Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Christmas is just around the corner... are you ready for Advent? When I was a kid I always liked how they lit the Advent Candles every Sunday at church. And once or twice I think I might have even got to be the one who lit a candle. Advent of course is the season that we prepare our hearts for Christ's birth and for the celebration of it on December 25th.

For many, a significant part of the season of Advent is the daily act of participating with an Advent Calendar. A couple of years ago I got the idea to make an Advent Calendar out of watchmaker's cases I knew I could get at Lee Valley. However, I knew it would take a lot of work and also a special person to make me want to make one for them!

Images from Lee Valley

So last year, in the midst of dating, I trouped on down to a Lee Valley store and picked up the set of 56 watchmaker's cases in four sizes. The camp I was working at had received a generous donation from an advertising firm of leftover magnet posters (vinyl posters adhered to sheet magnet) and remnants... so much so that I am not sure even in 25 years a camp could use all of them for various crafts. I only needed enough to cover the backs of each of the 25 cases I would be using for the calendar.

I ended up making templates for each of the different sizes of circles by tracing the four sizes onto scrap paper and cutting them out. Ensuring they fit on the backsides of the cases, I then traced them onto the magnet sheet and cut them out. I used hot glue to secure the magnet circles to the backs of the watchmaker's cases.

I purchased several different patterned sheets of scrapbooking paper from Michael's in reds, whites, and greens. I also picked up co-ordinating plain cardstock in red, green, and yellow; I already had white on hand. I again made templates out of scrap paper, this time tracing the front glass lids. I tested the templates to ensure that they fit inside the glass fronts. I made them just snug enough that they didn't require glue to fasten them inside, the pressure of the edges on the sides of the aluminum cases was enough to secure them.

Next, I figured out the placement that I wanted the cases to be in. I figured a Christmas Tree figuration would be cute and appropriate.

2010 Advent Calendar

Once I had the configuration settled on, I set to tracing and cutting the patterned circles. I tried to make sure the same pattern wasn't bordered by another case with the same pattern. Once I completed that step, I set to cutting out the numbers with my Slice Elite machine. A Slice is similar to a Cricut, but handheld and cordless. I switched colours and design cards to give each watchmaker's case it's own look. For Christmas Day, I cut out a special star by hand. I used a glue pen to glue the numbers down to the cut out scrapbook paper circles, and then placed the completed circles on the underside of the glass.

Overall, it was a very time consuming project. Cutting out the circle magnet pieces and paper pieces took time. It took a bit of practice to get the numbers the size I wanted and needed them to be, and more than once I had to re-do them.

To fill the cases, I knit little stockings and caps and made other little tree ornaments, and purchased a few from dollar stores as well. In the end I ran out of time and ended up purchasing a mixed box of Jelly Belly jellybeans and used the red, green, white, and yellow ones in some of the cases. I think I may have included some tea in a couple of the cases as well.

Of course, I didn't end up using all 56 cases that I had, and there was still a lot of the paper left as well. I didn't have time to make a second calendar last year, but this fall/winter I worked on one to give away this year to my sister's family.
2011 Advent Calendar
Without looking at last year's for reference, I set out and whipped up another one. This time I didn't have the sheet magnet, so I used strong circular magnets... some I had on hand from a previous dollar store purchase, and I picked up more at Wal*Mart (Elmer's Magnets "Adhesive Foam Buttons, size .75", 8 to a pack for around $4). Although, on a later trip to that craft aisle, I found you can actually get a pack of 50 for around $7! You can also buy sheet magnets from Elmer's as well if you like the idea of covering the whole backs of the containers; this style enables the containers to be flush with the surface you magnet them to (i.e. the fridge). I had saved my previously made paper templates when I stored the remaining cases the year before, which was great, it made the whole process of finishing this year's set quicker.

I didn't handmake any decorations for this calendar, but instead filled it purely with candies and those rubber band shapes that kids like. I bought a variety of candies including Skittles, Mike & Ikes, Lifesavers, etc., and used the green, red, white, and yellow ones. The cases are a variety of depths (see photo above), so you can fit a variety of candies in the different sizes.

A few tips if you decide to make your own calendar like this:
  • Ensure your magnets are strong enough to hold not only the watchmaker's cases to a metal surface, but also whatever you choose to fill the cases with. I found the strong fatter magnets I used the same time around worked better. And they came with peel-off backs! They were definitely pricier (hey, the other ones were free), but well worth it. (If you choose to go the route of the fatty magnets, I'd recommend getting a bigger more economical pack, you can always make magnet projects in the future with any leftovers).
  • The cases are made of aluminum, and come from overseas. They kind of smelled funny. I washed out the bottoms in soap and water, and used a wet paper towel to clean the tops.
  • I tested all of my full cases on the fridge before mailing. Some of them the tops came off easily. However, it is easy to remedy this by pinching the bottom pieces a little bit to make them less of a circle... this makes the lids fit more securely.
  • If you're all cool and don't have a lame regular old fridge and your fridge is stainless steel, you can use a metal tray or cookie sheet to keep your Calendar on. I'd suggest rigging it up to hang on the wall. And you can even get a cheap cookie sheet from a dollar store and spray paint it the colour of your choice! Or, you could have them on the front of your washer or dryer too, really any metal surface that magnets stick to will work.
  • If you're including chocolates in your Advent Calendar, make sure they are wrapped in case they melt.
  • Another fun and easy idea is to include clippings of either Bible verses or the Christmas story in your cases. These can be instead of or in addition to the other goodies you include. If you use a sturdy paper they can even have little magnet squares secured to the back and be made to magnet to the fridge as well in succession. By Christmas day you'll have the whole story or 25 verses or sayings.
  • If you are rich, you can buy those bigger spice containers that are similar to the watchmaker's cases... you know the ones that already have magnets on them.
  • This calendar can be used again and again. Last Advent I told my then boyfriend that he'd have to fill the cases for me this year! My husband told me earlier this week that he's been working on it. :)
Does your family have a traditional Advent Calendar that you use? What homemade items are part of your Christmas traditions?


  1. Did he get the calendar all filled this year? What with? Just thought I'd let you know, if the tins get bumped off the fridge, the glue gun glue doesn't hold those big magnets on. I plan on putting flat magnets cut in the right sized circles on the backs for next year. Will see what kind of stronger glue I can find.

    The word verification for this was "hicat"!!! The cats say "Hi back!" :D

  2. I got candies most days, and pearl earrings for our 5-month anniversary! :)

    We have found that the flat sheet magnet I used last year is not strong enough to hold much up on the fridge. I would recommend getting the strongest/biggest magnets you can find to ensure they stay up.

    Pam, do the peel-off back magnets stay on? Some I had from a dollar store didn't have peel-off sticky backs so those were the ones I used a glue gun on.