Advent Trees Series: How to make a simple Christmas tree decoration

Advent Trees: This simple Christmas idea is the perfect blank canvas to try out a range of new techniques. This is how to make the basic design - I'll be posting lots of variations on this | Sewing Spark

So, you want to try out something new. You read all the blogs, you buy the materials, you get the Craftsy course… but every time you’re about to start, somehow you find yourself doing something else instead. What if you waste that expensive fabric? What if you waste your time on a Failed Project?

If you like the idea of trying something new, but always flounder under the pressure to not Mess Up, then this project is for you. It’s small and manageable, it doesn’t take up much in the way of materials and it’s low-pressure – if you do mess up you can just shrug and try another. Oh, and it’s Christmassy, too – what’s not to like?*

(* If you don’t celebrate Christmas, or you’re reading this in the middle of February, you can easily change the basic shape to something else – see the end of this post for some ideas.)

We’ll be making a number of decorative trees, based on a simple triangle shape, with plenty of scope for customisation. You can embellish in any way you choose, and there’s a pocket on the back large enough to take a chocolate coin or other treat. Use them as individual decorations or on the tree,  or make a string of them to hang as a garland. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could make 24 of them and use it as an advent calendar!

The fun in this project is in deciding what to do on the front – it’s a blank canvas waiting for ideas. In this post, I’ll give you the instructions for making the basic tree; you’ll need this for all the trees. Then, over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting different ideas to decorate the front of the tree.

Some of these ideas are techniques that you may or may not have tried before. Some of them are old ideas put together in new ways. And some of them are just old ideas – but don’t knock an old idea if it works. I’ve added some suggestions at the end of each post for even more variations. But don’t just stop at what I’ve done – use this as a starting point for your own ideas.

How to Construct the Basic Tree

This is the basic method for constructing a tree. I’ll be posting lots of ideas for different ways to decorate the front of your tree over the coming few weeks, but for now I’ll just show you the simplest: a pretty piece of fabric on the front.

Supplies:

  • Felt for front, back and pocket (this is the bit where I tell you that you need to use 100% yak wool for best results – but you know what? I used 100% acrylic and it worked fine. Use whatever you’ve got.).
  • Pretty fabric for front
  • 14cm (approx 5.5in) thin ribbon for hanging
  • 5cm (approx 2in) thick ribbon for trunk

Instructions

  1. Download the template. This template has the shapes for the main tree and the pocket. I’ve included two versions of the tree – one has a window you can cut out of the centre to help with fabric placement. You could laminate the templates to make them last longer.

    Alternatively, you can draw your own – my tree is 12cm tall and 10cm wide.

  2. Cut out the following pieces:
    • 2 x tree template in felt
    • 1 x tree template in fabric
    • 1 x pocket template in felt

    All the pieces you need.

Prepare the back:

  1. Attach the hanging loop securely to the top of the one of the felt tree pieces with a narrow zigzag stitch. This will be the back of the tree. I like to cross the ends over as shown so that they are securely caught in the stitching. The hanging loop is going to be doing a lot of work – this and the zigzag stitch makes sure that it’s actually properly attached!

    Sew the hanging loop with a narrow zigzag - I like to cross over the ends to ensure it's securely attached.

  2. Layer the pocket piece behind the back felt tree, aligning bottom edges. Set to one side. So you have the pocket on the bottom, then the tree back and then the hanging loop attached on top.

    Prepare the back of the tree

Prepare the front:

This step will depend on how you are decorating the front of your tree, but for this simple version, we will just use a single piece of fabric.

  1. Layer the fabric tree piece over the top of the second felt treePrepare the front of the tree

Assemble the tree:

  1. Layer the tree in the following order:
    • Place the back pocket-side down.
    • Fold the ribbon for the trunk in half and place it on top of the back felt tree, halfway along the bottom edge with the folded edge at the bottom.
    • Place the front on top, face up.

    Pin through all layers.

    Layer the components of the tree, trapping the ribbon trunk in between two felt layers.

    Spend a bit of time here getting everything aligned, and make sure you pin through the ribbon to hold it in place. If you find that the pieces have mysteriously grown or shrunk, despite having been cut from the same template, don’t worry too much – just line up the bottom edges and trim all the other edges to the same size.

  2. Sew around the edge of the tree. 
    Warning: don’t use your serger/overlocker as you’ll cut off the trunk and hanging loop!

    You have several options here, depending on how you want the final tree to look. The simplest is just to straight stitch all round the tree, about 6mm or less from the edge. Alternatively, you can use a decorative edging stitch such as blanket stitch, zigzag or overlock stitch. I used blanket stitch to give it that hand-sewn look without the hand-sewn hassle.
    Blanket stitch round the edge of the tree

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Troubleshooting

Use stabiliser to stop the edges chewing up

If you run into difficulties sewing along the edge of the felt, with fabric chewing under the presser foot, try the following:

  1. If possible, move your needle as far right as possible, so more of the fabric goes over the feed dogs.
  2. Use soluble or tear-away stabiliser underneath the fabric, and tear it away afterwards. (Note: use a straight stitch or fairly open stitch unless you have soluble stabiliser as it can be fiddly to tear the bits away afterwards.)
  3. If you don’t have any stabiliser, you can substitute tissue paper (use white or matching as the colour can run)

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I suggest playing around from fabric scraps here to work out what works best for you. You could also experiment with some other stitches here to get interesting effects, or try using a contrast thread.
Four options for the edging - experiment!
NOTE: If you’re going to make several of these trees, write down your machine settings – the stitch you used, length and width settings, any tension adjustments.


Your first tree is complete!

The single layer of Christmassy fabric is simple, but still effective in its own right – you could make a string of these in a selection of different fabrics without worrying about anything more complex. 

Use a selection of pretty fabrics

For example:

  • try luxury fabrics such as velvet or silk (treat any fabrics that fray with fray check after cutting)
  • play around with different edging stitches, or contrast thread
  • remove the pocket and put fabric on the back to make it reversible
  • change the shape (keep it simple!) – stars, circles, upside-down triangles to make bunting…

Or you can wait and see what I’ve got coming up over the next few weeks – enough suggestions to keep anyone busy!

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