Now It Can Be Told

I made this.

Or to put it more accurately, I made these: two Advent calendars, one for each family of my two daughters and their children.  And now that they are duly done and delivered, I can finally reveal how I made this big project.  Here follows a long post with lots of links, photos, and project notes.

I was inspired by Stephanie Pearl McPhee (the Yarn Harlot), who made one for her nephew a year ago. She blogged about it with lots of detail, and I mostly followed her directions, giving mine a few personal touches. (On her blog, go to December, 2014 by scrolling down and looking on the right side, and see separate posts for Dec. 1 through 24.) I started in January and finished in time to mail each one to its destination before December 1, though I did make quite a few other things during the past year. However, this project was The Big Thing that was always on my mind until I finished it.

Herewith, the details.  First, The Things:

I started by making forty-eight Little Things, figuring that until they were all done, I wouldn’t know what size to make the tree or the pockets. For nearly everything, I used scrap fingering weight yarn and size 1 needles. For the ones that were stuffed, I generally finished by leaving a long end, going through the back of the object where it wouldn’t show, then coming through the front and pulling it before cutting, so that, when cut, the end would retract inside the object.

1)  Heartssnowmen, heartsI started with the heart, which was harder than it looked, but not THAT hard. Used sock weight yarn and size 1 needles. I increased by KFB on the first and last stitches. If there were a next time (that is, I.T.W.A.N.T.), I’d use stretchier yarn.

2)  Snowmen – easy peasy and fun! For these, I used sport weight yarn and size 3 needles. I added one row of knitting immediately after the cast-on to make it (slightly) easier to join the stitches in a round. Here is the designer’s page (actually five pages) and she has LOADS of amazing tiny patterns.  Oh, if only I had found the toilet pattern before I finished this!

3)  Then the birds, which were cleverly designed and not too tricky. Mods: for the head, begin just to the LEFT of the first c/o stitch, centered with the bird right side up, and work clockwise. Switch to yellow yarn (for the beak) in row 7 (the first round of K2tog).birds, gnome,acorns

4)  The acorn was a bit of a disappointment. I.T.W.A.N.T., I’d use larger yarn and needles; these were disproportionally small, though very realistic and acorn-like.

5)  Gnome baby. I LOVED these! Especially the fact that they have no facial features, which makes them anything you want them to be. I can picture a whole bowl of them set out as favors at a Christmas party. Where the directions start with “Sew up the Body,” when you get to the top of the back and reach the skin color, do NOT cut the yarn; use it to tie the neck together (later in the instructions). And when you cast on for the arms, leave a LONG end of yarn. (I didn’t bother to stuff them.) I downloaded the pattern before she added the vests and started charging for the patterns. Hopefully you can make them without the vests if you wish.

6)  The star pattern turned out to be a godsend, though it was fussy to start with. star close-upYes, with fingering yarn and size 1 needles, you really do need that many stitches. I ended up making a bigger one (worsted weight, size 5 needles) as a Christmas gift for my 100-year old mother-in-law, and an even bigger one (worsted weight AND fingering weight, size 6 needles) for the top of our tree. star on treeThis pattern is definitely a keeper! Once you figure out the pattern, it works like a charm, and it’s all one piece!.

7)  After a while I gave up on knitting a truck, and got a useful template to make it from felt. I found it here, but scaled it down and made it simpler. My trucks were customized with family names; quarter included for scale. TrucksBe sure to do any embroidery before you put the pieces together!

I made a few others from felt as well:

8)  The chickens (for which I used this pattern), and the (9) ornaments (no pattern, just winged it with bits of decorative stuff I had around, tracing around a juice glass, etc.).

10)  I tried to make the cats look somewhat like the families’ cats: the orange-multi one is Peach and the gray one is Fanny. cats, ornamentsBe sure to leave long yarn ends (for sewing together) for both the cast-on and the bind-off on the cat. Can’t find the original pattern, but here’s the designer’s page, on which there are many wonderful animal patterns, including a similar cat.

11)  The sailboats were lots of fun. boats, socksAs Stephanie did, I took out two rows of the bottom because these didn’t need to stand up (that is, omit the first two rows of the directions for The Base); for the mast, I did a 3-stitch i-cord rather than 4, and worked 26+ rows rather than 24. I used a bent paper clip rather than a pipe cleaner for the mast, ran it through first and then cut it to size. Very happy with how these turned out!

