Beach Combing

Beach Combing

Beach Combing‘ is a wooden shadow box display full of sea related items and other interesting objects. It was made to compliment a set of altered tins, which can be found in earlier posts, or by accessing the ‘Altered Tins’ tag in the list in the right side-bar.


The original wooden tray

The photo above shows the wooden tray in its original state. Measuring approx 21cm (8 1/2″) by 16cm (6 1/4″), this tray was picked up at an antiques fair. I’m not sure of its original purpose, but someone had written the letters of the alphabet and numbers 0-9 on the edges to correspond with the compartments. So, my guess is it was used in a shop for holding price ticket labels and letters for making up signage on goods, similar to those in this image below.

I had no idea what I’d use it for when I bought it, and it has been in my collection for a couple of years, but an idea presented itself when I was designing the tins and I decided to use it.

Initial try-out

To get a feel for the project, I gathered together some small items I thought would fit into the compartments, which at 3cm x 2cm meant I would be limited to using some of my smallest items. Once I knew the project could work, I took a photo of this ensemble for future reference, and then emptied it out.

Making the Box

Preparing to paint

Keeping the box in its original state wasn’t really an option here, the pen marks needed to be erased or covered, and as I wanted a light background to show off the various items, I thought painting it cream would be the best idea.

First coat of paint

After a bit of fine sanding to key the surface, I used an old tester pot of cream emulsion paint to cover the front and sides of the box. The photo above was taken after the first coat of paint was applied.

Painting complete

It took about three coats of paint to cover the box completely, but even after that some of the green biro was still showing through, so I had to coat those areas another couple of times until they were totally covered.


I was in two minds whether to distress the paint or not. I didn’t want to make a mess of it and have to repaint it, so I just gave the edges a very slight sanding for a worn look.

Rusty tacks

I had decided I wanted a wire arc over the box, so I hammered a rusty tack into each side of the box, ready to wrap the wire around at the end.

Objects to use

Now came the exciting part – filling the box with all the trinkets! I had saved all the items from my initial try-out, but nothing was set in stone, I could use, or not use any of these things, my first design was just a baseline to work and expand from.

Flowers and head

Of the items I was certain had a place in my box, this little ceramic face was one. I decided to dress it up with flowers as a couple of the tins I’d made had dolls with flowers on their heads.

Flowers on head

I snipped the wires off three paper flowers and stuck them to the top of the face.

Shell in hand

Similar to the head, I stuck a tiny shell to the hand of a pottery limb so it gave the appearance of being held.

Final try-out

I carried on preparing and dressing items, and gradually the box was filled. The photo above shows all the items laid in before they were stuck, so it all looks a bit higgledy piggledy.

Sticking in the objects

All the objects were stuck into place using silicone glue. They are not meant to be taken out as you might with a printer’s tray display, but it’s not impossible to get them out if the box is to be reused at a later date. However, that is not the intention here.

The finished assemblage

All the items were eventually stuck in and the wire could now be added.

Rusty wire with stars

The wire chosen for the box has a rusted finish and stars welded along its length.

Shaping the wire arc

I cut two lengths of the wire and twisted them together slightly, this would make it more substantial looking and allow four stars to be showing as they are quite spaced out along the wire.

Attaching the wire

The ends of the wires were wrapped around the tacks hammered in earlier, and the ends left to dangle.

The wire in place

Once the wire was attached to the tacks, it was eased into an arc shape and all that need to be done now was stabilise the box to stop it falling over.

Although I don’t have a photo of it, I took a long wooden building block from a set I bought to use in this way, and glued it to the back of the box at base level, giving it a wider standing area. The box was now complete.


To finish, here are some photos of the finished box – ‘Beach Combing‘. Items used are listed in the close-up photos.

Top, left to middle: ceramic face and flowers / ceramic limb, shell and word ‘SEA’ / ceramic limb, shell and flower / shell / glass star and blue painted tag. 2nd row, left to middle: Silver cross and shell / glass nugget and shell / tiny binocular stanhope and shell / shell and letter ‘M’ / rusty angel and shell.
Top row, from glass star: shell and gold painted wooden moon / rusty star with wire curl and shell / wooden game counter and shell / plastic heart bead and button. 2nd row from rusty angel: terracotta jug and flower / stamp and silver bird charm / glass bottle with flowers and tag / 3 cowrie shells.
3rd row, left to middle: stamp and shell / plastic penguin / (next 3) 3 shells and three blue painted tags, all graduated. Bottom row left to middle: rusty fish and shell / starfish charm and shell / ampersand and shell / button and mother-of-pearl star / pottery head.
3rd row from large shell and tag: glass heart and gold heart charm / 3 screw shells and a number ‘3’ / key with string / half a plastic bird’s egg / Bottom row from pottery head: large screw shell / shell and flower / horn disc with tiny starfish and blue painted tag / watch face with shell and butterfly charm.

Alison Vainlo 2020

Altered Tins

A selection of altered tins

This is my latest collection of altered tins. They were made to match in with the pictures I made last year (they can be found under the tag ‘Wall Collage’ in the right hand side bar). Both the pictures and these tins will one day be on display in my lounge, which is badly in need of a makeover.

Eagle eyes will have spotted a ‘non tin’ item in the above photo. That is a repurposed wooden tray which will feature in the follow-up post to this one.

Some of the tins in the photo above already have their own posts on this blog, and can be found in the ‘Altered Tins’ tag on the right of this page. Those posts contain a full walk through of the making processes which I photo-documented as I made them. Not all the tins were photo-documented, and it’s these remaining ones that I want to describe here. So, without further ado, let’s look at the first one.



Collected‘ started life as a small Oxo tin. I didn’t use the lid for this one (that will be saved for another project), as it wasn’t a hinged type lid.

The tin was lined with old script paper (from an old document), and small punched flowers were stuck on the sides of the interior.

The main object is a small pottery doll’s torso with head. The top of the head was open and hollow, so a small arrangement of paper flowers was inserted into it and stuck down.

Other objects in the tin include, a mustard spoon, a small key and a silver heart charm. Three more flowers were placed in the bottom of the tin.

To finish, a jewellery spacer and silver bead were applied to the top of the tin as a finial.


More photos of ‘Collected‘.

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts‘ is made from the base of a tobacco tin. A photo postcard of a lady was inserted into the back and a number of objects were placed around the image.

Objects include – a small advertisement, a mustard spoon, a small metal frame with a tiny image, a heart shaped metal charm, a cream heart pendant, a small key, a crown charm, a button, and some paper flowers.

On top of the tin is a jewellery spacer, an acrylic bead and a flower bead to finish.


More photos of ‘Queen of Hearts‘.

Washed Ashore

Washed Ashore

Washed Ashore‘ is a sea themed tin which started life as a tobacco tin. A postcard was used as the background and an array of beach inspired items was inserted.

I started out by sticking some fishing net into the back of the tin. Then I filled three small bottles (which all had their original corks); one with tiny shells, one with coloured sand, and one with gravel. Some raffia was tied around the necks of two of them.

I also added a sand dollar (the white circular item), a star fish and a plastic anchor (which was once a brooch). I put in some dried pieces off my ceanothus shrub, and a rusty fish. The bottom of the tin was scattered with shells and gravel.

The tin already had two holes in the sides, so I stuck two horn discs over them and attached a wire arc to reach over the top to finish.


More photos of ‘Washed Ashore‘.

Alison Vainlo 2020

Flower Festoon

Flower Festoon altered tin

Flower Festoon is a large, pretty altered tin, filled with flowers and old fashioned charm.


Creating a composition

Sometimes inspiration can just come from the items you collect rather than anything you’ve seen, although on reflection, I can see something here that must have unconsciously influenced me (more on that later).

The chosen tin

I wanted to use the pottery doll (see photo above this one), the largest in my collection, and at 13cm (5″) high, she would need quite a large tin. Luckily I had an old First Aid tin in my collection which would be perfect. By standing the doll inside I could try out other things and come to a pleasing composition.

In the end I chose three small glass bottles, some plant labels, a feather butterfly and lots of paper flowers as a basic starting point. I don’t know what made me put some flowers in the doll’s hollow head, but I’m pleased I did because that became key to the design.

This is where I must have had an unconscious light bulb moment, because the flowers in the doll’s head bears a strong resemblance to a photograph by my favourite photographer – Kirsty Mitchell – the photo below is what I must have been emulating when the idea formed – the porcelain face and the tumbling, vibrant flowers covering her head – it’s all there!

The Pure Blood of a Blossom, by Kirsty Mitchell

So, with a basic design established, it was time to make a start and the rest would come as I went along.

Making the Tin

Background/lining papers

By now, if you’ve been following my other posts, you will know that I always start by lining the tin with a background paper. For this project I wanted to use some old script, but needed to soften it somehow, so it wasn’t too prominent. I decided the best way to do that would be to cover the script paper with mulberry paper, which is slightly translucent. It would allow the text to show through, and just make it look softer. I chose a pale blue for the inside of the tin, and a cream for the lid.

Background papers cut to size

After the tin was cleaned, I measured all the sides inside and the front lid to cut the papers. For the rounded corners I pushed a piece of tracing paper into a corner and creased it around the curve, so that I could flatten it out and cut a template to do each corner as accurately as possible.

Lining the tin

The text paper was stuck in first, followed by the mulberry paper. I used Mod Podge to stick the first layer in as it would be in contact with the tin, but then I used a thin coating of ordinary PVA for the second, more delicate layer.

The front of the tin

The front of the tin was covered with the same script paper and cream mulberry paper was used instead of the blue.

Drilling holes

I had in mind to suspend some tiny bottles from the top of the tin, so I got my husband to drill two tiny holes in the side and top to thread a piece of wire through.

Cutting some chicken wire

I decided to use a piece of chicken wire in the back of the tin, so I got my sheet of craft chicken wire and using wire cutters, snipped a rectangular piece to the size I wanted.

Sticking the wire in place

The chicken wire was stuck into place using a few well placed blobs of silicone glue and then left to set thoroughly.

Choosing flowers to cut

I wanted a couple of decoupage flowers for the tin, one for the front of the lid and one for the inside of the lid. I cut flower illustrations from this old book (of which I have two copies). So I chose a pink rose for inside and a blue rose for the front.

Cut flowers

Using a a pair of fine scissors, I cut out both roses ready to stick into place on the tin.

The finished lid

The flower was stuck into place with the addition of a stamp and a paper butterfly. I then used cut out letters to make the title.

The finished inside of the lid

The inside of the lid was completed by sticking in the flower and adding other elements such as, a stamp, a paper butterfly, an old advertisement for perfume, three tea dyed tags, two buttons and a key. The title was also repeated on the inside of the lid so it would be visible when open.

Working on the doll

Next it was time to start work on the main body of the tin, so the pottery doll was first in line for decorating. I didn’t do any cleaning of the doll at all, she had some remnants of paint in some of the creases, but I wanted to keep her in her original state for that vintage look. I gathered all my wired paper flowers and leaves together and prepared to make a start.

Making a flower garland

As the doll is quite large I felt she needed something around her neck, like a flower garland. I tried some of the paper flowers first but they were just too big and overpowering, so I hit on the idea of flat, punched paper flowers instead, mounted on a thread.

I punched out a selection of flowers in different coloured paper and put a needle hole through each centre. My original idea was to thread them on to the cotton, but when I tried it it didn’t work, but the holes stayed.

