In A Flap – flip-flop denim fabric strap upcycle

The flip-flops.Summer is here (or so they say!). And whether you call them thongs or flip-flops, the three-point strap sandal is a mainstay of hot weather footwear. While I was getting a few bits and bobs in town the other day, I saw these fun flip-flops on a sale rack. I really want to like flip-flops, but I’m afraid they don’t like me! I can’t walk 100 yards in flip-flops with rubber or plastic toe posts without getting the most awful blisters between my toes. Ouchie!

Chop off the strapsSo those straps were going to have to go. There’s always something faintly satisfying about a spot of wanton destruction, isn’t there? Push the straps through the sole and chop them off with a pair of stout scissors. Congratulations, you’ve taken a pair of perfectly good, new flip flops and rendered them completely useless. Time to get mending!

I was planning to make fabric straps for these flip-flops out of some recycled cotton jersey, but I couldn’t find anything in my old-clothes stash in an appropriate colour. What I did find was a pair of Hubby’s old jeans. On reflection, denim seemed like a rather great idea, and the colour was a good match for the psychedelic print on the soles, too.

Of course denim poses some problems that cotton jersey doesn’t, not least in it’s tendency to fray extensively.  It’s also not famous for its stretchy characteristics, which means sizing will need to be more accurate, but I was pretty sure these were things that could be overcome.

Rough cutFirst up, I rough cut a broad and a narrow strap for a ‘test fit’. The narrow strap is tied in a reef knot around the wide strap and acts as the toe post. Push the straps gently through the holes and support them temporarily with safety pins while you offer up the sizing.  I tried the sandal on at this stage and showed it to Hubby to see what he thought. His verdict, ‘they’re quite, erm, rustic…’ felt a little bit short of an unqualified recommendation!

The principle seemed sound, though this mock-up stage proved one thing, which was that the narrow toe straps were literally going to fray away to nothing, and really quite quickly, too. Some reinforcement was going to be needed to avoid the whole thing coming apart!

Now, my sewing machine is a really very basic beast, more or less does straight stitch, zig-zag, not much else. But it has a rather neglected set of ‘special stitches’, one of which I admit I’ve never used in anger before today – it’s a sort of faintly-decorative compound zig-zag, which looked like it might do dual purpose for fray control while not being entirely unattractive! Well, it was worth a shot. A trial run on a narrow strap confirmed that I could run a length of the stitching, and then pull away the stray threads before trimming quite tight to the stitch line. The result seemed quite stable and robust. Excellent!

Rectangle of denimI chopped a rough rectangle of denim out of the leg of hubby’s discarded jeans. They were very well worn by the time they reached the end of their working life, so the denim is gorgeous and soft.

Cut the wide strapsUsing a ruler and cutting wheel, I sliced two wide straps 3cm wide, and two narrow straps about 1cm in width. If you don’t have a cutting wheel, mark the back and cut carefully, especially for the narrow straps.

I decided to go with a contrasting colour for the stitching to make a decorative detail out of it, and loaded up the machine with some bright yellow cotton.

With stitching completeEach wide strap takes two rows of stitches, as close as possible to the edges. The narrow straps get one row of stitches straight up the middle. If your machine doesn’t do a stitch like this, then a sensible width zig-zag is probably a good compromise.

Pull away your the threadsOnce the stitching is done, tease away at the threads outside the sewing, and gently pull it away until it ‘sticks’ in the stitching. Then, using a really sharp pair of scissors, trim the loose threads to within about 1mm of the edge of the stitching. This is all a little bit time consuming, but worth it in the end!

Now, all your straps are made, and ready to be assembled.

Straps complete before assembly

Fit the straps to the sandalTie the narrow straps in a reef knot around the approximate mid-point of the wide strap, and then feed all the ends through the appropriate holes. My denim isn’t an even colour because of the wear on it, so I used the darker end for the outside hole on both sandals, and the lighter end on the inside.

