Circles Advent Calendar Tutorial: Making the circle pockets

Circles Advent Calendar - making the circle pockets

This is the fourth post in a series to make this circles advent calendar – in this post I’ll describe how to make the circles that form the pockets.

Other posts in this series:

You can download the circles advent calendar templates PDF here.

Some notes on the construction

You’ll get lots of practice sewing in circles at this stage!

I tried a few different methods to create the circle pockets and ran into problems trying to get smooth curves and turning thick pieces of fabric, so this is the approach that worked best.

Each pocket consists of a front decorative fabric, a backing fabric, a piece of felt inside, and a second backing circle to finish it off.

The decorative front fabric is sewn to a plain backing right sides together. We then cut away the centre of the backing and turn the piece right sides out so there are no raw edges – this means that the whole of the circumference follows the stitching rather than having to turn under any tricky curved edges.

We then insert a circle of felt through the hole in the backing – this gives the circle some body, but as the felt isn’t sewn into the the seams it doesn’t add extra bulk around the edge.

The smallest decorative circles can just be sewn straight onto the backing at this stage.

Finally iron on a circle of plain fabric backed with fusible web to cover the hole in the back – I’m relying here on the fusible web to prevent the backing circles from fraying.

Cutting

You’ll need the templates for the four different sized circles – download the circles advent calendar templates PDF here.

  1. Iron fusible web onto the XXX piece of backing fabric, following the manufacturer’s instructions.I’ll call these the fusible web pieces.
  2. Place the decorative fabrics right sides together with similarly sized pieces of backing fabric. I’ll call these the decorative layered pieces.

    Layer the decorative fabric and backing right sides together, and sew the circles leaving no gaps.

If you’re following my layout you’ll need circles in the following sizes:

Fabric large (10cm) medium (7.5cm) small (6cm) tiny (4cm)
fabric A layer: 1 1 2 2
fabric B layer: 1 1 2 2
fabric C layer: 1 3 1 2
fabric D layer: 0 1 4 2
fabric E layer: 0 1 4 2
felt: 3 7 13 10
fusible web backed: 3 7 13 0

If you’ve designed your own layout, work out how many circles of each size in each colour you need. For each circle pocket you need:

  • 1 circle from the decorative layered piece
  • 1 felt circle
  • 1 fusible web backed plain circle

For each tiny decorative circle, you’ll need the same but without the fusible web circle.

  1. Draw the circles onto the backing fabric side of the decorative layered pieces, leaving space around each circle for a 6mm (1/4″) seam allowance.
    You can fussy cut these circles if you want – for the red fabric I made sure the design was centred on each circle. If you do this, you may need to allow more fabric (although my initial estimates are generous).
  2. Cut the felt circles slightly smaller (by a couple of mm (1/16″)) than the template. The easiest way to do this is to draw round the templates in pen and cut just inside the marked line.
  3. Cut the fusible web backing circles, again, slightly smaller than the templates.

    Felt shapes all cut and ready.

  4. Sewing

  5. Sew round each circle on the line on the decorative layer pieces, leaving no gaps. For the smallest circles shorten the stitch length slightly to help get smooth curves.
  6. Cut out each circle with a narrow 6mm (1/4″) seam allowance (this doesn’t need to be exact) and clip the curves. The easiest way to do this, especially with so many circles, is to use pinking shears.

    Clip the curves.

  7. Take each circle and cut out the centre of the backing fabric. I left around 1cm (1/2″) from the stitching.

    Cut a hole in the backing fabric.

  8. Turn the circle right sides out through the hole, and press.

    Turn to the right side and press.

  9. Insert a felt circle of the correct size into each turned circle. Cutting the shapes slightly smaller than the templates should mean they fit neatly inside, but trim the felt slightly if necessary. They want to be snug.

    Insert the felt circle through the hole.

  10. For the pockets only, remove the backing paper from the fusible web circles and iron onto the back over the hole.
    Iron on the fusible web backed circle to the back.

  11. On the pockets only, topstitch round the short curve of the circle between the marks on the template. This will the top edge of the pocket.
    Topstitch the top edge between the marks.

