My daughter just turned 5 months old and yet I am already dreaming up new family traditions for our new little family. My mom is a teacher, I am a teacher, and my mother-in-law is a teacher, so I think it goes without saying that our household is going to have a lot of books. Especially children’s books. I love the idea of an advent calendar that kids look forward to each year. I wanted to make an interactive one (though eating the daily chocolates is plenty interactive). I decided to make a Christmas/winter holidays advent calendar. My grand vision is that each day, starting December 1st, my children will unwrap a book and that is the book we will read that night before bed. I have seen ideas like this where they are wrapped in paper, but thinking of wrapping 24 books every single year sounded like a lot of time and a lot of wasted paper. I searched for reusable fabric holiday bags, but they were all expensive (again need 24!) and not quite the right size that I wanted. So then it hit me, I will make my own bags!! This is how I made very easy, unlined, drawstring bags (if you want nicer but harder to make lined bags, this is not the place):
- 24 Christmas or winter holiday themed books
- Fabric- 1.75 yards of 6 different fabrics, or a total of about 10.5 yards
- Matching thread
- Ribbon- about 6 spools
- Sewing machine, fabric scissors, pencil, cardstock paper
- Collect your materials. Good quality books can get expensive, so if you are starting your collection from scratch I recommend collecting slowly, looking for deals and hand-me-downs. I got quite a few of mine during Black Friday/Cyber Monday, also my mother-in-law was able to get a few through her school’s book program. I got the fabric and ribbon at JoAnne’s and luckily all Christmas fabric was 50% off. In order to make these bags look like they belong together, you need to pick a theme/palate and stick to it. There were tons of beautiful fabrics I loved, but I wanted to go for a cutesy red/green/black/white theme.
- Determine the size you need your bags to be. I wanted all my bags to be the same size, that way it was harder for the kids to “guess” which book was inside and I can mix them up each year. So to do this, I found my longest book and my widest book, and made that master size for all of the bags. My widest book was 12 inches and my tallest book was 14 inches, so I made my final width 13 inches (added inch for seams) and final height 16 inches (one inch for seams, one inch for top fold).
- Cut a pattern for your bags out of cardstock. There have been projects were I painfully measured every cut with a measuring tape and marked it with a pencil, but I realized that I would need to make 48 sides and so I wanted to make my life easier. I taped a few pieces of cardstock together and then cut it to measure 13inX16in (as calculated above).
- Cut out your fabric. I bought 6 different fabrics, which meant I needed 4 bags from each, totaling 8 sides per fabric design. First I tried pinning the cardstock stencil to the fabric and cutting around it, but that failed. Then I tried to outline with pencil, cut, outline with pencil, cut, etc. My last, and easiest and fastest method, was to lay the cardstock down, trace with pencil, move the stencil over, trace, the once I had a row done, (I could fit 3 on a row) I then cut those three out.
- Sew your bag together. Lay two sides on top of each other, so the front of the fabric is touching inward. Align the edges until you can square the pieces up as much as possible.
- Pin the two pieces together, leaving about an inch from the pins to the edges. Sew along the sides and bottom of your fabric, leaving anywhere from 1/4th to 1/2 inch seam.
- Depending on how wide your ribbon is, fold the top edge out, and add about 1/4th of an inch more than the width of the ribbon. Pin the edge fold, pinning as close to the fold as possible. Sew around the bottom of the seam. (Hint: Depending on your thread color this will be your only visible stitching, so try to make it as straight as possible.)
- Create small holes for the ribbon. Now you can turn your bag right side out. Choose a side of your bag (I chose the side that I started/ended my stitching on because the ribbon will hide any overlap). Roll the top over to its side so now on top, then pinch to make it flat. Cut two little slits in the top (which is actually the front once you unroll it) about an inch apart from each other. Unroll the top so your two slits are now facing the front of the bag. If you are much more talented than me, you could make more professional holes using the button hole maker on your sewing machine.
- Add the ribbon. I bought four spools of ribbon, and then had a bunch of mix-matched ribbon in my fabric stash (totaling about 6 spools). The easiest way to do this is to pin a safety pin to the edge of your ribbon. Then gently put the safety pin through one of the holes and work it all the way around the bag using your fingers. Guide it out through the second hole. I only left about 2-3 inches at the end of my ribbon and then cut it off of the spool. In order to not have your ribbon fray, hold the end up to a flame for a second so the material melts a bit.
- Add your books. Randomly place one book inside each bag.
- Pull the fabric together so it bunches around the opening of the bag, then tie the extra ribbon in a pretty bow!
- Enjoy your beautiful bags every year and start a new (or update an old!) family tradition!! I bought the perfect fabric basket at Michael’s to display our books in every year. An added bonus, the basket flattens for easy storage!
Other Ideas: The great thing about this idea is it is so versatile.
- I want my children to know all the different winter and religious holidays, not just Christmas, so I have all kinds of different books. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, you could swap the books for whatever holiday you celebrate. Also, these books are not set in stone. If you find a book you like better, replace it in your collection! If you really wanted to get fancy, you could get one new holiday book each year and take out one book (keep the beloved ones of course), this way it always keeps the kids on their toes.
- You could do more “Advent Calendar” like and write/sew numbers 1-24 on each bag, and read the book that corresponds to that day. I chose not to do this because I want my kids to be able to randomly choose a bag and have the book be a surprise. The only bag that is special is the bag with the big red glitter bow, that bag is reserved for the 24th, and the book will always be, “The Night Before Christmas.” (for obvious reasons)
- You could make patchwork bags from a lot of different pieces of fabric, or even fabric that is important to the family (like baby’s first Christmas outfit), or you could do all the bags in the same fabric and ribbon.
- Once my kids are older I have thought about adding an activity with each book, and trying to have the activity correlate with the book if possible. For example, if you have a book that talks about baking cookies, I would leave a little note inside the book that says, “Today, let’s make our own Christmas cookies!” Or if a book mentions counting your blessings/ being grateful you could have your kids make paper ornaments, write on them what they are thankful for, and hang them on the tree. Or if you have a book about Rodolph have your kids make a reindeer out of their hand print. Or (If you are not a Black Friday shopper) have a book that talks about Santa making toys and then have your kids send Santa a letter/toy wishlist. Other books you could plan reading them at a specific time, like the day you are going to put up your tree read a book about Christmas trees, or if you live in an area that snows save a snowman book for a snow day and then go outside and build snowmen, or a book about giving back and then go volunteer somewhere. You could change the activities each year and make them more advanced as your children get older.
Happy holidays and hope you cherish your family traditions!