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   Make an advent calendar house from polymer clay Posted by Chica 
December 1, 2008 
Chica
 

A couple of months ago, our friend Mary Welling-Bonney came up with a really cool idea for making an advent countdown gingerbread house out of either gingerbread cookies or polymer clay. The idea is to make an empty house to serve as Day 1 for the advent calendar, and then add a new piece to it each day until it is fully decorated for Christmas.

Jo and I loved the idea instantly and we knew right away we wanted to do this project. We made two full house sets (one for her family and one for mine) and we decided to use polymer clay (rather than cookie dough) so that the houses would be a durable as possible, and would last for many years to come. We also decided to go for a more realistic look for the house, rather than the candy-covered gingerbread house that was Mary’s original idea. Making these houses was a lot of work and took much longer than we anticipated, but each piece we made was so fun and adorable that it was easy to dedicate the hours to the effort. And now that they’re done, we are so completely thrilled with the results!

The finished house

I’m going to jump straight to the good stuff here and show you pictures of my completed house, with all the decorations added to it. Isn’t it adorable?

advent calendar houseadvent calendar house

advent calendar house

advent calendar houseadvent calendar house

advent calendar houseadvent calendar house

advent calendar houseadvent calendar house

And here’s Jo’s house, which has a stone finish instead of brick. So cute!

advent calendar house

Intrigued? Inspired? Want to make your own? Keep reading!

Working with polymer clay

Before I get into the details about making the pieces, let me give you a few overall tips about working with polymer clay:

  • Buying the clay: You are going to need a LOT of polymer clay. I’m almost afraid to add up how much we used, but I think it was in the range of fifteen to twenty 2oz blocks for each house. The brand we used is Sculpey III, which is easy to find and easy to work with. The best way to get started is to buy a 30 color sample pack, which is an affordable way to get a lot of colors, and then buy individual 2oz blocks of colors you need more of, like green, red, black, and white.
  • Conditioning the clay: When you open a package of polymer clay, it is very hard. Before you can work with it, you have to knead, or “condition”, it until it is soft and pliable. The easiest way to do this by far — especially for a project this large — is with an old fashioned pasta machine. Just roll the clay through the machine over and over until it becomes soft and easy to work with. This machine also saves you tons of time when you need to roll the clay flat for making pieces, because you can adjust the machine and get perfectly smooth and even sheets of clay in a variety of thicknesses. You can pick up a pasta machine for around twenty bucks and they’re often sold right there in the clay aisle in the craft store. If you’re going to do a big project like this, this will easily be the best twenty bucks you’ve ever spent. (Just remember that once it has had polymer clay in it, you can not use this for real pasta that you plan to eat.)
  • Baking the clay: After your clay pieces are formed, you’ll bake them in a low oven according to the directions on the packaging. Do not put the pieces on a metal pan or foil, or else they will likely burn on the bottom. Instead, use scraps of regular brown cardboard cut from a box. Cardboard will work perfectly and the pieces won’t stick to it.
  • Liquid clay “glue”: Some pieces can be completely made and then baked, but others will need to be made in phases (like the songbooks that the carolers hold). Uncured clay will not stick to baked clay on its own, so be sure to use some liquid polymer clay to act as a sort of glue. Just a tiny bit of this wherever two pieces are touching will turn into a super strong bond after baking. This stuff is amazing and you really can’t do this project without it.
  • Other useful tools: There are several simple tools that Jo and I found invaluable during this project. The first was parchment paper, which we taped down to our work surface to give us a clean and non-stick surface to work on. Then we kept plenty of baby wipes on hand, which we used to clean our fingers and to clean the pasta machine between colors (just roll a wipe right through). Finally we made good use of simple cutting and shaping tools like a craft knife (for cutting holes and shapes), a long polymer clay blade (for cutting straight lines), a ruler, toothpicks, large paper clips, and tweezers.

Approaching the project

Here are some general tips about completing this project.