Straps on sole-sideThis is the experimental trying-on bit of the process. Adjust the straps until they’re all the right length and the fit is comfortable, using safety pins on the underside if necessary. Once you’ve know how long your straps need to be, it’s time to work out how to retain them. I’d considered the ‘tie a knot in it’ approach, and that seemed likely to work ok with the narrow toe strap, but didn’t seem as plausible for the thick straps.

Instead, I had a dig about in my button box and found six small stout little white buttons, just the right size for the recessed gaps in the bottom of the sandals.

For the toe strap, join both halves together with a horizontal row of stitches, before fixing the button between them, then trim the ends with about a cm spare and fold the straps over, securing the ends down again as firmly as you can.

Fixing toe strap (1)  Fixing toe strap (2)  Fixing toe strap (3)

For the broad straps, start by identifying the attachment point you need, secure your thread firmly and then sew the button into the centre of the strap. Trim the strap and then sew the corners down over the button, before securing the strap below the button into a round shank, wrapping a few times with the thread to help you hold the shape.

Fixing wide strap (1)  Fixing wide strap (2)  Fixing wide strap (3)

In essence, that’s it. Make the second sandal the same way, trying to get the strap lengths to match.

Finished straps

If you were just going to wear them indoors, you could probably leave it at that. I had in mind using a blob of hot glue both beneath and finally on top of the strap and button assembly to secure and stabilise the lot, and add some waterproofing and abrasion resistance to stop the first rough floor surface wearing the thread away and letting all the hard work come apart again. But then I remembered that I’ve finally got my hands on some Sugru, so I think I’m going to use a blob of that over the top (and possibly a cuff underneath) as the rubber texture seems likely to be nicely compatible with the rest of the sole. I’ll post final photos once I’ve done this (in the next few days, all being well!).

Finished sandals with home-made denim straps

I can think of some possible variations (and having done this ‘make’, some I wish I’d thought of before I started!). Satin or grosgrain ribbon would make great straps (you’d want a matching pair in 25mm and 6mm widths, I would guess, and a metre of each will be plenty) – and might even be quite ‘dressy’, with the right choice colour and plain dark-coloured sandals.  I suspect – though I haven’t tried this, so if you do, please let me know! – that you could just tie knots in the ends of the ribbons, embed the knots in a little ball of  Sugru, and just sort of ‘squidge’ it into the recesses in the sole, reducing the whole make to a five or ten minute job.  Hot glue would probably work pretty much the same, too (but don’t burn your fingers)! Next time I see a set of dirt cheap flip-flops in a pound shop or market, I’m definitely giving this variation a try!

I’m really thrilled with this, actually. These sandals are *comfortable*, and they look pretty cool too, though I say so myself. I’m definitely planning to take them on holiday, and I shan’t be one bit embarrassed by them by the pool – the finished effect is certainly more ‘handcrafted’ than ‘homemade’. So do give this a try, and please, let me know how you get on?

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Warm Fingers Never Felt So Good – mittens from washing machine felt – Blog Advent (10)

A couple of months ago, I shared a bit of a teaser with you about working with washing machine felt, with a simple technique for making a pair of five minute fingerless gloves.

These mittens are slightly more time consuming, but still really really simple and quick, an easy little hand sewing project to do in an evening in front of the TV.  Better still, they’d make a great personal gift!

Machine felt mittens

You’ll need the following –

  • A washing machine felted sweater.  See here for details on the (easy!) process.
  • Some scrap cardboard, a pencil and scissors for the mitten template.  A tailor’s chalk pencil is useful but not essential.
  • Some thick thread for assembling your gloves.  I used some multicoloured scrap knitting yarn in contrasting / coordinating colours.  Knitting yarn, incidentally, makes really really *rubbish* sewing thread, so see if you have something better – embroidery floss would be great, or how about some really thin (3mm) ribbon? Decorative and contrasting is good – I like the effect – but you could go for something to blend into your sweater felt if you prefer.
  • A really chunky hand sewing needle.  I used one intended for use on sacking fabric with a bit of a spade-end, which makes a nice big hole in the thick felt so that the double thickness of thread passes through more easily.

