Put a zip in it!

At the end of August, I saw this tutorial for a cute shark pencil case that I thought both boys would love. I showed the picture of the finished product to them and got animated nods to go ahead. I was hoping to have them made in time for the start of school.

Shark fabric

But that was delayed -I just couldn’t get my head around some of the instructions and was less than enthusiastic about putting in a zipper “in the round” no less. I have no formal sewing training and had never put a zip in anything (although I was frequently asked to “put a zip in it” but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a reference to sewing!). It didn’t help that a lot of comments from crafters about the tutorial indicated that they were having difficulty seeing how the zipper was put in. I have no idea why I decided to go ahead. Partly I didn’t want to disappoint the boys, and partly because I love a challenge – it can’t be that hard, can it?


To make the outside of the sharks, I used Comma pre-cut charm squares, a Zen Chic for moda line. Not sure when this came out but I’ve had it in my stash for at least a year. It’s a great mix of charcoals and black. The inside was a scrap of red fabric that I’ve had in my stash since, well, I started a stash. Putting together the outside of the shark was relatively simple.

Shark body

But I got stuck on number 4. So a clarification of the methods: from instruction number 4 – 8, this refers to the FINS only. Finally figured that one out.

Zip attempt number 25!

Then came the zip (and inner lining). I pinned these two layers to the shark in lots of different ways and then tried to turn it the right side out so that I could see which way was correct. I stabbed myself with pins a lot doing this. When I finally I thought I had it figured out, I started up the sewing machine. A normal foot wasn’t going to work as the space was so small. I tried using my zipper foot – of which I have 0 experience and for which I couldn’t even get it to stay on. So I took the foot off and sewed without a foot. At all. That’s probably all sorts of major sewing rules completely thrown out the door. Afterwards, I thought I should have tried my darning foot, although I’m not sure that would have worked either.

I first sewed the zip to the shark and then sewed the red inner lining to the zip, rather than do both the zip and the lining to the shark at the same time. The primary issue with sewing without a foot is that it is really hard to keep the stitches straight. Once sewn, I used some hand stitches, especially at the mouth corners, to help stabilize the zip.


All things considered, I don’t think the zipper mouth, open, looks too bad. A bit wonky on one edge because of the wobbly seam.

The main issue is how the zip closes. It hardly looks professional and it bugs me…deeply.

Finished shark

One thing about using templates is ensuring that they are printed out at the right scale. I thought I had printed out the template at 100%, but the final shark did seem pretty small with lots of excess zip (in the end I cut the zipper shorter) and the pouch wasn’t quite deep enough for new pencils. Argh. So maybe I didn’t print it out to the correct scale.

All these problems I could see in the finish. But the lovely thing? When I handed them over to the boys, they saw none of these. They just simply loved that their mum had made them a “cool” shark pencil case, which they now keep in their school desk and contains well-loved (read: short) pencils. So while the imperfections may annoy me, the joy I received from their non-judgmental reaction helps me to move on from those mistakes. In the end, it appears, I learned more from this project than just how to swear at a zipper.


4 thoughts on “Put a zip in it!

  1. kids are brilliant, I recently made a new (to us) dinner and asked my 3 year old what he would rate it out of 10 I explained 10 being awesome and 1 being yuk and he thought about it and said 3 then shook his head and said 2 yes 2 in between making yum sounds I explained that 2 or 3 meant he did not really like the dinner and he said okay then 1! haha he did eat it all so he must have liked it 🙂
    Love the sharks.


  2. These are amazing! Well done on the zips, making them fit properly into things is a constant headache for me but those zip mouths are brilliant. What we call mistakes, others call lovingly homemade. Glad your kids liked them, I will have to check out that tutorial, I have a little brother that might like one of these for Christmas! 🙂


    • I bet he’d love it! Boys and sharks are a perfect combination. I can’t wait to see your zip projects. I have one zipper project that mountain man asked for but I need to recover from this first!


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