As a mom, I loved seeing my son get excited about setting up a Nativity at home each Christmas. The one we had was an elaborate music box and really wasn’t to be played with. So he also had the Little People Nativity Playset. He loved this but it wasn’t really portable, and the cartoon style was one he grew out of after just a few years. Although he’s past the playing age, I was still on the lookout for a fun DIY modern nativity playset. So a couple of years ago I designed my own. It makes a great Christmas present for the kids in your life and was a great seller at the gift shops I had it in. Best of all, you can make several playsets in a single afternoon. You can even get the kids involved and make this Modern Nativity Playset together!
Kid-Tested and Mom-Approved
I gave one of these sets to a friend who’s a mom of four last year and she said this about it, “We are lucky enough to have one of these. My kids, and a ton of kids who come over love to play with them. They are so adorable. I love it!!! Most nativities are set out to look at only, not this one! I love listening to the kids “play” out the story of Jesus with these ones.” ?
The Custom Drawstring Carry Bag= Awesome Sauce
The set itself is adorable. Still, when you pair it with the minimalist matching tote bag, it really ups the perceived value. Which is nice if you’re planning to give it a gift, or sell them.
The matching carry bag is easy to make, and I have a free SVG design that you can iron-on to it.
The tutorial below demo’s this with my Cricut and the Cricut Easy Press Mini. But you can skip the SVG and use a fabric stamp instead.
The carry bag doubles as a storage solution, so you won’t lose the pieces when you travel and makes clean up a snap. This is a huge plus for the minimalist mamas in your life!
This DIY Modern Nativity Playset is ALSO super easy to make.
And the materials are fairly inexpensive and you can easily find them at your craft or hardware store. I used chalky craft paint but you could use regular multi-surface craft paint and then you can skip the wax part.
I use the chalk-type paint because I feel like the matte surface really adds to the modern, minimalist feeling of this design.
DIY Modern Nativity Playset with Custom Carry Bag
Supplies and Tools
For the Wood Figures:
- Dowel Rod, Square ¾.” (cut measurements are below)
- Dowel Rod, Square 1” x 11.”
- Lg. Popsicle Stick, or Yard Stick
- Miter Saw Power Tool and/or Small Handsaw with Miter Box
- Sandpaper-Medium Grit
- Wood Glue or Tacky Glue
- Dowel Caps ¾”-3
- Button Dowel Plug 3/8”- 1
For Decorating the Figures:
- Foam Brushes
- Chalk Type Paint in White, Brown, Blue or Teal, and Silver Grey (optional) OR Multi-Surface Craft Paints
- Clear Wax w/ Paper Towel to Apply (if using chalk type craft paint)
- Muslin Scrap for Mary
- Glue Gun w/ Glue Stick
- Small Decorative Cord
For the Small Carry Bag (optional):
- Nativity SVG from the Creative Resource Library
- Muslin or Canvas -OR- you can purchase a bag a pre-made bag
- Sewing Machine if you’re going to sew your own bag
- Rotary Cutter, Cutting Mat and Ruler -OR- Scissors and a ruler
- Iron-on Vinyl (black, brown, or silver)
- Cricut Maker or Explore Air 2
- Light Grip Cutting Mat or Standard (Green) Cutting Mat
- Cricut Easy Press Mini (recommended), Cricut Easy Press, or Household Iron
- Easy Press Mat, Pressing Blanket or Ironing Board
Step One: Cut the Wood and Large Popsicle Stick
Using a Mitre Saw, or small saw, cut the wood dowels. Cut the ¾” square dowel into 2 pieces. One is 1 ¾”. The other is ¾.” Cut the smallest part first. Then cut the 1” square dowel into 4 parts. One is 4”, one 3”, one 2 ½” and one ¾.” Then, cut the large Popsicle stick or yardstick at a slight angle on each side to look like wings. I actually use pruners or my Tonic sheers to cut thin wood like this. But a small saw and miter box work great as well.
Step Two: Rough Sand and then Paint the Wood
Using medium grit sandpaper lightly sand the cut ends and the corner edges of the wood pieces. This just helps knock down any of the rough cut edges and preps the pieces for painting.
Using a foam brush, paint the wood in the colors you want. I used a brown, a white, and a blue-green chalk-style paint. Paint them as shown in the photo. Let dry. Then add a second coat if needed. Let that dry.
Step Three: Sand the Painted Wood and Apply a Wax (optional)
Using medium grit sandpaper lightly sand the edges of the painted dowels and go lightly over the paint as well.
If you used a chalk-style paint then you’ll want to add clear wax. If you used regular multi-surface craft paint you can skip this step. To add the wax use the paper towel and a small amount of the clear wax. Lightly swipe it across the surface of the paint. The surface of the paint sucks it up and it seals the surface for a really nice finish.
