Thursday, 29 November 2012

How to Make an Advent Calendar: Part Five - Finishing Touches!

Today is the moment of truth, but first there's one last job to be done!

You will need:

  • Cardboard or thick paper in a festive colour (I have red)
  • Mini pegs
  • Approximately 4 metres of ribbon / twine
  • PVA glue, scissors, a marker pen


1. Cut the cardboard into whatever shape you'd like for numbering your Advent calendar. I used circles about 3cm (1.25 inches) in diameter. Handy hint: you'll be needing 24!

2. Write a number on each cardboard disc, 1-24.

3. Dab some PVA glue onto the side of the mini pegs. Stick it onto the back of the disc, so that the mouth/clamp part of the peg is pointing towards the bottom edge of the disc. Leave to dry overnight.

4. Decide how you want to hang your Advent calendar. I've strung mine across bookshelves, so I cut my twine into six pieces, each holding four days worth of stockings, bags and pockets. Cut your twine/ribbon to measure, leaving extra length at the ends to tie or hang the twine up.

5. Position your stockings, pockets and bags on the twine. Using the mini pegs/date labels, clamp them into place. I've done mine in numerical order but it might be fun to have a random sequence!

Now's the fun part! The exciting question is what will be filling the calendar? :) Well, I have some little chocolate balls, a few candy canes, some hot chocolate sachets and best of all, some little challenges.

Here are some of the challenges/activities:
  • Wrap Christmas presents
  • Put the tree up (I got a Christmas tree for my birthday!! :D)
  • Go and see the Christmas lights
  • Make Christmas biscuits
  • Christmas movie
  • Name all reindeer
  • Sing the chorus of a carol
  • What was given on the 4th day of Christmas?
  • Make paper snowflakes
  • Winter walk
According to the weather forecast, one of the challenges could even be to make a snowman! 

Anyway, I hope that this guide has been of some use to someone out there. I really enjoyed putting this Advent calendar together and hope to use it for years to come! :)

P.S. How are your Christmas preparations coming along?

How to make an Advent Calendar:

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Making the bags
Step Three - The Triangular pockets
Step Four - Mini Stockings
Step Five - Finishing Touches 

Friday, 23 November 2012

How to Make an Advent Calendar: Part Four - Mini Stockings

Hey-ho Advent calendar crew! :)

Sarah over at The Little Family of 3 had some nice suggestions of things to put in a homemade Advent calendar. She said she fills hers with little decorations for the children's mini Christmas trees, as well as Christmas badges and a treasure hunt clue for their Christmas PJs. Sounds great!

By now I have piles of little bags and triangular pockets for the Advent calendar, and it's time to add the stockings to the stash!

Before We Begin

As well as the stocking shapes you cut out two weeks back, you will also need some material to make the "cuffs" of the stocking. I used the same white material as the lining fabric. We will measure and cut it out later on.


1.  Take the two pieces of outer fabric and the two lining pieces. Pin them together, so that the bottom layers are the two outer fabric pieces, right sides together, and the top two pieces are lining fabric, right sides together.

2. Sew all the way around the outside edges, leaving the top of the stocking open.

3. Reach between the outer fabric layers and turn the stocking inside out. The lining fabric will still be together. Reach inside the lining fabrics and turn the stocking inside out again, so you are left with an inside-out stocking.

4. Now is the time to make the cuffs I mentioned earlier. You need to cut a rectangle that is TWICE the width of the top of your stocking plus an extra two centimetres, and about two centimetres longer than you want the cuff to extend down your stocking.

5. Fold the cuff rectangle in half longways and sew along the open edge, about half a centimetre from the edge.

6. Wrap the cuff around the stocking and mark where the edge of the stocking comes to. You want the cuff to be tight, but not so much that it starts to fold the stocking material.

7. Remove the cuff from the stocking and sew along the line the stocking came to. Trim the excess material from the side.

8. Cut a 15cm length of your trusty twine/ribbon. Tie it into a loop.

9. Sew the loop onto the top of your inside out stocking. It should be along the seam of the heel side of the stocking (as shown in image).


