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Advent Calendar and I’m really back this time, I promise

Posted by on 14 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: calendar, family, needle-felting, winter

It’s been a very full year for us, one of wonderful things, though also some sadness. We’ve sold a house, bought a house, lived out of town for an extended period of time, started a business, soft-launched a project, sent our oldest off to kindergarten and our middlest off to preschool, traveled out of the country, suffered the loss of a dear family member, a sweet cat and bunny, and the injury and illness of another family member and cat. But we are feeling grateful, as we enter the holiday season, for our sweet little family, our home, our loved ones. And I am ready now, after all the upheaval, to return to this place and share a little bit of the crafting that has grounded me over the last year. I’d like to start today with the advent calendar.

I’ve been dreaming about this advent calendar for years, and have even started similar attempts, the first when my six-year-old was only one. But it’s never come to fruition. Until now. I started it late, over Thanksgiving, and of course failed to have it done in time for the first of December! The kids had to wait several more days, and I still have some logistics to figure out — how to hang it, for one. But here it is with all the doors:

Advent Calendar with Doors

I had intended to make little felt doors and blanket stitch the numbers onto them and the doors onto the calendar, but well, being days late already, I opted for needlefelting. I figured I would go back and add doors next year. I don’t know — I like how the doors in the snow, sky and tree are camouflaged, and when the doors are open, they are gone instead of potentially blocking what was behind or next to them. But I think felt doors would look better on the house and barn… we’ll see.

Here’s a peek at a scene from one of my favorite books when I was little, growing up in Germany: The Tomten and the Fox:

The Tomten and the Fox / Tomte und der Fuchs

A close-up of the shooting star in the sky:
Shooting Star

And the sweet animals in the barn:
Sheep, horses, cows and bell in the barn

Cat and mouse in the barn

Here are the children upstairs in the house. On the right, two children are reading, and on the left another child is being kissed by a dog (you can see the dog’s pink tongue if you look closely enough!):

Children and dog in the house

And downstairs in the house, the mother and father hold the baby by the fireplace and Christmas tree:

Mother, father and baby

Since this post isn’t long and rambling enough, I realized something that bothers me about so many Nativity sets — the baby Jesus is almost always lying in the manger and it just seems like someone should be holding such a new little baby. Granted, this is coming from a person who pretty much never puts her baby down, but I just realized this season how “off” it seems to me. I did see some cute Peruvian sets at Ten Thousand Villages where Mary is holding Jesus, and it made me wonder how much our own culture plays into something as simple as where the baby Jesus figure is in the Nativity scene. Okay, back to the calendar. Here’s the whole house:

The whole house

The tree:

Cardinal, owl and squirrel in the tree

That’s a cardinal, an owl and a squirrel — somehow my squirrels always seem to suffer most in my calendars — he’s just not quite recognizable.

And the skunk under the tree:

Skunk

Eagerly anticipating opening the next door:

Anticipating what's behind the next door

The fireplace reveal:

The Fireplace

And finally (though the little ones haven’t seen it yet!), the whole calendar:

Advent Calendar

I love this time of year, the lead-up to Christmas, even more than Christmas itself. I love the traditions from my childhood I can share with my own family, the appreciation I see growing in all of them for handmade gifts. Mia, my 6-year-old, is busily crouched over paper, scissors and glue, making gifts for her classmates and her family. And I am filled with happiness, knowing she not only recognizes how much love goes into the gifts I make for her, but she is getting to experience the joy that I feel when I give handmade presents.

If I have any readers left at all, I’d love to hear what you are making or enjoying this holiday season!

Valentine’s Countdown Calendar with Tutorial

Posted by on 15 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: calendar, craft-along, needle-felting, tutorial, Valentine's Day, wool felt

The calendar is finally finished and I’m pretty pleased with the result! Here are some pictures of the final product:

Empty calendar

Calendar with everyone on the tree

If you want to recreate one of your own (for personal use only), here’s what you’ll need:

Supplies:

