Basic binding

Note: This is the fourth of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.


  • saddle stapler
  • pieces of thread, pre-cut per participant
  • needles
  • 1 piece of card stock and 2 pieces of copy paper (per participant)

Many zines are bound using nothing more than staples. Since your common, everyday desk stapler can’t reach the center of most pieces of paper, a special stapler is used called a long-reach or saddle stapler. It looks like this (we’ll also have one in class today):

A common saddle or long-reach stapler runs about $20-30

But some of the more elaborate zines use a threaded binding, called a saddle stitch or pamphlet stitch. It looks a bit like this:

Image from Eunoia by Christian Bök.

Folks use threaded binding when they are trying to make a more intimate zine; it’s just one other labor intensive way to make a zine stand out. You can use different colored threads or 3- or more holes, to make your zine look more interesting than the standard stapled zine.

There are many decent guides out there for how to make a pamphlet stitch. The one I’ll be using today is from the Brooklyn Arts Alliance.

I’ll walk you through how to make a pamphlet stitch, but the basic premise is that you are attaching folded sheets of paper (called folios) to a cover by sewing one signature (or groups of folded papers). The more folios you have, the thicker the booklet. If you make longer zines or mini-books, your binding method will become necessarily more complex because it will require more signatures to hold it together. But today, we’ll simply sew 2 folios to 1 cover using a single signature. This will make an 8-page zine with a nice card stock cover. Like so:

From Vera Lane Studio.

Remember, if you decide to do this for your zine, you’ll need to pre-copy the pages and sew the binding for each zine (100 copies might make for some sore fingers).  If you’re interested in other, more complex methods check out Ellen Lupton, whose books on indie publishing are wonderful.

Zine Re/Production: Part II

Note: This is the third of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.

Last week we talked about the design-cost ratio which states that the more you invest in the design of your book or zine, the more costly it will become — either in terms of $, labor, or time. This principle makes it difficult to make your zine stand out. Although letterpressed or embossed covers look beautiful, access to those tools can be a challenge for the everyday maker.  That said, there are some straightforward, inexpensive ways to make your zine look one-of-a-kind and these moves often involve designing an attractive cover. In terms of cost, these methods take little $ but lots of time, depending on how many zines you plan to reproduce. As you think about your cover, draw from one of these strategies — or better yet combine them.


  • glue sticks, spray adhesive, Modge Podge
  • Brayer, acrylic paint, paint brushes, Mylar paper, cardboard
  • card stock, copy paper
  • knives, cutting mats
  • stamps, stamping ink
A variety of colors on card stock.

Colored/heavy paper. Rather than use standard, white, 20-pound copier paper for your cover, choose 60+-pound color card stock. If you plan to run this card stock through the copy machine, that’s okay, but consider how black ink might show up. You can also use a knife to cut shapes or letters in the cover and make the title page poke through (just remember you have to repeat this process for all covers).

Layered collage. Cut out your title from another sheet of  paper and paste it to the cover using Mod Podge or spray adhesive. This will be more durable if you’re using a card stock cover. You can also use Modge Podge to give it a gloss shine. Use a paintbrush and spread Modge Podge over the cutout until you get the sheen you want.

A DIY block stamp made from linoleum.

Stamping. Buy stamped letters or images,  make one from a photo at your local printing shop, or carve your own from a linoleum block. Although this option has more of a start-up cost than the others, when it comes to reproducing quality, color-inked covers, this method is hard to beat.

Stencil cut from Mylar paper

Stenciling. Buy stencils (letters, images, etc.) or make them by cutting silhouettes on Mylar paper. Then, attach to your cover using masking tape and color it in using crayons, markers, or acrylic paint. If using paint, try a brayer:

Another way to make your zine stand out is to use a saddle-stitch binding instead of a stapled one. We’ll conduct a workshop on this next week.

Zine Re/production: Part I

Note: This is the second of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.

Today we’re going to build from making a mini-zine to something more complex. Today’s zine will be especially different because I’m also going to introduce you (in small groups) to the copy machine, where we can experiment with some basic reproduction techniques. But first…

1. Reflect on your experience making a mini-zine.

Last week you made a mini-zine in about 90 minutes, which allowed you to experience the entire process of zine-making: thinking up an idea, marking pages, making and folding multiple copies, and distributing them all over campus. So I’d like to start today reflecting on both the excitement of that process, but also its challenges. In short, what did you learn from making a mini-zine? And did you see Sara in the Daily Orange today?

2. Know the design-cost ratio.

While hardly scientific, DIY bookmaking essentially works on a simple tradeoff principle I’ve called the design-cost ratio. That is, the more you invest in the design of your book or zine, the more costly it will become — either in terms of $, labor, or time. At the same time, the more you invest, the wider your reach and more likely your zine will stand out among others.

design-cost ratio

I think of this, then, in terms of variables.

On the design side you have:

  • paper — size, color, weight
  • marks — cut & paste (collage, pen & ink, etc.), digital (typography, images, etc.), colors, margins, etc.
  • folds — landscape, portrait, middle, accordion, etc.
  • bindings — stapled, stitched, rubber bands, taped, ringed

On the cost side, you have

  • # of pages
  • # of copies
  • access to tools
  • methods of reproduction
  • means of distribution

These are just some of the things you need to think about when you decide to make a zine.

3. Basic tools.

I’ll introduce you to some of the tools we have available, although it should be obvious that there are many, many more than is represented here.


4. Practice.

Take the rest of our time together to look at the handout I distributed on the standard 1/2 page zine, the micro mini, and making copy-ready masters. Then start experimenting with prototypes. After 15 minutes or so, I’ll start taking some of you to the copy machine to show you how your prototypes will look when photocopied and in book form.

Shopdrop a mini-zine

Note: This is the first of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.

By way of an introduction to the grit of zine-making, we’re going to try to make a mini-zine in under 60 minutes. We’ll exchange these zines in class and it will be up to each of you to distribute these zines by way of shop-dropping (AKA droplifting), a form of culture jamming. You’ll be able to drop your zines and others in a number of places on campus or in Syracuse.

1. What’s a zine?

Let’s let nicki sabalu help us answer that.

2. Can I see some examples?

Yes! Let’s spend 10 minutes looking at some I’ve collected over the last year or so. As you browse these in groups of four, consider some of these questions:

  • How would you describe the variety of these zines in terms of form (that is the way they are put together) versus their content (that is, what their rhetorical goals are)?
  • Who is the implied audience for the zine? Who are its readers?
  • Think about the different processes these makers used envision, collect, and circulate their zines.

3. How do I make a zine?

We’ll make zines throughout the next few Mondays, but for today we’re going to take a stab at making a mini-zine. We can thank Sassyfrass Circus for helping us with this.


Take 30 minutes to follow the instructions above. In terms of content, think about the various places and audiences this zine might travel to. Or imply a specific space (i.e. the library) with your content.

4. Copy and distribute!

If we have time today, we’ll copy, fold, and cut these in class. Next, we’ll exchange them in class and discuss potential places for distribution. If we run out of time, we’ll bump this to next week’s workshop.