Attaching a cord

I chose a green cotton cord for the garland flowers to sit on, this I stuck on to the doll with silicone glue.

Attaching the flowers

The tiny flowers were stuck to the cord, slightly overlapping to leave no gaps.

The finished garland

Once the garland was finished it was left to dry before doing any further work on the doll. The garland adds just enough detail to an otherwise very bare doll.

Head matters

With the garland now dry I could start on the flower arrangement in the hollow head. The photo above shows the top of the doll’s head ready for filling.

The hole in the head

The doll is completely hollow as you can see from the above photo, so the wires on the flowers needed not to be trimmed and could just hang down inside.

Sticking the flowers in

After an initial try-out to see how I would place the flowers, I added a little silicone glue to each flower and stuck them to the sides of the head as shown.

The finished flowers

I kept building up the arrangement, sticking each flower to it’s neighbours as it was inserted until the whole head had been covered.

Decorating the bottles

I had chosen three small bottles from my collection which needed some decorating. I don’t clean the bottles as I like the milky and stained interiors. The bottles were dug up from Victorian tips by friends of mine, who kindly passed a load on to me. I gave them an initial wash in warm soapy water when I got them, but never tried to remove the more stubborn stains from the interiors.

I wanted to put a label on the large bottle, so I found a suitable advert in my collection that would look like a label and stuck that on with Mod Podge glue.

Making a bunch of flowers

Next I chose a small number of flowers and leaves and twisted the wire stems together to make a small bunch of flowers to go in the bottle.

The finished bottle

The bunch of flowers was inserted into the bottle and a little silicone glue was added to where the flowers touched the glass, to keep them in place.

Three finished bottles

The other two bottles were finished in a similar way, with a piece of lace ribbon added to the middle sized one, and a green cord wrap with a tag added to the small bottle.

Plant labels ready for assembling

These plastic plant labels have a lovely vintage look and the neat handwriting on them just makes them look even better! My intention here was to stick them together and add a rose.

The finished labels

The plant labels were stuck together with silicone glue to make a slightly fanned arrangement. I then wrapped linen thread around the middle and inserted a couple of flowers.

Making the bottle festoon

I mentioned earlier that I had two holes drilled in the tin so I could suspend some tiny bottles, well these are those bottles. These aren’t old bottles, they are modern ones bought from a craft supplier, complete with corks.

I filled each bottle with reindeer moss and a few tiny paper rosebuds, cut from their wire stems.

Wiring the bottles

I took a length of green florists wire and twisted it around each bottle creating kinks and curls in the spaces between. The process was quite fiddly and I had to replace the wire and start again a few times before I got it right.

The bottle festoon in place

Once the bottles were wired up I inserted it into the tin, with the wire ends protruding from the holes made earlier.

Covering the wire end

The wire coming out of the top of the tin was secured with a little Gorilla glue (which spreads as you can see!). This glue blob would be covered by a finial, so it wouldn’t be seen.

The finial pieces

To make the finial I chose a metal door handle escutcheon and an acrylic drawer knob.

Fixing the escutcheon

A few blobs of silicone glue and the escutcheon was stuck down, covering most of the wire end.

The finial

The acrylic handle was then stuck on top of the escutcheon as a finishing touch.

A key for the tin

It was now time to start assembling the rest of the interior. I found a fancy key to add to the composition.

Sticking the key in place

I stuck the key into the corner of the tin with some silicone glue. I’m always amazed at the strength of that stuff; the key is quite heavy yet just a couple of blobs and it stayed in place with no extra help!

The plant labels

The plant labels were leaned into the opposite corner, again with the help of some silicone glue.

Adding the doll

The main element of the tin was added next – the doll. A little silicone glue was applied to her feet and touch points on her back where they would contact the back of the tin.

Adding a butterfly

I have a number of butterflies made from painted feathers and wire, so I chose one in a complimentary colour and stuck it to the back of the tin.

Finishing the composition

With the larger bottles added, I tried out a few ideas to get more detail into the tin. The photo above shows the items before they were finished and stuck in.

The tiny figure

Another pottery figure was chosen to stand in front of the doll, I finished it with a tiny rose bud, to look like it’s being held.

Almost finished

The tin was now almost finished. The addition of some dolls house plant pots and a small pair of scissors (not seen on this photo) gave the tin added interest. All I need to do now was fill the gaps with flowers.

The finished tin

The tin was now finished and has turned out to be one of my favourites.

The Finished Tin

To end, here are a few photos of the finished tin – Flower Festoon.

The front
The doll
Upper portion detail
Lower portion detail
Inside lid detail

Alison Vainlo 2020

Time to Reflect

Time to Reflect altered tin

Time to Reflect is a gentle old fashioned assemblage. The second of a series of seven, this tin puts an old tobacco tin to new use.


Trying out the design

Postcards always make nice backgrounds. Most of the time you will see me use the back of the postcard (where the writing goes), but sometimes it’s nice to use the picture side too. I have a number of portrait photos on postcards and the one I chose for this project featured the seated boy. His position made it ideal for placing objects around him, so I chose some random items from my collection to put with it.

Making the Tin

Making a start

As with any tin project I make sure the tin is clean and dry before starting, it helps the glue to stick and prevents any bumps or dirty marks getting on the work.

Next I measured the base of the tin and marked out the lines to cut on the postcard.

Placing the photo background

Once the postcard had been cut out and checked for size, I glued it to the back of the tin with Mod Podge Glue.

Although I haven’t shown it here, I also punched two tiny holes into the sides of the tin for inserting a wire arc later. As my husband and his drill weren’t available I had to improvise and use a bradawl and brute force to make the holes.

Adding more to the background

Once the background was in place I added a couple of ephemera items over the top. These can provide anchor points for smaller items and pull them together. In this case I used an old bus ticket and part of a diary page. These were stuck in next.

Working on the details

I then started work on one of the elements of the design. I took the base of a tiny tin and cut an image to fit. I then found three metal charms to add detail.

The completed inner detail

I stuck the image into the tin and added the charms to the top half of it. The glue looks a little messy here, but doesn’t show on the finished tin.

Adding the title

To make the title I cut letters from an old children’s book and inked the edges before sticking them into the back of the tin. This has become my trade mark way of adding text to all my art works and I am now the proud owner of several very holey children’s books!

The ‘pocket watch’

This is another of those improvised items made to resemble something I didn’t have in my collection.

Although I do possess a few pocket watches, they were too large and bulky for this tin, so I found a gold charm ‘frame’ and married it with an old watch face and tiny hand. As you can see the gold frame had been used before and contains remnants of old sticky tape. Sometimes I will take old projects apart if they are tired and crumbling, so I always salvage as much as I can and re-use them in other projects.

Sanding is the key

Like most of the keys in my collection, the one I was intending to use in the tin was showing signs of rust, so it was out with the trusty sandpaper again to clean most of it off. A quick wipe with a damp cloth and they come up looking fresh and polished.

Adding more elements

A piece of old string was tied to the key before it was then added to the assemblage, along with the smaller tin and assembled ‘pocket watch’.

Finishing the tin interior

All that was left to add were a few pearl buttons and the tin interior was complete. Now it was time to revisit those holes I had made at the start.

Adding a wire arc

I chose a reel of heavy gauge rusty wire (yes, you can buy rusty wire) and a couple of metal jewellery spacers.

Sticking on the jewellery spacers

The jewellery spacers were stuck over each hole with a little silicone glue. The spacers don’t serve any other purpose than to look attractive and cover a hole that might be a bit ragged. I sometimes use knuts as hole covers, or stick bolts on the sides of tins for the wire to be wrapped around where no hole has been made.

Attaching the wire

I cut a piece of the wire, roughly estimating how much I would need. I then wrapped part of it around my round nosed pliers to create the coil, and pulled it to open it out a little.

I then shaped the wire into an arc and threaded one end through one of the jewellery spacers and hole in the tin, emerging on the inside. I left about 1.5cm of wire in the tin and just bent it down until it lay flush with the inside of the tin.

The finished tin

I then arced the wire over the top of the tin and cutting any excess wire off, just left enough to thread through the other hole and bend down inside. Once in place you can adjust the shape of the arc until you have the shape you want. Nothing is done to stick the wire in place, it will just remain in position on its own. The tin was now complete.

The Finished Tin

To end, here are a few photos of the finished tin – Time to Reflect.

A close-up view
A side on view

Alison Vainlo 2020

Scouting for Boys

Front of tin

Scouting for Boys is the second in a series of seven altered tins made to be grouped together as a single display. This is one of two lidded tins that I made and features a more masculine design.


Gathering items to use

The idea for this design started with the little pottery figure. I’m not sure he’s supposed to be a Boy Scout, but his clothing suggested that, so I chose this as my theme. I had a nice square tin he would fit into, so I chose a few other ‘masculine’ items to put with him.

Composition try-out

I placed the items I had chosen in the tin to find the best composition. This would just be an initial idea of placings to build on later.

Front thinking

With a hinged lid you have to take into account there are three design points to cover – the outer lid front, the inside of the lid and the main body of the tin. With this in mind I set about a front cover for the tin.

I had some vintage scraps of scouts so I put them with a page from an old children’s book, added a stamp, a banner at the bottom for the title, and a couple of buttons. When displaying the tin, it is most likely you would have it stood open, so the front requires minimal decoration as it won’t be seen for the most part.

Background matters

The first thing you stick into a tin is the lining, or background, so it’s important to get it right. The right background for an assemblage can enhance and show your designs to the best advantage. The background also needs to match your theme. With this theme I felt some vintage map paper would suit, especially as I was intending to add a compass. This blue/green map was right for the overall colour scheme of my project and wasn’t too overpowering with it only being green and black.

Making the Tin

Adding the lining

Once the tin had been washed and dried, I measured all the insides and cut the map accordingly.

The finished lining

The map paper was then stuck into the tin using Mod Podge glue. I don’t do anything else with it, no sealing, no inks, no varnishes, just let the background be well… in the background!

Adding details

Before we move away from the background, it is at this point where you would add any further details to it. Blocks of colour can be added in the form of old tickets, stamps and any other ephemera that suits. Here I added a couple of old bus tickets and some stamps.

Preparing items

With the tin lined and ready it was now time to start on the contents. Sometimes it’s best to leave an object in its original state, but in other cases it may require a little ‘alteration’. In the case of this whistle, I didn’t think the pink paint and German flag quite suited the theme, so something would have to be done.

Removing the paint

The easiest way of getting paint off a metal item is to use some coarse sandpaper and just rub it off. It will leave scratches but these can be used to your advantage, as we will see.

Inking the metal

With all the paint removed, the whistle was quite shiny and needed to be a bit ‘duller’ for that vintage look. I took a black ink pad and a piece of kitchen towel and rubbed some of the ink onto the surface of the whistle. All those scratches I mentioned earlier trapped the ink and it stayed on the surface.

Pointing to more sanding!

The next items to need some attention were the two pointing hands. These are not vintage, but modern craft items. Made from wood, these lazer cut shapes come on a sheet and you just press them out. Obviously they looked too ‘new’ and required some aging to take them down a bit.

Aging the wood

They were first sanded with fine sand paper to get the top finishing off them, then as with the whistle, a little sepia ink was rubbed into the surface giving a more authentic feel.

