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Project Tutorials >

XMAS Elf Letters Mantel Display ~ A Retro Recreation


These merry elves are hard at work preparing for Christmas! Directly inspired by a retro mantel display from 1950s Japan, we've gathered together almost everything you need to create a set for yourself.  Wooden letters act as our base, while spun cotton, chenille cord, wool roving and crepe paper form the elves. Pine sprigs and spun cotton make the mushrooms and trees, and a coating of snow adds texture.  Completed letters are about 5" tall x 4-5/8" across, except for the M which is about 7" tall.

Supply List to Make 1 XMAS Set:

1 set Wooden XMAS

1 set Wooden Stars

1 pack Crepe Paper in Red/Wine,

2 yards 14mm Chenille Cord in Red (12" of cording makes 1 elf),

1 pack Mixed Chenille Stems (we need the red)

1 pack Wool Roving

1 pack Spun Cotton Heads #SC110-N

1 pack Spun Cotton Mushrooms #SC020

1 pack Spun Cotton Mushrooms #SC021

1 pack Spun Cotton Logs (choose either #SC395 or #SC396)

1 set Paper Pine Sprigs (choose with snow or without -- we'll add our own snow later)

Aleene's True Glitter Snow

Paints: Red (any bright red acrylic craft paint), Brown (like Craft Smart "Brown"), Off White (like Folk Art "Vintage White")

1 Sheet Felt (Antique White or White)

Paint Brush: Large Flat, Small Flat

Aleene's Tacky Glue

Scissors

Skewers/Pipe Cleaners (for holding spun cotton pieces while painting and drying)

Cotton Swabs

Toothpicks

Needle Nose Pliers

Elf Hat & Felt Template

Printable pdf: Click here to download a free pdf of Elf Hat & Felt Template (Print at "actual size.")

Step 1: Glue Letters and Paint

Associate each letter with its corresponding base.  Apply a thin bead of glue along the sides of the tab and the undersides of the legs of the X, M and A. Place the tab in the slot on the base and press gently into place.  Use a cotton swab to clean up any glue that bulges out.  Let dry.

Paint letters and wooden stars with two coats of off white paint, take care to paint all edges.  Let dry.


Step 2: Paint Spun Cotton

4 large mushrooms, 3 small mushrooms: Paint mushroom caps red.  Let dry.  Use end of paint brush handle to apply off white spots to caps.  Let dry.
5 logs: Paint spun cotton logs medium brown.  Let dry. 


Step 3: Apply Snow Texture to Letter and Stars


Use a flat brush to apply snow texture to letters.  Take care to coat letter edges.  A dabbing and smoothing motion will achieve the desired look of cake frosting: visible texture that enhances and does not overpower.  For top of bases, apply a very light layer of snow with a painting motion -- we'll need a relatively smooth area to glue elves, mushrooms and trees, and more snow will be applied later.  Let dry completely (up to 24 hrs.).

Apply snow to wooden stars in same frosting style as letters.  Take care to coat edges.  Let dry.


Step 4: Apply Felt to Bases

Use felt template to cut 4 squares from Antique White felt.  Apply glue all over bases, press felt into glue evenly and let dry.


Step 5: Create Elves

To make 1 elf: 
Cut (1) 4" piece and (1) 8" piece of chenille cord.  Bend 8" piece in half.  Place 4" piece in bend.  Hold securely and twist 8" piece 3-4 times to form body.  Pinch top of bend at "neck" to create a small point (you may wish to use needle nose pliers).

Use a pair of sharp scissors to trim away about 1/8" of fluff to allow the point to fit in the hole of the spun cotton head.  Check for fit and adjust as necessary.

Apply glue in the hole and place the head securely on the elf body.  Let dry.

Bend ends 1/4" to 1/2" to create hands and feet.

Repeat to create a total of 5 elves.



Step 6: Create Crepe Hats

Use template to cut hat piece from red crepe paper.  Accordion fold hat piece along lines to create two tucks.  Folded hat piece should fit within the guide on the template sheet.

Gently bend hat piece between fingers and thumbs to coax into a curved shape.

Fold tab along fold line.  Apply glue to tab, bend hat in half and glue tab to opposite edge to form hood shape.  Let dry.

Repeat to create a total of 5 hats. 



Step 7: Add Hats to Elves

Bend arms downward to allow space at neck.  Place hat on elf to determine placement before glueing.  Tip of hat should line up with elf's nose.  Apply one drop of glue to both sides of head (below where the elf's ears would be).  Place hat on head.  Once centered, hold hat and head above glue with one hand to maintain placement.  With opposite hand, press hat into glue and hold until secured in place.  Let dry.