12)  Socks – used this pattern, which is actually a treasure trove and a great source of Little Knitted Things for ornaments, party favors, or gifts.

13)  The gingerbread people also were a bit of a disappointment; they are just funny-looking. gingermen, birdsPerhaps I should have stuffed them fatter.  Mods as follows: c/o 22 stitches, work 12 rows for legs, 9 rows for upper body. For head, rows 1-5 are st. st., on row 6, decrease 6 stitches (16 remain); on row 8, decrease 7 stitches (9 remain); on row 10, decrease 4 stitches (5 remain); then purl across the next row, draw yarn through remaining stitches, and pull up.

14)  The girl teddy bears were sort of weird, though I did learn some tricks making them. As much as possible, pick up the loops of existing stitches rather than making separate pieces, e.g. for the ears (worked especially well).  I.T.W.A.N.T, I’d do this for the legs and arms as well; sewing on the limbs was very fussy.Santas, teddy bears

15)  Santa – I used this pattern, and was a bit disappointed that the beard wasn’t fluffier. I.T.W.A.N.T, I would use fluffier yarn.

16)  Christmas tree – I followed Stephanie’s made-up directions as follow: cast on as many stitches as needed (odd number) to make circumference at bottom and join to work in the round. Decrease 4 stitches (K2tog and ssk at the sides) every 3rd round until there’s only 1 left. When done, sew on beads to front, stuff with a little stuffing, sew up the bottom, and add a tiny trunk.trees, gifts

17)  The presents were just rectangles of st. stitch folded around two pieces of cardboard and stitched together. “Ribbon” was a 3-stitch i-cord tied around and then tacked.

18)  Hat – I had made some of these before for little Christmas gifts for friends to use as luggage identifiers.  Cute and pretty easy.hats, trucks

19)  Mittens – same story. mittens, pants 20)  The pants with no one inside them were a find of my own and I love them so much! But now I can’t find the pattern. Here it is, taken from my printout:

Cast on 17 sts. for left leg, work across in K1, P1 ribbing until piece is 1 1/2″ from start, ending on WS row. Inc. 1 st. at each end of next row – 19 sts. Work even, maintaining K1Pi ribbing, until piece measures 2 1/2″ from beginning, ending on WS. Slip onto holder. Work right leg the same.  Then join by working 17 sts across R leg, P2tog, then work 19 sts of left leg from holder – 37 sts. Work even in ribbing as established until piece measures 3″ from beginning, end on WS. Knit next row, decreasing 17 sts across — 20 sts. Beg. with next row, work even in stockinette st. for 6 rows, ending on RS. Knit 2 rows. Bind off K-wise on WS.

Finishing: sew back seam to crotch. Sew inside leg seams, rev2ersing seams over lower 1/2″ of each leg. Fold lower 1/2″ of each leg back to RS.

Belt: work a 3-st. i-cord for 7″. Fasten off. Fold down top edge of pants 1/4″ and tie belt around top of pants below folded edge.

I gave each family a copy of  Dr. Seuss’s The Sneeches, which has a story in it called “What Was I Afraid Of?” featuring — you guessed it — pants with no one inside them. It was a sort of Christmas Quiz: what does this book have to do with the Advent Calendar? (The 7-year old got it immediately.) I had the perfect blue denim-ish yarn to make jeans, though I would have preferred brown for the belt.

21)  Wreath – one of my great successes! wreathMostly because I had exactly the right yarn, a sort of mottled, tweedy-ish green sock yarn, as yet unused. The small amount of yarn I used will probably not diminish the size of the eventual socks. Here’s how I did it:

Using fingering weight yarn and size 2 needles, cast on 16 stitches. Knit in blackberry stitch (see below) until the piece is 5 1/2″ long, ending on row 4. Bind off. Stitch long edges together. Stuff lightly. Close ends together to form a circle.

Knit a red bow to cover the seam: cast on 8 stitches, knit in stockinette stitch, slipping first stitch of each row for a smooth edge. When the piece is 4″ long, bind off, leaving a LONG piece of yarn, then sew ends together and tack them to the back of the center of the bow. Then wrap yarn around the center several times, tack down the wraps, and sew the bow to the wreath over the seam.

