Introduction: Ugly Christmas Sweater, Featuring Manger Babies

I wanted to make a Christmas sweater featuring the Manger Babies from King of the Hill. With a little research looking for images from the episode where the Manger Babies first appeared, I made a color plan and mostly decided to stick to machine sewing, with a few things that I hand stitched. After I finished the sweater, I feel like Luann Platter would be proud! Now that is finished, I can't wait to wear it to some holiday gatherings!

Even if you don't want to wear a Manger Babies sweater, I have included some of my processes for making the colored stitching that defines texture on the tree, so the instructions may help you make any kind of ugly Christmas Sweater using felt.

This instructable assumes an advanced beginner to intermediate knowledge of the sewing machine and hand sewing. It assumes the knowledge of hand stitching jingle bells and bows and hand stitching a satin stitch, and machine stitching straight stitch, back stitch and zig zag stitch. This instructable also assumes basic computer knowledge in word documents with manipulating fonts.

Please be responsible when using pins, needles, scissors and operating your sewing machine. Know where your fingers are at all times, and never sew over pins, or sew anything that will strain your machine to place a stitch. Wear eye protection if necessary.


  • thrift store sweater (I chose a 100% cotton sweater, but you will want one that is heat safe)
  • 12"x 18" fusible fleece
  • iron (filled with distilled water) / ironing board
  • sewing machine
  • scissors
  • machine thread, different colors
  • variegated floss for hand stitching the lettering
  • felt, different colors
  • ribbon, different colors
  • tracing paper or white parchment paper, and white copier paper
  • #2 pencil and pen
  • tracing pencil
  • computer and printer (for sign on tree)
  • needle
  • pins
  • tiny jingle bells
  • googly eyes, different sizes and colors
  • hot glue and hot glue gun
  • clear nail polish, or fray check

Step 1: Make a Loose Plan of the Design on the Sweater; Make the Animals

I used the drawing paper and pen to map out how large I wanted to make the animals and what kinds of colors and details I would need to add to them. Next I traced the outline with the tracing paper and cut out the silhouettes. Then I pinned the silhouettes to the different colored felt and cut out the animal shapes.

Each animal then had its different colored parts sewn together on the sewing machine with a zig zag stitch to make a complete single animal.

Step 2: Making the Manger Babies Sign

Using a computer I found a font that I thought looked very similar to the Manger Babies sign from Luann's Puppet Theater. I made the text in a larger size and curved it. After it was printed, I placed tracing paper over the letters and traced the font with a number 2 pencil. I flipped the paper over and traced the backwards letters with a red transfer pencil.

Then, I placed a white piece of felt down on the ironing board. The shape didn't matter yet, I just needed it large enough so I could trim it after the letters were transferred. I ironed over the lettering for about 30 seconds, careful not to move the paper and smudge the letters.

After the letters were transferred, I trimmed the white felt in a curved arch, and satin stitched the lettering with a needle and variegated floss. I think the varigated floss gives the lettering a little more interest.

Step 3: Adding the Fusible Stabilizer to the Inside of the Sweater

I cut a piece of fusible fleece that was about 12" x 18" square and ironed it to the inside of the sweater trying to keep the fleece as straight as I could. I made sure my sweater was 100% cotton, so I wouldn't have an unexpected melt down while I was ironing the fusible fleece to it. The reason for the fusible fleece is to stabilize the fabric for all the sewing that it was going to hold. I definitely could not have sewn my sweater without this step.

The iron has to be very hot and requires steam to make it stick to the sweater. The fusible part must be facing the front of the sweater so the fleece doesn't stick to the wrong side of the sweater. Keep ironing until the whole surface of the fusible fleece sticks to the sweater.

Step 4: Using the Sewing Machine to Add the Christmas Tree

Get your sewing machine out and test your stitches to make sure your machine is stitching the proper length stitches and tension.

Cut the green felt to the shape of the tree you like.

I like to build the textures in my tree with forward stitches and backwards stitches in a contrasting color, and I find yellow to be perfect for that. This is a process, and depending how big your tree is you could be stitching for a while. There is plenty of room for figuring out how you want to build your textures, and the zig zag "v" I make with the straight stitch is how I build that look.

The video I made shows a few seconds of what the backwards and forwards stitching looks like on my machine. It is important to remember to guide the stitch and not pull on the fabric, while doing this kind of "painterly" sewing.

After I built up all of the stitches on the body of the tree, I free hand cut out a yellow felt star, and stitched it to the top of the tree.

Step 5: Sewing the Rainbow, Then Sewing Both the Rainbow and the Manger Babies Sign to the Tree

Choose the six colors for the rainbow and place them in the order you choose. I was missing a green ribbon, so I colored half of the yellow ribbon with a green marker. There can be a little forgiveness with this, especially since the rainbow is in the background.

I sewed the ribbon to another ambiguous shaped piece of white felt with a zig zag stitch on the sewing machine, one ribbon at a time, starting from the top and working down. The ribbons had to be pinned down while I sewed them to the white felt.

After the rainbow arch was finished, I sewed both the Manger Babies banner and the rainbow arch to the Christmas tree. This is where I really noticed how thick the fabric was becoming to stitch through. I used a straight stitch for the white sign, and a zig zag stitch for the rainbow. The close ups of the purple zig zag stitches on the rainbow arch illustrate how imperfect this process can be.

Step 6: Sewing the Animals Into Position

Placing each animal on the front of the sweater, one at a time I sewed them into place with a zig zag stitch using a corresponding color specific to that animal. Each time they were held in place with pins so they would not move out of alignment.

Step 7: Sewing on Presents, Jingle Bells and Bows

After the animals are sewn in place it is time to sew on the geometric shapes at the base of the tree. For this sweater, I cut different colors of felt in the shape of elongated hexagons. I zig zag stitched, or straight stitched them to the base of the tree. This gave the presents a little depth to go with the texture of the tree.

More scrap ribbons were found to make bows on the presents and I hand stitched them to the sweater. I trimmed the bows and applied a little bit of clear nail polish to the bottom of the bows to prevent any fraying. (fray check could be used instead of clear nail polish). Tiny jingle bells were hand stitched in different spots around the tree as ornaments.

Step 8: Add the Eyes, and It Is Finished!

Using the hot glue gun, glue the googly eyes to the animals. I used one big googly eye on the penguin to indicate his monacle, two blue googly eyes for the cat, and two googly eyes each for the donkey and the octopus.

That's it! That's the ugly Christmas sweater!

The sweater probably will not survive any washings, so wear it with care.

Ugly Sweater Speed Challenge

Participated in the
Ugly Sweater Speed Challenge