Materials for making bunting

Sometimes the one thing you need to finish a project isn’t readily available and you have to make it yourself. This was the case when I came up with the idea for some bunting in the tin – not just any bunting, but metal bunting, to go with the theme. Now I do have some thin metal sheet for crafting, but last time I tried cutting small things out of it I nearly cut my finger ends to ribbons! So an alternative was sought. I looked in my file of old book fly-leaves and found this very old metallic looking paper (see photo above), it would be perfect for the bunting, and it would save my fingers! So I drew a little template for the flags and cut them out.

The cut bunting

A short length was cut from the roll of rusty wire, and this would be used to hang the flags from.

The finished bunting

Each flag was folded over the wire and stuck down with PVA glue. The ends of the wire were then coiled into little circles at the ends for fixing into the tin.

Adding the objects

It was now time to start adding the objects to the tin. Starting at the back, I placed the metal plane, rusty star, wooden game counter and pointing hands in first. Then the scout went into the corner. All items were stuck in using silicone glue. The rest of the items were then added, ending with the bunting.

Working on the title

Wherever possible I like to make sure the title of the piece is on show. So, although the front of the tin would have a title, I also made one for inside. The letters were cut from an old children’s book, their edges inked and then glued to the background.

More preparation

The main focus of the inside of the lid was a dial from a vintage car – hence the clips around the edge. I decided to leave the clips as they were as they told a story of where the dial had come from. I then found two old clock hands with peeling cream paint. I decided to clean the paint off the hands just as I had with the whistle. Sanding the hands soon brought all the cream paint off and they were given a rub with some black ink to take the shine down.

Assembling the inside of the lid

With the preparation complete, all the remaining items were glued into place. Starting with the dial, which was placed first, the clock hands were stuck on top. The fact that they are oversized adds a bit of interest I think. I then added a small coin which finished this part of the tin off.

Items for the front of the tin

The last part of the tin to be assembled was the front. As explained earlier, the items I chose for the front included book page for the background, a postage stamp, three vintage scraps, a scrap of green paper for the title and two pearl buttons.

Assembling the pieces

I first rounded the corners of the book page with a punch and inked the edges in black. I then assembled all the other elements, the stamp, the scraps, and the lettering before sticking the page to the tin.

Finishing the tin

Finally, I tied some linen thread through the holes in the buttons and stuck them in place. The tin was now complete.

The Finished Tin

To end, here are a few photos of the finished tin – Scouting for Boys.

Inside the tin
The inside of the lid
Close-up detail

Alison Vainlo 2020


Apothecary Altered Tin

Making a set of pictures last year for my (soon to be) new look lounge soon sparked off some other ideas for decorative items. Altered tins are not new to me and you will find quite a few of my past makes on here, so it seemed the ideal project for me. In all I made seven new tins and a wooden display tray, all of which will feature in posts on here.

The first tin of this series is ‘Apothecary’, loosely based on medical themed items. Read on for a step-by-step walk through of how it was made, should you want to have a go yourself. And if this seems too ambitious for a first attempt, there are some smaller tins coming up, or you could just take inspiration and techniques from this to produce your own designs.

Gathering Materials

First choose your tins!

The photo above shows all the tins chosen for this batch of projects. It’s good to have a mix of shapes and sizes if you are planning to group them together. In the past I have usually chosen tins which have a hinged lid, but for this project I chose only two with lids. As they will be stood open anyway, it wasn’t necessary to have lids on them all.

For the first tin ‘Apothecary’ I chose the large ‘Oxo’ tin, seen here on the far left. This was the tin I designed first; I then went on to design all the others before making any of them up. I think it is better to design all elements of a collection initially, so you can judge if they look good together.

Choose your ‘ingredients’

Next it was time to think about the contents, and with such a vast collection of vintage items to choose from, it makes sense to go through all your storage boxes and pick out the things you think will suit the project best. As you can see from the above photo, I had a number of objects which I thought I would like to use. I filled a couple of plastic trays and kept them close to hand while I did my designing, it saved me from constantly running to fetch things, and it reminds you of other things you have available if you do end up running back to the store room.


Objects on a theme

So, for this first tin I decided to use some of my vintage medical items. As you can see from the box on the left of the photo above, I have quite a mixture of first aid and pharmacy things, from medicine bottles and pill boxes to bandages and pharmacy ephemera.

The best way of designing a tin is to just have the tin in front of you and keep trying things in different compositions until you land on one that looks right.

Deciding on a composition

After much deliberation I found a composition I was happy with and took a photo of it so it didn’t stray from memory. I always do a rough sketch on paper too, adding notes and ideas for future reference. At this stage though any designs are just a basis for expansion later – a starting point from which other details can be added or changed later.

Making up the Tin

Adding the background lining

So, assuming I have now completed all my initial designs, I am ready to start making up the Apothecary tin. Just as with most art projects always start at the back and work towards the front. So the first step is to line the inside of the tin.

Sticking the background in place

After washing the tin in warm soapy water and drying it thoroughly I measured the inside back of the tin and all four sides. I then cut some old pages from an optometrist’s book and trimmed them to the sizes recorded. They were then stuck into the tin with Mod Podge glue (as in the photo above). You can use ordinary PVA, but I find it repels the paper a bit and takes some persuading to stick down; Mod Podge however, seems to form an instant grab, but is manoeuvrable enough for you to be able to slide things into place before they bond.

Adding extra layers

I don’t usually cover the outside of the tin (unless there is a lid), as I think it’s nice for the tin’s original identity to show., especially with a vintage tin.

At this point it’s good to add some extra layers to the background for added interest. In this case I chose a number of vintage pharmacy labels and arranged them over the back and sides of the tin.

Pharmacy labels add detail

The next step was to prepare the items for insertion into the tin. This involved dressing the bottles (below).

Dressing the small bottle

The small bottle already had a its original label intact, so all I had to do here was add a piece of vintage lace to the neck of the bottle. I also attached a tiny tag which had the word ‘DOSE’ spelled out in cut letters. A paper flower inserted into the top of the bottle added the finishing touch.

Dressing the large bottle

As with the smaller bottle, the large one had it’s original label intact and its original cork. I wrapped some linen thread around the neck of the bottle and inserted two paper rosebuds. I also attached a larger tag with the ‘1 DROP’ dosage spelt out in cut letters.

Adding more detail

Before adding the content to the tin I stuck a blue paper flower into the back, and added the title, made from cut letters, under it. I was now ready to add the larger items.

Adding the main content

I started out by placing a stack of three items in one corner of the tin. Using silicone glue I attached the packet of bandage to the bottom of the tin, stuck the packet of absorbent wool on top and finished by sticking a card pill box on top of that. As a finishing touch for this part, I cut out a paper bee from an old book of insects, and stuck it to the pill box.

Building the composition

Next I added a pill tin in front of the stack, and filled the gap above with paper flowers and leaves, before adding the large bottle to the opposite corner. Another paper flower was stuck at the back too, as it became apparent there would be a gap with not much in it left behind.

Finishing touches

Next, a small mother-of-pearl spoon, with an added flower, was stuck in so that it leaned up against the first stack. The smaller bottle was placed centrally and here the lace has been temporarily folded back whilst the rest of the items were added. The final two hard items were added last – a small pocket watch and a clay doll. Now for the finishing touches.

Finishing touches

To finish I added four more paper flowers to fill the gaps. I also stuck part of the lace on the bottle to the glass itself, this was because leaving it to hang loose obscured parts of the pocket watch. The tin was now complete.

The Finished Tin

To end, here are a few photos of the finished tin – Apothecary.

Full view
Upper portion in close-up
Lower portion close-up

Alison Vainlo 2020

Box Files – A Restoration Project

22 The Finished Boxes

I was at an Antiques Fair this year and spotted some old box files. The stall holder had about half a dozen of them, priced at £4 each. They were in quite good condition, and clean inside, so I thought that with a bit of TLC they would look good on my lounge shelf. They would also be useful for holding small, thin books or maps. I chose three, two buff coloured ones and a dark red one.


This photo (above) shows how the box files looked when I bought them. Some of the fabric coated paper on the red box was coming unstuck and looked a bit ragged, and the metal parts were either tarnished or rusty. The boxes were a bit grubby too.

I decided to clean them up a bit, get the rust off and add some shine to the metals, also add some new labels with lettering. So I got together all the materials I would need and one Saturday morning set to work to bring them back to life.

Sanding and Cleaning

1 Prep

In the photo above I have assembled all the things I would need to clean the boxes up; water and washing up liquid, sponges, cloths, sand paper, masking tape, beeswax and gloves.

3 Label

Only one of the box files had a label in its metal holder, and if possible I wanted to preserve it. I thought about taking it out and seeing if the reverse side was usable. Anyway, getting the label out proved difficult, it had been stuck at the right side and wouldn’t budge. I ended up having to rip it to get it out. As it was, the underside wouldn’t have been any good, it was just a scrap cut from an old card file and had some typing on it.

5 Sanding the Metal

Removing the label left a bit of a hole in the red covering, but this wouldn’t be seen with a new label in place.

The next thing to do was lightly sand the metal surround to remove some of the black tarnish spots. This allowed more of the brass colour to come through.

4 Metal

On the other two boxes the ring pulls were coated with rust, but the label holders were quite clean. so I decided to sand off the rust on the ring pulls only.

6 Masked off for Sanding

I didn’t want the rust to embed itself in the fabric coating of the boxes as I removed it, so I carefully masked off the area all around the ring pulls.

7 Sanding the Rings

Using fine sandpaper I cleaned up the metal until it was smooth again. In the photo above, the one on the right has been sanded, but the left one has yet to be done.

8 Washing the Boxes

Once the metal was finished it was time to clean the boxes themselves. Using warm water with just a little washing up detergent, I used a microfibre sponge to ‘lift’ the dirt out of the surfaces. I was careful not to get them too wet as some of the dye was lifting out too.

9 The Washed Boxes

The washed boxes looked a lot cleaner with decades of dust removed, and they were left to dry thoroughly for a couple of hours.

10 Areas to Glue

As mentioned earlier, some of the covering was coming away from the red box, as can be seen in the photo above. I mixed up some PVA glue with a little water to make it thinner, then using a glue spreader, inserted a little glue between the two surfaces and stuck it back down. A final trim of frayed edges and the repair was complete.

11 Masked off for Waxing

The next step was to polish the metal items, so I masked off the areas around each piece, this would ensure the wax didn’t mark the fabric on the boxes.

Using a beeswax polish I cleaned and buffed each piece.

12 Boxes Waxed and Polished

The final stage in the process was to apply a little furniture polish, by spraying it on a duster first and then wiping over the surfaces. This would take away any stickiness left over from the cleaning and give the fabric a nice sheen.

New Labels

13 Making New Labels

I didn’t want any new labels I made to look too ‘new’, so I chose some vintage luggage labels from my collection to cut up and fit in the holders.

14 New Labels Fitted

I measured the holders and cut the labels to fit. Here they are inserted into the holders (above).

15 Choosing the Letters

I wanted to put some words on the new labels, but they needed to be kept quite general. If I put the contents of the box on each label and then later on changed what was in the boxes, I would have to make new labels. So I decided to go with the generic ‘Box 1’, ‘Box 2’, ‘Box 3’ titles.

16 Trying out the Letters

Unsure of which style of lettering to choose, I got my boxes of pre-cut paper and card letters and had a play with with different fonts and sizes.

I decided that the white on black letter tiles looked the best. They had an old typewriter style of font which suited the age of the boxes.

