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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
A layer of Mod Podge glue was applied to the backs of the cards and these were then stuck into place.
With both cards stuck in place, the piece of cut edging was also glued into place.
Once in place the join was barely noticeable.
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.
Silicone glue was applied to the inside edges of the tin with a cocktail stick.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The letters were added above the robin’s head and under the bow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the holly in place, the inside of the tin was now complete and it was time to start decorating the outside.
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.
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.
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.
While the glue dried a little on the framed image, I chose a number sticker for the tag and applied it with tweezers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The twisted wire on the tags was cut down and bent into position above the tags.
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.
Making Tin Number 3, We Three Kings
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.
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.
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.
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.
The crowns were hand cut from three old stamps and then painted over with iridescent silver paint.
Once the crowns were on the heads I punched out some tiny silver card dots to finish them. The number letters were added underneath.
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.
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.
The front of the tin was finished off with a few sequin stars.
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).
Making Tin Number 6, By The Tree
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.
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.
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.
All three pieces were stuck in with Mod Podge glue and while it dried it was time to work on the contents.
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.
The tree was stuck down to the paper and then cut around to give this finished result.
I then added a little red paper to make a ‘pot’ for the tree, and chose some gems and stars to decorate it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The little presents were then added to the ‘floor’, in front of the tree.
Finally, the tiny paper chain was glued into place on the ‘ceiling’.
For the tin lid I cut some strips of vintage lace and rik rak to stick on the front.
I stuck them down with a little silicone glue and covered the joins with the rik rak.
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.
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.
As a finishing touch I added a little metal door knob to the top of the tin.
Making Tin Number 11, Wassail
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.
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.
The card compartments were fitted into the tin and secured with a little silicone glue.
Next I cut some small squares of black tissue paper, one for each compartment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More of the black textured paper was stuck on to the outside of the lid, ready for embellishment.
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.
Making Tin Number 15, Christmas Compendium
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.
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.
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.
I ripped up the receipts and stuck the pieces into the tin with Mod Podge glue.
I covered all sides of the tin base and also the inside of the lid.
I then covered the shelves with pieces of the receipts, wrapping them over the joins to strengthen them.
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.
Once the paint was dry I stuck the shelves into the tin with silicone glue.
Next I started to glue in the items.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The card was then stuck to the tin lid with silicone glue.
The metal disc and ring (both off jewellery) were stuck together and a punched out number 15 was placed in the centre.
The ribbon was tied to the side so as not to cover the card, and the front was now complete.
As a finishing touch I painted a wooden drawer knob gold and attached it to the top of the tin.
Making Tin Number 16, Santa in the Snow
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.
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.
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.
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.
The angled end of the tube was glued to Santa’s bottom and left to dry.
The tube wouldn’t be seen once covered with cotton wool snow.
When the glue on the tube had set I inserted it into the tin floor using more silicone glue and left it to dry.
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.
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.
I stuck some black textured paper to the front of the tin.
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.
A red bow was added as a finishing touch.
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.
Making Tin Number 23, Christmas Fireside
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.
I lined the inside of the tin and the tin lid with the scrapbooking paper.
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.
I stuck the ends of the thread to the card with tape to secure it while it was inserted in the tin.
The light fitting was now secured to the card and ready for insertion into the tin.
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.
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.
A square of black card was stuck to the back of the fireplace in readiness for the flames.
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.
I layered the flames together leaving room at the bottom for a grate and some ‘coals’.
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.
After giving the grate a coat of black paint I painted over it in gold as the black looked too dull.
After inserting the cream card ‘hearth’, the fireplace was stuck into the tin with silicone glue.
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.
Each tissue ball was glued in place until the bottom of the flames was covered.
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.
The picture frame was stuck to the back of the tin and the holly decoration covers the loop.
Items to put on the mantelpiece included a small wooden clock and two candle sticks.
The items were stuck to the mantelpiece.
To make a Christmas garland for the fireplace I took a ready made small wreath and opened it out flat, removing the bow.
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.
The garland was stuck to the front of the fireplace with some silicone glue and the bows added.
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.
The number letters were added to each side of the tree’s pot to finish.
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.
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.
I tried large buttons, Meccano discs and metal charms, but finally settled on an oval mill check and a small door knob.
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.
Making Tin Number 24, Unto Us A Child Is Born
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the body of the tin is stood in the lid the flooring is deep enough to match up with that inside the tin.
With construction complete I gathered some items that I could use as props in the scene.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the bolts in place it was now a case of attaching the wire.
The ends of the wire were wrapped around the bolts with the aid of pliers.
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.
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.
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.
A sticker in the plain part of the lid would tell any future owners how to display this tin when open.
For the outer lid decoration I chose some pink and gold craft paper and some scrap angels.
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.
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.
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.
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