TemplateTo start creating your template, draw around your hand on the cardboard.  This is the time to decide how long you want the cuffs of your mittens.  Also, I suggest you have your fingers in a relaxed position slightly apart, not all cramped together – this should make the mittens more comfy later!

Next, I measured around the knuckles on my hand and compared the measurement to the appropriate part of the flat silhouette drawing on the card.  You’ll find the circumference is more than twice the silhouette measure – your hand has depth! – for me this was about an extra 2cm.  I don’t need a seam allowance for these mittens (more on this later) so I added about 5mm all the way around the hand silhouette.  Smooth the shape off at this stage to make it nice and pleasing.  [Those of you who have ever drawn a glove or mitten patten will spot my deliberate mistake here – if you haven’t, then I suggest you read the rest of the post *before* you go ahead and cut out your template!]

Mark up feltCut out your cardboard pattern, and using tailors chalk if you have it (or anything else that will draw on your felt, if you don’t) mark up four copies onto the felt.  Arrange the cuff end against the waistband of your felted jumper – this way, you get to cheat and use the waistband detail from the jumper for the cuff of your mittens.

Mitten halvesThe great thing about washing machine felt is that you’ve taken a knit fabric that would unravel, and solved this problem.  You can slice it up just as you like and it behaves very much like polar fleece (and actually, if you have some scrap polar fleece – or you’re allergic to wool – it would make a great substitute fabric for this project). Now cut out your four mitten shapes and assemble them in pairs.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t including a seam allowance in the template.  This is because the felt is really quite bulky fabric – great for nice warm toasty fingers in your mittens, but it would be really very cumbersome if you had it doubled – or more – at the seams. I’d guessed there must be edge-to-edge stitches, though I hadn’t used them before, and a bit of googling turned up a perfect solution for this project, which is called ‘Old German stitch’.

Old German stitchHopefully this image illustrates it usefully, but briefly, you assemble the two edges to each other, with the thread emerging on top of one edge, passing into the gap, and going into the other piece from below, emerging on top, passing back through the gap, and so on.  This produces an edge to edge seam without overlap which, because the thread crosses through the gap every time, is protected from the problem of the edges overriding which you’d likely get if you used a slip stitch.

Sewing around to thumb, with insert pieceNow, you can start to sew.  I started at the wristband on the little-finger side of the pattern, and worked around progressively until I reached the tip of the thumb.  I’ve mentioned that knitting yarn makes horrible sewing thread.  This particular yarn tended to shred itself, after a while, and had hideous knot-holding properties which made it really challenging to start, finish, and join.  Don’t say I haven’t warned you!

It’s at this point that my rookie pattern-cutting mistake becomes painfully obvious.  The mitten is the perfect size on the palm and fingers, but far far too narrow on the wrist.  A quick bit of wrist and mitten measuring confirmed that at the cuff, we were going to be about 5cm short.  The only solution – other than starting again with a new sweater! – was to add an insert piece – a triangle, 5cm across the short edge, and as tall as the distance from thumb-tip to cuff.  You can see this in the photo just above.

Three pieces, assembledIf you don’t want to make this as a three-piece pattern, then you should get this wrist circumference incorporated properly into your pattern template in the first place, adding an extra ~2.5cm to the cuff end below the thumb.  Actually, I really like the three part shape, though it was a complete accident.  I think it adds a nice detail, and gives proper ‘depth’ to the thumb construction.

Finished mittensYou’re done at this stage, if you want to be.  I decided I wasn’t bored of hand sewing yet, so I went on to add a row of blanket stitch along the cuff.

These are really great, warm, practical mitts. I’ve been wearing them loads over the past few weeks.  They’re not waterproof, but they’re warm and cozy and have stood up really well so far to plenty of use.

Better still, the world is your oyster in terms of colours (so go on, raid that pile of old sweaters in the back of your wardrobe!) and detailing.  You could even embroider the back of the hands, if you were feeling especially keen!

