If you’ve ever sewn before, odds are you’re familiar with the “grain,” the line that marks the longwise direction of how the fabric was weaved. Also called the “warp” (as opposed to the shorter threads woven through them, called the “weft”), it is very important to cut fabric along this line (unless indicated otherwise, as with some garments that cut on the diagonal “bias”) in order for the clothing to fall properly and have the right amount of body and stretch.
The same goes for book arts.
|Testing the grain direction|
When cutting binder’s board, paper, and book cloth, the grain direction (also referred to as the grain line) must be taken into consideration. Unless you desire your work to be artistically askew, the general rule is that all the materials in the book should be used so that their grain is parallel to the spine of the book (running up and down). If not, the book will bubble or bend in the wrong direction, appearing warped and growing worse overtime.
Some materials, such as large sheets of the Arches paper used at the Center for Book Arts, are watermarked along the edge to show the grain direction. Other materials, such as sheets of binder’s board, are commonly known to be “grain long” or “grain short.” Although this is helpful, it’s not foolproof, and the issue gets more complex when cutting down large sheets into smaller ones—since it makes it quite easy to forget which side is which and how the grain runs in the smaller piece.
|Binder’s Board with the grain direction marked|
If you do loose sight of the grain, there are ways to check for it, particularly with softer materials such as paper and book cloth. Both fold more easily along the grain line than they do against it, so gently folding over and putting pressure on a sheet of paper or cloth without fully creasing it can let you know which is the right direction. Some paper and cloth can also be held up to the light, where small chains can be seen in the weaves. The direction of the chains is also the direction of the grain line.
This gets more complicated with binder’s board, particularly smaller pieces of the heavier weight kinds, where it is not feasible to fold or bend the board. Before cutting a larger sheet of board down, it is helpful to draw the grain line across it in pencil (lightly!) if you plan on covering the board entirely. If not (or if you forget), a skilled bookbinder (or someone familiar with board) will be able to tell the grain line, so if you’re at the Center and need some help, ask one of our faculty!