  • Make a list: Write out every piece you plan to make and the colors you will use. Your house will be the item for Day 1, and since advent calendars usually cover 24 days, you’ll need 23 more items to add to the house. Think it through carefully and write it down, so you can plan.
  • Start with the smallest piece: While it’s tempting to start with the house, it would be a shame to finish it and then find out that you can’t make the other pieces small enough to fit inside it. Instead, start with the smallest piece (for us, it was the plate of cookies), and make it as small as you can. Then build up from there and make the remaining pieces, keeping them all in the same scale.
  • Make all the inside pieces first: Make everything that’s going to go inside the house first. Then arrange those pieces on a piece of paper in a way you like, and decide how big the floor of your house will need to be in order to accommodate all those pieces. Once you’ve got the floor size figured out, you can build the rest of the house from there, and you know that everything will fit inside the house.
  • Make extras of some items: If you’ve got a particularly fragile or tiny item on your list that is prone to getting broken or lost (like our candy canes and candles), consider making a few extras now while you can. Then in a few years when one of them breaks, you’ll be all set with a spare.

Make the pieces

This is the part you’ve been waiting for, I know. It’s time to make the pieces for our advent calendar house! I’m going to make the assumption here that if you’re seriously considering making this project, you’re already pretty comfortable with making figures in polymer clay, so I’m not going to go into great detail on each piece (otherwise we’ll be here all day). Instead, I’m going to show you a picture of each piece we made and give you some general guidance on how we made it. If you have any questions or need more detail about any of the pieces, please feel free to ask us in the comments section and we’ll be more than happy to help.

These pieces are listed in the order in which we made them.

table with plate of cookies
polymer clay table with plate of cookies
For the cookies, start by rolling a snake of dark brown and wrap it with a layer of light brown. Cut 5-7 lengths of this and stack them together, then roll into a smooth snake. Then wrap the whole thing with more light brown, roll down to size, and slice off little cookies. Assemble and bake the plate of cookies and the mug first, then use liquid clay to attach them to the table and bake again.

polymer clay table with plate of cookiespolymer clay table with plate of cookies

stool
polymer clay stool
Make the stool about the same height as the table.
rug
polymer clay rug
polymer clay rugRoll out three long snakes of whatever colors you like (I used two green and one red) and braid together. Then wrap around in a spiral and smooth out the end. Make the rug a little bigger than the table top, in case you want to put the rug under the table.
Christmas tree
polymer clay Christmas tree
polymer clay Christmas treeMake a cone out of green clay and add texture with a toothpick. Add ornaments and a star.
presents
polymer clay presents
polymer clay presentsFor the bows, cut a thin strip of clay and attach the end by poking it with a toothpick. Form a curve and use the toothpick to press the clay down, forming a loop. Repeat as desired until the bow is full.
children
polymer clay children
You can create boys and girls to match your own children and customize their hair color as well. If you’re not comfortable with faces, just leave them blank like I did.
dog
polymer clay dog
Make whatever pet your family has, whether it’s a dog, cat, or bunny.
fireplace
polymer clay fireplace
polymer clay fireplaceMake two thick slabs of black clay and cut an opening in one. Stack them together and cover with gray stones. Top with a slab of gray clay to serve as a mantle. For the fire, mix some red and yellow clay together partially until it looks like fire and cut out flames. Stick to the back and add some brown logs. Before you bake it, be sure to add little hooks to hang your stockings on later. To make the hooks, we used wire cutters to cut pieces out of a large paper clip.
stockings
polymer clay stockings
Before baking, be sure to add a little loop made of wire so that you can hang the stockings on the fireplace.
house part 1
(floor and walls)
polymer clay house

polymer clay houseAt this point, we can build the walls and floors of our house. To determine the size of the floor, take all the inside pieces and arrange them on a piece of paper to see how much space you need to fit everything. These measurements will be the size of your floor. Cut a slab of clay for the floor and for a hardwood look, cover it with strips of brown clay (for evenly sized strips, feed the clay through the fettuccine attachment on your pasta machine).

polymer clay house When you have the floor size determined, use that to calculate the size of the walls of your house, making sure to put a peak on two of the walls so the roof can sit on them. To build the walls, first determine the inside and outside color of your house, and roll out large sheets of clay in each color (mine was red brick on one side and tan on the other). Sandwich them together and cut out the pieces for your four walls. Cut out a door and windows, but be aware of any items you’re going to put against the inside walls of the house — if you have tall pieces like a fireplace, you want to be sure to have a blank wall to put them up against, so watch where you cut your windows. (I made this mistake on my house, and found that my fireplace had nowhere to go! I fixed it by covering two windows on the back of the house with a chimney on the outside and framed art on the inside wall.)

