What is Buckram?

Mandi R. Hall

Buckram is a stiff cloth of heavy material typically made with a cotton base. It’s used in the production of many everyday items to allow them to stay erect and upright or maintain a stiff silhouette. Various methods have been used in the production of buckram, though modern buckram cloth is primarily stiffened with a gap-filling liquid substance. Typically found in the drapery section of a fabric or craft store, the material is fairly cost-effective.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The fabric goes by a variety of names. Occasionally, the stiff fabric is called book crinoline, book binding, or book cloth, although various types of book cloths exist. Due to its rigidity, buckram is used to mold, shape or stiffen products such as hats, draperies, purses, and book covers.

When used in book production, bookbinding buckram β€” not to be confused with millinery buckram β€” is coated in an acrylic. What began as primarily cotton-based cloth is then thickened with the acrylic. The result is a thicker, more withstanding product. This thick material has historically been used in the manufacturing of heavily-used library, church, or school books. The bookbinding material is available in a few grades or thicknesses.

Although cotton is the most common base, linen varieties also exist. The linen-based material is generally, though not always, thinner. As with the cotton buckram, the linen variety is made by weaving the materials together and filling in the spaces with a thick, gluey liquid substance. The space-filler is often pyroxylin, though forms of clay and starch are also used.

Millinery buckram is slightly different than the rest. It is used to manufacture accessories such as hats and purses. The fabric is saturated in starch and molded onto the desired shape. Once the thick cloth dries and becomes stiff, it remains in the desired shape. It comes in three weights: single-ply, double-ply, and baby. The baby weight is typically used for baby clothing and accessories.

Buckram also comes in a plethora of hues. Color swatches can often be found at bookbinding facilities as well as fabric or craft stores. The material can be manufactured as dull or shiny.

The derivation of the word buckram is unclear. As it was first used in Bukhara in Uzbekistan, historians and textile experts believe the term "buckram" may have resulted from the city's name. Others believe the etymology results from the term "bokeram," which was a fine, thin cloth used in the middle ages.

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Discussion Comments


Can you mold buckram into shapes?


@MedicineBall - I do a lot of sewing too, but in particular I make hand bags. They make great presents. A lot of types of interfacing made for purses are so annoying to work with, it's just easier to add a layer of buckram.

I know that Queen Elizabeth used buckram in her corsets, but I didn't have any success getting it to be stiff enough. When I used it in a corset for my 16 year old daughter's school play, it had to be quilted with plastic boning inside to even vaguely resemble an actual corset. Now that I think back on it, I must have used the thinner buckram.

Hopefully I'll never have to make another corset, but if I do – I will use the heavy buckram for sure.


You don't hear much about buckram -- but it's used it a ton of things. Anyone who sews probably knows at the least what it is. I use it in a lot of costumes. I go to medieval and civil reenactment fairs and some of the costume hats, corsets and gowns use buckram as a form for their design.

If you use it as a hat form, make sure you get heavy buckram. The medium stuff will not keep its form as nicely.

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