17 Inking the Letter Edges

I marked out where the letters would be placed on the labels, then removed the labels to prepare the card and stick on the letters.

These particular letter tiles are white with black fonts on the reverse, so I inked all the edges of them to stop any white showing.

18 Aging the Labels

The labels were still a bit too clean looking, so I took a sepia ink pad and sponge and applied some of the ink to the edges of the card, working in far enough for it show beyond the edges of the frames.

19 Glueing the Letters Down

I glued each letter down to the labels as in the photo above.

20 The Finished Label

Once the label was complete it was time to insert it back into the metal holder for the finishing touch.

21 The Label fitted in the Holder

The finished box.

22 The Finished Boxes

The other two labels were also completed and the boxes finished.

23 Filling the Boxes

With the outsides of the boxes finished it was time to fill them with items from my vintage collection.

24 Box 1 with old Exercise Books

The first box is filled with old exercise books. These I use to either photocopy for projects or simply tear the pages out themselves to use in my art.

25 Box 2 with old Hobbies Books and Lettering Practice Books

The second box holds some copies of some 1950’s Hobbies books and some lettering practice books, all of which are used in my projects.

26 Box 3 with old Maps

The third box, which opens differently to the others, holds my collection of old paper maps. Again, they are either photocopied or just cut up for projects.

Now all that remained to do was to put them up on my shelf!

27 On the Shelf

Neat and tidy! I think these box files are so much nicer than the garish coloured ones you can buy today. They have a warmth and character about them which I think I have brought back to life with my cleaning and repairing.

It just shows how minimal intervention can really make a difference to the simplest of items and make them an asset to any home.

28 Side Angle

30 Whole shelf 2


Alison Vainlo 2020

Altered Tins Advent Calendar


I’ve always liked Advent calendars, well the traditional ones anyway, not those tacky ones based on various characters with cheap chocolate inside. No, when I was growing up we had a proper Advent calendar, a fold out Nativity scene with lots of little card doors to open. I delighted in opening those doors every morning through December, and was more than happy with the little picture reward behind each one. I still have that calendar from the mid 1960’s and sometimes still put it out.


My Advent calendar from the 1960’s

When I used to do applique wall hangings I made a wall hanging Advent calendar. That was quite a challenge, working out how to do all the little doors etc, it took months to make but was so worth it.


Advent House (open)

Advent House 1993 – Appliqued fabric and mixed media

Last November I decided to try a new Advent calendar project, and with a drawer full of old tins, they just begged to be turned into an exciting Christmas display. It was too late to make anything for that Christmas, but with Christmas things in the shops and vintage Christmas things on the stalls at the antiques fairs, I set about collecting lots of little items to put into my tins.

By January this year I had just about enough to get started, so as soon as Christmas 2018 was packed away, I made a start on some designs. Designing lasted until mid February, then I quickly got started on making up my designs. By March 19th they were all done and ready to photograph. So I spent the first day of spring doing a Christmas photo shoot!

While the project was fresh in my mind I decided to write the blog posts about it, but not publish until December – after all, who wants to read about a Christmas project in spring?

This post then, looks at each tin in detail and as a collective, but do look out for a follow up post showing some of the making processes in case you are inspired to have a go at an altered tin or 24!

Number 1, Fence and Wreath in the Snow

1 Fin 2

Tin number one has a script covered lid, with a little gold wax rubbed on the edges. A gold plastic oval frame has been distressed and an old image put behind it. A sparkly number one was put on a tea dyed tag and fastened to the top of the frame with added gold leaves and berries.

1 Fin 5

Inside the tin is a black sparkly card background. A wooden fence (from a craft outlet) has been cut down in length and sanded. White acrylic paint was used for the snow on the fence and cotton wool for the snow on the ‘ground’. The ‘snow’ was painted over with white glitter glue. A wreath was made from a piece of green wired tinsel and a red bow.

Inside the lid is a script paper background, brushed with iridescent silver paint. A section was cut from a vintage Christmas card and placed on top. Tiny letters were cut from a book to spell out the number of the tin.

1 Fin 8

There is an extra little ‘door’ to open in this tin. The vintage Christmas card has a flap which hides another scene behind it.


Number 2, Metal Angel

2 Fin 3

This old lozenges tin was covered with tickets and stamps in shades of lilac. Rusted tin stars and an old key were painted gold and stuck down. A number was added to the ring on the key.

2 Fin 4

The inside of the tin had a nice silvered patina, so no backing paper was added, just lilac stamps set out in rows. The angel was an old tree decoration. It was simply attached to a hook and stuck in the back with two more rusted tin stars.

Inside the lid are two rusted tin tags, constructed with hearts, angels and rusted wire, plus another tin star.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 3, We Three Kings

3 Fin 2

This tiny French pastilles tin is covered with script paper. The vintage scrap ‘King’, was from a Christmas scrap collection and cut down to fit. Sequin stars were added and a number 3 was added to the jar.

3 Fin 4

Inside the tin, red flocked paper was added as a background and lined with red wired tinsel. The crown is an old military cap badge.

Inside the lid was lined with script paper. The image of the boys was cut from an old photo. The crowns were hand cut from postage stamps and finished with punched silver card dots. The interior was finished with cut letters and words.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 4, Christmas Treasures

4 Fin 3

This tin lid was covered with gold glitter card, then a large torn tag was covered with script paper and lightly brushed with gold paint. A vintage scrap angel was added and three star stickers. Two tags were joined together, one has a glittered number, the other a leaf charm. Gold thread hold all the tags together.

4 Fin 4

The inside of the tin was covered in script paper and brushed with gold and silver paint. Tea dyed tags were stuck in and charms were mounted on top.


Number 5, Robin Red Breast

5 Fin 2

This tin lid was covered with vintage patterned paper. A circular design was cut from a vintage Christmas card and placed under a metal disc. It was finished with paper leaves, berries and tag with the number on.

5 Fin 5

The inside was backed with two similar vintage card fronts. Red tinsel lines the edge of the tin back. A model robin was stuck to a piece of branch and some fake holly decorates the corner. A bow and lettering was added to the inside of the lid.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 6, By the Tree

6 Fin 4

The lid of this tin was covered in vintage lace panels and rik rack braid. An oval panel was cut from a old Christmas card and mounted on top. A mother-of-pearl disc was used for displaying the number and mother-of-pearl buttons were used to finish.

6 Fin 6.JPG

The inside back was covered with scrapbooking paper which resembled wallpaper. A wooden Christmas tree from a decoration was covered with green paper and decorated with sequins and gems. The doll was placed in without any alterations made to it. Tiny presents were made from wrapped card. A tiny paper chain was made to hang from the ‘ceiling’.

The inside of the lid has an old greetings card decorated with pearl buttons and finished with lettering.

The very top of the tin was finished with a small metal door or drawer knob.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 7, Village Post Box

7 Fin 1

This tin was firstly covered in script paper, then nine red and green old postage stamps were arranged on top. A thin layer of gold iridescent paint was brushed over the top. A gold number ‘7’ sticker was added to a metal charm and placed on the centre stamp.

7 Fin 4

The inside back of the tin was covered in blue paper with white glittered angel hair paper over the top. White punched snowflakes were also added. The post box and wall (which was a fridge magnet originally) was given a coat of white paint on key areas where snow might collect. The sign originally had the word ‘Buxton’ on it, but the letters were easily scratched off and replaced with the word ‘village’. A blue bird was placed on top of the wall, and a scrap of holly was placed behind. Cotton wool ‘snow’ was placed in the bottom and all the white areas were given a coat of white glitter glue.

7 Fin 4 (2)

Close up view of the bird

The inside of the lid was covered with pale blue glittered paper and collaged with postage stamps and punched snowflakes. A small envelope was made and a Christmas image made into a card was inserted. A vintage scrap was added over the top and lettering and a bow finished it off.


Number 8, Gift Wrapping

8 Fin 3

This small tin was covered with script paper and brushed with gold paint. A brass number ‘8’, meant to be a house number I believe, had two holes in it, presumably where the screws would be attached, so a piece of red ribbon was simply threaded through them and tied in a bow. The number was then stuck to the tin.

8 Fin 5

The inside was lined with script paper, brushed with gold paint. Wrapping paper rolls were made from craft paper with suitably small designs on them. The card ‘presents’ were also covered in the paper. Small tags with gold thread and a reel of gold thread were added. A metal charm in the shape of a pair of scissors was stuck to the back.

The inside of the lid simply has a vintage Christmas parcel label and a gold bow.


Number 9, Christmas Angel

9 Fin 2

The lid of this tin was covered in a piece of bible paper and brushed with gold paint. Rusted metal angels and a heart were painted gold before being added. Gold thread was also added to the holes in the angels. A number ‘9’ was punched out of an old book and added to the heart.

9 Fin 5

More bible pages were used to line the inside of the tin and brushed gold again. Gold fancy thread lines the edges. A vintage angel tree decoration was stuck in the back.

A vintage cherub scrap was placed inside the lid and a gold charm with the lettering on was placed on top.


Number 10, Christmas Lights

10 Fin 3

This small tin was covered in red mulberry paper and edged with gold thread. A tag was covered with script paper and a vintage scrap was placed on top. A tiny tag was added with the number on it. A gold eyelet sticker was placed over the hole in the tags and a gold ribbon threaded through.

10 Fin 5

The inside of the tin was covered in red and gold paper. A small piece of Christmas tree branch, with added bow, was placed in the bottom and a vintage Santa bulb was placed across it.

An old fairy lights advert was placed in the lid along with a string of tiny glass ‘fairy lights’.


Number 11, Wassail!

11 Fin 2

The top of this tin was covered with shimmering, textured black paper. A gold candy cane was was cut from glitter card and collaged together with a reproduction advert and a holly scrap. Two tags were added on long gold threads  for the numbers.

11 Fin 5

The inside of the tin was sectioned with card and covered with black tissue paper, a tiny bauble (or wassail cup) was placed in each gap. A tag with the word ‘wassail’ spelled out on it was added to one of the centre ones.

The inside of the lid was covered with more of the paper from the outer lid. A gold decoupage bauble, left over from a card kit, was placed diagonally and a silver snowflake from an old Christmas card was placed over the top, with a gem added to the centre. A silver plaque was distressed and letters added. Silver thread finished it and it was placed below the bauble.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 12, Santa!

12 Fin 3

The top of the tin was covered with red scrapbooking paper, which has a distressed pattern on it. Gold paint was brushed on top. A panel of script paper was placed on top and brushed with gold paint again. A vintage Santa scrap was added with two tags partially underneath at the bottom. Gold numbers and thread were added to the tags. A gold roundel adds decoration at the top.

12 Fin 5

The inside of the tin was covered with red patterned paper (for wallpaper) and a piece of green velvet paper was placed in the bottom to resemble carpet. A vintage Christmas tree scrap was placed into the back. A plaster Santa (an old cake decoration) was placed in front of the tree and three tiny presents made from wrapped card were stacked beside him. A bird cage charm was placed on the ‘wall’ and a piece of red wired tinsel forms a ‘ceiling’ decoration.


Number 13, Candy Cane

13 Fin 2

The tin lid was covered with script paper and brushed with gold paint. Two metal corners were added. A small metal frame was filled with gold paper and a punched out number 13. The frame was placed in the centre and a leaf charm was added.

