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.
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 — not to be confused with millinery buckram — 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.