Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tutorial: Scrappy Advent Calendar

Here is the tutorial for the advent calendar I did as part of Ellison Lane's Deck the Halls Series.  My kids have loved using this bright and festive calendar to help count down the days until Christmas...and each morning they wake up begging to "do a pocket."  Frankly, they're adorable, and I love that they love it!

Finished Dimensions:  24.5" x 51.5"
Supplies Needed:
Green Scraps for tree - about a fat quarters worth
Small multi-colored scraps for the garland
Assorted fabrics for pockets - 9" x 4"
1.5 Yards of white background fabric (there will be overage)
1/2 yard binding fabric
 1 Yard Interfacing (I used a very sturdy Pellon 808 Craft Fuse)
Batting and backing fabric - about 30" x 57 " each

OK, let's get started.  First, we're going to make the tree:

Start by grabbing your scraps.
 Begin joining green strips of varying lengths:
 Next, randomly slice the strips into segments. The end result will look great with the lines being askew and random.  Plus, there's the added benefit of not having to line anything up.  Freedom!  This crazy piecing technique is covered well in this book if you'd like to see more in-depth details.
Start to build your tree by adding segments together.
Keep building and building...
and building...

until you have a general tree shape.  At several points during this process, you will think to yourself,  "Surely, I am done now - I've been building this tree forever!"  But my friends, I am here to tell you, you will not be done.  Trees take time.  It'll be worth it, though, trust me.  Just keep going.  But it will eventually look like this and you will be done! 
 Trim out a triangle shape for your tree.  I just measured in from the outer edges of each side to the center top and trimmed.  My tree measures 12.5" wide at the bottom and 17" tall, finished.
 Now, I almost left it like this - I loved it so!  But the call of some colorful garland was strong so I forged ahead.  
To make the garland, simply piece together varying width strips of scraps, again with some slightly wonky angles for added visual interest.  This is a great place to use those tiny, special scraps we hang on to - a small piece goes a long way in this project!  Cut the garland strips 1.5" wide.  
 Play with the lay out of the garland pieces until you have it like you want it.
Now.  Let's take a breather.  I am going to ask you to cut your tree.  This may be easy for you.  Or you may sweat a little and have heart palpitations.  Forge ahead - It will all come back together like it's supposed to, I promise.  
Once your garlands are all in and you have trimmed the edges, it's time to add the tree trunk.  The trunk here is 2 1/4 " x 2 1/2 " , and I added the white background fabric strips 2 1/2" x 8" to the sides.  Center the middle of the trunk with the middle of the tree.
 Next, trim the white edges, even with the tree by extending the angles.  You are now ready to add the white background fabric to the sides of the tree.  I tend to generously cut my fabric, sew it on, then trim down.  It saves me a lot of headache.  So the white fabric I added to the sides of the trees were cut at 31" x 15 1/4 ".
Trim the top overlapping edge even with the angle of the tree so you can add the white panel to the other side of the tree.
 Trim the top to 23" high by 24.5" wide.  Now you can add the bottom white panel which will serve as the background for your pockets.  Cut the bottom white panel 24.5" wide by 27.75" long and attach it to your tree piece.  I forgot to take pictures of this part, but next you sandwich your top with your batting and background fabric.  You are now ready to quilt it!
I chose to quilt straight (ok, straight-ish), closely spaced lines on all the white fabric.  I figured the tree had such crazy piecing that it would stand out a bit if everything around it was densely quilted.  Also, you want the bottom half which will hold your pockets to have a sturdy background as it will get lots of wear, so the tighter quilting should help there.  

OK - are you still with me??  We are almost done, I promise.  It's time for the pockets!  Cut 25 pocket pieces 4" x 9".  These will finish at 3.5" x 4 1/4", as you will be folding them in half.  Cut 25 pieces of the interfacing 4" x 4 1/4" and iron them on one side 1/4 " from the edge like this:
Doing this will help your seam be less bulky when you are stitching the pockets down.  
Next, fold the pocket piece in half right sides together and sew along the two sides, leaving the bottom open.

Now turn the pocket right side out.  I use a Hera marker to get my corners nice and sharp - does anyone else use their Hera marker as a turning tool???  
 Fold the bottom edges in 1/4" ,
 then press.  Repeat with the remaining 24 pockets.  You are now ready to topstitch them into place!

 Center your first pocket 1 inch under the tree trunk.
 Topstitch the pocket into place.  I used a walking foot to keep all those layers from shifting. Also increase your stitch length to 2.8 - this gives a nice finish and again helps with all the layers you've got going on here.
Repeat with the remaining pockets.  I spaced mine an inch apart from each other in all directions.  

Finally, simply add the binding (I added some quick hanging trinagles a la Amy's method) 

 I am so thrilled to have finished this in time to fill these pockets with little goodies to help my little ones countdown to Christmas.  In these pockets they will find treats, clues for treasure hunts, and cards for family fun nights like seeing Christmas lights in our jammies and decorating cookies together.  What a festive time! I hope some of you make your own advent calendar - I'd love to see it if you do!  

This tutorial was originally published here.  I am also linking up with Pink Chalk Fabrics Handmade with Love 2012 - go check it out - tons of fun tutorials posted over there!


  1. Very cute! Great tutorial, Valerie! The photos and directions are easy to follow.

  2. Great tutorial. I just posted a picture of an advent similar to this, I plan to make one for next year.

  3. Valerie this is so darling! I just love that scrappy tree!

  4. I adore this. Thank you so much for the tutorial, Valerie!

  5. Your calendar did turn out well. I know Owen would want to look inside each pocket and place things into them as well. :)