13 Fin 5

Inside the tin, the bottom was covered with green textured paper and lined with red sparkly thread. A polystyrene candy cane (from an old tree decoration) was covered with tissue paper and painted with white iridescent paint. It was then wrapped in red and gold ribbon and finished with a bow.

Inside the lid was covered with script paper and an old ticket was placed over it. A vintage scrap was put in diagonally over the top and lettering added.


Number 14, Deer in the Snow

14 Fin 2

The lid of this small tin was covered with Christmas craft paper. A wooden tree decoration was distressed with sand paper and brown ink. Two mismatched numbers were added and it was placed on the tin. A tight circle of red, wired tinsel forms a decoration for the top of the tree.

14 Fin 3

The inside of the tin was covered with bible paper and pale blue mulberry paper, which is semi transparent. Blue wired tinsel was put in to line the edges and cotton wool was put in for the snow. A wooden deer tree decoration was distressed in the same way as the tree earlier and placed in the back with words cut from a book above.

A wooden snowflake tree decoration was distressed and placed in the inner lid. A tight circle of blue wired tinsel decorates the centre. Lettering was added below.


Number 15, Christmas Compendium

15 Fin 3

This tin is simply covered with a vintage greeting card tied with red ribbon. A metal disc was placed under a metal ring and a punched number placed on top.

15 Fin 7

The card opens by untying the ribbon. The words ‘Ten days to Christmas’ were added to the otherwise untouched card.

15 Fin 5

One of the more ambitious interiors, a series of ‘shelves’ was made from thick card and glued together. They were covered with a collage of old receipts and painted over with iridescent white paint. This was mirrored in the lid section with more receipt paper and white paint. Items were added to the shelves, i.e. small wreath, candy cane (plastic) and gold bead, plaster Santa (cake decoration), Santa light bulb, star and holly, gold bell, holly leaves and gold ribbon, and a tiny white teddy with red bow. A tiny tag with stars was attached to a shelf too.

A number of flat decorative items were placed in the lid section, i.e. two metal stars, a metal heart, a metal house with lettering, a metal spiral, a metal tree and a metal angel.

The very top of the tin was finished with a small gold painted wooden door or drawer knob.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 16, Santa in the Snow

16 Fin 3

This small tin was covered with black shimmering paper. An arrangement of artificial holly, flowers, berries and acrylic star was gathered into a red bow and placed on top. A small silver frame with number was added to finish.

16 Fin 5

The inside of the tin was covered with black sparkly card. Cotton wool ‘snow’ was put in the bottom and coated in white glitter glue. Two tiny Christmas trees and a Santa were added. A moon charm was added to the back.

Inside the lid, more sparkly black card was covered with script paper and a vintage scrap placed on top. Small holly leaves and berries were added to the bottom, and lettering down the side.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 17, Christmas Rocking Horse

17 Fin 2

This tin lid was covered with script paper and silver paint was brushed over the top. An image of a girl was attached and silver wired tinsel was used to frame it. At the bottom, two silver sprigs were put on with an acrylic flower in the centre. Silver cake decoration numbers were added to finish. The top of the tin was decorated with a white and silver satin ball decoration flanked by two silver beads and berries.

17 Fin 4

Script paper was added to the back of the tin and the inside lid, which was then brushed with silver paint. The silver carousel rocking horse was an old Christmas decoration. It was dressed with silver ribbons, thread and tiny bells before being stuck in. Pieces of artificial Christmas tree greenery were stuck into the corners and silver berries were added.


Number 18, Star of Wonder

18 Fin 3

This tin lid was covered with script paper, brushed with gold paint. An oval image was added to the centre and framed with pearl buttons in graduating sizes. Fine gold thread was tied into the holes in the buttons. The large button with the number on is actually an un-stamped button so has no holes in it. Gold stickers were added to the corners to finish.

18 Fin 5

Gold brushed bible paper was pasted into the back of the tin. A cherub tree decoration was added and metal stars painted gold were placed around it. Wired ribbon was draped around the top end of the tin and stuck in place. A wooden plaque was brushed with gold paint and words from a book were added.

A religious card was placed inside the tin lid and the number letters added.


Number 19, Carolling around the Tree

19 Fin 2

This tin lid had a nice border panel on the front so a piece of green paper was cut to fit inside it. A vintage scrap was added to the centre. A metal disc with the number, and two tiny charms were fastened together and thread added to look as if it’s hanging over the girl’s arm. A raised holly decoration left over from a card making kit was brushed with glitter glue and added to the bottom. A gold fir cone was added to the top of the tin to finish.

19 Fin 4

The inside of the tin was completely lined with glittered blue card. White glitter card was used for the snow in the lid, while cotton wool was used in the main section. Vintage scraps of carol singing children were placed on all inside walls, while a Santa and sleigh scrap was added to the ‘sky’. Scrap lanterns were cut out and placed on threads in the lid. An artificial tree was decorated with tinsel, bells and beads and topped with a star before being placed in the tin. Glitter glue was added to the cotton wool.


Number 20, Christmas Horn

20 Fin 2

This tiny pill tin had an indentation on the lid, so a piece of music paper was cut to fit  inside it and brushed with silver and gold paint. A treble clef charm was added and below, a punched number 20 was placed under a pearl disc, two pearl buttons with silver thread were placed either side.

The tin sits in a Meccano ‘cradle’. It was difficult to make it stand upright when closed, so the cradle acts as a prop instead.

20 Fin 5

More music paper was used to line the insides of the tin. A small plastic horn with a red and white thread ‘rope’ was stuck into the back, while a vintage cherub scrap was placed inside the lid with the number letters.


Number 21, The Snowman

21 Fin 2

This tiny needle tin was covered with script paper brushed with silver paint. A metal snowflake was added to the front and topped with a tag for the number and a pearl button.

As with number 20, this tin would not stand up when closed, so another Meccano cradle keeps this one propped up.

21 Fin 5

The inside of the tin was lined with pale blue glitter paper and silver tinsel lines the base. Snowflake stickers were added and a resin snowman was placed in the centre. A vintage snowman scrap was added to the inside of the lid along with the number letters.


Number 22, Church in the Snow

22 Fin 2

An old Christmas card was cut down to fit inside the border on the tin lid. A little glitter glue was used to highlight some of the snow. A metal oval plaque was distressed with sandpaper and number stickers were added. Gold ribbon was threaded through the holes and the plaque was added to the lower front.

22 Fin 5

The back of the tin was lined with blue paper and sequin stars were added, along with a moon face. White paint was added to key areas of the small wooden church and glitter glue was painted on top. The church was inserted and cotton wool was added for snow.

A prayer book page was added to the inside of the lid and brushed gold. A paper poinsettia was brushed gold and with ribbon added, was placed in the lid with the letter numbers below.


Number 23, Christmas Fireside

23 Fin 2

This tin lid was covered with burgundy scrapbooking paper and a Santa scrap placed on top.  The dimensional holly scrap was left over from a card kit and was placed near the bottom. Gold glitter stickers were used for the number and letters, and dots from the same range were used on the corners

23 Fin 6

Scrapbooking paper which resembled wallpaper was used to line the tin, and gold velvet paper was used for the carpet. A plaster doll’s house fireplace was stuck into the back with flames, coals and a grate added. A garland was made to hang on the mantle. Doll’s house candle sticks and a clock were added. A Doll’s house light fitting was added to the ‘ceiling’. A metal frame has a picture added and tiny holly was placed on the top.

A scrap Christmas tree was placed in the lid and some small Christmas cards were made and strung above it. A star and lettering finish off this ambitious tin.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Number 24, Unto Us a Child is Born

24 Fin 2

The largest of the tins was covered with pink and gold handmade paper. Angel scraps were added and a title cut from random letters. White and gold snowflakes were added and the numbers added.

Bolts on each side of the tin carry a wired arc of stars, the central gold star being the Star of Bethlehem.

24 Fin 9

The lid of the tin removes completely and lies flat for the base to sit in it. Handmade fibre matting was used to make the flooring, some of which extends into the lid. The inside of the tin was constructed from paper and sticks to look like a stable. Bundles of sticks, a broom and a tiny terracotta jug made up the props. Wooden nativity figures were given gold wax highlights and placed inside. Lead sheep complete the scene.

To see how this tin was made, see the article ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


To Finish… Title Blocks


As a finishing touch I decided to make a title piece to go alongside the tins. I had some old wooden blocks and triangles that were about 2cm square. I glued the triangles together to make more cubes as there wasn’t enough of the cube blocks. The original paint colour was retained, but a little gold paint was brushed over them. I cut letters in various fonts to spell out the word ADVENT and applied the letters to all the surfaces and sealed. The blocks can be arranged in a variety of ways to show a mix of fonts.

for more on the making of some of the tins go to the article – ‘Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar’.


Alison Vainlo 2019

Making an Altered Tin Advent Calendar


This sister post to the ‘Altered Tins Advent Calendar’ post takes a look at some of the tins in more detail. Documenting the making processes I used and hopefully inspiring others to have a go.

First of all lets have a look at some of the basic tools and materials needed for altered tin making.



A good basic stock of crafting supplies is essential before embarking on any project, and if you’re a crafter you’re bound to have much of what’s required already, but a quick run through of my preferred supplies can get anyone started.


Materials 2

Glue – let’s face it we can’t get very far without our trusty adhesives!

  • PVA – is the standard for paper items.
  • Mod Podge –  great for sticking paper to metal, this also provides a sealant over the top of paper items too. My preference is the matt finish, but you can get it in glossy too.
  • Silicone adhesive – provides instant grab for sticking dimensional items and is indispensable for many crafts.
  • Gorilla Glue –  great for bonding metal to metal, it provides a really strong bond and is much more reliable than Super Glue.

Materials 3

Tools – my tool box is basically the same for anything I’m doing, but here are some hints on what is useful for tin crafts.

  • Crafting mats – essential if you’re a dining table crafter like me! I have a few green cutting mats in various states of scruffiness, and also a craft mat (the beige one) which is ideal to stop the cutting mats getting coated up with layers of glue. They are pretty thin and not much to look at but you can wipe virtually anything off them and keep your work area clean.
  • Cutting tools – scissors in various sizes of course and a rotary cutter for super straight edges. I do have lots of craft knives too although they are not pictured here.
  • Pliers and snips – for working with wire or anything that might need bending or is a bit tough to be snipped with scissors.
  • Punches – Single hole punches are great for tag making, a corner punch adds a rounded corner to paper or light card and fancy punches are great for snowflakes etc.
  • Hammer – for using with the hole punch or hammering kinks out of tin.
  • Tweezers and pokey tool – I can’t work without my tweezers, they are invaluable when working with tiny items. The pokey tool (with the blue rubber end above) is great for poking holes in paper or card items, and a variety of other uses which you will find if you invest in one.
  • Sandpaper and cocktail sticks – sandpaper is used for distressing items, smoothing edges and providing a ‘key’ for sticking smooth surfaces together. The cocktail sticks are used to apply silicone glue blobs to surfaces.

Materials 4

Art materials – Sometimes we just need to add that finishing touch to a project and these are some of my favourites.

  • Coloured wax – applied with a finger and buffed with a soft cloth, wax provides a lovely sheen and highlights any project.
  • Glitter glue – control where you want the glitter by brushing a small amount on to any surface. Comes in a variety of colours.
  • Acrylic paint – artist’s acrylic paint has many uses in craft, I used white as a base for snow cover. Iridescent metallic paints are my preferred choice for adding highlights without obscuring backgrounds. The Liquitex range has many colours and I love the transparency of them.
  • Ink pads – made for stamping in card crafts, ink pads have many other uses from edging paper items to making distressed backgrounds.