Adding the numbers

Add numbers with stamps and fabric paint

There are lots of ways of you can add numbers to your advent calendar. For my version, I wanted small discreet numbers that wouldn’t take too long – so no tricky cutting out or embroidery – or require sourcing any special materials. So I went for printing the numbers with some stamps and fabric paint.

My numbers are approximately 1-1.5cm high, and I printed them centred at the bottom of each pocket (on the opposite edge from the topstitching).

Stamping onto fabric is slightly trickier than just stamping straight onto paper as the layers of fabric are soft, so when you stamp down the fabric tends to shape around the stamp. This means that unless you have very deep stamps, most of the stamp – including the background will come into contact with the fabric.

Dipping the stamp into paint gets paint over the background, so instead I used a small paintbrush to paint just the raised number part of the stamp.

When pressing onto the fabric don’t push down too hard as it will blur the edges. If the numbers are a little faint, paint over then carefully with the paintbrush.

Add numbers to all 24 pockets


There’s a lot of sewing and cutting circles in this section – excellent practice!

Pay most attention to getting a smooth circle in step X as this will dictate the final shape of the piece – minor inaccuracies in the felt and the backing circles won’t notice so much. The smaller circles are trickiest, so slow down and shorten the stitch length if necessary.

Next: Putting it all together

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Circles Advent Calendar Tutorial: Making the star pocket

Circles Advent Calendar - making the star pocket

This is the third post in a series to make this circles advent calendar – in this post I’ll describe how to make the star pocket at the top.

Other posts in this series:

You can download the circles advent calendar templates PDF here.

The star

The star at the top is the 24th pocket - of course!

The top of the calendar has a star which forms the twenty-fourth pocket. It’s a standalone pocket which is then attached to the point of the background triangle.

I spent a fair bit of time trying to get the star looking neat – my final instructions are a bit fiddly and involve some sewing by hand – much as I hate hand-sewing this was necessary to get neat points.

There’s no skimping here, really – the star is the focal point of the calendar and so it needs to look good. On the plus side, you only have to make one of them (unlike the pesky circle pockets – one to look forward to next!)

  1. Cut the star front and star back from the felt. The back is just the same sized-star but with one of the points cut off; this will be the top.
  2. Place the felt star on top of the wrong side of the star fabric and cut out the fabric all round leaving a 1cm (1/2″) allowance.
  3. Fold the fabric at the tip of each point under the felt. Then fold the seam allowances along the sides of the point over the felt, as shown. Folding the tip removes the raw edge from the point, but it’s too bulky if you fold it over the felt. This way you should get crisp points.
    Fold the point under the felt.

    Fold the fabric over the felt at the back.

  4. Hand sew this in place, adding extra stitches to get neat points. Your hand sewing will be covered up later, so it doesn’t need to be neat, but you do want to get those star points looking neat, even and pointy.

    Hand sew fabric at the back to make neat points

  5. Iron fusible web to the backing fabric and cut out the star shape, slightly inside the template. Iron it onto the back of the covered star. This will cover up any unsightly sewing.

    Cover the back with a plain fabric star backed with fusible web.

  6. Repeat this with the star back. This will be the back of the pocket so use the plain fabric for this. This doesn’t need to be as perfect.
  7. Sew the back and front of the star pocket together, aligning the points carefully. I stitched this together by hand first to get everything matching up right, and then top stitched on the machine afterwards.
    Sew front and back of star pocket together at edges.

    The back of the star pocket.

Set this to one side for later (don’t lose it!).

Next: making the circle pockets.

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Circles Advent Calendar Tutorial: Making the background

Circles Advent Calendar - making the background tree.
This is the second post in a series to make this circles advent calendar – in this post I’ll describe how to make the background.

Other posts in this series:

Cutting

Make a pattern piece from a large sheet of paper or newspaper. You will need a triangle 70cm (28″) tall by 55cm (22″) wide:

  1. Cut a rectangle 70cm (28″) tall by 55cm (22″) wide.
  2. Fold it vertically in half to mark the midpoint on the top edge.
  3. Join the top midpoint to each of the bottom corners and cut.
    Cut a rectangle 70cm x55cm, draw a line down the centre and join the points to make a triangle.

