Countdown! Advent Calendar Tutorial

Before I launch into showing you how to make a sweet and quick advent calendar, I need to you let you in on something… I’m moving! I’m currently in So Cal, but by the end of the year I will be in beautiful Portland OR. I figure I’ve got weird pretty well figured out, so I think it’ll be a good fit! And to my dear and darling So Cal friends – please don’t be sad… I have SouthWest frequent flier miles. Just saying!

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Moving means packing, and packing means I’m looking at everything in my studio and trying to find a way to have a little less of it to box up. One of the things I have to (hopefully) move from my studio to yours are some kits for Countdown, the advent calendar pattern I designed last year. It has roomy pleated pockets instead of doors or ornaments, and goes together really quickly. Like most of my patterns, it’s easier than it looks – all the sewing is straight lines. It’s 12” x 44”, so stylishly skinny enough to fit on that one small scrap of wall that isn’t yet decorated to within an inch of its life.

You have OVER TWO WEEKS before the first of December… so you can totally fit this into your holiday madness. Totally! You can make it in a couple of afternoons, and perhaps one evening in front of the telly to do the binding and sleeve, especially if you do fusible applique on the numbers. If you choose to do some version of psychotic heirloom hand applique you’ll be at this for a while, and you’re on your own with that!


So first up – those kits are on sale. Really good sale. And they include the pattern. Also, I’ve put the Countdown pattern itself on sale… dropped the price a couple bucks and made the shipping free. If you don’t want to wait for shipping, I’ve dropped the price for a download on Craftsy too. I’ll keep the prices down through the first week of December :-) And I’ll run to the post office as soon as you order so you get your kit or pattern pronto.

There are two versions of the kit… one that is kiddo friendly with cute snowmen on the panel, and the other that features one of the Alexander Henry Holiday Hunks for a more grownup vibe. And you can replace the picture panel of either version of the kit with something you like better (perhaps something from the Grinch line, or even a holiday Ghastlie).


I also have just the hunks as single panels on sale for a mere dollar (yes… I really, really don’t want to pack more than I have to!)

What’s in the kit? Enough fabric for every part of the calendar… front, back, binding, sleeve, plus a printed pattern in a bag. You will need to buy a little fusible web for appliqueing the letters, and a rod for the sleeve. You probably have a scrap or two of batting that will fit the bill already.


So go shopping… and then come back here for a visual run though of the pattern. Yes, I will illustrate the pattern steps in photos. But no, I’m not giving the farm away here… you’ll still need to buy a pattern to get the cutting info. But I trust you’re cool with that because I trust that you support artists getting paid for their talent.

Let’s begin!

I’m using a Hunks kit, and I’ll be giving this to a girlfriend who has had one of those years. I’m hoping to fill it with sewing notions and chocolate and other things that make her feel special. I felt like the fella should have a name… so I consulted my friend and fave quilt humorist The Bitchy Stitcher and she came up with Harry Hardpack. So say helloooo to Harry!

First, cut the binding strips from the fabric for the inner border/numbers/binding fabric. Set these aside.


While you’re there, cut the inner border strips too, and subcut them per the pattern.

DSC_0608Sew them onto your feature panel/Harry – first sew the right and left sides, then press, then the top and bottom, and press again. These are skinny strips, so keep an eye on a good quarter inch seam here.

DSC_0610Next, cut out the background/sashing fabric. If you have a directional print, and maintaining the direction matters to you, then follow the directions more closely before you cut (you’ll be doing some lengthwise cutting, not selvedge to selvedge). This red fabric has some direction to it, but I decided to ignore it… and it honestly seems to not have mattered.

Subcut the first couple of steps from the pattern and sew them around the feature panel. At this point, I decided that labeling this pile of strips was going to keep me sane, so out came the sticky notes:

DSC_0611Now you’re going to make the strata that get cut into the pockets. Easy stuff. You already cut up the background, so now cut the pocket fabric:

DSC_0612This stunning picture shows the leftovers of cutting the pocket fabric… OOPS. I forgot to take one while I was cutting and sewed all the way to here before I figured it out:

DSC_0613You’ll make two chunks of strata – one is the full width of fabric, the other is about 14”. When sewing the strata, sew the strips into pairs first (and press) and then sew the pairs into bigger pairs (and press) and so on (sew on? ha!). Be really careful not to stretch when you sew or you will have a strata that bends like a donkey’s hind leg.

Press it REALLY well, and press the sashing towards the pockets (this is going to matter when you pleat the pockets later).

DSC_0614Cut the strata into the eight chunks that will become pockets, and take them to the ironing board. First make sure that you have the sashing pressed towards the pockets, then fold in half, wrong sides together, and press again.


On the background section below Harry, and the seven remaining background sections, draw in some marks per the pattern. You’ll be using these to line up the sashing on the pockets. No need to draw all the way across the background, just a couple of lines at the bottom edge is fine:


With the raw edges down, fit the pocket onto the background. Pin down the outer edges, then both of the sashes. Yes, the pockets should be puffy!

DSC_0621Next, pleat the pockets and pin them down. The pleat is going to fold back right at the pressed seam allowance underneath (see, told you that was going to be important!)