Now we have looked at the basic tools we need to consider what we will actually need to make an altered tin. Well a tin would be a good start.

Tins as Bought

Here are some of the tins I used in the advent calendar. Old tins can be bought from just a couple of pounds at vintage sales and antiques fairs. I like to have a stock of many sizes so that the right sized tin is available for the project I have in mind.

Having some idea of what you want your finished tin to look like is a good idea before you start. With the advent tins I designed each one first and made notes I could refer to later. What went into each tin very much depended on what I had available, but being a Christmas themed project I had to tailor my buying at the antiques fairs to the project, so quite a few items used were bought especially for this one project.

002 Ready to begin

So, with a box full of tins designed and ready for making, I think it’s time we looked at how a few of them were made up.

I will walk you through tin number 5, Robin Red Breast, from start to finish as it’s a good easy one to get you started, then we will look at making some of the more ambitious tins.


Making Tin 5, Robin Red Breast

5 Fin 1

The tin chosen for number 5 was an old ‘sample for study’ tin and measured approx 8cm x 6cm. After deciding on the scene I wanted to create inside and on the front, I put all the pieces together until all the other tins had been designed in the same way. When it was time to make up tin 5 it was easy to just open the tin and have all the contents there as well as the notes I had made during designing.

5 Making 2

As you can see, some of the items were prepared at the design stage so I could make sure things fitted and would look right.

5 Making 3

Always start with a clean tin. You don’t want the remains of the tin’s last contents lurking in the corners, or dust and grime from poor storage left in there, so using warm, soapy water and an old toothbrush, clean it as much as you can and dry with an old tea towel.

5 Making 6

I had already decided on two similar vintage cards to line the bottom and lid of the tin. One had a rip across it, but that would be somewhat hidden by the branch I was planning to put in front of it. The cards were slightly too long to fit in the tin as they were so I trimmed the bottoms to the correct length and used a corner rounder punch to take off the corners.

As I was planning to put red tinsel around the inside edge of the tin base, it didn’t matter that part of the embossed edging was missing from the card. However, it would be visible on the one in the lid, so I carefully cut the edging off the remaining piece of card I had removed and this could then be added to the card once in the tin lid.

5 Making 7

A layer of Mod Podge glue was applied to the backs of the cards and these were then stuck into place.

5 Making 9

With both cards stuck in place, the piece of cut edging was also glued into place.

5 Making 10

Once in place the join was barely noticeable.

5 Making 11

The next step was to add the tinsel edging. A piece of wired tinsel was cut to the right size to fit the interior of the tin.

5 Making 12

Silicone glue was applied to the inside edges of the tin with a cocktail stick.

5 Making 13

The tinsel was then inserted and pressed into the glue. It had a tendency to spring up at the join, so a bulldog clip held it in place until the glue began to dry.

5 Making 14

Whilst waiting for the glue to set I could get on with other parts of the tin. Lettering and a bow were to be added to the card in the lid so I prepared to do these next.

5 Making 15

A tiny amount of silicone glue stuck the bow to the card. The letters spelling out the number five were cut from an old children’s book of the 1940’s. The pages of those books are nice and thick and not pure white, so they suit most projects.

5 Making 17

Using tweezers, I inked each side of the cut letters by dipping them on to the surface of the ink pad. I then stuck them to the card using PVA glue.

5 Making 18

The letters were added above the robin’s head and under the bow.

5 Making 20

By now the silicone glue under the tinsel had set sufficiently to be able to remove the bulldog clip, and it was now time to move on to the next stage.

5 Making 21

Using a twig cut from a tree in the garden, I trimmed it to fit diagonally in front of the rip in the card background.

5 Making 22

Happy with the fit of the twig it was now time to add the robin. The little wired bird had been in my collection for many years and had been bought from a florist stall on the market. My intention was to wire the robin to the twig, but I thought it might look messy, so I removed the wire and glued it to the branch instead with silicone glue.

5 Making 23

All that was needed now was a finishing touch. There was another quite prominent rip in the backing card which I felt should be covered, so I chose some fake holly to stick into the corner.

5 Making 24

I kept all the bits of holly and berries that were on some old Christmas tree decorations, these are plastic and wire. I simply wound the wires together so that the leaves would sit neatly in the top corner of the tin.

5 Making 25

With the holly in place, the inside of the tin was now complete and it was time to start decorating the outside.

5 Making 28

As with all the tins, I only decorated the lids. I felt it was important to retain some of the tin’s original identity, and old tins have such a lovely worn patina that it would be shame to cover every surface.

Items chosen for this tin included, old green patterned paper (from a book fly-leaf), some artificial leaves and berries, a choice of number stickers in red and a tag to put the number on, a metal ring (from an old chunky necklace) and a section of an old Christmas card.

5 Making 27

A piece of the green paper was cut to the dimensions of the tin lid and stuck down with Mod Podge. The Mod Podge has more instant ‘grab’ than PVA so is ideal for sticking paper to metal. It doesn’t create bubbles or creases and the edges stick straight way without curling up.

5 Making 29

Using a large circle punch I punched out a section of an old Christmas card and stuck it to the underside of the metal ring with silicone glue to create a framed image.

5 Making 30

While the glue dried a little on the framed image, I chose a number sticker for the tag and applied it with tweezers.

5 Making 31

5 Making 32

I then added the small leaves and red berries to the tag. I decided against using the gold berries as the red ones matched the red number I had used. The leaves and berries were wired, so I trimmed them down, poked them through the hole in the tag and bent the wires over at the back.

5 Making 36

Blobs of silicone glue were applied to the back of the framed image and it was placed slightly south of centre on the tin to allow room for the tag decoration.

5 Making 39

I didn’t press the framed image down too far, I wanted it to have a raised appearance, and the great thing about silicone glue is that it acts like little cushions, keeping items at the required height even when dry.

5 Making 40

Silicone glue was applied to the back of the leaf/tag decoration and stuck to the top edge of the metal frame. The tin was now finished.

5 Making 42

Having gone through the making processes of tin five, step by step, let’s now have a look at how some of the other tins were made.


Making Tin Number 2, Metal Angel

2 Fin 1

The tin chosen for number two had a nice flat top, ideal for sticking down multiples of the same item. I knew I wanted to use rows of metal stars on a tin, so I carried the metal theme through to the inside contents of the tin.

2 Making 2

I had a metal angel which had been a tree decoration (see below). so I removed the thread from the top and the bead and bell from the bottom. It already had a little gold paint highlighting on it, but I added a little more to help the contours stand out a bit.

The rusty metal stars were bought online from the US. I had also bought some hearts, tags, small angels, wire and other rusty items from the same outlet. The key was from my key collection, bought at an antiques fair.

I picked out some old stamps and bus tickets in shades of lilac to contrast the rusty metals.

2 As Bought

The first thing I did was to set out all the rusty metal objects and brush some iridescent gold paint over them. The rust gave a nice aged patina, while the gold made them look more Christmassy.

2 Making 3

While the paint was drying on the metals, I turned my attention to the inside of the tin. The inside had a nice silvered patina already so I decided not to cover it entirely. I took eighteen lilac stamps and set them out in rows of three in the base and inside the lid, sticking them down with Mod Podge.

2 Making 4

By now the paint was dry on the metal objects so I made up the tags by layering  a heart and an angel on each one at an angle, and wiring them together with a piece of twisted rusty wire.

2 Making 6

While the glue dried on the tags I worked on the tin lid. Putting together a collage of layered bus tickets and stamps to cover most of the top of the tin.

2 Making 7

Back to the inside now and I decided to make use of the hanging loop on the white angel by suspending it from the top of the tin. Using a small hook, I pushed it into one of the holes in a button to create a flat surface to stick to the tin. Once the hook and button were attached and dry, I hung the angel on to it, but still stuck the back of the angel into the back of the tin, so it doesn’t rattle around. One of the small rusty stars was added to one of the stamps as a detail.

The two layered tags were stuck into the tin lid and a large star was attached above.

2 Making 8

The twisted wire on the tags was cut down and bent into position above the tags.

2 Making 9

Finally, the rest of the rusty stars and the key, which had a number two stuck to the ring end, were arranged on the tin lid and stuck down with silicone glue.

2 Making 11


Making Tin Number 3, We Three Kings

3 Fin 1

The inspiration for this little tin came from a Christmas card I had made years ago. Featuring a photo of three boys with added crowns, it had the title ‘We Three Kings’ and was always a favourite make of mine, and one I wanted to revisit.

XM08 33

With the three kings idea as a starting point, I chose a small French pastilles tin, an old cap badge ‘crown’, a photo, some stamps, background papers, a scrap for the front, and some red tinsel.

3 Making 3

The lid of the tin had a dent in the top, so before I started I covered the back of it with kitchen paper and gave it a few taps with a hammer.

3 Making 2

The inside base of the tin was covered with red, flocked paper and given a few brush strokes of silver paint. Then the red tinsel was put into the edges. The lid was lined with script paper. I cut round a copied image of three boys and fit them over the top.

3 Making 5


3 Making 4

The crowns were hand cut from three old stamps and then painted over with iridescent silver paint.

3 Making 6

Once the crowns were on the heads I punched out some tiny silver card dots to finish them. The number letters were added underneath.

3 Making 7

I cut the lugs off the back of the cap badge with snips to make it flatter and easier to stick in to the tin. It was then stuck in using silicone glue. The words were cut from a children’s book and stuck in around the crown.

3 Making 9

The front of the tin was covered with script paper. The scrap ‘king’ was taken out of an old scrap book. He was full length, so I cut him down to fit the tin. There was a circle on the front of the urn, so I added a punched out number ‘3’ to it.

3 Making 10

The front of the tin was finished off with a few sequin stars.

3 Making 11

One problem I had with the smaller tins was getting them to stand on end when closed. I got around that problem with this tin by gluing a Meccano bracket on the back as a sort of ‘stand’. It worked for this tin, but the other small tins were too front heavy and still toppled over when stood up. In the end I had to use more Meccano brackets as ‘cradles’ for them to prop up in (see main article Altered Tins Advent Calendar).

3 Making 12


Making Tin Number 6, By The Tree

6 Fin 2

When looking through the things I have collected, sometimes ideas will come from just putting one or two items together in a tin. That is exactly what happened with this tin. I had a doll I wanted to use and picked up a flat, wooden Christmas tree, sat them in a tin and took it from there.

6 Fin 6

The tin I chose was an old Craven A cigarette tin, which was nice and deep, but not too big. The edge of the tin lid had a kink in it so that was soon hammered out.

6 Making 2


6 Making 1

6 Making 3  6 Making 4

I cut some scrapbooking paper which resembled wallpaper to fit three sides of the tin. I also cut a piece of cream card for the ceiling, and a piece of green velvet paper for the carpet.

6 Making 6

All three pieces were stuck in with Mod Podge glue and while it dried it was time to work on the contents.

6 Making 9

The wooden Christmas Tree was originally a tree decoration and was just the right size for the tin, however, the colour wasn’t right. I could have painted it, but I’m not always happy with painted results, so I found some green handmade paper that had a glittery pattern on it and decided to cover it instead.