To finish the outside of the house with a brick effect, use a ruler to make indentions for horizontal lines then go back with a narrow, flat tool (I used some wide tweezers) to make the vertical lines. Twist a piece of thick paper clip wire into a hook (for the wreath later) and insert it into the front wall of the house before baking. Add shutters to the windows and a chimney stack to the back of the house, using the same techniques used for the fireplace stone. Lay the four walls flat on cardboard and bake. This will make assembly easier later.

polymer clay housepolymer clay house

door
polymer clay door
Use the piece you cut out from the house wall as a template for the door.
wreath
polymer clay wreath
Start with a wreath shape and then cover it with fringed strips of green. Use the same technique described for the presents to create the bow.
bushes
polymer clay bushes
Start with a ball of clay and cover it with strips of fringed green clay. Make as many bushes as you want for your house (I did two).
tree
polymer clay tree
Start with a cone and cover it with strips of fringed green clay.
candles in windows
polymer clay candles
polymer clay candles tipMake a thin white snake of clay and cut into short pieces. Make a flame out of yellow clay and use a toothpick to push it into the top of the candle. Cut a short piece of paper clip wire and insert into the bottom of the candles. You’ll use this wire later to stand the candle in a hole in the windowsill. Make enough candles to put one in each window (and a couple extras to cover future loss/breakage).
mailbox
polymer clay mailbox
Make a black mailbox and slice off the very end of it to form a door, then reattach it, creating a seam that looks like a real door that’s closed. Add a red flag and a post.
snowman
polymer clay snowman
Make three balls of white clay and stack them. Wrap a thin strip of red clay around for a scarf. Add an orange nose and black balls for eyes, mouth, and buttons.
sled
polymer clay sled
Make the rails and top of the sled separately and bake. Use liquid clay to attach the pieces together, using foil to support pieces or hold them together, then bake to create a solid piece.
candy canes
polymer clay candy canes
Make a long white snake of clay. Make a thin, long red snake of clay, and wrap it around the white snake. Roll the combined piece until smooth. Cut into lengths and curve the top. Make enough to line your sidewalk (I used three on each side) as well as a couple extras to cover future loss/breakage.
carolers
polymer clay carolers
Make the songbooks by creasing a rectangle of white clay and bake them ahead of time. For the carolers, start with a long oval for the body, then add legs and feet. Wrap with a thin slab of clay for the coat, then add arms, a head, scarf, and hat. Use a knife to cut a slit in each hand and insert the pre-baked songbooks into the hands, using a little liquid polymer clay to secure them, then bake the entire piece.
fence
polymer clay fence
polymer clay fenceBefore you can make the fence, you need to know how large to make it. Start by arranging the house and all exterior pieces on a large piece of paper or cardboard, in a layout you like. Measure the size the base would need to be to support this layout. The fence will go along the front of the base, and should be about 1 inch shorter than the width of the front of the base. To create the fence, run conditioned white clay through the fettuccine attachment on the pasta maker to generate a bunch of consistently-sized strips of clay. Place two long strips horizontally and attach pickets (cut the top of a strip into a point) vertically to create the fence. For the gate, use more pickets and attach some brace pieces to look like a gate. Add a small bar of black clay to serve as a handle. Bake the entire piece together as one.
house part 2
(base and assembly)
polymer clay house
Using the measurements you determined before, build a thick slab of clay for the base. For this step, you can use any color of clay you happen to have leftover (this is a great way to use leftover scraps or unusual colors like hot pink from the clay sampler). polymer clay houseThen roll thin sheets of white clay and cover the base with it. Use your fingers to smooth and shape the clay to look like snow. Place the floor of the house in position on the base (put lots of liquid clay underneath), to lock in where the house will go. Make a large slot in the front of the base for your fence, and add white snakes of clay to build up what will look like a snowdrift, but will actually serve to hold the fence up. Make custom indentations in the snow for the carolers by pushing their feet into the clay. Similarly, press the snowman into the clay to make a rounded surface for it to