birthday bunting tutorial

by Whitney on November 8, 2010

The birthday garland tradition began with Goose. We held her party in a botanical garden cottage, so I used scrapbook paper in soft-hued patterns. It was the first birthday of my first child, my parents’ first grandchild, a child conceived only a few months after dropping the elopement bomb on everyone. My mother made it clear that this party was about more than The Birthday Girl, it was about The Birthday Girl’s Grandmother, who still felt cheated out of a wedding. (and new dress. and international travel. and bragging rights.)

The occasion called for pomp and circumstance. Mom invited all of the friends who owed her gifts (really–she thinks this way, but she loves them, too), and we served all of the things she likes to eat at parties.

And for my daughter, I made a banner.

the banner comes out every year

In the midst of all that tension, the expectations . . . my hands, my love, my time, my consciousness were devoted to making something just for her. I think it was the first something I made just for her.

Time and neutral territory eased tensions for my second born’s first birthday a couple of years later. Now though, two children (and all that comes with them) were competing for my attention, so it wasn’t until his party drew near that I turned my focus to creating with Gander in mind. I returned to the trusty scrapbook papers for his first birthday banner, celebrated on a shady river bank. Dingy athletic shoelaces were threaded through cheery-meets-sophisticated varsity letters. It rained a bit, and the paper curled, but it survived.

three years and tickin'

Remembering my initial scare over the weather-worn bunting, and having earned some sewing chops in the time since, I decided to use fabric for Gosling’s apple orchard party. A tad more intimidating than scissors and a hole-punch, but a lot more rewarding, too. I went into the quilt shop with only a faint idea of what I was looking for–autumnal colors, picnic checks, maybe.

Looking around, a red and cream cross stitch with schoolhouse charm, and a playful celadon damask called to me. I knew I wanted an additional fabric in the mix, but Gosling was getting antsy after an hour of extreme patience, so I reluctantly checked out with plans to return. When I got home, though, I was surprised to find something I loved in my stash. It was only a sample strip, but I had just enough for the letters.

The beauty of this design is in the imperfections. The frayed fabric and experimental stitches (it takes me a while to get the tension right)–added to the homemade charm. All measurements are suggestions. There is no interfacing involved. The banner is only one-sided and it may not last for generations, but it should work until she leaves the house.

As with most creative pursuits, my approach to sewing is to trust my senses and tread outside the lines. I encourage you to do the same; it’s fun. For those more comfortable with precision, I’ve tried to be pretty specific with the tutorial. Please email or comment with any questions.

How to make a whimsical birthday banner, er, garland, er, bunting . . . what do you call it?


3/4 yard fabric choice #1 (A solid or larger scale pattern works well, here–I’ve used green damask.)
1/8 yard fabric #2 (A small print will complement a large pattern in #1.)
1/8 yard fabric #3 (A solid will be more visible if #1 is patterned.)
thread (I used a neutral sand throughout, but you could kick it up with color.)
fabric scissors
pinking shears
3 yards ribbon


1. Using pinking shears, cut 4×8″ rectangle of fabric #1.
2. Using fabric scissors, cut a 2×4″ rectangle of material #2 (the cross stitch pattern–small prints pair well).

3. Make letter template onto poster board, if desired.
4. Trace template onto fabric with fabric chalk, then cut, or hold template in place and cut around it. Or eyeball it–we’re going for character, here!
5. Set sewing machine to zig zag stitch.
6. Sew smaller rectangle 3/4″ in from upper left corner of larger rectangle.

7. Reduce length of stitch to sew on letters. (Just for variation.)
8. Vary exact placement of letters, but favor the bottom right corner for balance.

9. Measure out ribbon to connect your letters. Leave 18″ of ribbon at both ends for tying and allow for space between letters.
10. Pin ribbon 1/4″ down from top edge on wrong side of large rectangle.
11. Beginning at left edge of right side, feel for ribbon underneath and align needle to center. Sew until end of rectangle, then leave 1/2″ space before next piece (between “H” and “A”). Sew to end of last letter.


12. Finish by fraying edges and embellishing as you see fit. I didn’t want my color palette to be quite so predictable, so I threw in a few highlights with a little cross stitching. Note that these details will probably go unnoticed by most; they’re for you, so do what makes you happy.

I enjoy making stuff in general, but even if you’re not the type to find relaxation in needles and thread, you may still find peace in a project like this. There’s a particular kind of beauty in creating with someone with mind.

If you’re looking for a beneficiary, Craft Hope has some great suggestions. I’m also linking to Sew Can Do’s Craftastic Monday, where you’ll find plenty of project ideas. Keep in mind that many crafts (including this bunting) can be translated for the holidays. The color palate of Gosling’s birthday banner is perfect for Christmas, so I’m planning to make some gift banners from remaining fabric.

Have you made anything (with or without love) lately? Are you planning any holiday crafts?

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