On back of hat, press center of crepe toward neck and gather crepe together at elf's back, as shown below left.

Cut a 4-1/2" piece of red pipe cleaner and bend into a U shape to facilitate placement.  Wrap U snugly around back of hat bringing ends to front at elf's chin.  Tighten and twist 3-4 times to secure.  Fit should be snug but not oppressive; crepe should not touch in front.


Trim pipe cleaner ends so about 3/4" of twist remains.  Bend twist downward toward chest.

Gently stretch along edge of crepe to make cape of hat flare out.  Repeat for all figures.


Step 8: Add Beards to Elves

Separate a poof of wool roving measuring about 1" to 1-1/2" wide x 2" to 2-1/2" long.  Fold under the lower 1/3 of the wool -- this will be the bottom of the beard.  Twirl the top of the beard between thumb and fingers to gather the fibers together then gently bend the ends under.

Place glue on the elf's chin and part way down the torso.  Take care to avoid getting any glue on the crepe (the crepe is not colorfast and color will transfer easily).

Place beard over glue and press into place, pinch beard top together so wool is more gathered at chin.  Adjust as necessary.  When pleased with placement, apply glue to figure at lowest point of beard.  Press beard into glue.

Use toothpick to gently shape beard.  Gently twirl toothpick toward head and press under at chin area to further gather fibers together.  Use toothpick to coax any stray fibers into place and tuck beard edges under.  Let dry.

Repeat for all figures. 



Step 9: Create Trees

Use sturdy scissors to trim pine sprigs into tree shapes.  Only the top half of the sprigs require trimming to achieve a tall and slim tree.  Start at the tree top and form a pointed tip by trimming at an angle.  Trim all sides of the pine sprig to complete the shape.  Continue trimming downward, all around the sprig, until a conical shape is achieved.  

Trim away excess stem leaving about 1/2".  Glue into spun cotton tree base.  Let dry.

Repeat to create a total of 5 trees.



Step 10: Create Poses

Each elf takes a different pose, but all poses are variations of the three illustrated below.

Pose 1, below left: Appears on letter M.
Straight legs, bent feet, raised and bent right arm, lower left arm with hand bent.

Pose 2, below center left: Appears on letter A.  Variation appears on letter M.
Bent at knees, knees pressed slightly into beard, bent feet, lower left arm, raised right arm with hand bent downward.
Variation on letter M: knees bent at 90 degrees, arm poses reversed, left hand straight.

Pose 3, below center right: Appears on letter S.  Variation appears on letter X.
Bent right knee, bent feet, bent right arm, straight left arm.
Variation on letter X: 
Bent right knee, bent feet, bent left arm, bent left arm, bent right elbow, right hand bent downward.


Step 11: Glue Elves, Trees and Mushrooms to Letters

The elves somewhat intertwine and interact with the letters (arms wrap through and around, feet stand on and touch letters) which creates stability for the figures.  For illustration, we will assemble the letter S.

Position elf in Pose 3 as detailed previously in Step 10.  Place him on the S, shown above right, so his left foot is on the base, his right foot is on the lower curve of the S and his right arm holds the middle curve of the S.  Gently bend and adjust as needed to ensure his left foot sits flat on the base.

Apply 3-5 drops of glue in the lower curve of the S and place his right foot.
Apply 3-5 drops of glue to the base under his right foot and place foot.
Apply 3-5 drops of glue to the back of the middle curve of the S and place his right hand/elbow, shown below left.

Hold in position until secure.  You may wish to gently press the feet and hand/elbow during the drying process to ensure good adhesion.  Apply more glue if needed.  Let dry.

Glue a large mushroom to the base at front left of the tail of the S.  Glue a small mushroom on its side to the right of the large mushroom, shown below center left.  Let dry.

Glue a tree to the base behind the letter S near the left edge of the base, shown below center right.  Let dry.

Glue a wooden star to the underside of the elf's left hand, shown below right.  Let dry.


Assemble remaining letters X, M and A.  Front views of completed letters are shown below, and a back view of all letters is the last image in this tutorial.

Letter X
Elf: Glue left foot to base.  Glue left hand/elbow to back of X.  Glue wooden star into right hand bent downward.
Mushrooms: Glue large mushroom to base at front left of X.  Glue small mushroom on its side to base at front right of X.
Tree: Glue tree to base at back of X set slightly off center toward right.