Use this pattern piece to cut the triangle from the background fabric (using a rotary cutter gives good clean edges here).

Sewing

  1. Place the backing fabric face down, with the wadding on top and the background triangle on top of that, to form a wadding sandwich.
    Layer the backing fabric, wadding and background fabric, and cut to the triangle.

  2. Pin the layers together with safety pins and cut the backing and wadding to the same size as the triangle.
  3. Cut the top 2.5cm (1″) off the point of the triangle at the top. (This makes it easier to add the binding as you don’t have to deal with a sharp point and its hidden behind the star pocket. )
  4. Take the two squares for the dowel pockets and press in half diagonally.
  5. Place them over the bottom corners on the back as shown, with the fold on the inside, and trim to match the raw edges. Pin these in place and make sure the edges are caught in the binding in the next step – they will form two pockets at the back to hold a length of dowel that will keep the bottom edge of the calendar rigid.

    Fold the dowel pockets in half diagonally and place in the bottom corners.

  6. Take the binding strip (sew shorter strips together if necessary to make one long 2.5m (100″) strip) and press the whole strip in half lengthwise.

    Press the binding strip in half lengthways.

  7. Starting at the top of the triangle, pin the binding strip to the front of the background triangle round all three sides, matching raw edges.
  8. Sew round all three sides at around 1cm (1/2″) from the raw edge:
    1. Make sure you catch the dowel pockets in the stitching.
    2. At the corners, stop stitching about 1cm (1/2″) from the corner and cut the thread. Fold the binding t ocreate a fold at the corner, and so the raw edge lies neatly along the next edge of the triangle – you can sew these flat and neaten them up afterwards if you need to.
    3. At the top, cut the binding with approx 2cm (1″) overlap (keep the remainder of the strip for the hanging loop). Fold the raw edge over and finish stitching. This bit will be hidden when the advent calendar is finished, so don’t worry too much if it’s not perfect.

    Align the raw edges of the binding with the raw edges of the triangle, and stitch 1cm (1/2") from the edge.

  9. Now fold the binding strip over the raw edges to the other side and sew in place. I did this by hand, partly because it looks neater, but also because I was running dangerously low on dark green thread and I knew I’d need it for the topstitching!

    Fold the binding to the back and hand sew in place.

    This process is the standard way to bind a quilt – if you’ve never done this before, here’s a detailed step by step video showing the steps. It includes piecing together strips together to make a longer binding strip; the binding itself is from about the 5:10 mark. The tutorial shows square corners, but the technique works fine for the bottom triangle points here.

    The finished bound background triangle.

  10. Take the left-over bit of binding strip, fold the long edges in to the middle and then press the whole strip in half. Topstitch down the sides.
  11. Attach the hanging strip to the FRONT of the calendar on the top edge – this will be hidden from the front by the star.

    Sew the hanging strip onto the front of the background.

  12. Next: sewing the star.

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Circles Advent Calendar Tutorial

Circles Advent Calendar - A free multi-part tutorial to make this advent calendar
Now before you cry out “It’s only October, for goodness sake, stop talking about Christmas!”, hear me out.

I’m always spectacularly disorganised when it comes to Christmas time so I know what I’m talking about here – if you want to make an advent calendar don’t leave it until the last week of November.

(I actually made this advent calendar last year – about the last week of November, if I recall – and I didn’t finish until a few days into December, which is why I’m posting it this year instead of last year.)

So assuming that you have plenty of time (or love the pressure of a deadline) I’m going to break this tutorial up into several posts.

Overview

The star at the top is the 24th pocket - of course!

The advent calendar features 23 circle pockets in three different sizes. The smallest is about 6cm (just under 2 1/2″) diameter – big enough for a chocolate coin – and the largest is 10cm (4″) diameter – big enough for something more substantial! The final, twenty-fourth, pocket is naturally in the star at the top.

The background is just plain cotton layered with wadding, with a bound edge the same way you’d make a quilt; the pockets are sewn through all layers to hold things in place.

A peg indicates the current day.

A small peg with a felt star can be moved from pocket to pocket to mark the current day. The pockets themselves are backed with felt which gives them a pleasing solidity so they don’t flop around. I make the circles separately, add the numbers and then sew them in position.