6 Making 7

The tree was stuck down to the paper and then cut around to give this finished result.

6 Making 8

I then added a little red paper to make a ‘pot’ for the tree, and chose some gems and stars to decorate it.

6 Making 12

The doll was picked up at an antiques fair and on reflection, I think she is actually a coronation doll. Her dress resembles a coronation gown and she is wearing a lace crown, which has become a bit squashed over time. I decided to leave the doll untouched and place her in the tin as she was.

6 Making 19

Then it was on to the finer details. I made three gifts from stacked up pieces of corrugated card which I glued together, covered with craft paper and tied with fancy thread.

6 Making 22

I also made a paper chain to hang from the ceiling. This was done by cutting narrow strips of paper and gluing them together in the same way as full size paper chains are made. It was very fiddly and mostly done with the aid of tweezers.

6 Making 24

While all the glue dried on everything I turned my attentions to the inside of the tin lid. I found an old greeting card which fitted perfectly into the space and stuck it in. Adding buttons to the corners and number letters.

6 Making 16

Next it was time to start assembling the rest of the tin. The tree was stuck into the back first then a few blobs of silicone glue were applied to the back of the doll and she was placed into the corner.

6 Making 20

The little presents were then added to the ‘floor’, in front of the tree.

6 Making 23

Finally, the tiny paper chain was glued into place on the ‘ceiling’.

6 Making 27

For the tin lid I cut some strips of vintage lace and rik rak to stick on the front.

6 Making 28

I stuck them down with a little silicone glue and covered the joins with the rik rak.

6 Making 29

I removed a decorative panel from an old Christmas card and cut an oval of cream paper to back it with. I also chose some buttons to put on the tin.

6 Making 30

To finish the tin, the decorative panel was added to the centre and the buttons placed above and below. I added some silky thread to the buttons and tied it. I added a gold number ‘6’ to the plain button.

6 Making 31

As a finishing touch I added a little metal door knob to the top of the tin.

6 Fin 1 (2)


Making Tin Number 11, Wassail

11 Fin 1

Wassailing is a tradition that goes back centuries, where a spiced drink was passed around in a cup, bowl or mug. It’s also an old term for baubles, Wassail Cups as they were known. This tin has plenty of Wassail Cups, hence the name.

The idea for this tin came from the way new baubles used to be packaged, in a cardboard carton, each bauble in it’s own tissue lined compartment.

For this project I would need a fairly deep tin, so I chose this old sweet tin that I’ve actually had for donkey’s years and came from my Grandmother’s I think.

11 Making 1

The first thing I had to do was construct the compartments for the baubles to sit in. Measuring the length and the width I cut pieces of strong cardboard and slotted them together.

11 Making 2

The card compartments were fitted into the tin and secured with a little silicone glue.

11 Making 3

Next I cut some small squares of black tissue paper, one for each compartment.

11 Making 5

With a little glue on each piece of tissue, they were eased into each well and wrapped over the sides to completely cover the card.

11 Making 6

11 Making 7

The baubles I had were those small ones meant for putting on gifts as decoration. I bought three packs in gold, silver and sparkly white. Using silicone glue I stuck a bauble in each well, arranging them at different angles so they didn’t look too uniform.

11 Making 8

The finishing touch was a tag with the word Wassail spelled out in tiny letters, and tied on to one of the baubles with thread.

11 Making 9

The next step was to decorate the inside lid. I covered it with textured black paper and then got together a card bauble left over from a card making kit, a silver snowflake from one of last year’s Christmas cards, a gem stone and an oval plaque.

11 Making 10

The gold bauble was placed in diagonally with the snowflake positioned near the top. The silver plaque was distressed before adding the number letters and threads. It was then added to the bottom. The inside was now complete.

11 Making 11

More of the black textured paper was stuck on to the outside of the lid, ready for embellishment.

11 Making 12

For the embellishments, I made a candy cane out of gold glitter card and placed it under an advert for baubles. I cut a length of gold thread and added two tiny tags before looping the thread under the candy cane. This I did before sticking it down completely. I added the numbers to the tags and a piece of scrap holly to the advert to finish.

11 Making 13


Making Tin Number 15, Christmas Compendium

15 Fin 1

The idea for this tin came from some Christmas shadow boxes I’d seen online. Basically, a collection of items displayed on their own little shelf.

15 Making 1

I chose quite a large tin so I could get plenty of things in it. For the contents I chose a plaster Santa cake decoration, a vintage Santa bulb, a gold bell and some leaves, a wreath, a candy cane and some metal items for the inside lid. I also chose a vintage greeting card for the front of the tin.

As with the Wassail tin (number 11 above), I needed to make some little shelves, so I roughly laid all the items in the tin to see where the shelves would go, measured up and cut some card. I joined the uprights to the straights with glue.

15 Making 3

While waiting for the clue to dry on the shelves I turned my attention to backgrounds for the tin. I decided to use a number of old receipts collaged together.

15 Making 4

I ripped up the receipts and stuck the pieces into the tin with Mod Podge glue.

15 Making 5

I covered all sides of the tin base and also the inside of the lid.

15 Making 6

I then covered the shelves with pieces of the receipts, wrapping them over the joins to strengthen them.

15 Making 7

Next I took my white iridescent paint and coated all that I had covered with paper. This would give a nice sheen without obscuring the print on the paper.

15 Making 8

Once the paint was dry I stuck the shelves into the tin with silicone glue.

15 Making 9

Next I started to glue in the items.

15 Making 11

I soon realized that I had unwittingly chosen red, white and green items, so I added little additions to carry the colour scheme through. The teddy was given a red bow, green holly and red berries were added to the bulb and bell compartments. A gold painted rusty star was also added to tie in with the items to go in the lid.

15 Making 13

For the items inside the lid I wanted to keep them to gold and silver, so I painted a rusted metal house, angel and heart. I added the number letters to the house.

15 Making 14

The metal items were arranged in two rows, alternating the gold and silver. Items used were, two silver stars, a gold heart, a gold house, a silver spiral, a silver tree and a gold angel.

15 Making 16

The finished interior got another couple of additions in the form of a gold ‘bauble’ next to the candy cane, and a small tag with two stars on it, stuck to the front of one of the shelves.

15 Making 17

Now to decorate the front of the tin. By some stroke of luck I had a vintage greeting card just to right size to cover the lid. I also chose a metal disc and ring for the number and cut some words and letters for inside the card.

15 Making 18

I wanted to show as much of the card as I could so I decided it might be nice if it were possible to open it. Despite the fact that it was a New Year card I still thought it would be OK to use.

I always remember my childhood Advent calendar telling me it was ‘only ten days to Christmas’ when I got to the number 15 door, so I decided to replicate that and put words and letters into a space in the card.

15 Making 19

I decided on a ribbon tied closure for the card so I cut a length of red narrow ribbon and stuck it with tape to the back of the card. This would hold it in place until it was stuck to the tin.

15 Making 21

The card was then stuck to the tin lid with silicone glue.

15 Making 23

The metal disc and ring (both off jewellery) were stuck together and a punched out number 15 was placed in the centre.

15 Making 24

The ribbon was tied to the side so as not to cover the card, and the front was now complete.

15 Making 26

As a finishing touch I painted a wooden drawer knob gold and attached it to the top of the tin.

15 Making 28


Making Tin Number 16, Santa in the Snow

16 Fin 2

Sometimes ideas came from the objects I had at hand and this was the case with tin 16. I had a couple of tiny fir trees that I’d taken out of an old tree decoration, and a pair of Santa earrings I no longer wanted. So I decided to make a scene centered around them.

I chose a fairly small, but deep tin, some items to stick inside the lid and some Christmas picks to make an arrangement for the front of the tin.

16 Making 1

For the backgrounds I chose a black sparkly card to resemble a starry night. I lined the inside of the tin and the inside of the lid with it.

16 Making 2

I wanted the scene to be set in really deep ‘snow’, and needed to cover the rough bottoms of the trees. I stuck the trees to the back of the tin with silicone glue at a height I estimated to be right for the snow line.

16 Making 3

I wanted the Santa to stand in front of the trees so I had to work out a way of keeping him on top of the snow without him sinking through it. After much thought I came up with a way to stick the Santa to the bottom of the tin so he would be secure. I took the tube out of an empty liquid soap dispenser and cut a piece off to the correct height. I cut  it at an angle on one end to fit the underside of Santa.

16 Making 4

The angled end of the tube was glued to Santa’s bottom and left to dry.

16 Making 7

The tube wouldn’t be seen once covered with cotton wool snow.

16 Making 6

When the glue on the tube had set I inserted it into the tin floor using more silicone glue and left it to dry.

16 Making 9

While waiting for the glue to dry I put the pieces for the inside lid together. A panel of script paper was placed over the black paper and a scrap angel was added. Some tiny holly was placed at the bottom and the number letters were put in.

Once the tube holding the Santa was set firm I started to build up the snow by pushing in pieces of cotton wool on to silicone glue applied to the inside of the tin.

16 Making 11

Once the cotton wool snow was in place I brushed on some glitter glue to finish. A silver moon charm was finally added to the back of the tin.

16 Making 12

I stuck some black textured paper to the front of the tin.

16 Making 10

I made a decoration to go on front of the tin. I took some assorted silver flowers and berries and added an acrylic star on wire, some holly leaves and red berries and wired them all together. I wrapped the stems in green florist tape to secure.

16 Making 5

A red bow was added as a finishing touch.

16 Making 8

The floral arrangement was stuck to the tin lid with silicone glue. I added a small silver frame to display the numbers and threaded a little narrow ribbon through the loop on the top. The frame covered the wrapped ends of the floral arrangement.

16 Making 13


Making Tin Number 23, Christmas Fireside

23 Fin 1

Among my collection I have quite a few doll’s house miniatures, so I came up with a fireside scene which would be perfect for using some of them.

I chose a nice large tobacco tin and some scrapbooking paper which resembled wallpaper. I also cut some cream card for a ceiling, mustard velvet paper for a carpet and a smaller piece of cream card for a hearth.

23 Making 1

I lined the inside of the tin and the tin lid with the scrapbooking paper.

23 Making 13

I had a light fitting I wanted to attach to the tin ‘ceiling’, so I made a hole in the card where I wanted it to sit. I passed some strong thread through the hole in the light fitting and then into the hole in the card.

23 Making 6

I stuck the ends of the thread to the card with tape to secure it while it was inserted in the tin.

23 Making 8

The light fitting was now secured to the card and ready for insertion into the tin.

23 Making 7

Once the card ceiling was stuck into place I kept the light fitting from flopping over by propping it with a little Blu-tack behind it. One the glue had set the Blu-tack was removed and the light fitting hung straight.

23 Making 14

I had a plaster doll’s house fireplace so all I needed to do was make it look as if a it had a roaring fire inside it. I took some black card to put behind the fireplace and made some ‘flames’ from yellow, orange and red paper.

23 Making 15

A square of black card was stuck to the back of the fireplace in readiness for the flames.

23 Making 16

The flames were drawn freehand on tracing paper as ‘patterns’ for the actual flames, I then cut them out of my chosen paper, adding a few holes to look more realistic.

23 Making 18

I layered the flames together leaving room at the bottom for a grate and some ‘coals’.

23 Making 19

Improvisation is always good when you don’t have the actual item you need. I needed a grate so I fashioned one from a piece of curved foil covered with a short length of paper lace from an old greeting card.

