As a youth leader I like to find ways to encourage children when they do things that align with the values of the youth organization. If a teacher tells me that one of the girls in my group was very helpful in her class, or if a boy participates in a community cleanup drive, I like to acknowledge these things publicly. It helps reinforce the values that you may be trying to instill, and encourages others to emulate the same activity.
For a long time I would just bring the child forward and announce what they had done and why it was a good thing. Then we would all cheer wildly (we never clap politely in any youth meetings I run). I realized after a while that I could do better. One night I was making some keychain fobs from paracord and had some leftover pieces. I turned these scrap pieces into zipper pulls and thought, “You know, I can make these very quickly with hardly any expense. I wonder if they would be good as encouragement youth awards?” At the next meeting I experimented with not only cheering for the child, but also giving them a zipper pull to wear on their coat, backpack, sleeping bag, or anything else. These were a big hit. Everyone wanted the zipper pull youth award. It became a status symbol in the group. Several of the children, who received more than one pull, started wearing then on the same zipper to show off their awards as a collection.
Zipper pulls can be made in a number of ways. I will show you a simple technique that will you to make zipper pulls for less than 10 cents each. They cost even less if you buy your materials in bulk or use leftover scraps as I have done.
To get started you will need:
- Inexpensive lanyard hooks. I get a package of 45 of these at Michael’s.
- 6-8 inches of cord.
- A lighter or matches to fuse the nylon paracord, or some glue to keep the ends of the cord from fraying.
You may want to start with a longer piece of cord for your first few pulls until you become comfortable with the tying steps.
Start by forming your cord into a U shape. Hold two ends together and find the middle of the cord with your other hand and pull to create the U.
We start tying the zipper pull by taking the end of the cord on the left side of the U and moving it left, then down, then back to the right until it lays on top of the rest of the cord, leaving a loop to the left of the U.
Next we take the cord on the right side and move it right, then down over the cord from the left, then behind what is left of the U, and finally through the loop we created on the left-hand side. When you have done these two loops your cord should look like the picture, with a small U at the bottom, left and right loops with the cord ends going through them in opposite directions, one from above and one from behind.
Now hold the U shape in one hand and and pull each cord end a little at a time to cinch up the first knot. The new loop, formed by the U and the knot, determines the length of our zipper pull. If it is too short you can pull on the loop to tighten the knot as well, giving you a little more room to work. A good length is about an inch.
You now begin to form the series of knots that will define your zipper pull. We will actually be tying a series of square knots around the two strands of the loop. The result is a nice flat braid that is strong and easy to grip. This braid has various names; Cobra Stitch, Solomon Bar, and Portuguese Sinnet are the ones that I know about.
There is a very important concept in order to get this correctly:
The cord that passes in front of the loop in the last knot tied is the cord that passes in front of the loop again for the next knot.
If you remember this, then this project is easy. The picture shows the first cord for the new knot passing over the top of the loop from the right and going to the left. On your knot it may pass from the left and go to the right depending on how you started. In any case, the startng direction will alternate from side to side as you tie each knot. Just remember to keep the cord that starts in front always passing in front and you will be okay.
I teach this process to youth so that they can make their own survival bracelets. The fact that the knots start from an opposite side each time is difficult for the younger ones to grasp. It is an interesting view into how the brain matures. In my experience, youth who are 9 years and older seem to grasp the concept easier and get less frustrated with the process.
Back to our zipper pull. Look at your last knot that you tied and identify which part crosses over the top of the loop. Find the end of that cord that crossed over the top and pull it down and back over the top of the loop, again leaving a side loop . Pinch this cord in place.
Take the other end of the cord and pull it down and over the cord you are pinching then behind the loop and up through the side loop that you created with the cord you are pinching. It should look like the picture above (it may be reversed depending on which side of knot you started at). Tighten the knot.
Keep adding knots and tightening them as you go. You can also pull down on the loop to compress the knots closer together for a nicer look.
Continue adding knots until your either run out of enough cord length or you have come down so far on your loop that you cannot add another knot to it.
Now remove the excess cord end to a point near your zipper pull. You may use scissors, a knife, or my favorite, some small wire cutters.
Now melt the ends of the cords close to the zipper pull to keep them from unraveling. If you are using a cord that does not melt, like cotton or hemp, apply a little glue to the ends. Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue, also known as super glue, works well for this step.
Take one of your lanyard hooks and connect it to the loop of your zipper pull.
There it is, your zipper pull is done and ready to give away. Once you get the idea down, these zipper pulls are easy to make, cost very little, and really help make a child’s day.
I keep several zipper pulls on a key ring and toss them into my Cub Master bag. So when I want to hand one out I can just grab the collection, disconnect one pull, and make a spontaneous award.
I do not call these the Zipper Pull award. I give them a name aligned with the organization. It might be the “Bright Y Award,” or the “Cub Master Award,” or the “Way to Go Award.” The name helps define that these little awards are meant to highlight someone who has reflected the values of the organization.
It is funny, but the simple things really do go a long way to building trust and encouraging the youth.