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Making A Reusable Advent Calendar

December is nearly here and it’ll soon be time to get your Christmas decorations out, if you haven’t already. The shops will soon be out of advent calendars, but don’t worry because you can make your own really quite easily. Reusable advent calendars are a much more sustainable way to enjoy the countdown to Christmas – plus the daily treats can be anything you want, which is a much healthier option than having chocolate every day (and much more personal).

Choosing how to make your advent calendar

There’s lots of options for making a reusable advent calendar, so you’ll be able to find and make one which suits your home and family. You can make it as simple or complicated as you like, though it ought to be something you’ll use and enjoy for years to come (otherwise it defeats the point of being reusable).

My reusable advent calendar hanging up ready for December
My reusable advent calendar - I made this last year but altered the pockets this year so they're a better size

When I was younger, we used to have a series of small-ish numbered stockings which were hung up our staircase in a random order – this made things quite fun for both me and my sister trying to find the right stocking each day (even though we already knew what was in them, as we were the ones to put the chocolate coins in!) I say small-ish, as they were probably about 10cm deep by 8cm across, so actually quite a reasonable size. This could be a really good way to use up scrap fabric, and you only really need one set of stockings for two people – especially if the treats are identical or whole family activities.

A similar idea I’ve seen to this is to make little fabric envelopes and peg them to a garland string or even arrange them inside a frame. The envelopes could be as big or small as you choose to make them and they would be a great scrap buster – for each envelope you just need two contrasting fabrics and a button. You could then embroider the number on or you could make them from some felt.

Another (more complicated) idea is to create a character advent calendar, like this one by The Crafty Gentleman. Easy to hang up on a door, this is quite an inventive answer to store bought advent calendars – let’s face it, compared to Santa here, they look rather boring! If you didn’t want to make Santa, you could adapt The Crafty Gentleman’s tutorial to make almost any kind of character – fairy, angel, snowman, elf or even a Christmas tree if you wished.

Some fabric companies produce kits and panels for advent calendars, which can make the process much easier as you have something to follow like a pattern. Some of the panel designs are really quite lovely too. However, I have noticed that the pocket areas are really very small on some of these panels – in some cases the pockets would only just be big enough to put a small chocolate in – so bear this in mind if you decide to go down this route.

I actually really like this advent calendar by Miss Gioia – it’s a simple, minimal style and I love the idea of using buttons to denote which day the pocket represents. I probably wouldn’t hand sew them on though, it’s much faster to do this with a sewing machine if you can – though you’d need to do this before attaching the pockets to the body of the calendar. The other great thing about a calendar like this is you can use whatever fabric you want – it doesn’t have to be Christmassy at all. Miss Gioia states she used some heavy silk upholstery fabric and it really does look beautiful. If I hadn’t already made ours, I would be very tempted to make one like hers.

My advent calendar

I made our advent calendars last year, they’re a straightforward square shape and simply use a piece of wood and some string to hang up. I bought the fabric from my local shop and just got to work. I estimated the sizes of everything and as a result, the pockets ended up being too small for most of the treats we’d bought. If I’d thought about it beforehand, I could have found a tutorial and followed that for the sizing. Oh well, we learn the most from our mistakes!

My advent calendar is roughly 50x50cm and is made simply from a couple of pieces of quilting cotton – plain for the back and patterned on the front. My husband and I each chose a Christmas fabric to have as the front piece, though they’re from the same Scandinavian style fabric range by Makower. Originally the pockets were made to be alternating squares of the Christmas fabric and they measured 6x6cm in total, which is far smaller than I anticipated. I was aiming for 8x8cm, but I clearly mis-measured or mis-judged the seam allowances when sewing them.

Making my reusable advent calendar
I made the numbers from Christmas fabric of a different colour and sewed them on each pocket

I have redone the pockets this year though, using The Crafty Gentleman’s tutorial for the pockets on his Santa advent calendar. It took a long time to cut out and sew on all the numbers, but it was worth it – now we have decent sized pockets, they’re all numbered and they’re much easier to see against the patterned fabric! Something I should have done is to start with the top row when attaching the pockets – I started from the bottom and nearly ran out of space at the top! It would have been easier to judge if I’d done it the other way around, but it’s something to remember if I ever make any more.

Ideas for your advent treats

You can be quite inventive with your treats, as you now have a whole world of different ideas to include in the advent calendar, rather than just chocolate. You don’t have to do the same thing each day either – a mix of activities, chocolate, toys, books or anything else you enjoy (including mini tipples for adults) works quite well. Stitch markers could be a great crochet or knitting related advent gift, or perhaps different spools of thread for sewists could be nice too.

We tend to get a small Lego set for each other and split it up over the month, so you might get a few bricks one day, a few more another day and so on. You then get the instructions on Christmas Eve, so if you haven’t already had a go at building the set, you can sit and build it then. In amongst these days, we have chocolates, the occasional miniature bottle of alcohol, special hot chocolates or teas, and on some days slightly bigger gifts like videogames – these are hidden away and a note is left in the appropriate day’s pocket. Who said advent calendars were just for kids?!

If you have children you could have activities as the treats – for example, baking mince pies together, a family movie night, even perhaps a whole day playing games together (whether board games or video games is up to you). You can really tailor this to your family so it’s something you all enjoy but perhaps don’t get to do particularly often. Each year you’ll be able to try out new ideas and treats too – which is perfect for children as they grow up.

I hope this post gives you some inspiration – for your advent calendar as well as the treats to put in it – and that you enjoy making something that you can use for years to come.