10. Take the cuff and slide it down around the top of the stocking, over the loop. The long seam of the cuff should run along the very top of the stocking. The second cuff seam (which holds it in a circular shape) should be against the opposite seam to the loop of twine.

11. Sew the cuff onto the stocking. I had to do this by hand as it was too fiddly for the sewing machine. Make sure that you do not sew the stocking shut, so only sew through the cuff, one lining layer and one outer layer. I used the seam of the cuff as a guide for my own stitches.

12. Turn the stocking right side out and pull the cuff out over the outer fabric.

(Note that in the image below I used lining fabric, not twine, to make the hanging loop. Most of my stockings have twine loops because making them out of lining was far more fiddly than it was worth!).

Once you've made the stockings, all that remains is to add the numbers and assemble the calendar next week! :)

Here's a sneak preview of how mine is coming along (I still need to do the numbers and no, it won't be hanging in the kitchen like it is here!):

I've got some little chocolate balls and some hot chocolate sachets to put into my Advent calendar so far, but I might take Sarah's suggestion and make some Christmas tree decorations to put into a couple of the days. I will also put in a few activity ideas, like going to look at Christmas lights, putting up the tree, or wrapping presents! :) (I think I will like these activities more than The Boyfriend!).

I'm excited now! :)

How to make an Advent Calendar:

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Making the bags
Step Three - The Triangular pockets
Step Four - Mini Stockings
Step Five - Finishing Touches

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Say No to Payday Loans this Christmas!

Christmas is coming. Shops are looking to drain every last penny from their customers, and payday loan companies are happy to provide you with a boost of money to spend... for a price. 

A new report from the Office of Fair Trading says most payday lenders do not follow rules put in place to protect customers. A payday loan is a short-term loan, with the money often provided within an hour of applying for it. The APR interest rates can be as high as 4248%, leaving customers paying through the nose when repayment day comes. According to a study by R3, an estimated 5 million Brits are considering taking out a payday loan in the next six months.

Last year the average cost of Christmas in the UK was estimated to be around £600, with poorer families spending nearly £200. An estimated one in three people went into debt to pay for it. Getting a case of the January bills blues isn't unheard of, but what if you'd funded Christmas on payday loans alone? The absolute lowest estimated gift budget for an “acceptable Christmas” was £113.43 (of course many people spend hundreds of pounds more than that!). proudly proclaims that it could lend you that sum in 20 minutes. Come January 1st however, you would have to repay £166, an increase of 46% over 40 days. 

There is a huge amount of pressure on people to buy the best Christmas presents, especially for parents. If you don't have a lot of money for gifts this year, try to find a way to minimise your costs and avoid going into debt at all costs. If you can't afford something now, how will you afford it next year?

A couple of ideas to reduce the costs of Christmas:
  • Talk to family and friends about your gift budget. Everyone is feeling the strain of the recession, so they might be grateful you brought it up! 
  • Have a chat with older kids about trying to save money. They might even have some ideas to help you out!
  • Buy cheap crafting supplies for younger children and spend time with them making Christmas decorations or art for your walls!
  • Shop second hand. Always a bit controversial, but consider a quality second hand gift from ebay or even a charity shop. You might find the perfect board game for the kids or handbag for mum. Just make sure there are no stains, it doesn't smell weird, etc.!
  • Homemade gifts are brilliant! There are thousands of websites full of ideas to pick from, such as this one or this one. Why not make a big batch of truffles or try the fake Ferrero Rocher I made last year? 

The most important thing you can do is spend time with your loved ones. Focus on your traditions and festive-but-free activities that will keep the kids entertained! Give yourself the best possible start to 2013!

Have you ever been a victim to what MP Stella Creasy has dubbed "legal loan sharks"? How do you plan on saving money this Christmas?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Challenge Updates: Bills, No Spend and Christmas!

Christmas Completed by December

SFT asked whether everyone was winning at the Christmas Done by December challenge. Just to recap, my targets were to get Christmas gifts completely finished, to buy one Christmas decoration each, to finish my Advent calendar and to make some decorations to send to family members.

