea staining idea! (Bonus - good tea! I love strong tea....)
    One little question ...rather a two part one... I have never done embroidery so I have no idea how to do it (how hard is it?) also for those who don't know how to embroider I had an idea - using fine pointed makers designed for fabrics (might be hard to find fine point ones - majority I've seen are broad or chisel tipped) and drawing the design onto the fabric... Anyways back to my original question is embroidery done as little stitches, dot by dot? (think like pixel art) or is it done line by line- (like line art)... So whole are close up would it look like xxxxxxx or ----------?

    2 replies

    The embroidery on this book is actually machine embroidery, so it's as simple as hooping some fabric and choosing your thread. You can do it by hand as well, and then the techniques vary quite a bit, but it's a very easy art to try.
    I heard Sharpie has new fabric markers that should come in finer tips, those might do well to draw a design like this.

    Here's a larger photo of the embroidery so you can see what it looks like:

    Hope that helps!

    Hmm, thanks for the help! All the more reason to get a sewing machine! Though I like sewing by hand anything of a decent size (like the bag I made for a camping water bladder) and it takes a long time... though I do find sewing by hand quit relaxing, sometimes though in order to finish something within a decent time frame, I really wish I had a a sewing machine... (It's not like I don't have enough unfinished projects already!... sarcasm doesn't work well in type.)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Or if you plan to glue the pages together, why not try this:

    Excellent Instructable. Thanks so much for sharing! I would like to share a fun embroidery site I found. It's called sublimestitching


    7 years ago on Introduction

    greate job done here....i remember in villages some years ago the local housewifes used tea to paint the household fabrics.....


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've been making my own simple books, and this seems like a nice alternative to regular book cloth covers. Nice and antiqued. I'm definitely going to give it a shot!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I can see this as a way to give truly outstanding books to my friends. Not only will they receive a book I think they will enjoy but also a beautiful treasure of art to show.

    I did this back in the 70's, doing the embroidery by hand. I still have this book. My covering skills were a bit minimal however! This once-paperback book has replacement boards of heavy grey stuff, and I didn't know how to space them away from the spine. It's a testament to the quality of the publisher's binding glue that the thing is still in one solid piece.

    Doris Huber

    7 years ago on Introduction

    great idea!
    hint: instead of using paper to keep pages from adhering, use wax paper, it will not stick!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've bound and covered many books and I think this is a wonderful presentation. Bravo!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Love this! Very creative! Thanks for sharing. Have a splendorous day!