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.

Cause = Time

I imagine it’s fairly commonplace for bloggers to apologize for neglecting their respective blogospheres, so for that cliche alone, I refuse to do it. That said, if I’m serious about getting to that good place where I can “think like a writer” — and I’m reminded of what a distant land that place is no matter who you are — then I am required to enact self-discipline.

The problem is that I privately promise myself that I’ll eventually make time for the blog. But as the dates can attest, since early October I’ve been making one of the following excuses:

-“AM will wake up by [insert time here] so it’s pointless to start a new entry”
-“I have coursework to do; the blog isn’t obligatory”
-“I need to respond to an eWC request”
-“My WRT 307 lesson plan isn’t ready for tomorrow”
-“I should be running”
-“What are we having for dinner?”
-“My RSS feed is already telling me I have 1,000+ unread items”
-“I’m hungry” (<– not really)

In How to Write a Lot Paul Silva frames this problem neatly: “Finding time is a destructive way of thinking about writing. Never say this again.” Writers, he argues, need to allot time to write. That means no email, Facebook, shower, or coffee (which is where I draw the line) until I’ve met my daily writing goal.

So here it is. Starting tomorrow, after I brew my coffee, I’m allotting the first hour of every day to the blog. See you bright and early. Cause = time.

Intro to digital humanities

Thanks to Labor Day, this past Monday was the first time my digital humanities (DH) class met having to read something from the field beforehand; as one might assume, these essays sought to define DH, articulate some of the core problems DHers address, provide a brief history, and pose several methods that make DH important to the humanities, the academy, and knowledge production more generally.

Considering that Matt Kirschenbaum argues that the term “digital humanities” (DH) came at least partially from the process involved in titling the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities (CDH), it’s fitting that we not only read his short piece from the ADE Bulletin last January (originally based on address from the summer of 2010), but also bits and pieces from Part I of the CDH (freely available online, thank god). So this blog post is an attempt to outline some of the arguments in those pieces and maybe (maybe?) make sense of them.

Kirschenbaum answers the questions in his piece, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?,” rather directly if not generally. In response to the former, (What is DH?) Kirschenbaum (appropriately, says me) relies on Wikipedia’s definition, but also adds that DH “is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies,” embracing approaches to common humanities texts using powerful analytical tools and archiving processes.

In terms of history, Kirschenbaum argues that the the creation of the Office of Digital Humanities at NEH — and all the grants and visibility that came with it — was the “tipping point for the branding of DH.” He likens the creation of DH to the Birmingham School and discusses general ways that a ADE crowd might have encountered (or missed) DH visibility, such as through tweets at conferences or articles in the Chronicle/Inside Higher Ed. After connecting DH interests to the academy at large, he then makes a case for why DH belongs in English departments. He gives six reasons: text is the primary data, the “long association between computers and composition,” the editorial theory that lead to digital archiving (curation?), the excitement and following of hypertext and e-lit, the inclusion of cultural studies in those departments, and finally the growth of e-reading and associated hardware. He ends his piece with a call to scholarship and pedagogy that is both “collaborative and depend on networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online.”

The intro to the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities by Schreibman, Siemens and Unsworth argues that the collection, which was published in 2005, marks the first time scholars of DH, representing several disciplines, came together to share their perspectives on the purpose, functions, methods and tools of DH. According the authors, DH uses “information technology to illuminate the human record” — distant reading practices, for example — “and bringing an understanding of the human record to bear on the development and use of information technology,” with things like usability technologies and geographic information systems (GIS).

Aside from Susan Hockey’s chapter on the general history of DH, Part I of the book provides as survey of the various disciplines’ engagement with and contributions to DH. Archaeologists/historical geographers use GISes to reconstruct key historical sites; literary studies engage various computer-assisted tools to quantitatively (and controversially) detect patterns is large bodies of text (a later chapter by Martha Nell Smith talks about how these methods have assisted scholars in putting major debates — like Dickenson’s use of the dash — to rest); performance studies use CAD software to construct sets in virtual 3-D; multimedia theorists consider what should be digitized, how those objects will represent the original, and how media manipulation alters meaning. Based on these readings, some of the common tools used in DH include:

  • GIS
  • CAD
  • databases and archiving code (TEI and XML for records, images, or corpora)
  • database mining (searching and sorting)
  • hypertext

Throughout all of this, though, as the introduction to CDH makes clear, representation — specifically how the digital environments alter artifacts’ meaning — is a fundamental concern for DHers. At the end of the introduction, Schreibman, Siemens and Unsworth puts it this way: “Ultimately, in computer-assisted analysis of large amounts of material that has been encoded and processed according to a rigorous, well thought-out system of knowledge representation, one is afforded opportunities for perceiving and analyzing patterns, conjunctions, connections, and absences that a human being, unaided by the computer, would not be likely to find.”

In order to do this, DHers must, as Hockey puts it in her history of humanities computing, “embrace the two cultures”: to use scientific and systemic analytical methods to reach new humanistic problems. As one might expect, a push away from hermeneutics and toward more objective, science and thus quantitative methods, received its fair or direct or indirect resistance.

A few questions came out of these readings in class. Questions, I’m sure, that don’t have definitive answers, but will become easier to approach as the semester goes on.

  • At the conclusion of the chapter on multimedia, Rockwell and Mactavish claim “There are two ways we can think through multimedia. The first is to think about multimedia through definitions, histories, examples, and theoretical problems. The second way is to use multimedia to think and to communicate thought.” This led us to ask if the same can be extended to DH approaches more generally. And so if that’s fair, how does comp/rhet as a discipline contribute or help define the activities of DH? What’s our place? What does a statement like this one from Hockey say about our influence outside of the classroom: “Gradually, certain application areas spun off from humanities computing and developed their own culture and dissemination routes.’Computers and writing‘ was one topic that disappeared fairly rapidly.” Say what?
  • Susan Hockey’s history goes back as early as 1949 to trace the evolution of “humanities computing” to the current moniker of “digital humanities.” Given the sales pitchiness of Kirschenbaum’s address (not necessarily a critique given his audience), I can’t help but wonder if there is an honest disciplinarity to DH or if it’s a buzzword. (Just previewing some of Wendell Piez’s piece in DHQ, part of our reading for next week, I’m led to believe I’m not the only one.)
  • Related: Can scholars arrive at a better understanding (or rhetoric, even) of the major tenets and purposes of the humanities via DH methods? That is, given some of the recent claims in the academy about the relevance and future of humanists’ work, is the invention of the term and concept “digital” useful as a heuristic for better defining our relevance in the academy?
  • If I’m going to pursue a major project on fanzine history (something I’m interested in), how can DH approaches support that project? How can the technologies, but also the methods, help me develop a better understanding of the transition, for example, in the mid-90s from print-based subcultural zines to e-zines. What work has already been done here? What would such a study tell us about other forms of writing? Remix culture?
Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin. 150 (2010). : n. pag. 31 Aug. 2011.
Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, eds. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.