Christmas craft: Make shadow box dioramas using vintage Christmas ornament boxes

christmas dioramaWill the Kitschmas Krafty Kraziness never end, here on Retro Renovation? What can I say: It’s a blog, so it tracks my obsessions. And right now, I am a Massachusetts elf living on a diet of hot cocoa and brownies, on an insane sugar high enamored of vintage Christmas ornaments. Today: Another idea from the epic Georgia Peachez: What to do with all those empty vintage ornament boxes once your wreath is made? Use them to create shadowbox dioramas. Krafty Kate has brought out my competitive streak (I am a first-born), so I am super proud of the three dioramas I made — including the little Shiny Brite box diorama above. Santa approves.

vintage christmas diorama

Supplies required:

  • Vintage ornament boxes with cellophane windowed-fronts.
  • Vintage Christmas ornaments and other small decorating its and bits: Packages, pine cones, greenery from floral picks, candy canes, bows, bells, etc.
  • Lining paper — Christmas wrap, Christmas cards, sheet music, etc.
  • Glitter or glitter glass.
  • Sparkle snow or puffy cotton like snow stuff.
  • Adhesives. For my dioramas I used all three: A hot glue gun, Elmer’s School Glue, and a large glue stick.
  • Brush to paint on the Elmers to adhere the sparkle snow or cotton.

My tips to make a vintage ornament box diorama:

  1. Use boxes that are not too beat up. If there are innards — those little crate-like separators glued inside — carefully remove them. Carefully remove the cellophane in the ‘window’; I had no problem doing this, the old adhesives were all quite brittle and the cellophane peeled right off.
  2. Before you even think about gluing anything, you will want to play around with the box, papers, ornies, greenery, etc. to finalize the elements of your scene. To do this, I found I had to continually put the front of my box — “the window” — over various papers and ornies to get the right combination. I would dilly dally with this for an hour even! Once I had all the elements of my plan decided, I was ready to start gluing… Tip: I found that sort of ‘matching’ the ornies to the paper thematically worked to create a pleasing diorama. That is: Trees on your paper — put a tree in your diorama. Candy canes on your paper — find candy cane and peppermint sticked ornies to include. Examine my dioramas, and you will see what I am talking about.
  3. Decide if you want to decorate the front of the box with glitter. I used Elmer’s school glue straight out of the orange tip to create a nice juicy bead of glue, then sprinkled the glitter on liberally. Let set a wee bit, then shake off excess. Let set overnight to harden so that you can then handle the box without fear. You could use a hot glue gun for this step, but with hot glue you need to move so quickly… and for decorating the front of the box, I think you want more control of that bead of glue. That’s why I think Elmer’s is the way to go with this part of the project. But plan ahead, because you cannot start decorating right away — that Elmers takes a long time to harden properly — which needs to happen before you start handling this important front part of the box. You could “risk it” and move faster — but I found that once I started placing my diorama ornaments inside the box, I kept testing how it looked by putting on the front of the box. If you touch that glitter part before it’s dry, you risk smudging it, and then it is a real mess — you could wreck the front of your box.
  4. Meanwhile, plan your interior: Using a fat glue stick as my adhesive, I lined the inside of each box — the back and all four sides — with either wrapping paper or pages from a children’s Christmas book. You could also use old Christmas cards or sheet music or… what else? Note, for my bicycle-built-for-two diorama, I used a vintage style wrapping paper currently available from Target.
  5. Decide if you want to add any sparkle snow or glitter or cotton or whatever along the bottom of your lined boxed. Above, in the bicycle-built-for-two diorama: I added plastic sparkle snow to great the illusion of a snowy roadway. I even found the sparkle snow at the Salvation Army! To adhere the sparkle snow, I brushed on Elmers pretty liberally and then sprinkled on the sparkle snow — I did not want to flatten the sparkle snow, I wanted it to be fluffy, so don’t press it down.
  6. Use your Christmas ornaments, greenery, baubles, packages, etc…. to make a little scene inside the box. Think 3-D.  For example, I tilted the candy cane light pole inside the bicycle diorama so that it doesn’t lay flat — the top angles out. The packages on the left also protrude into the shadow box space. And the Santa and Mrs. Claus bicycle ornament also is not flat. I used hot glue to adhere all the ornaments. Hot glue is super strong — and hardens fast. Note: I tried not to use too much hot glue — not too much, not too little, just right. I did not want hot glue glurp showing glurping out from under the ornaments. So far — and note, I just started working with hot glue for the first time this season — that you don’t need a lot of hot glue to get good adhesion. Experiment to get the feel.
  7. If you like, add some greenery or another bauble to the outside of the box — the front, side or top. Again, don’t overglurp the hot glue.
  8. I counted and on all three of my dioramas, I used four ornaments + box + paper + glitter. I didn’t “plan this” as a “formula” or anything — but I think it might work as one. These dioramas are small works of art — you don’t need to crowd them. That said, Georgia Peachez’ dioramas are more complex — and spectacular — made possible by the fact that she has years of practice.  She is a pro. I am a mere amateur with far to go, so I tend to take it slow.
    christmas dioramavintage-diorama-1-2
  9. Once my diorama was complete, I hot glued the back pieces closed so that the sides don’t bow out and the entire piece stays six-sided flat.
  10. Finally, paper the back — for this, I used a fat glue stick. Papering the back is a really nice finishing touch. Hey, you’ve gone this far — take it all the way home.

