Tuesday, November 25, 2008
recycle bin advent calendar
it may sound silly, but i was recently freaking out about advent calendars. i'd say it officially kept me awake at night (once). i wanted to make just the right kind, something we'd keep and use year after year -- but i didn't have the time to make the sort of thing i had in mind. i meant to start on it this past summer, but then -- oh yeah -- i went and had a baby. i guess that took some of my free time.
but then i was filtering through the dozens and dozens of catalogs in our stack of mail that was held during our recent month away... and i knew just what to do. i decided we'd make an advent calendar entirely from the recycle bin (okay. plus some glue and tape). bonuses: 1. eva gets to help make it. turns out she's a whiz kid at cutting out squares. 2. it's cheap. 3. it's green. 4. it can be completed in fewer than four months.
i bought a rosemary topiary (shaped like a baby-sized christmas tree), and i've chosen to fill our advent calendar with tiny ornaments for our "tree". (what? no chocolate? i'm catching flack from everyone about that... everyone but my kid, that is, because she doesn't know what she's missing.) i'm making tiny ornaments out of scraps of things we have around, like a pipe cleaner candy cane, a peanut shell painted sliver, some jingle bells, craft pompoms strung on a twist-tie to make a little wreath, cardboard star covered with scraps of foil, etc. i've only made seven or so thus far, but i like that i only have to stay a few days ahead, and can complete the rest at my leisure. :)
so here you go, a mini tutorial of how we made our advent calendar. sorry, no photos of the process itself, but it's not terribly difficult. (in fact, sorry for the state of these photos in general -- the camera fell off the roof of a car on a mountain highway a few months ago, and the various rubber bands and wedges of paper are no longer sufficient to keep it working... it's no longer able to focus, manually or otherwise. hmm... guess what we're buying each other for christmas?)
supplies & tools
2-3 brown paper grocery bags (one with handles if possible)
ad circulars/newspaper inserts (optional)
a holiday-obsessed preschooler, if you have one handy
1. collect and peruse catalogs
unless you're conscientious like my mother and have called the 800-number of every company that sends you junk mail to get off their mailing list, you probably have stacks of catalogs and magazines arriving in your mailbox this time of year. rip out images you think might be useful -- beyond the obvious holiday and winter scenes, look for areas of solid colors interesting backgrounds. (most of my pockets are decorated collage-styls, even when it may look like a single image -- a person has to get creative to cover up ad copy. :)
2. find those ad circulars in your recycle bin
you need numbers. large numbers! catalogs are far too tasteful to list their prices in giant yellow 48-point font -- so you'll have to look in the ad inserts. these show up in my mailbox, or if you get the newspaper, that would be helpful. cut out all the numbers you think you'll need, but don't stress that nothing seems to cost $17.23... you may have to hand write the 17 and 23 (but i promise you'll find endless options for the 9).
3. create the backing of the calendar
to make the backing, you need to open up a brown bag (the one with a handle if you have it) into a long strip. cut down the two narrow sides of the bag, veering out to the corners at the bottom (basically, just cut along the upside-down Y-shaped fold lines on the side panels). flatten bag with "wrong"/printed side facing up. roll the side flaps until they are hidden on the back of the bag and tape in place. you can choose to cut them off or simply fold & glue them to the back, but i found rolling them provides more structural support along the sides, allowing the advent calendar to hold more weight without bowing and bending. cut a strip from another bag, roll it up, and tape it along the top edge of your calendar to create additional reinforcement there. if your bag has handles, you can remove the one from the bottom if you like.
4. cut dozens of pockets (two dozens, to be exact)
next you need to cut out 24 pockets from the additional brown bags. i made my pockets 3" wide and 3.25" tall because that's what fit on the paper bag i had (8 rows of three), but you can adjust this as needed. i found triangular-shaped gussets on the sides of the pockets allowed larger items to sit comfortably inside -- to form these, i flared out at a 30 degree angle from the bottom corner of the pockets (see template -- you can eyeball this if your protractor isn't handy). don't forget those flaps around each side which allow it to be glued in place. cut out one pocket the way you like it, then trace and cut the rest. (i stacked & cut five layers of brown paper at once to speed this up.)
5. prefold the pockets
it will make your life easier if you prefold your pockets before decorating them. to do this, cut a piece of cardstock (magazine reply cards are perfect for this) the size of your finished pocket. lay it in position over one of your pocket pieces, then fold against the cardstock template. (this is much faster than tracing lines in place then carefully folding each one.) then fold up the gluing flaps, and finally fold each gusset into place behind the pocket (along the dotted line in my template).
6. decorate your pockets
now the fun part! decorate the pockets with the pieces you tore out of the catalogs. tip: find that piece of cardstock you used to help you fold the pockets. place it behind an image you plan to use and hold this up to the light. position it where you like, then trace around the cardstock and cut out the image for a fast way to get pieces just the right size. add more images until you're happy.
eva had a grand time helping me with this part, doing much of the cutting and a bit of the gluing. she selected images i never would have thought of (like the hopscotch girl, or the flowered rug). and surprise, surprise -- the whole project was more fun and the end result is far more special because i followed her lead rather thank staying overly invested in a picture-perfect result (see? i'm learning, slowly but surely...)
7. number away...
arrange the pockets on your calendar backing the way you like before adding numbers -- this way you can find an arrangement you're happy with. add the cut-out numbers you found, or hand-draw numbers, or both.
8. glue and tape pockets in place
i found it worked to use tape for the sides of the pockets (where the tape could be hidden inside the pockets) but glue for the bottom edges (where tape would show).
9. fill and enjoy
hang up your calendar by the handle (if it has one), and fill with whatever you like. if you're worried about a wee one sneaking ahead a bit, you can secure the filled pockets closed with decorative stickers or tape. or just hang it really high up on the wall.
i can't even describe how excited my three-year-old is about her advent calendar. and it has a very practical purpose as well -- i don't have to try to answer "when will it be christmas?" on an hourly basis. now, just daily. :)
and maybe next year i'll create the heirloom advent calendar i seem to think i should be making... or maybe this is it? as eva would say, "we'll just have to wait and see."