stand in, or make a ring of clay (a snowdrift) for the snowman to fit inside, and smooth the edges. Push the mailbox and candy canes into the snow to make holes for them to sit in later. Take the walls of the house and put them in place, pressing them down into the clay. Take white snakes of clay and put them around the outside of the house, so that it looks like snowdrifts up against the walls. This will help hold the house in place. polymer clay house To cover the corners of the house, where the walls meet, cut small bricks out of clay and use them to cover the seam, attaching each with a dab of liquid polymer clay. Make thick, snowy window sills out of white clay and place in each window, then poke the wire of a candle into the clay to create a hole for inserting the candle again later. Double-check to make sure you have every groove and hole you need in place, then bake the house and base together as one piece. When you remove the house from the oven, you’ll notice that the re-heated walls will be flimsy and may be leaning. Hold them in place as straight as you can until they cool and harden again (about 10 minutes).
chimney
polymer clay chimney
To successfully make the next three pieces, you need to make a cardboard model of the top of the house. Start by cutting two triangles of cardboard to match the peaks on your house walls. Then fold a large rectangle of cardboard in half and use masking tape (not plastic tape, which would melt in the oven) to attach it to the triangles to match the peak. This cardboard form will now look just like the top of your finished house will look, and therefore can serve as a model for your roof and rooftop pieces. To make the chimney, start with solid black slabs of clay and form them into a rectangular tube (hollow inside). Cut the bottom at an angle to match your roof line and test it by placing it on your cardboard roof to be sure it is level. Cover the sides of the chimney with stones made from gray clay and place a slab of black clay along the top to serve as a ledge. Before baking, put two small pins (cut from thick paper clips) into the bottom of the chimney, on the side that will be on the highest point of the roof. You’ll use these pins to hang the chimney on the roof later.
Santa Claus
polymer clay Santa Claus
Make Santa similarly to the other figures you’ve made (body, legs, coat, arms, then head). Before baking, stick two metal pins (cut from thick paper clips) into the feet, which will be used to attach him to the rooftop later. Test that he can sit on the peak of the roof by placing him on your cardboard rooftop model.
house part 3
(roof)
polymer clay house
Measure how large the roof would need to be to cover the top of your house, allowing for overhang on all sides. Then make a thick slab of scrap clay to this size. Roll out thin sheets of black clay and use them to cover one side of the roof slab, allowing it to wrap around to cover the edges. Then place the slab, black side down, on your cardboard rooftop model, allowing it to crease in the middle. polymer clay house Now cut long, thin sheets of clay into 1″ wide strips and cut slits along them to resemble shingles. Attach the strips of shingles to the roof slab, starting at the bottom and working up to the top. For the ridge line, cut square tiles and layer them individually, overlapping the previous one, along the top edge of the roof. Before baking, position the chimney on the roof, allowing the pins to mark holes in the roof. Use a toothpick to ensure that the holes are clean and clear. Do the same thing with the Santa, making holes where his foot pins will go. Finally, take short lengths of thin green wire and insert them every 2-3 inches along the edge of the roof. These will serve to hold the string of lights in place later. When all holes are in place and wires attached, bake the roof on the cardboard form, and allow it to cool completely before removing, so that the shape remains intact.
lights
polymer clay Christmas lights
polymer clay Christmas lightsGet some very thin green wire (floral wire works great) to use as the base for your string of lights. To ensure that the individual lights stay in place on the string (versus sliding around like beads on a necklace), put tiny loops in the wire every half inch or so, made by twisting the wire around a toothpick to form a loop. Continue until you have a long enough piece of wire to go around the house, allowing for it to drape between hanging points on the roof. Attach small balls of clay in a variation of colors to the loops on the wire and bake.
all the pieces
polymer clay advent calendar
And to bring it all together, here is a photo of all of the assembled pieces. This illustrates how big the pieces are in relation to each other.

