Tag Archives: contemporary binding

Using lacunose as an onlay

Chris Johnson in virus timeApril 2020

I used the rectangular panel of lacunose leather fragments on paper that I showed in a previous blog posting to make shaped onlay pieces for a pair of related books. The books are written in the 1930s by Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men (published 1932, section sewn, paper cross grained – why?) and Last Men in London (part of a 1980s Penguin edition perfect binding, also cross grained but there’s more excuse with a perfect binding). The ‘Last Men’ are those of the 18th future species of humans, living on Neptune a hundred million years in the future. (Stapledon was a big long range thinker, following H.G. Wells and contemporary with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, an alternative vision of a future that is only 600 years ahead. He was a remarkably visionary, describing a world power struggle between China and USA in the 21st century… but that’s not the point here!). These books needed something relating to the themes of a very fractured future history and future evolved species of people who range from brutes to advanced brains.

Last and First Men simplified binding with lacunose – Chris Johnson March 2020
Last & First Men and Last Men in London – Chris Johnson March-April 2020

The bindings are in simplified structure (that is, the spine is made on the book, the boards are covered separately and pasted onto the front and back). The leather spines are in complementary colours of the same type of fine, glossy goatskin. The board covers are plain soft kangaroo (very soft, it shows every mark) with a dark protective goatskin strip a few millimetres wide at the head and tail edges. The covers have multicolour onlays that are pieces made from the one lacunose panel.

I selected portions of the lacunose that suggested the themes in the books and cut them out along fragment boundaries, thinned them, sanding them back as far as I dared and then paring the edges. Sanding the back of the pieces with the front against a flat board reduced the uneven thickness. Some of the paper backing remains, so the shapes were stable and still in one piece. They still protrude a bit above the board leather, but the edges curve down to a smooth finish. The oval medallion pieces on the back were cut with a large oval craft punch and then thinned out to soften the edges.

The forms of the pieces were not planned when I was making the lacunose panel, but I chose them from what emerged. This method of design works better for me than trying to design too much in advance. (I do the same with paste paper, making it with broad strokes then finding the best bits afterwards.) I spent a couple of days juggling layouts with a larger set of prepared pieces, leaving them overnight and taking another look in the morning until it felt right. Then I thought I could do more lacunose pieces on the spines – but sanity said to me NO! (1) the spines are too narrow, and (2) less is enough!

Spine titles? – desirable for these books and for this design, maybe in gold lettering, sometime in the future. I did stamp the foot of the spines in blind with the publication date of each book (doing this in gold is a neat convention from the end of the 19th century) and that could be done too – when I have had more practice gold tooling.

Drop-in Sat 11 Nov

9.00 – 12.30, Room 3 Hughes Community Centre, Hughes, ACT.
Be shown and assisted in the technique of creating either raised or recessed relief images and designs in paper

Come along be with other binders and share and learn together.

Need assistance with your bookbinding project, there will be help on hand.


Only $5, towards hiring the room.
Everyone welcome.
Drop-in Saturday dates 2019
  9 March
11 May
13 July
14 Sept
  9 Nov

Workshop – Case binding with decorative stitching

Waiting list

Learn to make a case bound book with decorative stitching.

Saturday 21 July 2018,  9.00am – 5.00pm, in the Hall, Hughes Community Centre

Cost $110 ($70 for Guild members)


To book a place, please register at  admin@canberrabookbinders.org.au

Skill level: Beginners and others welcome

Be guided through techniques to create a case bound book that opens flat with decorative stitching on the spine. You will be taught to use a variety of tools and the basics of contemporary fine binding. What you will learn can be applied to many binding styles for artist books and contemporary fine bindings.

Materials will be supplied.

A list of what to bring will be provided following registration.

Code X: contemporary fine binding

Names, Words, Witch’s Symbols

9 February – 25 March 2017


In association with 2017 Australian National Conference of Bookbinders

The best work of international bookbinders paired with the best work of Australia’s established bookbinders and ‘rising stars’ to change perceptions

about the craft of bookbinding and to demonstrate how traditional craft skills can be used to produce dynamic and vibrant contemporary works.