  • Pattern for the Valentine’s Calendar shapes (PDF)
  • Pattern for the Valentine’s Calendar pockets (PDF)
  • a piece of wool or wool-blend felt (I used light pink in size 8″ x11 5/8″)
  • a piece of flannel for the pocket border (I used brown in size 16 3/4″ x 21,” but would probably do 17″ x 21 1/2″ if I were making another one)
  • scraps of wool or wool-blend felt in various colors to cut into animal shapes, decorations, banner birds and pocket numbers
  • a length of wool or wool-blend felt to form the banner, plus felt for making the birds
  • a sheet of wool or wool-blend felt for the pockets
  • wool roving in assorted colors, most importantly brown and black, as well as colors for the tree, grass and animals (In addition to brown, black and green, I used orange, gray, light pink, dark pink, white, red, blue, purple, yellow)
  • a piece of very thick cardboard (so a staple won’t go all the way through), sized a little smaller than your flannel

Tools:

  • felting needles and foam pad, a tool to hold the felting needles is recommended
  • stapler
  • small, sharp scissors for fabric
  • large scissors or blade for cutting cardboard
  • needle
  • pen for tracing patterns on fabric
  • fabric glue

Techniques:

  • needle-felting — If this is your first time needle-felting, don’t be intimidated. I have needle-felted the wool onto my little sheep ornaments and I have a somewhat failed attempt to needle-felt a pumpkin, but that’s my entire needle-felting resume
  • blanket-stitching — there’s a great tutorial here

Step 1. Create the tree
In order to create the tree, first lay a very thin layer of roving in your leaf colors on your background felt on the foam pad. I recommend using at least two shades of the same color for your leaves and really teasing the wool apart to make it thin. Then lay a thick layer of dark brown roving — the more shade variations the better — to form your trunk and main branches. Pull apart the wool as you continue to create forks and more branches. I curved the branches to form a sort of of lower arc beneath the leaves for a rounded look, but you can make your tree into anything you like. Here is what mine looked like at this stage:

Valentine tree before needle-felting

For my browns, I have a wonderful bag of alpaca roving our friends Charlie and Sarah of Pearbudget fame brought me from their alpaca farm neighbors. It’s a great assortment of various browns mixed together, so when I formed the tree, it happened by accident that the very dark brown followed the curve of the tree and the lowest branch on the right. I remember Michelle teaching me how to draw trees as a child. By drawing the line darker and thicker on one side of the tree and on the lowest branch corresponding to that side, she showed me how to create a shadow, giving my tree more depth and realism. While it happened accidentally this time, I would try to recreate it if I made another one.

The next step is to actually needle felt the tree and leaves onto the background. Try to keep your needle(s) straight so they don’t break. Basically just poke around in the roving, shaping branches and roots as you go. The fibers will be pulled through to the other side and sort of knitted into the felt background. I added more branches in the center, and you can always add more — needle-felting is mostly very forgiving, though the needles are not, so be careful! Here’s what mine looked like after that stage:

Valentine tree after leaf background and tree felting

I then added a couple of layers of leaf colors over the whole tree and needle-felted those, though not as intensely as I did the trunk, to leave a more airy feel to them. Here’s a picture, though I ended up adding a little more roving at the top to give it a rounder feel:

Valentine tree with leaves felted

Finally, I added a little green grass around the roots. Voila! The tree is done!

Step 2. Create the animals and other pocket goodies
Print out the animal pattern, cut out the shapes, trace them onto felt, and cut out the pieces. I chose colors of felt that wouldn’t look odd if edges of them showed around the needle-felting. This is where you will discover how free-form needle-felting is, and how it will sometimes lead to masterpieces and sometimes, well, sometimes not.

For each animal, pick the colors of roving you want. I would usually felt a very thin layer of roving to hide the base felt, and then start adding a little dimension by shaping and needle-felting on additional roving for the tails or ears or faces. By patiently needle-felting repeatedly along the same line, you can create indentations to give your work more form and depth.

Here are the animals and other pocket inhabitants. Just start with the felt base and see where your needling takes you!

mushroom and flower
Mushroom Flower

bird and mouse
Bird 2 Mouse

robin and butterfly
Bird 1 Butterfly

lollipop and owl
Lollipop Owl

heart and squirrel
Heart Squirrel

hedgehog and rabbit
Hedgehog Rabbit

deer and fox
Deer Fox

I made the lollipop by rolling two thin strips of different color roving into skinny snakes, then twisting them together before felting them to the base in a spiral pattern. I loved some of these, felt sort of “meh” about others and really didn’t like the poor squirrel. He was an example of when adding more and more roving to try to fix a mistake just makes things worse. Tony could not identify his species, so I think that qualifies him as a fail. I didn’t have the right color brown for the deer, and the tiny flower was difficult to give much detail, but I love, love, love the fox, all curled up in that bushy, snuggly tail of his. See, I wasn’t just being modest about the squirrel.

