Make an Upcycled Art Advent Calendar

Last year, I saw a project on Pinterest that showed how to upcycle a toilet paper tube as a container. The open sides of the tube easily fold in to contain whatever’s inside, and you can decorate the outside of the roll any number of ways. It was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

upcycled tubes
Toilet paper tubes wrapped with old book pages
and filled with upcycled art ornaments.

I determined then that I would start saving the empty rolls and use them to make an advent calendar for my college-age daughter, Olivia. Olivia is a big proponent of sustainability and she and her roommates will have a Christmas tree this year. So I thought I would fill her tubes with repurposed art ornaments.

One of the problems with filling an advent calendar is that you can end up spending a lot of money on the little prizes that are revealed each day. This upcyled art project solved that problem because I made both the calendar and the trinkets with items I already had.

I filled a basket with anything I thought would make the base for a good ornament: bottle caps, shells, small keys, doll accessories, and so on. I added found papers like old holiday cards, old photos, and book pages and grabbed some fabric scraps, yarn, and trim for good measure. With scissors, gel medium, and other art supplies I spent a few happy hours assembling my ornaments.

To make the bottle cap ornaments, I used a spool that fit inside the caps as a template to cut out image from photos and old cards. I glued the paper images inside the caps with gel medium, then spread some gel medium around the edges of the bottle caps, making sure to hit all the edges. Then I turned the caps over and tapped the edges onto a dusting of craft glitter.

For the backs, I cut lengths of baby rickrack and glued the ends to the back of the caps with gel medium. Then I spread gel medium over the entire back and covered the back and the ends of the rickrack with a piece of cotton fabric. I found fabric molded to the shape of the cap better than paper or felt.

upcycled ornaments with bottle caps
I upcycled bottle caps and old greeting
cards to make these ornaments.

Once I had 24 ornaments, I turned to the tubes themselves. I decided to keep it simple and wrapped them in old book pages and affixed numbers with stickers. After stuffing the ornaments inside (I wrapped them in recycled tissue paper) and folding in the ends, I tied each one with a strand of burlap from scraps I had from a previous project.

For a reader/writer, the upcycled book pages added just the right touch. In fact, Olivia’s taking a course on bookmaking using non-traditional forms at college and is practicing making her own paper. So, on Christmas Day I’m giving her a copy the Winter 2014 issue of PAGES plus a stack of found papers and book pages. Inside she’ll find new ways to make creative books, journals, and more.

P.S. Do you have recycled art ideas for toilet paper tubes? Share them with me–I have a ton of rolls to use.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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