How to Make a Zine the Chicago Zine Fest Way

Chicgo Zine Fest Corinne Mucha

Hey there, baby zinesters! Have WWAC’s zine reviews left you itching to create something of your own? You’re in luck, because Chicago Zine Fest (CZF) organizers Savay, Heather and Johnny Wawrzaszek graciously taught my artist-friend Bike Morch and me a simple binding technique. The Chicago Publishers Resource Center (CHIPRC) lent us their space for this project, but you can easily bind a zine at your kitchen table, on the floor, or pretty much anywhere. If you’re sitting in front of a blank stack of paper with all your hopes and dreams in your head and your hands, this article is for you.

Supply List

Each of these – except the last one – can be found at Dick Blick or any craft stores.
Zine content drawn, written, or cut-and-pasted onto any size paper
Bone folder or kitchen knife
Awl (optional, depending on amount of content and thickness of paper)
Binding needle or regular sewing needle
Binding thread, embroidery thread or sewing thread, scissors
Ten to fifteen minutes


Step One: Have Love For Your Fellow Human Beings

For Heather and Savay, zines are all about community and making human connections. Savay loves that zines celebrate imperfection, because the flaws remind the reader that “…there’s a human being behind [the zine.] In terms of making them, it’s something that I feel less alienated from as I make it. I feel like it’s still a part of me.”

Heather spoke specifically about being a zinester in her city, noting that “there’s such a strong zine community in Chicago, with places like CHIPRC and Quimbys [an independent book store that sells tons of zines.] It fosters a tight-knit community. Who wouldn’t want to [make zines] and be a part of it? You’d be crazy.”

Don’t fret, non-Chicagoans! There are incredible zinester communities all over the world. A little googling and a trip to the right neighborhood – or a popular Kinkos – will help you find it. If you’ve already found a zine community in another part of the world, tell us about it in the comments!

Step Two: Just Do It

The love is in your heart. The ideas are in your head. The paper or word doc before you is blank, and you are nervous, perhaps even afraid. Where do you go from here?

Just Do It“Just do it,” advises Heather. “A lot of people wait until it’s perfect, and it’s never going to be perfect… just do it, and yeah, maybe no one is going to read it. Maybe your first five issues no, and on issue six someone will.” For Heather, it all comes back to community: making content allows for a higher level of participation the community than just being a consumer. For example, swapping creations with her friends is part of the joy of being a zinester, because “you have a greater chance of making friendships with people if you have something to share with them.”

Savay also reminded us of the number one rule of zine making: There are no rules. “[Zines] can be about whatever; they can be filled whatever, they can look however, which is something I appreciate,” she explained.

Take whatever you’ve got, put it on paper, and then edit it at least a little. This is a raw medium, with neither editors nor middlemen to tell you that you’re wrong, your commas are spliced, and you need to change what you’re doing. We love you, comma splices and all. Just do it.

Step Three: Fold It, Crease It, and Reverse It
Morch folds the zine in half, so the spine is on the left.
Morch folds the zine in half.

The technique Savay taught us is called the 3 Hole Saddle Stitch. If your zine contains some gorgeous two-page spreads this will be especially useful, because once the work is bound it lays pretty flat. Savay recommends leaving half an inch between your beautiful artwork and the center crease.

The 3 Hole Saddle Stitch also works for any size and thickness of paper, so use whatever works best for you. Morch used a mix of size A4 multimedia, fine tooth and sketchbook paper, but Savay used scrap printer paper for the demonstration. Keep it as cheap as necessary!

Once you’ve got your content ready, lay it out flat with the pages in order, and then fold it in half, keeping in mind if you want your zine read right-to-left or left-to-right. Next, run the bone folder or a non-serrated kitchen knife along the fold to make the crease flatter, and more defined. If you’ve got a lot of content, or you’re worried about the pages moving around, clip them together with binder clips to hold them in place.

Don’t actually reverse anything. That was just a joke.

Savay three holes in the center of the zine.
Measuring holes.
Step Four: Measure, or Don’t

Unfold your zine so that it’s lying flat on the table (or floor, or whatever.) You can be as exact or messy as you want for this step, however we broke out the rulers and pencils and measured three holes right on the crease. Savay noted that you can make as many holes as you want, but the stitch works best with three. If, like me, you’re not so great at visually measuring things, put a dot smack in the middle, and then divide the sections above and below the middle of the first dot in half. Those half-points are where you will mark the other two dots.

