Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christmas Carousel

Please note that this carousel is for decorative use only and is not a toy. In addition, the carousel does not turn due to the nature of its design.

(adapted from instructions found in Christmas with Southern Living 1984.)

  •  Horse and saddle pattern   pdf
  • 5 coordinating cotton Christmas prints, at least 9 x 9 inches square, double thickness.  These are the fabrics I had on hand and used.
  • Coordinating thread
  • Polyester fiberfill (I purchased a 12-ounce bag and only used about 3 ounces)
  • ¼-inch diameter dowels cut to 12-inch lengths. You’ll need one for each horse.
  • ¼-inch ribbon to match the Christmas fabrics, at least two coordinating colors, including red to wrap the dowels if you want them to look like candy canes.
  • Felt in coordinating colors, five pieces each 3 x 5 inches for the saddle
  • Embroidery floss in black and colors to coordinate with the felt to be used for the saddles
  • Yarn for the mane and tail of each horse. If you do not have yarn left over from other projects that coordinates with the fabric, try to purchase just one skein that will match the fabrics, to save a bit of money.
  • Miniature Christmas tree, about 12 – 14 inches high
  • Ornaments of your choice to decorate the tree. I kept to tiny Christmas balls in red and gold so as not to take away from the horses.
  • One strand of white or colored Christmas lights, 20 bulb strand, UL listed for safety.
  • One 12-inch floral green foam wreath
  • Material to cover the wreath. Hold off buying this until you get close to completion so that you can decide then how you wish to cover the wreath.
  • A platter or tray to hold the carousel for display

  • Acrylic paint to paint the dowels, i.e. white or beige to look like a candy cane.
  • Paint brush or sponge
  • White household glue
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine and hand-sewing needles
  • Waxed paper


1.  Paint the 12-inch dowel pieces white or desired color and wrap with red ribbon to look like a candy cane, gluing ribbon as you wrap. Set aside.

2.  Trace the horse pattern unto the wrong side of double thickness of fabric. Make sure that there is at least 1/2 – inch of space all around the tracing. Trace a horse onto each double thickness of fabric.

3.  Stitch by machine on the traced lines, leaving an opening on the horse’s back (#1) for the dowel to be slipped through. Also leave an opening (#2) on the horse’s underbelly for turning, stuffing, and to slide the dowel through. Backstitch at all openings for strength. This can also be done by hand using a backstitch and taking small stitches.

4.  Trim the excess fabric from the seam allowances, leaving 1/4-inch of fabric outside the stitching. Clip the curves for ease in turning, taking care not to clip the stitching.

5.  Turn the horse right side out using a chopstick or other blunt stick (like the kind that comes in a bag of stuffing) to work out the legs, hooves, and ears. There is no need to press.

6.  Firmly stuff, beginning with the ears and head. Stuff the legs firmly, using the stick to push the batting firmly in place. You can see in the picture below that I left the belly section for last.  This was so the dowel can be pushed through the openings on the bottom and back of the horse.

7.  Before stuffing the body section, insert the dowel from the belly side through the horse’s body and out the opening on the top of the horse. I found that the top opening was a bit tight but I was able to work the dowel through and it saved me from going back and hand-stitching around the opening. If the seam allowance pushes through at the top, it can be tucked back in using a needle. It will be covered by the saddle so it really isn’t necessary.

8.  Complete stuffing, packing firmly around the dowel so it doesn’t move. Make sure the dowel is straight, aligning it with the horse’s back leg.

9.  Slip stitch the bottom opening closed around the dowel, using small slip stitches.

10.  Saddle: Cut two saddle pieces from each piece of felt. Take each saddle piece (separately) and fold in quarters, as shown. Snip off the corner to allow for sliding over the dowel. Do this for each saddle piece.

11.  Take two saddle pieces (same color) and stitch together. I used two strands of coordinating embroidery floss and one strand of gold metallic thread. I then used the blanket stitch to sew the pieces together, but an overcast or running stitch would work just as well. Just remember to keep your stitches uniform and neat.