Step Four: Add the Dowel Caps and Button.
Using the wood glue, or tacky glue if that’s what you happen to have, glue the wood dowel caps to the three larger 1” painted dowel pieces. Then glue the button to one side of the ¾” x 1 ¾” to make Baby Jesus as shown.
Step Five: Make the Sheep
Using the glue again, adhere the two smallest pieces together to make the sheep. You can look at the photo as a reference for placement.
Step Six: Add the Finishing Touches
Using the glue, attach the wings to the back of the angel, and a small wooden star to it’s front. Then use the decorative cord or ribbon to make a belt for the angel. Use a small piece of twine to tie around Joseph’s waist and use a scrap of muslin to make a small head shawl for Mary. If you want, you can glue a little tuft of wool to the sheep for a tail.
Step Seven: Download the Nativity SVG from the Creative Resource Library or make your own Carry Bag
In the Creative Resource Library go to the section marked SVG files and click on the link to the Modern Nativity Carry Bag. Then download it to your computer.
Step Eight: Upload the SVG into Cricut Design Space
In Cricut Design Space, open up a new canvas and select “Upload” from the side toolbar. Next, select “Browse” and grab your .svg file. In your uploads select the new file and click “Insert Image.”
Step Nine: Size the Design and Make it!
To appropriately size the design I created a template of the bag. To do this, you just click on the “Shapes” option on the left side toolbar on your screen. Then choose a square. If you select the image and click on the lock you can then go and adjust the height and width of your square to make it the right size for this project. I made mine about 9″h x 6″w. Then, I adjusted the size of my design by changing the width in the top toolbar to 3.5″. Because my image is locked it automagically adjusts the height in proportion.
Then as soon as you’ve decided on the size of the image- REMOVE THE RECTANGLE by selecting it and then deleting it. Now, click on the “Make it” in the upper right corner. Woo-hoo!!!
Step Ten: Cut the Iron-On Vinyl and Weed it
Make SURE YOUR MIRROR the image. Then set up your mat and choose the setting for iron-on vinyl. Use the fine tip blade and a light blue or green mat. Follow the prompts on the screen.
Once the Cricut is done cutting it’s time to weed the image (i.e. remove the vinyl you don’t need for the design). This is easiest if you have a tool for weeding like my dental type hook below. I absolutely LOVE this tool!
When I weed I usually start with the little tiny pieces then do the larger bits. This makes it easier because the small pieces won’t get stuck to the sticky backing that’s under the vinyl. In the image below my piece of iron-on vinyl was too big, so I trimmed that off after I weeded these small bits. Usually, I trim it before.
Step Eleven: Cut the Fabric and Twine for Your Bag
Using a rotary cutter or scissors, cut two pieces of canvas or heavy muslin 9” x 6 ½”. Then cut a piece of twine about 18” long.
Step Twelve: Sew the Bag
With a sewing machine, fold over the top ¾” of both pieces, and inside the fold, lay your twine. Then sew the edge at the ¾” being careful NOT to sew across the string. It needs to be able to slide along the inside edge so that you can draw the bag closed. Repeat with the second piece of canvas.
Then, right sides together, stitch around the side and bottom of the bag.
I used a straight stitch but you can use an overlock stitch as well. Stitch along all BUT stop before you reach the twine on the left side of the bag.
If you stitch over the twine then you can’t pull the bag closed. Tie a knot at the end of the twine to keep it from pulling through. Clip the corners and any loose threads. Turn the bag right-side out.
Step Thirteen: Iron on the Nativity Text
Pre-heat your Easy Press or household iron. For the Easy Press Mini use the second heat setting. Once it’s hot, lay your iron-on vinyl shiny side up onto the fabric where you want it. Then cover it with a piece of parchment and using the correct setting for the material that you’re using, iron-on the vinyl. To find the correct setting you can check this handy dandy heat guide on the Cricut website! Or follow the instructions for a household iron on the package of your iron-on vinyl.
And Done!!! A Simple Modern Nativity Playset
And it comes with its own carry bag to make it perfect for church or travel. It also makes storing the pieces easy- no more looking for pieces at the bottom of a giant tub of decorations!
So this is a tutorial I’ve been super excited to show you guys. I really hope you make it! If you do, please leave me a comment or post a pic and #wellcraftedstudio. I LOVE seeing what you make!
For More Inspiration
If you’d like to see more of my holiday projects you can check out the Christmas Projects Category. The DIY Advent Cards can be used at any point before Christmas- even on Christmas vacation. And be sure to check back to the blog to see more of the Christmas tutorials we have in the works for these next few weeks!
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