So, if you want to create a special, warming handmade gift this Christmas, you still have plenty of time to make these.  Go on, you know you want to!

Advent - day 10

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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Halloween Rib Cage T-Shirt – five minute fancy dress

Oh no – you’ve got a Halloween party this evening, and to call your costume an afterthought is, sadly, dramatically to over-estimate the amount of thought that has actually gone into it so far!  We’re just back from a lovely week in Cornwall, eating great food and walking the dog on the beach.  I’d completely forgotten about our village pub’s ‘costume optional’ Halloween event this evening until we got home about an hour ago!

Halloween Rib Cage T-shirt

But, all is not lost.  Look at my natty outfit (kindly modelled here by Hubby)!

This really is a five minute costume project.  It’s thrifty, too, and no sewing required.  You’ll just need to round up the following –

  • A ‘sacrificial’ black t-shirt,
  • a white-t-shirt that you’ll get to wear again,
  • a cutting mat, small rotary cutter, and a tailor’s chalk / pencil, and
  • a basic grasp of human anatomy (google images can help you with this bit!)

Find the approximate centre lineStarting with the black t-shirt inside out, mark out the centre line as best you can.  This will be surprisingly difficult to do with any accuracy as the quality control on these things is always shockingly poor, so a decent best guess at it is perfectly alright.

Mark out ribsNext, using the tailor’s chalk, mark out a set of ribs to one side of your centre line.  There are lots of rib cages in google images to look at, and I found the PDF template for a much more complicated version of this project on marthastewart.com was a useful guide to the general size and shape of the ribs.  Remember to offer up to the white shirt you’re planning to wear underneath to make sure you’re not massively ‘out’ when it comes to necklines.

Fold for cuttingNow, fold the t-shirt in half along your centre line, so that you have both halves of the front of the shirt front-to-front and your chalk markings showing, and the cutting mat underneath.

Cut along markings with rotary cutterCut carefully along the rib markings with your cutting wheel, through both layers of t-shirt, so that the pattern is cut as close as possible to identically on both sides of your chest.

That’s it, unfold your t-shirt, and put the cutting mat inside so you can tidy up any bits the cutter hasn’t cut cleanly.

And you’re done.  Simple, or what?

You could do the back now – but don’t cut the same pattern, as the back of the rib cage differs quite a bit from the front!  But if you can’t be bothered, pair it with a cape (or a long dark coat!), dark trousers or a black skirt and knee boots, and – if you’re feeling especially keen! – a scythe made from a broomstick with a cardboard and tinfoil blade.  You’re all set!

Time to get ready to party without feeling like you’ve completely failed to go to any trouble!  Enjoy your parties, folks, and have a ghoulish good time!

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Felt Like This – washing machine felt, and five minute fingerless gloves

I have a confession to make – I can be a bit of a hoarder!  I’m at my worst when it comes to clothes, even when they’re worn out, damaged, or utterly unsuitable, not even good enough for the charity shop, I look at all the lovely fabric and can’t bring myself to throw them out. Instead, they end up pushed to the back of the cupboard, or in bags and piles for ‘doing something with’, one day.

Finished fingerless gloves

Browsing around the web a few months ago, I came across a reference to washing-machine felt, a technique for taking unwanted woollen knitwear and turning it into a wool felt which can then be used in other projects.  All the tutorials I found seemed to hinge on also having access to a tumble dryer (which I don’t), but I had a dig about in the back of the wardrobe, rounded up three dead jumpers (two of which had already suffered and shrunk a little in the wash) and decided to give it a go.  It’s important that the jumpers you’re felting are entirely – or almost entirely – made of natural woollen fibre, as polyester and other synthetics won’t felt properly.  Mine ranged from 80% to 100% wool.

The 'donor' jumpers, before feltingI threw them all in the washing machine with a scoop of normal detergent, and selected a 60 degree cotton wash with all the ‘extras’ selected – extra dirty, extra spin, you know the sort of things.  Kids, this is not a good or friendly thing to do to knitwear (do kids these days even wear woollens??).  The jumpers came out of the machine half the size they went in, and undeniably now made of felt.  Success – and no dryer required!  After a couple of days drying, I was ready to have a play.