This was another super duper satisfying project — and as with the bird house diorama ornaments, the success factor is greatly enhanced if you have lots and lots of its and bits ornaments, floral picks, papers and boxes to play with. Stalk those Salvation Armies and Goodwills NOW while the stuff is coming out of the warehouses!


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  1. nina462 says

    Neato! Hey, what about turning on the uploader to show vintagey, retro ornaments/decorations made by your loyal followers?

  2. says

    I like all three, but Santa and Mrs. Claus on the bicycle is my favorite. These are super cute! You and Kate are really outdoing yourselves this year 😉

  3. Robin, NV says

    Any suggestions for displaying them? Obviously the mantle would be great but what about hanging them on the wall?

    You know, I was just thinking you could maybe turn your ornie boxes into advent calenders, using the grid inside. 🙂

  4. Janice says

    All of yours and Kate’s craft projects are absolutely fabulous; but I’m starting to feel more and more inadequate with each post. I’m lucky to get the tree up let alone make craft projects! Maybe someday in my retirement, I can refer back to the posts of December 2013 and enjoy creating my own Kitschma Krafts! Outstanding ladies!

    • Kate says

      Don’t feel inadequate Janice — remember, this time of year being retro crafty Christmas is our JOB. We do this for 8+ hours a day some days so we can give our readers plenty of fun holiday project ideas, tips and tricks. If it were not my full time job, there is NO WAY I could do all of this every year. It might be fun to try one of the small diorama projects on Christmas day with the family. The whole idea is to have fun, get crafty and be joyful! 🙂

  5. Rick S says

    Pam and Kate,
    I love all the Krafts and anything vintage Christmas gets my attention.

    I wanted to share a source of vintage postcards and images. The New York Public Library Digital Gallery. They have a collection that you can search by subject.
    I have printed Turn-of-The Century cards and made them into Christmas decorations. It is so nice to find such beautiful images and not have to cut up real vintage pieces.
    The postcard pictures look very nice printed out on cardstock and cut out as full sized postcards and displayed on wreath or mantle.

    I just searched Christmas and have more images than I will get to use.


  6. Jay says

    Very nice! Where is Woolworths and McCrorys when you need them for all this kind of stuff? The dollar stores just aren’t the same. I can see the thrift stores raising their prices when they catch on to the stampede of folks buying their old (aka vintage) holiday package decorations and floral picks.
    Clever idea, this craft project would be a good family project.

  7. Carole says

    This is fabulous!

    I recently purchased two boxes of tiny Shiny Brights baubles (1/4″ balls) to use on my vintage bottle brush trees. The boxes are so cute, and I had no intentions of throwing them away, but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Now I know! lol

    Silly that this idea didn’t come to me, since I make the occasional altered box. Sometimes we just need a little jump start I guess. Especially at this time of year. lol

    My favorite is the first one. 🙂

    There are so many wonderful sources for free vintage images now, people willing to share their own discoveries. Makes doing stuff like this a bit easier in this day and age, especially for those who many not have original images.

  8. Gretchen in Greenwood says

    I have made the ornament wreaths- I got on a kick last year and made them for family gifts, and they were well received. I :have not tried putz houses or dioramas yet. For Janice, and other time challenged wish-I -could crafters, here are the directions for my only original Christmas project: #1 Find some cute vintage metal trays or small tins at thrift shop. #2 Attach magnets from craft store with gorilla glue. # 3Hang on doors of vintage metal kitchen cabinets, or if you have wood cabinets, stick them on the fridge. Did I mention I am not the best crafter? But this was a really quick and easy way to add some vintage Christmas to my kitchen.

  9. vintigchik says

    Yea!! Now I have a reason to not feel bad about keeping empty shiny brite boxes I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away 🙂 Glad to know there’s a support group for people like me!

  10. tammyCA says

    Too cute…I’ve seen the ornament box dioramas on pinterest before and loved them but I never come across cute ornament boxes at the thrift stores. I’ve found some vintage ornaments but the boxes are always plain & pretty dirty.
    Instead I am converting a cute box that held chipboard letters from the 99cents store, it has a front window. I’m such a re-cycler & crafter fan that I can’t throw anything into the bin…there are so many great usable things from product packaging.

  11. Mary Elizabeth says

    Fabulous idea. You could do the same thing with old Christmas card boxes. And what about using ornament boxes to frame collages of all those wonderful Christmas photos we get each year of families, children and grandchildren? I can never bear to throw them out, and I’d like to find a way to display them the next year–when a whole new batch comes in loaded on the mail carrier’s back.

    • pam kueber says

      I took it down because a number of readers were expressing concerns about the potential for respiratory issues if mica is inhaled. Reader, please do your own research to determine of you want to use this stuff and if so, how.

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