Buckram twosides.jpg
Buckram can be shiny or dull.
Material typeCloth
Buckram is available in many colors.
Buckram is available in many colors.

Buckram is a stiff cotton (occasionally linen or horse hair) cloth with a plain, usually loose, weave, produced in various weights similar to muslin and other plain weave fabrics.[1] For buckram, the fabric is soaked in a sizing agent such as wheat-starch paste, glue (such as PVA glue), or pyroxylin (gelatinized nitrocellulose, developed around 1910), then dried. When rewetted or warmed, it can be shaped to create durable firm fabric for book covers, hats, and elements of clothing.[2]

In the Middle Ages, "bokeram" (as the word was sometimes spelt in Middle English) designated a fine cotton cloth, not stiff. The etymology of the term remains uncertain; the Oxford English Dictionary considers the commonly-mentioned[3] derivation from the name of the city of Bokhara unlikely.[4]

Use in bookbinding

In bookbinding, buckram has several attractive qualities. In addition to being highly durable, buckram does not allow the bookbinder's paste to seep through and cause discoloration or stains on the book's front and back covers.[5]

In bookbinding, pyroxylin-impregnated fabrics are considered superior to starch-filled fabrics because their surfaces are more water resistant, they are more resistant to insects and fungi, and they are generally stronger. They wear well and are particularly suitable for use in library binding where many people will be repeatedly handling the same books. Pyroxylin also allows for unique decorative effects on book covers. They, too, are water repellant and immune to insect attack and fungi, but they do not wear as well as starch impregnated cloths because of cracking at the joints and occasional peeling of the coating.[6]

Use in millinery

Millinery buckram is impregnated with a starch which allows it to be softened in water, pulled over a hat block, and left to dry into a hard shape.[7] Millinery buckram comes in many weights, including lightweight or baby buckram (often used for children's and dolls' hats),[8] single-ply buckram, and double buckram (also known as theatrical buckram or crown buckram).[9]


  1. ^ Marks, Stephen S., ed. (1959). ""Buckram"; "Library buckram"; "Muslin". Fairchild's dictionary of textiles. New York: Fairchild Publications. pp. 87, 320, 368.
  2. ^ Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. p. 151.
  3. ^ An example of the "Bokhara" etymology:
    • King, Donald (1987). "Embroidery and Textiles". In Jonathan Alexander; Paul Binski (eds.). Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400. London: Royal Academy of Arts; Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 157–161. ISBN 9780297791904. OCLC 1223895666. p. 157: Fine cotton cloth known as bokeram (derived from Bokhara; the cloth was originally imported from Asia) was used for garments, linings and banners.
  4. ^ "buckram". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Of the ultimate etymology nothing is really known. Some refer to Italian bucherare 'to pierce full of holes', supposing that the name was first given to a kind of muslin or net ... Reiske (in Constantin. Porphyrog. ed. Niebuhr II. 530) proposes Arabic abū qirām 'pannus cum intextis figuris', but he does not say where he found this compound; the simple qirām is of doubtful meaning, the Arab lexicographers quoted in the Qāmūs giving the various renderings 'red veil', 'striped and figured woollen cloth', 'thin veil' ... Others suggest derivation Bokhara, or Bulgaria, but this does not agree with the early French forms. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
    • Citing: Constantini Porphyrogeniti Imperatoris de Cerimoniis Aulae Byzantinae Libri Duo Graece et Latine, edited by Niebuhr (1829) from the recension by Reiske, Volume II.
  5. ^ Thomson, Paul (8 November 2013). "Introduction to Bookbinding Supplies and Materials". iBookBinding - Bookbinding Tutorials & Resources. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  6. ^ "Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books - A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology". cool.culturalheritage.org. Archived from the original on 2020-07-24. Retrieved 2020-10-17.
  7. ^ Hart, Eric (2013). The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film, and TV. Taylor & Francis. p. 292. ISBN 9780240821382.
  8. ^ "The Copyist". The Illustrated Milliner. The Illustrated Milliner Company. 14 (7): 68. July 1913. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  9. ^ McMasters, Lynn (1 November 2005). "Buckram 101". Finery. Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild. Retrieved 8 October 2019.