Friday, November 4, 2011

Upcycled Advent Calendar - tutorial

With less than 4 weeks to go until the start of December - I wanted to get ahead with a new advent calendar for this year.  You all know how I love upcycling those clothes - so I thought I'd turn some old clothes into and advent calendar this year!

Now this tutorial is showing how I made this one - including mistakes I made and what I would do differently if I ever made one again! 
It is not a polished tutorial to make a perfect calendar.  It's meant to be a fun project - costing nothing but time and materials you can find at home! 

So I started with some old clothes in a colour scheme I wanted :

First of all I made a template for the patchwork triangles I wanted to cut. I drew an equilateral triangle on an old cereal box (all sides the same length) 10cm (4") long sides. Then cut this out.

I then made a couple of paper templates from this triangle - that I could pin to the fabric and cut around. 

And I cut LOTS of triangles from each item of clothing. For each piece of clothing I only used the front section - keeping the back part for the backing of the calendar.
I used 54 grey triangles for the background, then for the coloured triangles - 10, 12, and 14 of the three colours.

Then I laid these triangles out in the tree design I wanted:

Next I stitched the triangles together row by row, right sides together.

First I tried pinning a whole row together before stitching...
But this didn't work out too well - I seemed to have pinned some the wrong way round and it was just confusing and messy!
So I settled on piling each row of triangles up in order :

Then having this pile next to the machine - pick them up one at a time and sew together .
(using a 1/4" seam)

I kept going until I had each row of triangles stitched together.

I ironed the seams on each row flat,

Then pinned and stitched each row together in turn, (using 3/8" seams) trying to match up the seams as best I could. The fabric was mostly knit so did stretch to accomodate any slightly different sizes I may have cut!!

Then this is where I cheated a bit. Having cut so many triangles - I didn't want to cut more but still needed a border at the top and bottom of the 'tree'. So I cut strips of the grey t-shirt the same height as the triangles,

Then pieced and stitched those strips together along the top and bottom of the tree:

Next I took the larger pieces of the clothes that were left over - cut the edges straight and stitched them together to form a larger sheet to use for the calendar backing.  I didn't worry about exact size - just made sure it was larger than the tree front part.

I then placed the tree and the backing right sides together and pinned and stitched around the edges - leaving most of one side open to turn it out.  Then trimmed the excess fabric from the edges.

Then I turned the piece right sides out and ironed the edges. 
I cut 3 pieces of ribbon to use for hanging the calendar.
 (I used white ribbon I still have left over from tying to our car for our wedding day - almost 10 years ago!!)

I folded each piece in half to form a loop then pinned the ends well inside the open top end of the calendar; and topstitched around all four edges.

Next I wanted to quilt the calendar using some fancy silver thread my mum brought out for me from England!  I just stitched criss-cross lines across the fabric - using the quilting arm I've just discovered my machine has to keep the lines an equal distance apart!

This part was the longest hardest part of the whole calendar - as the fancy silver thread just kept on snapping.  I tried reducing the tension,stitching slower, using a longer stitch.... but nothing seemed to work - I just had to persist, threading, rethreading,cutting, re-threading...
Now the floor of my sewing room is covered in bits of sparkly silver!

In the end I liked the effect the silver quilting gave, but I won't be stitching with that thread again in a hurry!!!

Nearly there!

All that was left to do was choose and sew on 24 buttons to hang on the ornaments!

I just picked silver, white and gold buttons, and stitched them on in random placing.

Now since this calendar is made of mostly knits - old t-shirts and floppy fabrics - the calendar was too floppy to hang up as is.  I think I was a bit optimistic thinking it would be fine just as is - but hey - you live and learn - and I just had to find another way to make it hang flat!

 You could make this using stiffer fabrics - and it would probably at this stage just hang nicely on the wall.

In the end I decided to stretch mine over a convenient sized piece of plywood I had from an old picture frame!
The finished tree is  52 x 40cm (20.5 x 15.75") so your board needs to be slightly larger than that.

I simply stretched and pinned the fabric then stapled the corners:

Then my board was already covered in fabric from a previous project, so I stitched the edges to that - but you could just glue!  If your board was thick enough - or perhaps if you used a canvas, you could jsut staple the whole thing on!

Finally I needed something to hang it up!

I cut an old piece of curtain rail we had in the shed. Dowel rod would work too.

And spray painted it with some left over silver spray we had:

Once that was dry - I threaded it through the ribbon loops at the top of the calendar, and tied a piece of cord to make a loop to hang:

Now all I need to do is make 24 ornaments to hang on the buttons - one each day for December!
I've made one - and as I make more will post how I made them - and out of what!  All are to be upcycled!!  Here's the first - a little Christmas tree!

What do you think?
Are you making an advent calendar this year?

Here's some more neat ideas I found out there for what to make Advent Calendars out of:

What about you? Any more creative ideas for an advent calendar? I'd love to hear them!

I'll be linking this project to many of the wonderful linky parties whose pretty buttons can be found on the bottom of this page.


  1. Great tutorial, Jill!!! I'll have to investigate that gadget that keeps lines of stitching equidistant. Good luck with the rest of the ornaments.

  2. Such a great design, Jill, I love the buttons for hanging advent ornaments! I'm sorry you had thread issues, but on the plus side, now your house, clothes and children are lots more sparkly!

  3. I mixed some knits in with wovens on my patchwork tote and found it to be problematic. I love the "idea" of knits--no fraying, touchable, lots of color/pattern choices. . . but I have no patience for their stretchiness! I love your design here. I double love your general attitude about finding new and often unconventional uses for everyday items. Brilliant!

  4. i really don't know about any of those sewing bits, but i wanted to tell you i love this idea. it's super cute and definitely a great idea to use clothes that no longer fit, etc.

  5. Jill, super clever! The buttons are my favorite... like little pegs. Perfect idea and unique. Way to go blogging friend.

  6. What a fabulous idea!! I'm not nearly as crafty, but yours came out just great and I think there may be a way for me to make it my own. Thanks for a cool idea and for sharing it with us at Rub Some Dirt On It!

  7. Looks great, I like the fabric combo!
    Tip for using metallic thread: Put in on the bobbin only (so it doesn't have to go through the needle) then quilt with the fabric upside down. You should have less trouble that way :)

  8. Thanks everyone - and thanks Karlene for the tip on sewing with metallic thread! I shall have to try that! :)

  9. awesome and very informative post thanks for sharing


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