12.  Once complete, slide the saddle over the horse’s back. Secure the saddle to the horse with a few (hidden) slip stitches on both short ends of the saddle. There is no need to stitch all the way around the saddle to secure.

13.  Tail: Using the yarn, wrap it around four of your fingers, six to eight times, ending with the yarn ends both at the same side of your fingers. This will give you 12 to 16 strands for the tail. Remove carefully from your fingers and lay on the table. Cut another length of yarn for tying the bundle together. Place the strand under the bundle and slide close to one end, preferably the end opposite of the two cut ends (beginning and end of wrapping). Tie a double knot to secure and either trim the tying yarn ends or, if they are long enough, blend them in with the other yarn for the tail. Cut the loops on the end opposite the tied end.

14.  Slipstitch the tail to the “end” of the horse. I added ribbon to make the tails lie flatter and look neater. Since I used a chunky wool yarn for a few of the horses, I braided this to keep it neat. You may need to snip the yarn ends after securing the tail to even them up.

15.  Mane: This is tricky and a bit frustrating, just to give you forewarning. Using the same yarn as used for each tail, wrap at least 10 times around three of your fingers, covering the length of your fingers. CAREFULLY slide the wound yarn off your fingers and place on the table.


16.  Cut a piece of waxed paper the same length and twice the width of the mane yarn bundle. Fold the paper in half, long edges together. Carefully slide the yarn bundle inside the waxed paper such that one looped side of the yarn is up against the fold in the paper. This will make stitching easier.


17.  Stitch about ¼-inch from the fold in the paper. I did this on the machine. It can probably be done by hand, but I don’t have that kind of patience! You need to catch the yarn in the stitching to hold it together.

18.  Tear away the waxed paper. You may lose a few strands of yarn. Snip the loops on the unstitched side of the mane. Do not even them out yet.


19.  Position the mane on the back of the horse’s head, along the seam line, with the stitched side of the mane down. Using a double strand of thread and a larger needle, push the needle from one side of the seam to the other. Bring the needle back through the mane, close to the machine stitching. You are basically overcasting to attach the mane, but that makes it sound much simpler than it actually is! Make small stitches, close together, the length of the mane, ending at the bend in the neck. I bunched the mane up in places for fullness for some horse’s and clipped the end off where I had bundled too much yarn. This step is frustrating but be patient! It will look fine when you are finished.

20.  Once completed, trim the mane to a uniform length using small embroidery scissors and fluff.

21.  Eyes: Using three stands of black embroidery floss, make five or six satin stitches on each side of the head for eyes.

22.  Muzzle: Add a length of ribbon around the muzzle for a bridle. I used metallic ribbon which would not hold in place with glue. I wrapped the ribbon around the muzzle and secured in place with a couple of stitches under the neck.

23.  Dowel tops: You may want to add a finish piece to the top of the dowels. I used dowels from some souvenir flags we had from an event and these had the caps you can see in the picture. I only had four. A bead or a button will also finish off the top of the dowel.

24.  Supporting base: Please note that the instructions to follow are different from the base shown in the pictures and I do not have pictures to accompany this part of the tutorial. I will provide a brief explanation of what I did at the end.

Take the green floral wreath and lie flat on the table. Mark 5 spots, on the side facing up, evenly spaced around the ring, centering them on the width. You can just eyeball this, but for any other science nerds out there (present company included!) this works out to be a 72 degree angle as measured from the center of the ring.

25.  Remember I said to hold off purchasing anything to decorate the floral ring until assembled? This is the time for you to decide how you wish to cover the ring. You can wrap it with ribbon or garland, keeping the 5 spots open to insert the dowels. Place a drop of glue on the end of the dowel and carefully push into the floral ring. Keep the dowel straight and push in only deep enough to keep the horse standing.