The smallest circles are decorative only and don’t form pockets.

This advent calendar is a little more tricky than your usual calendar because of the pockets – you’ll get lots of practice sewing circles! However, it should be achievable by a patient beginner – allow yourself more time than you think you’ll need.

Materials

These are the approximate amounts of fabric for my layout – see the next section for changing the layout.

The circles form pockets.

  • Approx 25-30cm (10-12″) square scraps of fabric in several colours for the circles. I used five different colours – four shades of green, and one red and gold for contrast. In total you’ll need just under half a metre/yard of standard-width fabric for all the circles.
  • Approx 20cm (8″) square fabric for the star
  • 75cm x 60cm (30″ x 24″) plain white for the background of the tree
  • 75cm x 60cm (30″ x 24″) wadding
  • 75cm x 60cm (30″ x 24″) plain fabric for the backing of the tree
  • Approximately 90cm (1yard) plain fabric for backing the circle and star pockets
  • Approximately 50cm x 1m (25″ by 1 yd) felt for the pockets – I chose a plain white felt just in case it shows through the fabric slightly
  • 1m (1.1yd) fusible web
  • 2.5m (100″) long by 6cm (2 1/2″) wide strip for binding and hanging loop – I used the same fabric as the dark green circles
  • two 10cm (4″) squares in a plain fabric, for the dowel pocket
  • 50cm (20″) length of wooden dowel

You’ll also need the templates – download the circle advent calendar templates PDF here.

Layout

My layout uses five different colours of circles – four shades of green, plus a red for contrast – in a range of different sizes. The layout is given in the PDF download, with the following key:

Advent calendar layout

  • A – green spotty fabric
  • B – light green batik
  • C – darker green batik
  • D – dark green
  • E – red and gold

The sizes of the circles are:

  • 3 large 10cm (4″) diameter pockets
  • 7 medium 7.5cm (3″) diameter pockets
  • 13 small 6cm (2 1/2″) diameter pockets
  • 10 tiny 4cm (1 1/2″) decorative circles

I found it helpful to plan out the different colours first: if you want to use more or fewer colours, then I’d recommend planning it out roughly first, so you know how many circles of each colour and size to cut.

I designed this layout in metric measurements, so the conversion to inches are only approximate – use the templates on the PDF for the exact sizes. If you measure them yourself in inches, then you may need to tweak the layout to get them to fit!

You could also change the layout to exclude the smallest decorative circles which will give a more spaced out design.

You could even change the size and number of the circles, or the size of the advent calendar itself, although if you make it much smaller you may find your pockets aren’t large enough to fit the fillings.

If you want to change the size or layout, again I recommend planning it out on paper first. Leave yourself a little bit of extra room around the circles to allow for inaccuracies in the cutting and sewing (Inaccuracies? You must be confusing me with someone else!)

Next: making the background.

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How to Appliqué with Tricky Fabrics: Part 1

Appliqueing with tricky fabrics: a two-part comprehensive guide to appliqueing with nearly any type of fabric.

Last year I did a string of posts on appliquéing, and I promised some tips for dealing with tricky fabrics. So far I’ve demonstrated all my appliqué techniques with cotton fabrics – a nice robust cotton drill in the background and stable, well-behaved quilting cottons for the appliqué shapes.

But there are times when for example you want to appliqué onto a stretch jersey T-shirt, or when your appliqué design is crying out for a bit of sparkly organza for maximum fairy effect.

I started off writing this post, and it just grew and grew! So I’ve cut it into two parts. This is Part 1, where I talk generally about how to deal with tricky fabrics. In Part 2, I’ll give tips for dealing with specific tricky fabrics.

Read more…

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How to cut small circles from felt

Cutting small circles can by fiddly - discover my tips for cutting felt eyes.
I was working on an up-coming project and needed to cut out a whole load of felt circles to make eyes. This can get fiddly, so I thought I’d share my favourite method for cutting tiny circles like this. It works for circles around 1/2 inch or less – anything larger and you can use this as a starting point, but you’ll need smooth off the edges more.

Read more…

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