Each year, around midwinter, the tomten come out in our house. Wiry felt and wool characters that cling to candlesticks, banisters and picture frames, they can be found peeping out from every corner of the house. Rather than the “no touch” variety, I prefer child-friendly Christmas decorations that encourage play. These soft and bendable figures invite children to play and imagine, to participate in the magic of the season. The tomten are simple to make; each year we have a tomtem-making party, adding a handful of new elves to our group.
Needle and thread
Begin by forming the body with pipe cleaners. I’ve outlined the steps in the illustration below. Basically you will join two pipe cleaners, bent in a v shape, by twisting them together. These will be the arms and legs. Bend the arms in toward the neck, bending a bit past the center so you have some extra to bend up and twist together for the neck, but don’t twist it together yet. Just give it the kinks in the proper places, but leave it open. Do the same for the legs, but fold them so the ends hit at about the knees, rather than the center (legs are longer than arms).
Next, wrap embroidery thread around the kinks in the pipe cleaners that are where the hands and feet will be, pressing down the pipe cleaner fluff as you wind the thread. You can either tie it off somewhere higher up the pipe cleaner where the clothing will hide it, or wrap some more embroidery thread around both sides of the pipe cleaner (see illustration) to create more of a mitten or boot look. Leave the hands as they are, but bend the feet up.
Now you’ll cut out the clothing. As you can see, these are the simplest of patterns and can easily be altered according to your own design. If you print the image above on a standard sheet of paper the pattern pieces should be the right size. For the shirt, cut out the piece, fold it in half and trim a tiny hole for the neck to poke through. You’ll want a tiny hole because the neck is so skinny and you don’t want to see the pipe cleaner. Sew the sides of the shirt, leaving the sleeves open. You’ll want to sew the shirt while it’s on the body because it’s difficult to slip it over their arms. The pants can be sewn and then slipped onto the legs.
The pants are simply a rectangle that you cut down the middle, leaving about an inch at the top. You’ll fold the sides in toward the center and sew the inner seam of the pant legs. Slide them onto the tomten’s legs. They should stay on because of the bent feet (it’s easier to bend the feet after the pants are on), but you can tack them to the shirt if they’re loose.
This pattern for the hat will give you quite a tall, pointy one. You can cut out a similar, but shorter shape if you like a shorter point. Simply fold your hat in half and stitch up the side.
Now you’re ready to add some hair and a beard, unless your figure is a lady tomten; we have a few of those around here. The wool makes lovely braids as well. Glue some wool for hair to the top of the bead, opposite the hole that will fit onto the neck, and then glue the hat atop the hair. Choose some beard-like curly strands of wool, trying to maintain its natural shape, as it will hold together best in the original curl. Glue on your beard and mustache. Attach the head to the neck by sliding the pipe cleaner neck into the bead with a generous bit of glue in the hole. Now you can draw features onto your tomten or leave him mysterious and open to interpretation and imagination.
Encourage your children to scatter the tomten around the house, finding fun places for them to perch and climb. You’ll be amused to see their locations change throughout the holidays, appearing one day amidst the flowers on the table and another clutching the handle of your toothbrush!
Amy Thompson blogs about natural family living and finding joy in a simple life at Progressive Pioneer.