These directions will give you a wreath approximately 2 1/2″ across. Adjust size of yarn, number of stitches, and needle size accordingly if you wish a bigger or smaller wreath.

Blackberry stitch (multiple of 4 stitches, 4 row repeat).

Row 1: *K1 but don’t take off left needle, yarn over, knit into that stitch again (hereafter shown as [k1,yo,k1]; purl 3* repeat to end.
Row 2: *P 3 together, K3* repeat to end
Row 3: *P3, K1,yo,k1* repeat to end
Row 4: *K3, P3 tog.* repeat to end

22)  Sweaters – used this pattern and made “Dancer.”  This page also has a cute hat pattern.sweaters, wreaths

23)  The little houses with snow on their roofs were delightful, easy to make, and super cute! acorns, housesAs you will see, this pattern includes many little things that could be used for an Advent Calendar.

24)  Bells: A friend gave me a copy of an old pattern she had cut from a newspaper, so no link for this one. gnomes, bells(My notes to myself are a bit vague here, so you might have to experiment.) Directions: using size 1 needles and fingering weight red yarn, cast on 18 stitches, using a twisted cast-on and leaving a very long end for an eventual three-needle bind-off. Row 1: K 14, purl 4; row 2: knit. Repeat these 2 rows until you have 23 ridges (46 rows). Leave working yarn attached so you can make an i-cord top for the bell. Using the very long end of the cast on, do a 3-needle bindoff with right sides together (cast on and working edges); bottom edge of bell should turn under. Gather the top, then make an i-cord about 3/4″ long. Tie some little jingle bells inside.

For each Little Thing, I sewed a ribbon on its top, usually in a contrasting color, using a piece of tiny ribbon about 3″ long, also in contrasting colors.

Putting It All Together:

Once I had finished the Little Things, I laid them out on a piece of (used) easel pad paper fairly close together in a triangle,layout2 for tree drew the ensuing triangle onto the paper, then shaped the edges to make it into a tree shape, folding it in half before cutting so it would be symmetrical. pattern for treeI used this pattern on green felt to make the tree (and I.T.W.A.N.T., I would put a small trunk under the tree), and used the remaining green felt for the pockets.  This was all pretty seat-of-the-pants and unscientific.

For the backing, I bought a yard of quilt backing that was 96″ wide muslin, which unfortunately wrinkles badly (though it irons nicely). My plan was to make them wide enough to hang on a door, which meant somewhat smaller than the 36″ width. The 96″ length, cut in half, gave me enough room when it was hemmed all around (pocket at the top to fit in a wooden dowel hung from red satin cord)done, close-up to attach the tree with four rows of six pockets under it, all the same size and big enough to accommodate the largest item.

I machine stitched the tree to the muslin and then sewed on 24 buttons in various colors, being sure that each button stuck out a bit by putting a piece of toothpick under the stitches and then wrapping the thread several times around, under the button but on the right/top side, before tying off.button how-to

Version 2I discovered I had buttons to spell out the name of one child.  Do you see it?

To embroider the numbers, I made a table on the computer with squares the size of the pockets, then found a font I liked (American Typewriter) and typed the numbers 1 to 24 in the squares. I printed these on paper, then cut the paper into strips and pinned it onto the felt strips (one strip for each row of pockets.)

I made a running stitch of contrasting thread along each line between pockets.  Using two strands of red embroidery thread, I embroidered each number onto the felt strips, through the paper, using a backwards running stitch (to make a solid line). I picked away the paper pattern (tweezers helped get the littlest bits), then I machine stitched the sides and bottom of each strip to the muslin backing.  Only then did I embroider the lines between the pockets, using the contrasting thread running stitches as a guide and going through the muslin as well.

done in pockets2

Someone really likes this!  He isn’t talking a lot, but he knows how to say “Christmas!” when it’s time to hang another Little Thing on the tree.FullSizeRender










4 thoughts on “Now It Can Be Told

  1. Judith in Bethesda

    I found you from the Yarnharlot comments and I must say your Advent calendar is AMAZING!! Thanks so much for all the hard additional work involved in creating this post. I think I’d better go follow the links and print out the intructions in case they go “poof” from the internet before I get around to following suit.


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