Every parent knows that the countdown to a child’s next birthday begins the second they blow out the candles, although once you reach 21 the effervescent enthusiasm dwindles slightly. My daughter Millisent 6yrs and son Gabriele 2yrs find birthdays such an exciting and fantastic occasion. Days, weeks and months before, my daughter quizzes me to see how long it is until her birthday, as the invites begin to roll in for her friends parties and celebrations before hers. The children love their Christmas advent calendars and it’s a great way to count and build a concept of time, so so why not have a birthday advent too?
I adore arts and craft and have a passion for textiles which began as a child when I would sit in my bedroom and sew cushion covers and flags to match my bedding. Fast forward a decade or so and I took textiles as a GCSE at school receiving an A grade, another decade after that I moved into my first home and I made and adjusted curtains, stitched bunting, and turned up and took in the little ones clothes.
I wanted to create something special for the children to hang in the lounge and mark the countdown to their birthdays, as a result the overall feel would have to be unisex, with bright colours, birthday inspired images and space to store goodies. We fill our Christmas advent with chocolate coins, sweets and money, so it’s best to attach deep pockets and follow some sort of a progression to count along or read.
We decided to label our pockets with letters this time instead of counting down numbers, and as the Christmas advent is 25days we felt this would be too long for a birthday countdown, so 14days would be best. It just so happens that the words “Happy Birthday!” cover fourteen pockets, and so this is what our advent would display. I have huge craft boxes filled with threads, fabrics, felts and sparkles that I’ve gathered across the year, with snippets and samples costing as little as 25p for a square of fabric.
I asked the children what things they would like best on their calendar and they suggested rainbow colours, balloons, a cake and stars which I incorporated into the design. I didn’t have a specific idea to start with as I just made it up as I went along, but the finished piece is so beautiful and unique as a result. Nothing is perfect or precise as I used no rulers or straight edges, simply a pair of scissors, a needle and white cotton thread with a mountain of different coloured and patterned fabrics. I began with a large rectangle of red felt because it’s flexible, strong and easy to handsew. Ontop on this I cut and placed 14 coloured squares of felt, all a similar size but nothing too straight or perfect.
I then took a sheet of white felt and drew out block letters in biro to spell “Happy Birthday!” which I cut out and hand stitched one to each square. I lined up exactly where I wanted each pocket to be and then stitched them in place. I have used a simple hand running stitch throughout in a white thread. I think showing the stitches in a contrasting colour adds a lovely heartfelt touch, which is why I made no effort to colour match the thread to each different piece of felt. I love the homely look, and a bright white thread really achieves this.
After my pockets were all in place I was able to assess the gaps that I had around them and decide what to fill each piece with. I started with a cake in the middle of the advent, as this is something the children wanted and is very symbolic of a birthday. I padded it out with cotton wool and stitched coloured off-cuts of felt as sugar sprinkles along with a candle and flame. It makes a piece interesting to use texture and padding, giving the calendar a 3D effect and engaging the senses of sight and touch in little ones. I then used a machine printed dotted pink and blue fabric to make two balloons, one for each top corner which I finished with a red and blue ribbon, twirling it into place and fixing with a cross stitch every couple of inches to allow it to stand up. A red gingham fabric worked lovely as a tablecloth which I again tacked into place at each corner, complimenting the geometric print and layout of the calendar in a more precise manner.
Finally I took a handful of gold sequin stars and stitched them at various points across the remaining empty space. I finished the advent calendar with felt tab tops so that it can be threaded with a dowel and hung on the door, and our birthday advent is complete! Although I already had the materials required to make this in my cupboard, if you were to create a like-for-like of this you can easily do so for under £5.00 by visiting a craft shop. From start to finish it took me two hours to design, cut and sew it all in place and it will now be a cherished and useful decoration in our home for many years to come. The idea of this calendar is to countdown the days to my children’s birthdays, one at a time with a little treat and reward each morning for being so patient. I made this advent fairy large so that it can hold a few things, from hair ties to race cars, lollipops or pennies, sweets and even lipbalms; all of the lovely pocket money trinkets that children adore.
You could also add numbers to the pockets if you wish to count the date, or the days of the week and even the month depending on how personalised you’d like it to be. It was a great family activity that made a nice change to be away from the television, and can simply be rolled up and stored away safety ready for next year. Advent calendars don’t only have to be for Christmas and birthdays, as they’d work great for Halloween, Easter and a special holiday or trip too, and you can experiment with different cartoon characters, animals or fairytale castles and pirate ships. Happy crafting!