Putting the house together

Day 1 definitely needs to be the house and base, and Day 24 definitely should be Santa Claus. Everything in between is up to you to determine (and can be changed on the fly), but here’s how I plan to do mine:

Day 1 -
Day 2 -
Day 3 -
Day 4 -
Day 5 -
Day 6 -
Day 7 -
Day 8 -
base, house, and roof
fence
fireplace
rug
stool
Christmas tree
children
dog
Day 9 -
Day 10 -
Day 11 -
Day 12 -
Day 13 -
Day 14 -
Day 15 -
Day 16 -
presents
stockings
door
bushes
tree
chimney
mailbox
snowman
Day 17 -
Day 18 -
Day 19 -
Day 20 -
Day 21 -
Day 22 -
Day 23 -
Day 24 -
sled
wreath
candy canes
carolers
lights
candles in windows
table with plate of cookies
Santa Claus

9 comments so far:

  1. Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said: (December 5th, 2008 at 2:41 pm)

    Wow!! What a fantastic idea! Something that would be treasured by the whole family for years to come!

    The only advice I have is that you use Premo Sculpey instead of Sculpey III, you will find that it is much stronger. And if you double your baking time, the pieces will be better cured and will stay strong for many, many years!

    Love your idea for staring with the smallest item first. Brilliant!

  2. Chica said: (December 5th, 2008 at 3:33 pm)

    Thanks for the kind words, Cindy! Jo and I haven’t done a lot of polymer clay work before, so I didn’t realize Premo Sculpey would’ve been a better choice, but we’ll keep that in mind for our next project, as well as your tip about baking time. Thanks!

  3. Lauren said: (November 29th, 2009 at 3:26 am)

    I just wanted to say that this is super creative and I’m in LOVE with that little purple gift box woth the silver ribbon and bow! It is so perfect!

    You can also seal your clay pieces if you want to give them a strong, shiney finish. I think with just any ol’ clear coating but I’d google it for sure. I used to do poly clay all the time in high school, but it’s been a few years. I also know that you can paint poly clay with acrylic paint!

  4. melin said: (December 2nd, 2009 at 6:38 pm)

    Oh Yay!! I’m so happy to see Jo’s stone house now. I’m making one of these for each member of my family. I’m a little overwhelmed but halfway through. The total is 4. But I have a 20 mos old and this is time consuming!!! But so SO darling. I absolutely LOVE these!! Thanks for the wonderful idea!!!

  5. Jo said: (December 3rd, 2009 at 12:10 am)

    Melin, I can’t believe you are making four! As you see, it took me a year to finish just one! I totally understand about the baby making it even harder, I have a 5 month old now and I can only craft during her 30 minute naps throughout the day. Please email us pictures of your finished houses or add them to our Flikr pool.

  6. Tiffany said: (December 26th, 2009 at 12:08 am)

    What a great idea. We try to teach our kids about the Christmas story and why we cwlebrate Christmas, so I was thinking what if you made an advent Nativity scene? I am not very good at sculpting, but I think if I started now I might be able to have something made by next Christmas.

  7. Chica said: (December 26th, 2009 at 10:01 am)

    That’s a wonderful idea, Tiffany, and we would love to see what you come up with. Please be sure to let us know!

  8. Sandy said: (October 27th, 2010 at 3:59 pm)

    Fabulous site! I love it ALL! But this house in particular.

    My family LOVES to make gingerbread houses, but none of us likes gingerbread. This year, I have asked for a pasta machine for my birthday (late Nov), wanting to get “into” polymer clay. When I saw your project, I got so excited… even my husband is excited now! He can buy all the supplies as my gift and we can ALL (us and the kids) work on this – and we’re already planning to make one EVERY year… we’re the people with THAT HOUSE at Christmastime. Thanks so much for the idea and inspiration!

  9. Jo said: (October 27th, 2010 at 11:06 pm)

    Sandy, please come back and share your house with us! And I love people with “that” house.

Have something to say? Please comment!

Please visit Chica and Jo at http://www.chicaandjo.com for even more clever ideas!