Step 3. Create the pockets and numbers
Print out and cut out the pockets and numbers. Before proceeding, check to make sure your needle-felted pocket inhabitants would actually fit in the pockets, in case you’ve added more roving or detail than I did. Add a little allowance if this is the case when you trace the pockets. For the numbers, I found it helpful to trace them backwards so that I didn’t need to worry about pen marks showing up on the fronts.

Cut out the pockets and numbers. I used fabric glue to glue the numbers onto the pockets, being sure to stay far enough away from sides and bottom to allow for stitching the pockets onto the border with large blanket-stitching. You can also stitch them on if you have an extra forty hours or so that you weren’t sure how to spend.

Step 4. Create the bird banner border
Print out the banner, bird and small banner heart patterns, cut them out and trace them onto felt. Carefully plan out the spacing for Happy Valentine’s Day. I’d recommend using a very thin pen or pencil because I free-handed it and ended up having to cut off a bit of the end of the banner, which meant I also had to reshape my birds a bit. It wasn’t a big deal, but the letter stitching was not very enjoyable since I kept wondering where it would end and I also started to make the letters in different sizes and had to backtrack a few times. I used 6-ply embroidery floss for the letter-stitching. After I had stitched the letters, I added a heart at each end of the banner, blanket-stitching them on with one-ply floss.

For the birds, I needle-felted a bit of roving onto their bellies, and also needle-felted their beaks and eyes, but chose to leave the rest of them as just wool felt.

Step 5. Create the pocket border
Now you have your finished tree picture, your animals, your pockets and your banner, but you still need a border. Take your piece of flannel and center the tree picture on it. Spend as much time as you need to lay out the pockets around the picture and the bird banner along the top. You can tuck the raw end of the birds’ wings a little under the banner. Be patient while planning the layout. Remember to leave enough room along the edges to wrap it around the cardboard for stapling and make sure there’s enough space between the pockets that little fingers can reach in and pick out the inhabitant.

Once you have your layout just the way you want it, use just enough fabric glue to hold everything on until you can stitch it. Make sure not to glue the middle of the pockets, since they will need to be open. Just add a thin layer of glue along the edge, preferably so close to the edge that you won’t be stitching through it with your blanket stitch, which can be rough when the glue has dried hard. For the center tree picture, you can put the glue a little further in to miss the stitches, but it should be close enough to the edge that you’ll be able to stitch evenly without bunching the flannel.

The stitching is pretty time-consuming, but can be done snuggled on the couch under a blanket watching a movie, which is my favorite kind of crafting! I used fairly deep blanket stitches to hold the pockets on, since I figured they’d get a little wear and tear with little fingers reaching in for their treasures. Just be sure they aren’t so deep that the treasures no longer fit in the pockets! I used medium-length stitches for the tree picture, and tiny stitches for the banner and birds.

Finally, place the entire calendar over your piece of cardboard, cutting the cardboard so that it is large enough to form a background for the pockets and banner, with a little flannel along the edges, but small enough that you can wrap some flannel around it and staple it to the back. My piece of cardboard ended up being about 15″ x 19 1/4″ for my 16 3/4″ x 21″ piece of flannel. When I said in the supply list that I would have used a slightly larger piece of flannel, that was just to I would have a little bit more to wrap around and staple. Though it may hold just fine with the size I have. Here’s what the back looks like:

Back of calendar

Step 6. Fill the pockets and enjoy

The pocket inhabitants *should* stick to the wool, but mine aren’t doing it terribly reliably.  If I sort of rub them against the picture, they stick a little better.  That’s why I decided to make a cardboard back, so that I could lean it back a little, instead of having a wall hanging, which was my original intention.

Here is a picture of the calendar with full pockets:

Full calendar

And here is one with everyone peeking out of the pockets:
Calendar with everyone peeking

I have to thank my sweet husband, who spent hours scanning and reconfiguring pdfs, programming code, photographing the steps and keeping the kids busy while I worked.  I couldn’t have done it without him!

Enjoy, and please leave a comment if you decide to make one — I’d love to see them!

Happy Crafting!