23 Making 20

After giving the grate a coat of black paint I painted over it in gold as the black looked too dull.

23 Making 24

After inserting the cream card ‘hearth’, the fireplace was stuck into the tin with silicone glue.

23 Making 30

The ‘grate’ was added in front of the fireplace and the gap inside was filled with rolled up balls of black tissue paper as coals.

23 Making 31

Each tissue ball was glued in place until the bottom of the flames was covered.

23 Making 32

For a picture on the wall I cut out a small image of a lady and put it into a round metal frame. The holly decoration would go above it.

23 Making 33

The picture frame was stuck to the back of the tin and the holly decoration covers the loop.

23 Making 34

Items to put on the mantelpiece included a small wooden clock and two candle sticks.

23 Making 35

The items were stuck to the mantelpiece.

23 Making 36

To make a Christmas garland for the fireplace I took a ready made small wreath and opened it out flat, removing the bow.

23 Making 37

As the wreath was wired, I bent it into a ‘W’ shape and made two new bows to go on either end. I also made some socks to hang on the garland, although they were never used. The socks looked too much so I left them off.

23 Making 38

The garland was stuck to the front of the fireplace with some silicone glue and the bows added.

23 Making 39

To decorate the inside of the lid I cut a scrap Christmas tree and made some tiny Christmas cards from printed images on card, folded over and ‘hung’ from a line above the tree.

23 Making 41

The number letters were added to each side of the tree’s pot to finish.

23 Making 42

For the front of the tin, I covered the lid with a piece of burgundy scrapbooking paper with a distressed design. I added a large Santa scrap and a dimensional holly scrap left over from a card making kit. I added the glittery number stickers but felt it needed something else to balance the composition, so I added DEC for December. I also took four of the glittery full stops from the letter sheet and applied them to the corners to look like glittery rivets.

23 Making 43

As is the case with most of these old tobacco tins, there was a series of holes in each end. The ones at the top were quite noticeable, especially with the card of the ‘ceiling’ showing through from the inside. I decided to find something I could cover the holes with.

23 Making 44

I tried large buttons, Meccano discs and metal charms, but finally settled on an oval mill check and a small door knob.

23 Making 45

Using Gorilla Glue I stuck the mill check down first then stuck the door knob on top. It really neatened the look of the tin and finished it off perfectly.

23 Making 46



Making Tin Number 24, Unto Us A Child Is Born

24 Fin 1

The final and largest tin in the series, and it needed to be something special. My old traditional Advent calendars always ended with a nativity scene in the final window, and that is what I wanted. It nearly didn’t happen though. I searched and searched for a set of nativity figures at every antiques fair I went to, but then finally, in January of this year I dropped on a set of olive wood carved figures for just £4. At first I thought they would be too large, but I bought them anyway as they were so cheap.

24 As Bought 2

I tried fitting the figures in a few different tins, but then found this old Oxo tin and they fitted perfectly. The only problem was that this tin didn’t have a hinged lid like all the others I’d used, it came off completely. So the next challenge was to find a way of making it work within the series. I worked out that if I took the lid off, I could place it face down and stand the body of the tin upright in the back of the lid, thus creating a space outside the confines of the tin for the scene to expand.

24 Making 1

As with any nativity scene you need a stable, and as I got to work designing it I realized it would be easier to construct it there and then rather than try to label all the bits for making later. I didn’t photograph this process, so I can only describe what I did.

First of all I pasted in some deep blue mulberry paper for the sky, then I chose a textured paper that resembled mud walling and lined the ‘walls’ and ‘ceiling’ with it. For the flooring I chose a really thick mat like paper. Made from fibres it is quite rough looking and made an ideal stable floor. Next I went into the garden and chopped a few twigs off a tree. I then trimmed them and fitted them into the tin to form the construction of the stable. I used an angled twig to form a crook beam at the front.

24 Making 2

To extend the flooring into the tin lid I cut a piece of the fibre matting half the width of the lid and stuck it down.

24 Making 3

When the body of the tin is stood in the lid the flooring is deep enough to match up with that inside the tin.

24 Making 4

With construction complete I gathered some items that I could use as props in the scene.

24 Making 5

Before getting too carried away with the contents I wanted to add a Star of Bethlehem over the tin. I had a coil of wired rusty stars and decided to use this to create an arc of stars over the tin.

24 Making 6

I cut two lengths of wire and twisted them slightly together. For the Star of Bethlehem I took a large rusty star and painted it gold before gluing it to one of the smaller stars.

24 Making 7

To attach the wired stars to the tin I needed two ‘lugs’ to fasten them to. I got a couple of bolts to stick to the sides of the tin.

24 Making 9

I knew from experience it is not easy to stick metal bolts to tins, so I used the strongest glue I had, Gorilla Glue, and stuck the first bolt on. I taped it with masking tape to keep it from falling off and stuck the other one on the opposite side. One of the bolts did fall off a couple of times, but I persevered and got them to stick nice and strongly in the end.

24 Making 10

With the bolts in place it was now a case of attaching the wire.


24 Making 16

The ends of the wire were wrapped around the bolts with the aid of pliers.

24 Making 17

By some miracle it worked and I now had an arc of stars with a Star of Bethlehem stretching over the top of the tin.

24 Making 18

Back to the contents and I made a couple of stick bundles from craft willow and a broom from a twig and more willow. I also made a loop of linen thread to look like rope and chose a tiny terracotta jug.

24 Making 19

I set the props in the tin and gave the wooden figures a rub over with gold wax to lift them. I stuck the Mary and Joseph figures to the floor.

24 Making 21

A sticker in the plain part of the lid would tell any future owners how to display this tin when open.

24 Making 22

For the outer lid decoration I chose some pink and gold craft paper and some scrap angels.

24 Making 11

I covered the lid with the paper and arranged the angels in a row. I cut some ransom note style letters for the title and placed them underneath. The number stickers were stuck on a couple of paper tiles and the background filled with white and gold snowflakes.

24 Making 14

The number letters were added to the front rim of the lid so they would be visible when the tin was displayed in the open position.

24 Making 12

The finished tin in the open position now has the added loose items. The manger and sheep are not stuck down and are simply stored inside the tin when not open.

24 Making 23


To Conclude…

So there we are, 24 tins made and ready for next Advent time. I hope this has been an informative and inspiring couple of articles. Perhaps you’ll make your own Tin Advent Calendar? If that seems too daunting, how about doing just one Christmas tin as a decoration? It’s easier than you think and very enjoyable!


Alison Vainlo 2019

Pricetag 2 & 3

1 Pricetag 2-vert

The tenth and eleventh of eleven new collages.


Tags for Art’s Sake

Readers will probably be familiar with my previous work, Pricetag (or Pricetag 1), which I made in 2007. Well that piece, after twelve years on my wall was falling apart, mainly due to it being unprotected by any sort of frame, so I dismantled it and salvaged what I could from it.


The original Pricetag, made in 2007

The original Pricetag was based on Sarah Lugg’s many tag art collages, and I have always enjoyed emulating her style with this medium. Therefore I just had to construct two new Pricetag collages. Shown one above the other in the image above, they will actually be displayed side by side, but for space purposes on here they are shown above and below each other.

Sarah Lugg 23

An example of Sarah Lugg’s tag art



The largest box frames I could get were A2, so slightly smaller than the first Pricetag, which was A1 size. I had managed to fit 26 assorted sized tags on my original, but I had to be content with less for these new versions. I designed a layout of 16 tags (in three sizes) for each frame, 32 tags in total. They would be made up individually and stuck directly to the white backboard from the frames.

I drew around each size of tag multiple times on A4 sheets and used these templates to draw on my designs. As each one was designed I placed all the items in grip seal bags and numbered them to correspond with the designs.

Tags to make 2

The image above shows the bags of chosen items and a pile of design sheets.


Making Up

It was a very satisfying process to just sit and make up the 32 tags. I would choose where on the backgrounds they would go when they were all made up. While most of the tags are quite random in design, I did make a few that resembled each other, this would tie the two designs together.

L7 Sealed 1-horz

In this example (above) I have designed these two tags with stamps hanging below, one for each frame.

S M L 1

An example of the three tag sizes used – small 8 x 4 cm; medium 12 x 6 cm; large 15 x 7.5 cm. Each was covered in a background paper, or cut directly from a postcard or photo and decorated with items I wanted to use.

Tags made 2

Soon I had a tray full of made up tags and it was time to stick them to the backboards.

I laid them out and chose where to place each tag. I then took my paper layout plan and made small holes at the corners of each tag drawing. I then placed the paper over the backboards and put a pencil dot through each hole. This created a grid of dots from which I could position each tag correctly. The tags were stuck down with silicone glue and left to dry thoroughly before framing as some of them were quite heavy.


Pricetag 2

1 Pricetag 2

Items included, starting with the top row, left to right – Tag made from a photo, with an empty slide mount, paper, ribbon, wax leaf, buttons and the word ‘Framed’; 3 vintage plant labels with a paper flower, word ‘Gardening’ and a button; rows of pearl buttons and a button hook; 2 dried daisies under wire mesh with a paper butterfly; a piece of a stamp album page with stamps, shells and a dried starfish; 2 clock keys with a watch face and a stamp.

Six small tags – wired flowers and leaves with two tiny tags and a plaster keyhole; Pharmacy label and a vintage pill bottle; a silver mustard spoon with metal stars and tiny spoon on a tag; two pottery heads on silk organza and a tiny paper flower; a piece of a page from a book of coupon stamps with two rusted metal stars painted silver, with a tiny tag and star charm; three tiny pottery figures with a glass heart and tiny tag with the words ‘glass heart’.

Four large tags – photo, stamps, wired flowers and a painted number; part of an old laundry book with a vintage dolly peg and three old price labels; a plaster bird, cigarette card, old stamp and tags with words ‘bird song’; tuning fork, metal music notes and treble clef, music advert and tiny tags with the words ‘tune up’.


Pricetag 3

2 Pricetag 3

Items included, starting with the four large tags, left to right – scissors, needle case and buttons; hat feathers, wax leaves, smaller silk covered tag, hat brooch, ribbon and the word ‘millinery’; pressed daisies under metal mesh, vintage sentiment card, paper butterfly, tiny tag with butterfly charm; tag cut from postcard, skeleton leaf, clock hand, wired flowers, wax seal and stamps.

Six small tags – Paris map, paper butterfly, Eiffel Tower charm; mother-of-pearl buckle, paper, ribbon, button; stamps, pottery leg, tiny tag with word ‘stamp’; tag made from postcard with clock key and heart charm; part of a pottery doll, tiny tag with shells, word ‘doll’; piece of recipe book page with doll’s house rolling pin, tiny tag with word ‘roll’;

Bottom row – tag made from glass manufacturer’s postcard, aqua glass bottle with lace ribbon around neck, stamps and wired flowers, tiny tag with word ‘glass’; pharmacy label with old aspirin bottle, old advert and word ‘painkiller’; tag covered with foreign bank note, tiny leather purse, Victorian coin, tiny tag with a ‘£’ sign; rows of shell buttons, strip of silk organza with dried starfish and word ‘star’; small model knife and fork, doll’s house knife and fork, tiny label with word ‘eat’; tag cut from a photo, small photo frame, crucifix, two tiny tags and heart charm.

To see close up photos of each tag please visit The Magpie Crafter Facebook page.


Alison Vainlo 2019