The fabric you’ve made will now behave very much like manufactured felt (though it’s a bit thicker than the stuff you buy by the square foot at the craft shop – and rather more robust) or polar fleece. You can cut it without it unravelling, and the edges don’t need finishing.

Cut lengths from sleeves

For a really quick satisfying up-cycle from your first washing machine felt sweater, how about a pair of fingerless felt gloves?

Work out how long you want your gloves, and cut the appropriate length from the sleeves of the felted jumper.

Offer up for thumb position

You’ll probably want the cuffs of the sleeves to be the cuffs of the new gloves.

Snip thumb holesNow decide where you want your thumb holes, turn the sleeves inside out, and snip out that part of the seam from the inside of the sleeve, leaving a slit of the right length to fit your thumb through.  Err on the small size, you can always cut more later.

Completed fingerless gloveThat’s it, if you want it to be!  Not even five minutes work.

But you can embellish these gloves really easily, if you like.  The sky’s the limit, really, for embroidery and embellishment, but I decided simply to add some blanket stitch to the unfinished edges and thumb holes, using some pretty multicoloured contrasting knitting wool I had lying around.  Blanket stitching the cut edges, like I did, has the added bonus that it should stop the seam coming undone as time goes by.

Quickest, simplest fabric recycling project ever, isn’t it?  Anyone can do this, so give it a go!

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Adventures in Quilting – my first jelly roll, and baby steps in a new craft

A couple of weeks ago, friends introduced me to a wonderful local quilting shop, The Bramble Patch in Weedon, Northants.  All those beautiful fabrics made an impression on me, and I’ve been thinking about possible projects ever since.  Today I was back for a return visit, and whereas last time I escaped with five pretty fat quarters and a relatively small hole in my wallet, today’s visit was a bit more costly!

Jelly roll, fabrics & batting

I came home with a jelly roll – my first *ever* jelly roll – ‘Reunion’ by Moda, a metre of quilt batting, a metre and a half of a matching fabric from the Reunion collection to use as backing, as well as a couple of necessary bits and bobs.  I love the idea of jelly rolls – little strips of lots and lots of co-ordinating fabrics.  I would never buy even fat quarters of such a wide range of fabrics, and the diminutive size of the strips (just 2 1/2 inches wide) is its own challenge.  This collection is particularly lovely – in turns fresh and colourful, classic and muted.

Reunion by Moda fabric collection

My project, after consideration, is a set of six place mats and a co-ordinating table runner. I hope that the small size of the working pieces and the limited scope of the project should make it one I can pull off without too much stress or anxiety!  In deference to my complete lack of prior quilting experience, and relative lack of sophisticated general sewing skills, I’ve chosen the simplest possible pattern – just stripes of colour laid next to one another, edged by turning the backing fabric to the front side.  It’s such a pretty fabric and it saves a lot of faff with binding!

Finished place mat - front     Finished place mat - back

This is my first place mat – the size was chosen with my narrow dining table in mind and is about 22 x 36cm.  The more observant among you will notice one doubled seam where I messed up slightly – this just adds to the cosy hand-made feeling, in my opinion, and in any case is only visible from the back.  I’ll post a full how-to in due course once I’ve finished making it up as I go along – although talk about the blind leading the blind!  The backing fabric was folded over and the corners mitred by hand before being sewn down in a single row close to the edge.  I’m quite pleased with the final result, not bad for a first effort, eh?

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Piecing It Together – fabrics, quilting, and an amazing shop

I discovered the most amazing Aladdin’s cave of a fabric shop yesterday – friends took me along to The Bramble Patch in Weedon, Northants, and oh my goodness I was in heaven!  The Bramble Patch is really a quilting shop, but houses a veritable treasure trove of fabrics (including hundreds of fat quarters), patterns, kits, and accessories.  Kid in a candy store just doesn’t describe my feeling about places like this!