Well, here's how it stands now:
  • Finish Christmas gifts - Over halfway! I started the month with just one person (my sister) crossed off my list. Halfway through, I now have nine more people crossed off (actually eleven if you split "the kids" category up!). I have ideas and half-presents for another five people, which just leaves a couple of very awkward people causing me trouble! (Looking at you, Dad!)
  •  Buy a Christmas decoration - Complete! It is a bit of a family tradition of ours to visit Trelawney garden centre in Cornwall each year to marvel at the Christmas displays and get a bauble/Christmas decoration. Well, this year we went a bit earlier than usual and even let The Boyfriend tag along. I bought a beautiful glass bauble with hand-painted swirls, whilst The Boyfriend got a glass robin with mistletoe painted on its flanks!
  • Finish Advent calendar - Nearly there! On Friday I posted part three of how to make an Advent calendar, but over the weekend I finished the stockings for part four too (will be posted on Friday!). Now I just have to sort out the numbers and bits and bobs to put inside them! :)
  • Make Christmas decorations for family - Gathering materials! I am still in the early stages of this one! I want to post them at the start of December so I need to get cracking! I want to make star or heart fabric decorations from some leftover gingham. 

No Spend Week

Last  week I challenged myself to a No Spend Week, with the caveat that if I saw some good Christmas present deals I would be allowed to snap them up. I have to be honest guys, I failed the challenge. I managed five of seven days as No Spend.

I do have some excuses if you want to hear them? :) On Thursday I had to give a presentation about Physics in Biology. Now if you know anything about biologists, you'll know that they gave up physics as soon as they possibly could at school then ran away, avoiding all talk of the subject ever after! After a week of stressing about my presentation, on Thursday evening I did knowingly go to the pub with everyone else and have half a pint of lager!

My second excuse is slightly better; I bought some red card and red buttons to complete the Advent calendar and Christmas decorations respectively.

Still, overall most days were a success, right? :)

Lowering the Bills

Last month I wrote about how The Boyfriend and I planned on lowering our bills. Between 5th September and 5th October we spent £36.07 on energy (including £34.01 on electricity) and £26.55 on water. Following the plan of shorter showers and turning things off at the wall, I'm pleased to announce that between October and November (31 day period) we spent £34.15 on energy and £24.70 on water, a decrease of 5% and 7% respectively. 

I want to keep this up and hopefully report even lower costs next month! :)

SFT asked if we are winning. I think I have had some success in these challenges. How are you getting on? :)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

How to Make an Advent Calendar: Part Three - Triangular Pockets

Last week I posted about making an Advent calendar out of scraps of fabric. A week ago I described how to make little bags to fill with goodies. Today I will tell you how to make the next items for the calendar: triangular pockets.

You will need:
  •  The fabric you cut last week (two diamonds each of outer and lining materials)
  • One button per pocket
  • 10cm length of twine/ribbon per pocket. 

 1. Take the diamond fabric pieces you cut last week. Cut the top of the diamond off from one of the lining material pieces and one of the outer material pieces (see photograph for more details).

2. Next, sew the two outer material pieces of fabric together (right sides facing in) along the two longest edges. It should make a triangular pocket (with a flap of extra material at the top on one piece).

3. Turn the pocket right side out. Fold the flap over to close the pocket and remember where it comes down to on the other piece. Sew a button in that position on the triangular piece of fabric (rather than the full diamond side!). It should be just over halfway down on the right side of the fabric. Don't sew the flap down!

4. Sew the two lining pieces of fabric together along the longest edges, right sides in, as in step two.

5. Turn both pockets inside out. The lining pocket will be right sides out, and the outer fabric pocket will be inside out. Now, put the lining pocket inside the other, so the right sides of the fabric are touching.

6.  Sew around the top edge of the pockets. Take the stitch up to the midpoint of the flap, but leave one edge of the flap open. This will allow you to turn the pocket the right way out.

7. Cut a piece of twine/ribbon about 10cm long. Tie a knot in one end. Put some glue on the untied end to stop it from fraying.

