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Misfit ornament advent calendar


I haven’t yet been able to permanently commit to owning a fake tree.

I did buy one from Costco a few years ago, but two days after assembling and decorating it the entire middle section of lights stopped working.

The universe was trying to tell me I wasn’t ready for a fake tree. I listened.

This year we bought a living tree, one that we’ll plant right after Christmas. Since this required choosing a smaller tabletop size, it also meant a significant reduction in the number and weight of the ornaments it could hold.

As a result, many of our favorite ornaments – the ones with character and history – were excluded.

For example:

  1. Popsicle stick reindeer by my son, age 4
  2. Photographer ornament my parents brought back from Austria for my husband
  3. Christmas Spider legend‘ ornament I made one year as neighbor gifts. They were in much better shape when I gave them to the neighbors. I hope.

This forlorn box of homeless ornaments — all meaningful, several of which my son has either made or collected over the years — was guilt-inducing. Very ‘island of misfit toys.’

Since this is my son’s last Christmas before he heads off to college, I knew I had to use them somewhere. But how? Display them in a bowl? Get a second tree?

Then I found this really cool idea from a Pottery Barn catalog a couple years ago featuring their large linen pinboard as an ornament advent calendar. (Great knockoff and how-to tips here.)

Inspiration: Pottery Barn Catalog advent calendar

Of course the PB one is done to monochromatic, catalog stylist perfection. My board would have more, um, ‘character.’ By design.

One more caveat — since I promised myself I’d only use what I already have on hand to decorate this Christmas, I had to get a little creative with supplies.

The materials:

  1. 1 framed corkboard (my 23” x 35” board was about $8 from Target; they still carry it. It doesn’t have to have a frame, but that helps stabilize/hang it.)
  2. 1 remnant of loose-weave fabric (such as linen or burlap; I used a scrap of linen left over from an upholstery project), cut 6” longer and wider than your board (mine was 29” x 41”, to save you the math)
  3. 1 stapler (my staple gun is broken, but since the backer board is so porous and thin, a regular stapler worked just fine for me)
  4. Hanging hardware. The hardware included with my corkboard only allows for horizontal hanging. Adding the fabric covered up the original hardware, but since I wanted it vertical, I had to change it anyway. I just nailed two of these triangular hangers, added some picture wire and called it good.
  5. Material for tags. An 8.5” x 11” sheet produces six, 2.8” x 5.5” tags per sheet. I used leftover off-white cardstock, but pretty much anything would work here — old manila folders, scrapbook paper, even newsprint. (Might make tags out of some old sheet music for the musical ornaments. Next year.)
  6. Numbers for dates. I used my computer to generate these (Century Gothic font in 80 pt. bold), but you could also write them out by hand or something way more fabulously creative than I did. 
  7. Wire brads. Again, what I had on hand. The size I used (17 x 1”) was substantial enough to hold all the ornaments but not so long that they went through the back of the board. You could also use straight pins or something prettier like corsage pins.
  8. Assorted mishmash of 24 ornaments. Or perfectly coordinated, designer-y ornaments. Bo-ring.

Assembling the board.

There are already online tutorials aplenty for covering corkboards, many of which involve batting, spray adhesive and staple guns. I was too impatient for all that so I just winged it. I was also too impatient to photograph each step (and my built-in fab photog was not around), but it basically went together like this:

  1. Place corkboard cork-side down, centered on fabric. Pulling fabric taut, fold long sides over frame, then fold up one short side as if you were wrapping a gift. (This keeps the bulk at the top and bottom of the board where you won’t see it. Unless you’re really tall. Or really short.)
  2. Staple corners of folded side to temporarily secure, then repeat at the other end.
  3. Staple one long side in the center; pull fabric taut and repeat on the other side. Then just go crazy stapling the fabric all around, checking the front occasionally to make sure the surface is smooth. The great thing about using regular staples is they’re a breeze to pull out and reposition, yet seem to get the job done for holding the fabric.
  4. Attach hanging hardware. This was the hardest part, and it wasn’t really even hard, except the tiny nails that come with the triangle things are VERY short and nearly impossible to hold while nailing. I positioned them 3” in from each side on the top, then added some picture wire.
  5. Cut out hanging tags. Cut six (2.8” x 5.5”) tags per 8 x 11 sheet of cardstock. Cut the corners off one to create a template, then cut the others to match.
  6. Print and cut out numbers.
  7. Optional: punch holes in tags and numbers. I used a tiny hole punch for this; a regular one might be too big. If you’re using something thin (e.g., pins or tacks) to hold up your tags, you can skip this step and just attach everything directly to the board.
  8. Position tags and numbers on board. Attach using brads or pins.
  9. Hang board
  10. Add ornaments

The finished product:

No more misfits! It’s hanging right by our front door — an instant conversation piece whenever someone stops by. As an added bonus, we actually notice each ornament much more this way.

Normally one ornament would be added to the tree each day until Christmas, but since we can’t, everything’s staying put. So I guess this isn’t even an official advent calendar. But we’re quite enjoying it anyway.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. permalink
    12/08 1:44 PM

    What a great idea! I’ll have to try that!!

    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/08 1:54 PM

      Thanks, Tammy. Be sure to post a photo of yours — I’d love to see it!

  2. Sandy B. permalink
    12/08 4:26 PM

    Ummm, exsqueeze me, but you can no longer call yourself “un-crafty”. And I am loving your blog!

    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/08 5:08 PM

      Okay, you outed me — but only if the crafts take 30 minutes or less. (So I’m thinking that means no button trees.) Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Catherine Cook permalink
    12/08 4:27 PM

    Love it!

    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/08 5:12 PM

      Gracias, hermana-in-law. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

  4. anne permalink
    12/08 4:39 PM

    just started following your blog and I LOVE IT… if I had any free time I’d give this little project a try.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/08 5:12 PM

      Thanks so much, Anne. Am thinking we should have a little you + Summie + me “un-crafting” sesh in the near future…

      • summer permalink
        12/08 11:23 PM

        yes, let’s do it! two of my fav + creative chicas in one place = heaven 4 me.
        indeed, i feel inspired. i am going to do this. i am. hold me accountable.
        jen – you are delivering one sparkling blog post after another. xo.

  5. Jennifer Jeffrey permalink
    12/09 9:28 AM

    This is so creative – and beautiful! – what a wonderful idea. Your board certainly has character – I adore the guitar, drum, zebra… so much fun.

    Happy Holidays!


    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/09 6:33 PM

      Thanks so much, Jennifer — my creative idol! Happy Holidays to you, too. (Still holding out hope for a JJ blog revival in 2011…)

  6. 12/10 7:44 AM

    This is so CUTE and CLEVER. I love your blog.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      12/10 9:57 AM

      Thank you, Tami — so fun to stay connected through our blogs. Coming back to the ‘hood any time soon?

  7. 12/30 5:24 PM

    Love your advent calendar! It’s such a nice way to appreciate the ornaments. I should do somsething with mine–I’ve got a box of great stuff, including German ornaments similar to your Austrian photographer, which don’t get hung on the tree because they haven’t “fit” both spouses ideas of Christmas tree decorating. Hope you had merry Christmas! Here’s to the new year!

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