Fat Quarters at The Bramble Patch

I’m slightly in two minds about quilting – I think the end results can be stunning – particularly some the contemporary abstract / geometric patterns, and would love to have a gorgeous family quilt and be able to say ‘I made that’.

On the other hand, I’m a quick and dirty sort of seamstress.  I can’t see much merit in taking twice as long over a sewing project to achieve perfection – ‘good enough’ is good enough for me!  Quilting – and I would love to be proven wrong here – strikes me as the end of the sewing crafts spectrum that rewards accuracy and carefulness, rather than my ‘that’ll do’ attitude!

The range of patterns and kits on offer is really quite impressive – not to mention tempting! – in particular, some very sweet jubilee and union jack cushion covers.

Fat QuartersMuch to my husband’s apparent relief, I managed to escape with only five new fat quarters for the fabric stash – what he doesn’t quite appreciate, I think, is the brain-full of ideas and inspiration I’ve come away with too!

I’m extremely tempted to go on one of the quilting courses they offer (and no doubt much more of my hard-earned cash is liable to go their way in the future!) – in the meantime I’d welcome any tips and leads on utter-beginner quilting skills & project ideas you might know about!

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With Apologies for the Hiatus – it’s been a busy month!

There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks – my little sister’s wedding, the reason for the wedding bunting I’ve been making since Christmas, beginning a new job, and finally, now that we’re home from a much needed holiday, spring is well under way and we’re seriously behind on our garden preparations!

Congratulations to the bride and groom on a gorgeous wedding – very much their personal style and lots of beautiful handmade touches to the ceremony and reception. I was particularly taken by the home-grown baskets of bulbs as table centres, and the handmade pyrography favours.  The bunting was pleasingly well-recieved!

At the wedding

Normal service on the Country Skills blog will be resumed very shortly – including a round-up of my volunteers’ thoughts on their big bacon challenge results, more foraging tips, and how to make your very own home-cured ham!

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That Wedding Bunting – now well underway!

The quick and simple Christmas Bunting was only ever a dry-run for the big task – I’d promised my sister bunting to decorate the village hall for her wedding reception.    Time is ticking on, so I’ve been getting on over the last few weeks.

Wedding bunting, complete

My plan was eventually to make 6 strings of 10m length each, in pursuit of which I’ve begged, borrowed and not *exactly* stolen all manner of fabric scraps, old clothes and bits and pieces.  I also bought a 72 yard bolt of yellow double-fold bias tape from the US via the marvel that is ebay.  This time I’ve chosen a bigger pennant, 8″ long by 6″ across.  I’ve also tightened the spacing so there is 6″ between flags.

Bunting pennants, laid outIt’s a great selection of colours and patterns, garnered from friends, family, work colleagues, the back of my wardrobe, and freecycle.  The fabrics come from three sets of curtains, three blouses, a pair of jeans and a pair of cords, one pair of jim-jams, two offcuts of woollen suit fabric, some polyester scarf material, and one tea towel.

Bunting pennants, cut and ironedA bit of back-of-envelope calculation and I worked out I needed 29 flags per string.  I drew a new template on cardboard from a packing box.  Words cannot express what a slow boring job cutting out 180 triangles is, but with perseverance, and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the telly evening after evening, we got there in the end.

Bunting pennants, sorted into groupsAfter ironing and sorting into piles, time to assemble the bunting.  Bias tape has quite a lot of ‘give’ in it, so peel a load off the roll and give it all a good stretch, this will also help it lie flat.  I measured 10m lengths and then found the middle of each.  Then starting in the middle, pin the pennants one at a time into the fold of the bias tape, measuring the gap between them approximately.  After that, it’s just a matter of running the whole length through your sewing machine using appropriate complimentary – or if you like, contrasting – thread.  Try to avoid skewering your fingers on the pins too often.

Completed bunting

There it is – I hope she likes it!  Only four more strings to assemble before it’s all done!

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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!