Letter M
Standing Elf: Glue feet to base.  Glue right hand to back center of M.  Glue wooden star to inside of left hand, position to be in crook of elbow.
Sitting Elf: Glue left under-thigh to top back of M and glue right under-thigh to front top of M.  Glue left foot to front center of M.  Glue straight left hand into bend of wooden star.
Mushrooms: Glue large mushroom to base at left center of M.  Glue small mushroom at an angle to left of large mushroom.
Tree: Glue tree to base at back of M off center to right.  Glue bend of star to tree top.

Letter A
Elf: Glue under seat.  Glue under feet.  Glue left hand to cross part of A.  Glue wooden star into right hand bent downward.
Mushroom: Glue large mushroom to base at front right of A.
Trees: Glue two trees to base behind legs of letter A.


Step 11: Apply additional Snow Texture

Use a small flat brush to dab snow around bases of mushrooms and tree bases.  Add snow to top of tree and dab onto tree branches.  Add additional snow to base taking care to avoid elves.  Repeat for each letter.  Let dry and, of course, display very proudly!


Tips and Notes

-- Crepe Paper: Keep the crepe dry and don't use any hat areas as a glue point for your figures -- crepe is not colorfast and will easily transfer color if moistened.  Keep your completed figures out of direct sun or harsh light to avoid any fading to the crepe.

-- Snow Texture: True Glitter Snow gives a retro snow texture with tiny and very subtle multi-color glitter flecks.  It's hard to capture on camera, but the effect is delightful and gives the whole project a charming and appropriate vintage look.  True Snow (no glitter) would also give a gorgeous result.

-- From start to finish this project can span 2-3 days due to dry time.  It's important that the snow texture drys completely before anything is glued to it.

-- Tree placement: When placing your trees consider the location of the pointed elf hats and use them to create balance and symmetry with the tree tops. 

-- Don't be intimidated! This tutorial is long and detailed but it's very achievable.  Making the elves is fun and satisfying; posing them and glueing them in place is less challenging than you'd imagine. Our goal is charm not perfection.  You'll be delighted by your creation!



Retro Pipe Cleaners Mixed Pack of Chenille Stems ~ 3mm

Retro Pipe Cleaners Mixed Pack of Chenille Stems ~ 3mm

$8.95

Set of 6 Paper Pine Sprigs for Feather Trees and Crafting ~ Austria

Set of 6 Paper Pine Sprigs for Feather Trees and Crafting ~ Austria

$7.95

Set of 6 Snowy Paper Pine Sprigs for Feather Trees and Crafting ~ Austria

Set of 6 Snowy Paper Pine Sprigs for Feather Trees and Crafting ~ Austria

$7.95

New!
Wooden Standing XMAS Letters to Decorate

Wooden Standing XMAS Letters to Decorate

$18.95

5 Medium Spun Cotton Snowman Heads with Red Noses 1"

5 Medium Spun Cotton Snowman Heads with Red Noses 1"

$6.95

New!
5 Medium Spun Cotton Snowman Heads with Red Noses in Natural 1"

5 Medium Spun Cotton Snowman Heads with Red Noses in Natural 1"

$6.95

New!
Petite Wooden Stars ~ Set of 5

Petite Wooden Stars ~ Set of 5

$3.95

Gloria Doublette Double Sided Crepe Paper from Germany ~ Red and Wine

Gloria Doublette Double Sided Crepe Paper from Germany ~ Red and Wine

$2.75

Soft 14mm Wired Chenille Cording in Red ~ 1 yd.

Soft 14mm Wired Chenille Cording in Red ~ 1 yd.

$2.95

New!
100% Wool Roving in Ecru for Crafting Wool Beards

100% Wool Roving in Ecru for Crafting Wool Beards

$2.99

New!
Aleene's True Glitter Snow Glittered Snow Texture for Crafts

Aleene's True Glitter Snow Glittered Snow Texture for Crafts

$5.75

New!
Aleene's True Snow Snowy Texture for Crafts

Aleene's True Snow Snowy Texture for Crafts

$5.75

12 Spun Cotton Blank Mushrooms 5/8" ~ Czech Republic

12 Spun Cotton Blank Mushrooms 5/8" ~ Czech Republic

$3.95

8 Spun Cotton Blank Button Mushrooms 1-1/8" ~ Czech Republic

8 Spun Cotton Blank Button Mushrooms 1-1/8" ~ Czech Republic

$3.95

6 Spun Cotton Logs or Marshmallows 5/8" ~ Czech Republic

6 Spun Cotton Logs or Marshmallows 5/8" ~ Czech Republic

$2.95

6 Spun Cotton Asymetrical Logs or Marshmallows 3/4" ~ Czech Republic

6 Spun Cotton Asymetrical Logs or Marshmallows 3/4" ~ Czech Republic

$2.95

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