Step Five: Get Holey

For this step you’ll need an awl, a binding needle, or a regular sewing needle. When choosing a tool, consider the thickness of the flattened-out zine. If you’ve got a lot of content and your paper stack is twenty-pages tall, you likely won’t be able to get just a sewing needle through it.

Who says you can't have it awl?
Who says you can’t have it awl?

Hold your zine carefully, without touching the spine. If you hold the spine you’ll likely stab your fingers, and WWAC does not take responsibility for this. That was your own fault. Take a moment to go get a band-aid. Charge a little extra for that copy of the zine stained with your blood.

Slowly twist and push the awl through each hole you made, but be gentle. Savay explained that this technique is difficult to screw up in a zine-ruining way, however certain kinds of paper may tear more easily, and you don’t want the holes to be too big. Jagged rips in the paper might look cool, but they could also shorten the shelf life of your zine. That’s pretty punk rock, though.

Step Six: Stitch It Up!

image7We used binding needles and binding thread to stitch up the zines, however if you’re using thinner paper or have a smaller amount of content, you may be able to get away with a sewing needle. Embroidery floss – which is the thread you use to make friendship bracelets – and regular sewing thread will also work in a pinch, but Savay recommends that if you go that route, you double up for added strength.

You want your thread to be double the length of the seam, so measure it by running the thread along the seam and then doubling that amount. Too much thread won’t kill your beloved creation! If you’re feeling a little nervous, take a deep breath and relax. The 3 Hole Saddle Stitch is not an exact science.

Pull your thread about two inches through the eye of the binding needle, but don’t knot it. Then, start on the inside of your zine and pull the thread through, leaving about another two inches.

Flipping the zine.
Flipping the zine.

I lied earlier: we are going to reverse it. You’ve got to flip your baby over. Pat it on the back until it burps. Then, pull your thread through the top hole. Next, skip right over that middle hole and pull it through the bottom hole.

If all is going well, you and your trusty thread are on the outside (i.e. the cover side) of your monstrous creation! Pull the remaining bit of bind thread back through that middle hole to return the inside of the zine, then slip that needle right off. Your baby’s work is over, and so is yours. All you’ve got to do is knot the threads in the middle however you want – Morch tied a cute little bow – trim the excess, kiss your creation and call it a day.

Or, if you’re getting ready to head over to a distro or a festival, do that twenty, thirty, forty more times.

Step Seven: You Need A Little Help

If you need some assistance with binding, pulling together content, or with anything at all, you’ve got options. Chicagoans can become members of CHIPRC by signing up online for a three month or one year membership. They hold open hours on Sundays, and you can use that time to borrow some of their resources, advice, and meet more rad zinesters. CHIPRC also hosts workshops and fun programming, which you can keep up with by emailing to get on the mailing list, or by following them on twitter and facebook. If you’re feeling a little hesitant, attend an event and check out the space. CHIPRC is hosting Hallowzine: A Night of Spooky Readings on October 23rd, so you can throw on a costume and check them out totally incognito. Plus, the five bucks you hand over at the door will help fund CZF!

Don’t forget that cities other than Chicago have thriving, supportive zine communities. Searching the internet for zine-related events, looking for zines in independent bookstores, and attending local zine and indie comic festivals will enable you to find your people. Also, don’t forget to tell us about your local community in the comments!

Step Eight: Table At Chicago Zine Fest

Now that you’re an expert, you’re ready to table at CZF! Seriously! The festival organizers strive to bring in new people as well as veterans. Savay describes the typical zine fest scene as “…a really good mix of new zinesters who’ve never tabled at CZF before, people from all over the country, and a mix of different genre zines which is also something we want to keep in mind. We don’t want it to just be comics or just be perzines. We want there to be a lot of different stuff available, and also kid friendly.”

Registration for CZF opens at 12PM on Friday, October 23rd, and closes at 12PM on Friday, October 30th. The list of accepted tabling applications will be released on Monday, November 2nd and payment will be due at 12PM on November 13th. If you’ve looked into tabling at a big convention and were turned off by the price, get ready to go indie! A half table (CZF doesn’t do full tables) is only thirty bucks, and you can pay five bucks more for an extra chair.

If you don’t want to table, or don’t feel ready, you can attend fundraisers and events to support CZF. Follow them on twitter, tumblr, and facebook to keep up with their shenanigans, and don’t forget to attend the festival! It takes place on April 29th and 30th at Plumber’s Hall, and it’s free! I guarantee that you’ll have a wonderful time; I attended last year and had a blast. Make sure you save up, because you’ll want to buy everything.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.