8.Turn the pocket right side out and poke a knitting needle / teaspoon handle down into the corners to fully turn them. Insert the twine into the top corner of the open side of the flap (so it will be roughly in the centre of the flap).

9. Sew around the outside of the mouth of the pocket, ensuring the hole you left for turning is sealed. You might want to sew back and forth over the twine/ribbon to make sure that it is firmly attached.

10. The flap folds over and then you wrap the twine/ribbon around the button to close the pocket. Again, we will add the numbers on later.

When you have completed these two patterns you will have made two thirds of the advent calendar! :)

What sorts of things would you suggest filling them with?

How to make an Advent Calendar:

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Making the bags
Step Three - The Triangular pockets
Step Four - Mini Stockings
Step Five - Finishing Touches

Monday, 12 November 2012

No Spend Week

I have just returned from a weekend visiting my family in Cornwall. It was lovely to see everyone and spend some time away from the buses, people and street art that make up Bristol. 

I now have a busy week of Uni work and when I get busy, I get spendy! With this in mind, I decided (and persuaded The Boyfriend to agree) to have a No Spend Week this week. I get free coffee every morning, we have food in the flat, what more do I need? It's not really as exciting as Frugal Queen's Stoptober, but it's my birthday next week so I may well need to buy a couple of beers! :)

One caveat is that if I see a really good deal on a Christmas present, I will grab it when I can. After all, I need to finish by the end of the month!

Following what I learned earlier in the year about No Spend Days, I will leave my money at home, bring a packed lunch (including a chocolate biscuit for that 3pm lag in energy!), stay in and work on my presentation in the evenings and have a quiet weekend working on my Advent calendar!

Feel free to join me! :)

Friday, 9 November 2012

How to Make an Advent Calendar: Part Two - The Bags

A few days ago I started to describe how to make an Advent calendar.

I think making your own advent calendar is  great way of starting a tradition, perhaps with your children or in my case a new home. You can create it based on YOUR ideas of Christmas, for example it could contain anything from chocolates to Bible verses. The best part is that you don't have to pay three quid for 24 nibbles of tasteless chocolate, and that you create a meaningful Christmas decoration to enjoy for years to come!

Anyway, on to the next stage of creating the Advent calendar! I have chosen to start by making the bags, mainly because they are the simplest design.


1. Grab the fabric pieces you cut earlier. Pin the good material together, right sides facing in. Stitch along three edges, leaving one of the shorter sides open. Do the same with the lining material.

2. Turn the lining material pocket inside out, so that the right side is facing outwards. Put this pocket inside the outer material pocket, so that the right sides of each pocket are touching.

3. Cut a 10cm length of twine/ribbon and tie it into a loop.

4. Insert your loop between the two pockets, with the tied end facing out of the tops. Pin the two pockets together.

5. Stitch around the open ends of the pockets, leaving a 2 inch gap on one side. Ensure that the loop is secured by the stitched. I find it is easier if you don't try to sew directly over the knot!

6. Turn the bag right side out. The loop will be sticking out. Sew around the top of the bag, which will seal the gap and give your seam a better finish.

7.  To finish the bag, cut another length of ribbon or twine approximately twice as wide as your bag. I added some glue to the ends to stop them from fraying. Tie it in a pretty bow around your bag.

We will add the numbers on at a later date!

If you are making several of these bags, as I did, it can help speed things up if you make them all at once. I did step one for all of the bags first, then step two, and so on.

I think these little bags could also make cute little decorations for your Christmas tree, perhaps filled with cinnamon or just sweets! :) 

How to make an Advent Calendar:

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Making the bags
Step Three - The Triangular pockets
Step Four - Mini Stockings
Step Five - Finishing Touches

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

How to Make an Advent Calendar: Part One - Get Ready!

I recently posted about getting organised for Christmas by the end of November, including gift-buying and homemade decorations. We want to have a frugal Christmas, and this means DIY and festive spirit! :)

My biggest project is a handmade Advent calendar, which needs to be completed pretty soon!

