Advent Trees: using ribbons and trim

Make these simple tree decorations using rows of ribbon and other trim.

Last year, I made a series of advent tree Christmas decorations, with different ideas for decorating the trees (you can see all the different versions at the end of this post). I thought it was time to update it, and add another variation. This year, it’s time to look at using some of those gorgeous ribbons and trims you’ve got stashed away.

There’s no real technique to learn here – we’re just going to be picking out ribbons and sewing them onto the tree. Since it depends so much on the ribbons you have available, everyone’s tree will look different, so as well as showing you mine, I’ll add a few tips on choosing ribbons to make your own.

In all these, I recommend treating the top felt and your backing fabric as one, cutting them a little larger than the template and sewing the trims on. So you’re using the felt to stabilise the fabric, and then you can cut it to the template and sew to the backing felt as usual (the full instructions and templates are in this post on how to sew the basic tree).

Advent trees made from ribbons and lace

Advent tree: lines of ribbon and trim.

The basic idea here is simple – pick out your favourite ribbons and sew them in straight lines onto the tree. You’ll only need small scraps of ribbon, so this is a great way to use up tiny bits of favourite ribbons you have left over from other projects.

Advent tree: lines of ribbon and trim.

It’s worth spending some time trying out different combinations and layouts until you’re happy. This second tree has several of the same ribbons as I used in the first tree, but it looks different as I’ve altered the way in which i use them.

advent tree: lace on velvet.
You’re not limited just to ribbons here, use any trim you can find. Here’s a more minimalist version in lace (although I accept I’m using the term in the loosest sense, here – I love a bit of luxury at Christmas time, so I don’t really do minimalism!), with just a couple of rows of lace along the bottom. The lace reminds me of snow on the branches, and keeping it simple allows the velvet background fabric to show as well.

Choosing ribbons

A selection of ribbons and trims.

  • Pick a main colour scheme of two or three colours. I chose red and white as my main colours here.
  • You may have one particular ribbon that you want to use and base everything around that. If so, use colours from the feature ribbon as your main colours, and pick out other ribbons to match or contrast. Keep the other ribbons plainer, so your feature ribbon stands out.
  • To avoid everything being too matchy-matchy, you can add accent colours in smaller doses. In the light tree, I used small flashes of gold.
  • Use a variety of thicknesses and shapes, plain and patterned. Adding a row of ricrac adds some interest and breaks up the straight lines a little. You could use lace for a similar effect.
  • Vary the spacing between the ribbons. It’s tempting to lay out the ribbons equidistant from each other, but this can look overly regimented.
  • You can even use no spacing at all, putting ribbons directly next tot each other, or even overlapping. You could do this just for some, or make the whole tree so the background isn’t visible at all.
  • To let the ribbons be the star, use a plain unobstrusive background.
  • If you want a fancier background, use fewer, plainer ribbons, and keep the spacing wider to allow the background to show through.
  • Try layering thinner ribbons on top of thicker ones to create new effects.
  • You can re-use a ribbon, but try to keep them away from each other. Unless you want a very structured look, don’t repeat more than a couple.
  • If you’re using lace, take care in mixing different patterns as it can look a bit haphazard. This works best if the laces are very different – colour, width, scale of the pattern…
  • Lay it all out first and try out different combinations, orders and spacings. When you find something you like, take a photo of it so you don’t forget the layout!

Play around with different combinations of ribbons until you like the layout.

Sewing tips

  • Cut the background and the ribbons larger than the tree template.
  • To keep the stitching in the background, match the thread colour to the ribbon, and sew along the top and bottom edges very close to the edge.
  • Alternatively, you could use contrast thread and make a feature of the stitching – how about a decorative stitch on top of a plain ribbon?
  • Ricrac is best sewn straight down the middle rather than trying to follow the curve.
  • Small bits of ribbon can easily shift while you’re sewing. Mark the sewing lines with a water-soluble pen, or other temporary marker to keep the ribbons parallel. Sew the beginning of the ribbon, and then pause and check that the other end is still on the line before sewing.
  • When you have sewn all the ribbons, cut the piece to the template size and seal the cut edges using fray check or a flame.
Details of some of the different effects on the advent tree.

Details of some of the different effects on the advent tree.

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