Yes, Lydia’s birthday was almost two months ago. I’ve been meaning to share a quick tutorial on how I made her fabric Happy Birthday banner ever since. But, you know. Harvesting and preserving and crippling back pain. But I’m finally back!
As I explained in my post about her handmade third birthday party, I wanted to create some quality, reusable items for celebrating birthdays through the years. For the banner in particular, I wanted something gender-neutral, timeless, and ageless, with the hopes that it would see many years of use with multiple children. This could even be used for an adult’s birthday!
I first spied this design on a friend’s Instagram feed and instantly wanted to make my own. It had everything I was looking for.
Only after I started making it, I discovered that the original designer was Marissa, an online friend who is a thousand times more talented than I am. The idea is totally hers. She did, however, give me her blessing in offering a tutorial on how I made it, since I figured it out on my own, just looking at her picture. (Also: if you’re interested in your own banner but don’t have the skills/time/equipment/desire to make one, I believe she is willing to take custom orders!)
It’s not at all difficult — it’s only time-consuming. if you sew at all, you could probably figure it out on your own. I am NOT a pro sewer and I managed this quite easily. For that reason, my instructions aren’t super detailed, allowing you to customize as you wish. I’m mostly offering sizes to guide you and help reduce guesswork, as well offering as a printable template for the letters.
DIY Fabric Birthday Banner Tutorial
Note: Makes an 8-foot long banner, with extra length on each side for tying
- 10 ft extra-wide double-fold bias tape
- 1 yard of white or off-white fabric (I used leftover ivory-coloured quilt backing. It was 44″ wide and I only used 16″ of it)
- various printed fabric/quilting scraps for the letters. You’ll need 13 pieces, at least 4″x4″ each. Repeat patterns are fine!
- thread: some white; some to match your bias tape; and some to match your scraps (if desired)
- printable template for letters (download PDF here)
- sewing gear: sewing machine; straight pins; sharp scissors; rotary cutter and self-healing mat (optional); serger (optional)
Begin by cutting the squares of white fabric: You’ll need 13 squares, 7″x8″ each. (Technically not squares but they will look like it when all is said and done.) A rotary cutter and self-healing mat would be IDEAL for this job, though I just used scissors. Absolute precision isn’t necessary here, since the rustic look adds to the charm (in my opinion).
Next, you want to finish the edges of the squares. There are a few ways you can do this, depending on your preference. Notice that you only have to do the sides and bottom; the top edge will go inside the bias tape and will be hidden.
I personally wasn’t overly concerned about how the back looked, and I have access to a serger, so I did it like this: I serged all four edges of each square, and then did a plain 1/4-inch hem around the sides and bottom with a straight/running stitch. Then I pressed the edges. They look like this from the back:
Alternatively, you could do a double-fold hem (there’s plenty of room), or cut the edges with pinking shears and hem.
Next, print out my HAPPY BIRTHDAY letter template on regular printer paper (or something sturdier if you prefer — it will make tracing easier). Note that some letters are used more than once (H, A, P, Y), so you can cut out just one of each of these to save time. (I already omitted the second P in the PDF). Cut out all the letters. You will be tracing around these.
Now trace around your paper letters onto your printed fabric scraps. I just used pen and traced directly onto the right side of the fabric. Depending on how much a perfectionist you are, you can trace the letters onto the wrong side of the fabric; just remember to place your letters backwards so they will be the right way from the right side. (Make sense?) *Remember that if you only cut one paper H, A, P and Y, you still need two of each in fabric to get all 13 letters.*
Cut out your fabric letters. Again, a rotary cutter and mat would be helpful; I just used scissors. This was the most time-consuming step.
Now it’s time to applique the fabric letters onto the squares. Place the letter as close the the center as possible and pin (remembering that about half an inch from the top will be inside the bias tape). Again, absolute precision isn’t necessary. Since this isn’t a garment and won’t get much wear and tear, I wasn’t not too worried about them fraying a teeny bit, so I didn’t do anything to finish the letters except stitch them on with a straight running stitch, about 1/8-inch around each edge. Again: a little bit of imperfection adds to the rustic look.
Note: you can choose whether to use matching or contrasting colours of thread for this job, depending on whether you want the letters to pop more. I went with (roughly) matching thread, since my sewing isn’t the greatest. But I used white thread in the bobbin so that it wouldn’t show up in the back.
Once all the letters are sewn onto their squares, it’s time to attach them to the bias tape!
Leave about 6 inches of bias tape before beginning to attach the squares: you want some extra length for tying or pinning the banner to the wall.
At the 6-inch mark, insert the top of your first square between the fold of the bias tape and pin in place with a straight pin or two. (Make sure the fabric goes all the way in to touch the inner fold.) Leave half an inch of bias tape before inserting the next one and pinning it in place. Continue pinning the squares at half-inch intervals until all the letters for the word “HAPPY” are pinned in place.
Leave two inches between the “Y” from “HAPPY” and the “B” from “BIRTHDAY.” Then carry on with pinning the remaining squares at half-inch intervals.
You should have at least another 6 inches of bias tape dangling at the end. Trim so that there are about 6 inches remaining.
Now for the most satisfying step: Stitch along the entire length of the bias tape at about 1/4-inch from the bottom, using thread that matches your bias tape. You’re going to want to start at the “Y” end. Just one, long, glorious top stitch. It feels awesome. Remove pins one at a time as you come to them with the sewing machine.
Finish the ends of the bias tape with a top stitch (or something fancier if you prefer).
You’re ready to hang your birthday banner wherever you please!