My Advent calendar is comprised of three repeating units; a stocking, a bag, and a sort of folded over triangle pocket! They will be strung up on white and red twine with their cardboard numbers held on with mini pegs, but for now you can see the basic design opposite.

I will be posting the stages of how I am making the calendar on the next three Fridays of November, so by the last week of the month the calendar should be done and dusted!

It's a pretty easy project, but a little time-consuming. From the work I have done so far I estimate that the calendar will take a total of 7-8 hours to complete (at a fairly novice rate), which means that if you want to join in, you still have time! :)

If you want to make an Advent calendar, you will need:
  • A sewing machine (it will take a very long time to make without one)
  • Needle, pins, thread, scissors
  • Approximately two metres of material. I think I used half a metre of the spotty polycotton, nearly a metre of the gingham material and part of a pair of old worn-out jeans. You can use whatever you have lying around; it doesn't matter if the fabrics are different for each unit!
  •  Approximately two metres of "lining" material. It doesn't really matter what kind of fabric it is, just something cheap and easy to work with. I think mine was cream-coloured polycotton, or perhaps it is cotton, not too sure! :)
  • Coloured ribbon or twine. You will need approximately 7 metres all together. 
  • Eight small buttons (I used white ones from an old shirt)
  • Some form of numbering. I am using numbers written onto cardboard disks, held on by mini pegs. You might want to choose iron-on numbers, or stickers, or something else entirely!

To begin:

Once you have your fabric, create a template for each of the designs you want to use. I made stockings, bags  (the rectangle template) and triangle pockets (diamond template), so my templates looked like the following:

To give you a bit of a sense of scale, the stocking and diamond shapes are about a handspan in length. Pay no attention to the fold at the top of the stocking. It should be flat and the folded part is included in the length.

I am wearing a blanket, not a skirt!
Cut out the fabric based on your templates, leaving a 0.5-1cm gap around the edge for the seam allowance.

Ensure you cut a matching pair of fabrics, so that the right sides will face out on both sides when assembled. The best way to do this is to fold the fabric in half and cut through both pieces at once.

Altogether you will need 24 units of fabric and the matching lining fabric to go with them. It's up to you whether you want more of one design than the other, or which colour fabrics you want for which. Just as long as each unit has two matching shapes of lining material and two of "good" material!

OK, easy so far! Tune in on Friday for part two: making the bags!

How to make an Advent Calendar:

Step One - Getting Ready
Step Two - Making the bags
Step Three - The Triangular pockets
Step Four - Mini Stockings
Step Five - Finishing Touches

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Christmas Completed by December Challenge!

Hello all! It's nearing that most wonderful time of the year once more. Wouldn't it be nice if Christmas was all ready and organised by the 1st of December, leaving you free to crank up “Do They Know It's Christmas?” whilst decking the halls and getting merry, rather than drudging through town, getting more and more stressed because you don't have a clue what to get anyone?

Saving for Travel (SFT) has set herself a goal to finish her Christmas shopping by the end of November. I'd like to take up the same goal! I pledge to finish my Christmas shopping by the time advent rolls around.

I am also extending this goal a little. As you may know, it is the first year The Boyfriend and I have lived together in our own little flat. I LOVE Christmas decorations and making the house look festive, but we don't want to blow all our money on lots of expensive decorations in one year!! We decided to buy one decoration each year until we have a nice stash to put up every year, but until then I have got a couple of basics. Tesco are doing 20 fairy lights for about £1.75, so I got two sets, as well as these 30 red baubles for about £2.40.

To add to this I am making an Advent Calendar (more on this very soon!) and a few fabric-based decorations for the tree with some leftover gingham polycotton. (Oh man, do I love gingham!) As we all know, my attempts at handmade things often take longer than expected and things can go wrong, so I'd like to be finished with it all well in advance this year!

So far I have made most of an advent calendar and have completed a few people's Christmas gifts, but there's lots to be done! Is anyone else out there getting organised already? My friend has pretty much finished her Christmas shopping already! I am inspired!