(Originally published at Salamander Dreams in July 2011.)
Every December I wish I had a nice, handmade countdown calendar, but usually by the time I think of it, there’s no hope of getting one made. (One year I decided I’d knit two tiny mittens per month and at the end I’d have a hand-knit mitten garland as a countdown calendar; I gave that up after one tiny mitten.) But THIS year is different–I decided to make our countdown calendar in July. I was distracted along the way by a few other projects, but I finished it within the month–it’s very simple, so if you’re a bit more focused than I, it won’t take you long at all!
A couple of years ago I put together a lickety-split one using coin envelopes and holiday stamps, and I thought I could transfer that idea to something more permanent without too much trouble, but with beautiful results. I made 24 wool felt pockets, designed to be hung by clips from a ribbon. The key here is the materials. I used wool felt, which makes all the difference and allows the beautiful simplicity to shine through.
* Wool felt: I used 18″ squares from Magic Cabin’s Vibrant Jewels line–one square each of red, gold, leaf, and forest. I have three kids, and it helps to assign each kid a color; then everybody knows whose turn it is to peek in the envelope. You could use whatever colors you want, of course. You’ll need 48 3×4″ rectangles, so just do the math to make sure you have enough felt.
* Cotton DMC embroidery floss: I used three strands throughout, and tried to match my floss color to the felt. So, on the red pockets I used 321, 700 for the light green pockets, and 895 for the dark green. I used 972 for all the blanket stitch around the edges.
* Number templates, which can be downloaded here. If you want to choose a different font or change the size of the numbers, see my post on how to create your own outline font. I wanted my numbers to fill the front of my pockets, so they’re not all the same size–“22” is a smaller font size than “1.” You may decide that it’s more important to you that the sizes match.
What To Do
Oh, it couldn’t be easier. If you’re using three colors, you’ll need 8 pockets, so 16 rectangles, of each color. If you’re using two colors, then 12 pockets and 24 rectangles. Four colors? Six pockets and 12 rectangles per color. Cut out however many 3×4″ rectangles as you need from each color. I used a straight edge and rotary cutter for this.
Print out either my number templates or your own and carefully cut out the paper numbers. This part really is the most laborious, but it pays to be patient and do it well. Once you have your paper numbers, you’ll need to cut the felt numbers. I used gold for the numbers throughout. I decided to trace them onto the felt with a disappearing ink fabric marker, but just to make sure nothing would show up on the right side, I traced them face down.
Again, cut them out carefully. I used small, sharp scissors.
Then, the fun part begins! Place your numbers roughly in the center–I just eyeballed it, and some of them might be a little crooked, but I’m creating a hand-made holiday countdown calendar for my children; I’m not looking to stress myself out right into tears here.
I sewed my numbers on with a running stitch.
I can’t help it–I think they just look delicious. It’s the wool felt. It’s really wonderful to handle and sew. Once I had all my numbers on, I used a blanket stitch to sew my pockets together. Here they all are together.
You can see I staggered some of the numbers–this is so I could fit larger numbers onto the rectangles. I didn’t want to have to cut them any smaller. As it was, none of these were difficult to cut out, which was my aim anyway.
I’m sure there’s a better, proper way to go around corners using blanket stitch. Mine are a little wonky, but still, I love these pockets! Here’s a closer look.
These are designed to hold slips of paper with activities rather than trinkets. At most, I slip stickers or chocolates in, too. These are large enough for my purposes. I’m rather enchanted with the end result. Every time a child happened to walk by while I was sewing on them (usually an evening project) or noticed the finished pile slowly growing, he or she would exclaim. “Are these for us?” “Are you almost done?” “Oooh!” I’ve tucked them into the closet along with their hand-knit stockings, though, and it will all come out again in December.
I’d love to know if you are inspired by this idea–or if you’ve crafted a countdown calendar of your own. Happy sewing!