As of 2021/2022, as Knit-for-Nowt works through a huge request list needing a box-full of donations each (not counting puppets!), the charity desperately needs a steady supply of worry eaters. Ones with zip mouths are always in short supply, and always much in demand with therapists.

As well as serving a practical purpose, the zip adds a fun moving part to the worry eater. More importantly, when a child feeds their worry paper into the tummy and closes the zip, they feel that the worry is safely shut away and can’t get out. It’s a psychological trick so simple that we can make it into a game, but it really, really works.

If you’d rather skip my waffling, reassuring, and explaining about zips, just scroll down to the bits in red for the step-by-step.

My original monster pattern for Knit-for-Nowt was designed to work around all the things I didn’t know/couldn’t discover online about inserting a zip into a stuffed toy. It framed the zip behind a hole in the face, hiding the construction mess under felt lips.

A completed, sewn worry eater with zip mouth and large ears
This full-width zip mouth is much faster and easier to sew than my old method. There are a couple of other approaches to the same job that I’ve tested out and found workable: I’ll cover those in another post. This is the method I find fastest and the one that gives me problems to solve the least often. The trick to this method is choosing a longer zip instead of a perfect fit. Surprisingly, that can work out cheaper. Shorter zips are relatively costly and come in fewer colours and styles. Longer zips can often be bought very cheaply by the 10, 30, 50, or 100 on Amazon and Ebay. It’s wasteful to chop a worry eater-sized zip out of one a yard long, true, but it’s saved me a fortune!

You Will Need...

  • The front-body piece of your worry eater.
  • A #3 or #5 acrylic/nylon zip longer than the body is wide.
  • Your worry eater’s facial features, or a good idea of where they’ll be placed relative to the mouth.
  • Cutting/measuring tools.
  • Pins with large, visible head.
  • A warm iron.
  • Threaded sewing machine and/or hand-sewing materials.
  • Optional: Decorative trim for the “lips”.
  • Optional: 2 layers of tummy-lining fabric, cut to overlap the body piece sides and bottom. Height = the zip PLUS 2 inches for a generous hem.
Face of a zip-mouth worry eater with crazy ribbon loop hair

Don't Be Nervous!

Close view of worry eaters with zip mouth, showing side seam join

If you’re as nervous as I was when I started trying to make zipped monsters, it might help to take a moment to think about what we need to achieve. The tummy lining attaches behind the zip, creating a sealed pocket. Worry papers can’t get out unless the mouth is unzipped. Stuffing can’t leak into the tummy space from the stuffed body because the lining fabric is firmly attached all the way around, in front of the stuffing. It’s joined to the body fabric and/or the zip.

I’m not focusing on the lining or the sewing-up in this post: just inserting the zip. The ends of the zip get taken care of by sewing we’re going to be doing later anyway: the main body seam right up the sides of the worry eater. All we have to do is let the ends of our zip overlap the raw sides of the body fabric and make sure nothing solid – like the zip’s end stop and slider/pull – gets in the way when our needle/presser foot goes over it.

We can add the tummy lining later, as a separate step, or do it as we finish off the zip with some topstitching. I prefer to do the two steps separately, so I’ll be covering the tummy lining in detail in another post. I’ve given very basic instructions for doing it with the topstitching in this post.

Zips in General

I hadn’t grasped that there are different types of zip for specific jobs – anything from easing a waistline by a couple of inches to putting a cover on your caravan – or that the ones that open at the bottom to let me out of my jacket are different to the ones holding my bag shut!

Most of the technical stuff doesn’t matter when of sewing a worry eater, though it’s worth knowing a few terms and sizes to make the shopping simpler. We want a #3 or #5 size zip, with nylon/acrylic teeth. We must make sure no small parts will break off and harm a child. For the method I’m covering here, we want a zip at least 3″ longer than our worry eater’s body is wide. That gives us room to work on a flat, straight section of the zip tape instead of dealing with wiggles and flared ends. Those aren’t hard to sort out, but I’m finding them really hard to explain on paper!

The diagram shows a closed-end zip with a hard stopper at the end of the teeth to stop the two halves of the zip fully separating. One of our side seams will take over that job when the body gets sewn up.

Labelled diagram of a zip

There are 2 hard metal parts of this zip that could break a sewing needle, damage a machine, or knock the side seam wonky. The slider/tab can easily be moved out of our way as we sew – just zip and unzip as needed.

The bottom stop needs to get right out of the way from the start, or it’ll block the path of the sewing machine presser foot – or worse, break the needle.

A domestic sewing machine can handle sewing a #3 or #5 nylon/acrylic zip into a side seam if we go over the teeth slowly. If in any doubt, lean back away from the machine in case the needle breaks, and manually advance the stitches over the teeth.

Method - Step By Step

1: Press front-body fabric and zip with warm iron.

2: Make a horizontal cut across the front-body fabric where you want the mouth to go.

Sew a zip mouth: Step 1

We’ll be turning a single-fold hem where the 2 pieces join the zip, so allow for the loss of height in your original measurements. Alternatively, add the zip then use the new front-body piece as a template to cut out the back-body and lining layers.

3: Pin or clip the lower half of the body-front right-side to right-side with the lower half of the zip.

4: Sew from one side of the body fabric to the other, attaching the zip. Secure the stitches at both ends.

Machine sewing a zip can be fiddly, but it’s not difficult. Experiment with different presser feet if you have them – many domestic machines come with a dedicated zip foot that gives you more control over the distance between the zip fittings and the stitch line.

If the slider/pull gets in your way, move it! Some people prefer to work with the zip fully open.

Find a straight edge to follow: the body fabric is lined up nicely with the straight edge of the zip tape.

Here, I’m gliding the inside of my presser foot along the edge made by the zip teeth, while keeping a close eye on the distance between the fabric edge (pinked to show the zip tape for this tutorial) and my seam line. Mine’s just under a centimetre from the edge of the fabric/zip.

Sew zip to body fabric with single fold hem

5: Press the new seam open using a warm iron.

6: Repeat as for steps 3 and 4, attaching the top front-body piece to the top half of the zip, working right-side to right-side.

Take time to make sure the sides of the body line up as you pin/clip, so you get the second zip seam at a right angles to the sides of the body.

Pin top of body to top of zip

The front-body piece is now joined back together with the zip forming the mouth.

7: Turn the body/zip right-sides-out and press with a warm iron.

8: Topstitch across each hem to add stability to the mouth area.

If you’d like to save time by combining steps, attach the tummy lining behind the zip at the same time as this topstitching. We could also take the opportunity to add a trim on top – felt, ric-rack, etc – as “lips”, if the zip by itself doesn’t look right for the mouth.

Topstitch

I’ll cover the tummy lining properly in my next post, but if you’ve followed me this far, that’s it – you just added a full-width zip to a worry eater! Awesome work.

Any questions or problems, I’m on the Knit-for-Nowt maker’s Facebook group.
A bright fabric worry eater with full-width zip mouth
Sew a Zip Mouth into a Worry Eater