Our book cloth manufacturer is Van Heek Textiles, located in the Twente region of the Netherlands. Founded in 1859, they are unique in that they are the only textile manufacturer in the world that does every step of the process in-house, from joining the thread and rolling the looms to weaving, dyeing, and finishing the fabric. They are a global textile provider, crossing into many industries, but above all they have an excellent reputation for quality book cloth. They, like Salzer and Kösel, conduct their business with an impressive commitment to environmental responsibility.
Our contact at Van Heek, Michel, has assisted us in developing a book cloth just for Bibliotheca. We are starting with a 100 percent natural, uncoated and unbleached cotton base cloth for the New Testament. This same 100 percent natural cotton material will then be dyed four custom colors for the other volumes of the set, making the gradient from dark to light.
What’s special about cotton book cloth? The vast majority of modern book cloths are made of rayon, a semi-synthetic material derived from purified cellulose (plant fiber) that is forced through tiny holes to make thread (picture spaghetti). The resulting material is perfectly uniform in texture and color, and thus, in my opinion, lacks character while also being noticeably synthetic to the touch and shiny to the eye.
So cotton it is. Its naturally formed filaments produce a thread that varies in thickness and color, it’s soft and familiar to the touch, and it contains visible fibers and imperfections from the cotton plant—all of which contribute to the cloth’s character.
Last thing about the cloth: Normally, book cloth is bleached before it is dyed because this ensures perfectly consistent absorption of the dye. Since the variations of the natural material are desirable for us, Van Heek has agreed to wash the cloth with soap instead of bleaching it, which will allow the character of the cloth to show through. This also means there will be no bleach involved in the process (another benefit to using wood-free paper, which we discussed in the last update). The making of both paper and cloth typically involve a lot of bleach (especially in the quantities we are making), but we’ve gladly managed to avoid it altogether.
We’ve had dozens of samples made to get the perfect succession from dark to light. I have the final samples hanging next to me in the studio.