26.  Place the wreath with horses on a round tray or platter to support.

27.  Place the tree in the center of the ring, elevating if necessary, with a block or empty can. If you used garland or ribbon, you will need to add more to cover the base of the tree. Or you can make a simple tree skirt to cover base of the tree, extending to the inside edge of the wreath to cover.

28.  Decorate the tree as desired. I used small gold and red Christmas ball ornaments so as not to detract from the horses. Surround the base of the carousel with white lights and plug in!

My Carousel Base

I did not use a floral foam base for my carousel.  I had a 12-inch diameter circle on hand that I had cut from ¼-inch plywood for another project that I didn’t use.  I wanted my carousel to come apart for ease in storing.  Since most of us don’t have the tools to cut a circle, I didn’t want to use this method for the general directions. You can see a bit of the base and one of the supporting blocks peeking out in the picture above.

I sectioned the circle into five wedges (72 degree angles!). Next I cut small blocks of wood from scrap lumber we had on hand. It was about an inch thick and I cut pieces that were about 1- 1/2 inches square because that was how wide the piece of wood was that I was working with. Next, I drilled a hole through the center of the block, slightly smaller than the diameter of the painted dowel. I used a file to clean the hole and to enlarge it to fit. I didn’t want to over-drill the hole and then have to re-cut the block. I glued these down on the edge of the circle base spacing them as marked by the 5 wedges. I placed my tree in the center of the circle (on another wooden block to provide a bit of extra height) and measured from the base of the tree to the edge of the wooden circle. To this I added another inch (should have added more). This is the radius of my tree skirt. I cut this from felt. Folding the circle in quarters, I cut the triangle tip off, enough to accommodate the base of the tree. Next I cut through the circle from the outer edge to the inside circle in order to be able to remove as needed. I placed it around the tree and marked where the dowel openings are by sticking the points of my scissors into each hole. This leaves an indentation in the felt. I removed the tree skirt and cut an “X” through the indentation so that I could push the dowel through. Wrap the skirt back around the tree base. Align the “X”s with the dowel openings and insert the horses around the ring. Decorate the tree as desired and encircle with lights.

Other ideas: These came to me as I was working on this project.

1. I t would be great to have this rotate. However, I checked for electric turntables that would hold the weight of the carousel and they cost over $100. Not what I wanted to spend for this project. But if you wanted to turn it occasionally to display another side, how about a Lazy Susan? I’m sure that these can be found second hand. And if it is wooden, you could just use this for the base and follow the instructions for what I did using the wooden base above. You’ll just have to watch the light cord if you do rotate it.

2.  This would be pretty in bright Christmas fabrics also. I used what I had on hand, which were more country Christmas colors, but I thought that some of the bright pinks, blues, and purples that are available would look fun with this. And since you can buy trees in those colors also, it would really be cute!

3.  This would also be cute in a little girl’s room with a lamp elevated in the middle. Just keep the fabric a safe distance away from the bulb and use a low watt bulb in the lamp.

4.  Single horses would make adorable ornaments on a Christmas tree!  Simply tie a ribbon to the top of the dowel and hang.

I know this was a lengthy tutorial and I hope that I am clear. If you have any questions, please contact me and I will try to clarify. This is a project that I have wanted to make since my daughter and son were little and I am glad I finally succeeded in making it. And I am very happy to have the opportunity to share it with you.

Merry Christmas!



  1. This is such a lovely idea! Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed making this and was happy to share with some many other wonderful crafters

  2. What a great idea and such a lot of work has gone into this tutorial! Thank you :o)

  3. Cute tutorial... thank you for sharing!
    Sara x

    1. I loved making this and am glad that you liked it!

  4. Woah, Kathy. A carousel? I think you just blew all the other tutorials out of the water (shh, don't say anything!). So much detail and effort has gone into your project, and you can tell. Awesome project.

    xx A

    1. I won't say anything if you don't...I have wanted to make this for a VERY long time and am happy to have it finished. I think it is my new favorite Christmas decoration! Thank you so much!