Rinse and repeat for the remaining seven pocket sections.


Run a basting stitch along the bottom at a scant quarter inch to hold these in place.


Sew the top of one pocket section to the bottom of the pocket under the panel. Do it six more times to get the full calendar together and press it well, and press the pleats into the pockets. Yes, I forgot to take a photo of this too.

The pockets are going to be flopping around, but don’t worry about it. They will get sewn down as the piece is quilted. I recommend pinning the sides of the pockets in place first before you baste, but don’t worry about the centers.


Lay down the back and batting, and baste it all in place. I use spray baste… yes, I know it’s an airborne adhesive, and it’s consumable, and my box of basting pins is still shiny after 25 years, and I could use the money for more fabric, and I DON’T CARE. Spray baste is addictive… one hit and you’ll be hoarding cans of it and panicking when you run low.

Set your machine up for quilting. I use the walking foot and on this one I chose a red thread that blended with the background.

DSC_0630Starting at the bottom, quilt a line all the way up the sides of the pockets, straightening them as you go. Try to get in the ditch of the pocket, but don’t catch the pleated part. Sew all the way to the top pocket and lock your stitches there. Do this five more times and the main body is quilted. Sweet, eh?

If you want to finish the quilting now, go ahead. I recommend stitching around the panel border, and maybe a little stippling in the negative space of your panel. And anywhere else for accent and emphasis 😉

Now to the numbers… there are two different fonts in the pattern. I chose the more angular one as I thought the retro style would suit my friend. It also is probably the more fussy of the two to cut out (more holes in centers to cut). Draw the numbers onto the fusible web and iron them to the WRONG side of the fabric.


Go make a cup of tea, load up some trashy TV and cut them out. Use some nice pointy scissors to get into the centers. You might also need some chocolate at this point too. Or perhaps something stronger than tea.


Peel them and center them onto the pockets. You can go in numerical order or scatter them randomly – which I didn’t do because I’m just a teensy weensy bit uptight about organization. Check them twice just like Santa’s list, and then iron them down.

If you haven’t finished the quilting yet, get that done, and then trim the excess edges from the quilt:


Go find the binding strips from the first step, and sew them together using the diagonal seam method: Place the strips right sides together at 90 degrees from each other, then sew across a 45 degree diagonal. You can chalk the diagonal first, or not:

DSC_0641Trim off the triangle leaving a quarter inch seam allowance.

DSC_0642Press those diagonal seams open, then fold the whole strip in half, WRONG sides together along the length and press to make binding. And then sew the binding around the calendar:


Before you stitch down the back of the binding, make the sleeve. Press the short ends over twice and topstitch them down:

DSC_0645Then press in half, WRONG sides together:

DSC_0646Align the raw edges of the sleeve to the top of the calendar, and baste the sleeve a scant quarter inch from the edge, INSIDE the seam allowance of the binding. Make sure not to catch the binding in this seam, especially at the corners:

DSC_0648Red on red… hard to see! Look at the drawing in the pattern… it’s much better than this photo!

Finish the binding and sew down the bottom edge of the sleeve. No picture of that because I’m still working on it!

I used a 12 inch cafe rod in the sleeve of my pattern samples – they run about $5 in the rods and blinds section of your local hardware store. Knot a piece of ribbon into one end, then run it though the sleeve and tie into the other end.


DSC_0652And you’re DONE!


If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments so that I can answer them for all to read.

And if you have any sweet ideas for little somethings that I can put in the pockets for my friend, leave them in the comments too!

The “You Made Me Clean My Studio” Sale!

There’s nothing like outing the mess in your studio to make you clean it up – it’s right up there with inviting people over to dinner so that you’ll clean house! As I was looking through the photos to add to the previous posts, I got the urge to sort out some of the stuff that was really beginning to bother me. Looks like I’m not the only one that happens to!

The things that were weighing on me the most were the tallest piles. The boxes on top of my book case were beginning to feel like they were looming over me, like Snoopy doing his vulture impression. And the rack was just out of control… piled high and beginning to shift and wobble… you know how it is – touch one thing and the whole mess tries to jump into your lap.

So – I gave myself an afternoon to improve the space… I waited until I had the right amount of ruthless coursing through my veins, put on dusty clothes and some righteous Motown tunes and got busy! I tossed a couple of bags of trash, donated a couple bags of things I was no longer using to my sewing pals, and relocated 4 boxes to the garage. Now I feel like I can actually breathe! This is what I have now:

Just taking down all the big dark items from the top of the bookshelf allowed more light into the room.

I sorted the chaos on top of the drawers, and put some things in tubs to stop them from getting sloppy or toppling.

And on the rack… several boxes got moved out to the garage, and a couple of others got reworked into different space. I also started working through my “need to quilt these” pile which lives on this rack. WHEW!

There are only two boxes left that need to leave (those two on the bottom left of the rack), and they are currently filled with kits for my shop. So let’s have a SALE! All the kits in my shop are now discounted by 25-30%! And they all include the pattern for free (which is a $10 savings by itself!). So head to the shop and treat yourself to a deal! My studio and I will thank you!