Deck the Halls – quick & easy Christmas bunting

Time: an hour or two – Difficulty: low (assuming you can use a sewing machine) – Cost: less than £5

Don’t you love bunting?  Not only is it very pretty, it seems to be bang on trend right now, if the smart interiors boutiques where I can’t afford to shop are anything to go by!

Christmas bunting

A while ago, I (maybe foolishly) volunteered to make a load of bunting to help decorate the village hall for my little sister’s wedding reception.  Before embarking on the epic effort, I thought it might be best to do a mini version to iron the kinks out of my process.  Christmas is coming, so what better than a bit of Christmas bunting for the hallway?

For this project, you will require –

  • A sewing machine (capable of straight stitch – so any sewing machine will do!)
  • Straight scissors and pinking shears
  • Scrap card for a template
  • Bias tape, as much as you want your bunting to be long, and the colour of your choice.  Double fold tape will save you the fold-and-iron process, but may not be as easy to get hold of.
  • Sewing thread to match or contrast with the bias tape.  I find if I’m trying to match a colour and I don’t have a really close match – as in this case, all my greens were too light or too yellow – it’s better to find a neutral colour which matches the tone.  I used a dark grey for this bunting.
  • Some suitably festive fabric.  I used mainly scraps left over from previous Christmas crafting.  If you want to use new fabric a single fat quarter should be enough to make 6m of bunting with quite modest 4″ x 6″ pennants spaced 6″ apart.

Bunting template

Realistically you probably have all of the non-consumables or none of them – 6m of bias tape cost me less than £2, and I had the leftover fabrics already.

This is a single-sided bunting, if you use printed fabrics like I have.  If you use fabrics which have two good sides, of course, you don’t need to worry about that.  I like the effect of the pinking-sheared edges, and it saves an awful lot of time over hemming.

My bunting templateStart by making your template.  I drew mine out for triangular pennants 6″ long and 4″ wide at the top (the whole template is 20″ x 6″).   If you’re using lots of small fabric scraps, you may also make to want a template for a single or a pair of pennants.  Give some thought to what spacing you’re going to want to have between your pennants.  I went for 6″ – the same as the length of the pennant.  Any more than this I think looks a bit sparse, closer and you’ll need more time and fabric to make extra pennants – at the end of the day it’s up to your taste!  Work out how may pennants you’re going to need by applying some basic primary school maths to the problem.   Remember to leave a bit more bias tape at the ends to give you enough to tie the bunting by.

Bunting pennantsUsing your template, mark up your fabric.  I used a biro to mark up the back of the fabric.  You might want to use something a little less crude, if you have it!  Then cut the top of the pennants with the straight scissors, and the sides with the pinking shears.  You’ll notice the lines I’ve cut aren’t quite strictly straight, because my pinking shears aren’t long enough to cut the side in a single action.  I don’t think it matters!

After ironingOnce you’ve cut all your pennants, it’s probably a good time to iron them.  At the same time, if you’ve bought single fold bias tape (bias tape which has the two edges folded in but isn’t yet folded in half) then use the iron to fold this in half and set the fold. Then decide how you want your pennants ordered, if they’re not all the same.

Pinning pennants in placeNow, starting from the centre to ensure they’ll be evenly distributed, start pinning your pennants into the bias tape.  I marked my 6″ gap onto the edge of a piece of card to help me space them consistently – it’s quicker than using a measuring tape or a ruler every time.  Try to be reasonably accurate but don’t stress over it.

Sewing buntingOnce all your pennants are placed, it’s time to sew.  I just used a single row of straight-stitch as close to the open edge of the bias tape as it was practical to do quite quickly.  You could also use a zig-zag stitch, if you prefer.  As you get to each pennant, just make sure the top is placed as far into the fold of the tape as possible, and lying nice and flat, before you sew it in place.

Bunting, folded for storageChristmas bunting - completedThat’s it, keep sewing until you’ve reached the end of your tape and all the pennants are secured in place.

Doesn’t it look pretty?  I can’t wait for Christmas now!

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