Saturday, November 28, 2009

DEMO: Matchbox Advent Calendar

Just barely in time for the lovely month of December, I'd love to share an advent calendar project idea . . . For those of you growing up in Christian households, the advent calendar is used to count down the days until Christmas.

In this version, each of the days 'til Christmas is a little matchbox drawer opening up to reveal a scene taken from a recycled holiday card. You could also hide candies or tiny gifts in the drawers - or even adapt this idea to create a countdown to some other special event, like a birthday or other holiday.

review the directions before buying any new supplies - substitutions are always possible

25 matchboxes
A lightweight board 2" wide and 36"-37.5" long
Scraps of foam core
Xacto or craft knife
Acrylic paint
Heavy white craft glue
Diamond Glaze or other sealant
Mod Podge
Number stickers for dates
Recycled greeting cards, other decorative stickers and holiday doo-dads
Paper clip
Glue gun


1. Start with 25 matchboxes and a lightweight board at least 36" long and 2" wide.
(I used two pieces of 36" bass wood that I got at the hobby store. For strength,
I glued the two pieces on top of each other with wood glue, and clamped them together
as they dried.) You might choose to use foam core as your base, but it's likely that
the foam core will warp.

2. Take all the little drawers out of the matchboxes. Otherwise, they might
accidentally get glued in place.

3. Using a thick craft glue like Tacky Glue or Ultimate Craft Glue, glue the
matchbox cases to the board. (I like to use a toothpick to apply the glue, and then I
clamped the little cases to the board with mini plastic clamps so they'd attach
firmly to the board as they dried.) Clean up any glue that oozes out from under the boxes
as this may keep the boxes from sliding in and out smoothly.

With any luck it should look like this when you're done. My bottom
matchbox hung off the edge just a little bit because my board was a bit shorter than
all of the matchboxes added together.

4. I chose to add a special accent to the top using foam core. I traced around the
top and drew a star shape on the foam core.

5. And then I cut the shape out with an Xacto knife. You might decide to create a different shape, or add a shape to the bottom as well.

6. Then I used a toothpick to apply glue to the interior edge . . .

. . . and fit it around the top of the board, pressed flush to the back of the board. I was using 1/4" foam core, and my bass wood boards were each 1/8" thick, so my topper fit perfectly without blocking access to the top matchbox.

7. I glued a bit of paper to the back to strengthen the topper.

8. Now, once all your glue is dry, gesso the whole contraption in preparation for painting.

9. Now, coat with the color of your choice. I used two coats of red acrylic paint.
I didn't paint the inside of the matchbox cases because the paint can build up and make it
difficult to slide the drawers in and out. I left the insides of the cases
and the matchboxes themselves unpainted for this project.

10. I happen to have a crazy big collection of letter and number stickers that
I got on sale, so I used those to apply dates to my advent calendar - one date for each box.
If you don't have stickers, you can try painting the numbers on, or even cutting numbers out from an old calendar and gluing them on.

And then I used some cool metallic star stickers I found
to add a little pizazz!

11. Next, coat the calendar with Diamond Glaze or another easily
controlled acrylic for durability.

12. While it dries, start working on each of the individual drawers. I created a
template by trial and error, using an old holiday card that I wasn't super crazy about.
I created a form that would fit roughly inside the boxes.
After you've made a template, try laying it over cards, wrapping paper, or images you like
and start cutting them out.

13. After cutting an image out, fold up the corners so it will fit
inside the boxes like a liner. Test it out and trim as needed.

14. Next, coat the inside of the box with Mod Podge.

15. Press the liner into the box. And let it dry. You can also cut individual characters
out of the cards and use a bit of foam core to lift them up and give them some dimension in
the box. Use your heavy craft glue to attach the card stock to the foam core
and the foam core to the inside of the box.

16. Bend open a paperclip to create a hanging hook for the back. I used hot glue to attach
the hook to the back, but Goop or E6000 or even duct tape could probably be
used to attach a hook of some kind to the back.

Each little drawer can be completely different, or they can come together to tell a story
as the month goes on and the drawers are opened one by one. Note: As you are preparing your drawers, consider that having them all open on one side will probably cause the calendar to tilt. Also remember that you won't be able to leave the drawers open completely and have them stay in the calendar. The entire image inside the box probably won't be visible all the time, so adjust your compositions accordingly. Try having the drawers alternate which side they slide open on.

Here, you can see it hanging in my entry way - with the little drawers closed, and then with
several of them open!

If you try making one of these for the holidays or for some other ocassion, I'd love to see it!


Heather - said...

That's so cute!! I love it. I got two 12-pks of matches so I could try to make a dollar store matchbox advent calendar/nativity set mashup, but I didn't get around to it. This is really great! I wonder if you could use a yardstick (or two?) for the base?

Thanks for such a great tutorial. It's too late for me to post about it on Dollar Store Crafts, but I will post it on our facebook page and tweet about it!

Diane Gilleland said...

WOWEE!! This is absolutely dandy! I love this orientation of the boxes, and how the look changes as they all get opened. Bravo!

Unknown said...

Oooh! I love this. I'm going to tweet it too. Also love that you called it a contraption. :D

Alea Bone said...

So Cool! I love the kitschy star at the top. Your tutorials are so well done and I've been meaning to tell you that you have really lovely hands!

Geek+Nerd said...

Bridget this is AMAZING! I love it!

Bridget said...

Hello! Thanks for all of your lovely comments!

Heather: I love the yardstick idea - I bet it would work great!

Alea: I love that you love the kitschy star. I thought about adding on even more glitter and crazy foam core shapes, but decided to, er, keep it simple. And thank you for the comment on my hands! It cracks me up that I have my old-lady arthritis gloves on in one of the shots.

Michael5000 said...

So cool! Advent calendars are way cool. Also, since your design has depth, you could include not only the image but also a small item -- piece of candy, coin, button, um... matches? -- for each day of the countdown. said...

Wow, I love this design! Great job, it's fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing this, I'll be linking.

Shaheen said...

Its my first time here. I am not a very creative person with arts and craft, BUT AM ALWAYS OPEN TO INSPIRATION. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing.

scratchmeharder said...

You make some wonderful things and have really inspired me :)

Anonymous said...

This makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of matches! Thanks for sharing it - I'm including this in my Friday Favorites this week!