Counting Down the Days – making an ‘everlasting’ fabric Advent calendar

Time: about 6 hours – Patience: how many sleeps is it ’till Christmas?? – Difficulty: a little fiddly in places

Advent calendars have always been such an important part of the countdown to Christmas for me.  But aren’t they often just a little bit of a disappointment?  The chocolate calendars so often contain the lowest grottiest grade of milk chocolate imaginable, and the plain card ones are, well, a bit plain!

Completed Advent Calendar

The last few years I’ve seen a few beautiful fabric advent calendars with pockets, which sadly have always been a bit rich for my wallet.  So after I’d got out my bits and pieces of Christmas fabric scraps for bunting making a couple of weeks ago, I thought, surely I might be able to make something of my own?

You will need –

  • A large piece of heavy fabric for the backing.  The piece I used was about 45 x 80 cm, but obviously this will vary according to your design.
  • Enough scrap Christmas-coloured fabric for 24 pockets and something pretty for the top of your tree.
  • Some way of applying numbers to your pockets (felt, paint, embroidery…)
  • A bamboo cane and some ribbon.
  • A sewing machine capable of straight and zig-zag stitch, matching and contrasting threads.

Backing fabricI was lucky to have some quite heavy, checked, gold-coloured fabric in my scraps bag which was big enough to use as backing fabric.  Even better, the approximately 1″ squares of the pattern made a fantastic layout grid for the advent calendar, saving me a huge amount of hassle.

Calendar doodle I doodled out some boxes, and realised with some pleasure that I could build up a stylised Christmas tree out of square pockets using a very convenient 24 squares – result.

Then I had a dive around the random collection of Christmas fabric scraps I’ve collected over the years, particularly the annoying-sized offcuts  I never seem to be able to bring myself to throw out on the basis they’ll come in handy some day!  Out of some card, I cut myself a pocket template based on the squares of the backing fabric, two boxes wide and two and a half boxes high.  I used this to mark up, and then cut out my 24 pockets out of a mix of fabrics, using pinking shears.

Layout patchesNow it’s time to play about with your pockets to decide on a pleasing arrangement of the different fabrics.  It took a few tries but I pretty quickly came up with an arrangement I was happy with.  It’s also the time to decide how you want to arrange your numbers.   I decided to count them down from 24 at the top of the tree, down to 1 in the pot, but you could arrange them randomly or in some other pattern of your choosing.

I was feeling really chuffed at having found 24 small felt numbers from a craft supplier to use on the calendar pockets.  I can in no way recommend that you do the same thing, and here’s why –  having decided on the layout of the patches, it’s time to number them.  The felt numbers were far too small and fiddly to sew on with my machine, so I hand stitched them to the pockets.  It took me a whole evening in front of the TV (not joking, it took over three hours – as much as the rest of the project put together!).  There must be faster ways – I suppose I could have used fabric glue but I didn’t have any.  Fabric paint or iron on numbers may be a solution.  Of course if you have a marvellous programmable embroidery machine, you could just embroider them on.  If you do, you should know that I’m extremely jealous!

Trimmed pocket

Hemming pocketOnce all your numbers are in place (or before, if you’re paining or ironing on) iron your pockets with the top hem folded over, and then just trim the corners of the fold with the pinking shears.  Then stitch the hem over with a closely matched colour of thread.  Now is the time to cut and hem your backing fabric, too.  I used a wide zig-zag stitch to do the hemming, which avoided having to do any other finishing.  Give yourself enough fabric top and bottom to hem a pocket big enough to thread a bamboo cane through later.

Now lay out all your prepared pockets.  Also cut yourself a star, or other decoration for the top of your tree, out of a suitably spangly fabric.  Now it’s time to sew the pockets onto the backing fabric, which you will have to do a row at a time starting at the top.  First pin your star in place and then, with an appropriate contrasting thread, appliqué it in place. I used zigzag stitch, because I like the effect, and a dark red / burgundy thread, but you should do whatever you like!

Applique starThen, a row at a time, do the same with the pockets, sewing the sides and bottom onto the backing fabric using a zigzag stitch.  Try to make sure you catch both sides of adjoining pockets in the stitch.  Obviously don’t stitch the tops of the pockets if you’re going to want to put anything in them!  Oh, and mind your fingers on the pins as you work – or at least, try not to stab yourself *too* often.

If you don’t quite manage to catch all the edges, you can correct this later by hand using matching rather than contrasting fabric to make the corrections.  It will look hand-made, which is the point, after all!

Once you’re all done, cut two lengths of bamboo, one a bit longer than the other, and some suitably coloured ribbon to hang the calendar with.  I used a spot of fabric glue (yes, I’d learnt my lesson and bought some by then!) on both ends of the top bamboo cane to stop the tied-on ribbon from slipping.  I also used a little scrap of ribbon to tie a jingle bell to a tiny peg to use as a marker to move along from pocket to pocket as December ticks away.

That’s it, sit back and admire your handiwork!  And perhaps pour yourself a nice beverage – go on, you’ve earned it!


3 thoughts on “Counting Down the Days – making an ‘everlasting’ fabric Advent calendar

  1. Pingback: ‘Tis the season… Happy Advent, everyone! | Country Skills for Modern Life

  2. Pingback: Like a Candle in the Dark – Blog Advent (1) | Country Skills for Modern Life

  3. Pingback: Not Long Now – final preparations for Christmas – Blog Advent (22) | Country Skills for Modern Life

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