Simple Spool Advent Calendars

My kids’ favorite holiday tradition is the December advent calendar, the big countdown to Christmas. Over the years, they’ve taken turns opening their little homemade advent calendar bags {LINK} to find and share the tiny presents inside. But with 3 children, ok- young teenagers, it’s getting harder and harder to find inexpensive items other than candy that will fit into those small bags that they will like. It’s especially challenging with only one calendar and 3 gifts per day, of which I try to keep it under $1 per item or less.My solution this year is to make an advent calendar with notes and clues. An advent calendar with a daily note that will lead the kids on a hunt for their presents. Vintage wooden spools are a great way to display these notes. Wooden spools can be found at thrift stores, flea markets, and online. If you ask around and you may be surprised to find that several people you know have been hanging on to theirs for years and would be glad to share. You can also purchase new wooden spools at craft stores.

Remove thread from 24-25 standard size vintage spools, (but don’t throw out the unwound bunches of thread, there’s another project in store for using those down the road.)
UPDATE: For thread project, click HERE.Print out the free PDF files you will need for your advent project. Click on file images to download.Trim out wraps and write the clues on the back side of each.Keep track on a separate paper of the clues. This way, you don’t have to buy or hide the presents right away, as long as you get to it before each spool wrapper is read.

I purchased an inexpensive spool rack to display the spools. HERE is an online source for the same rack, but I paid less than $10 for mine at the local JoAnn Fabrics store.I usually only display 24 advent numbers because day 25 is Christmas, but since this advent has 30 dowels, I sawed off the top row and made my count 25, I’ll think of something clever to write on that last one.I used sandpaper to remove the logo & name from the rack.Wrap the spools by taping the blank end of your advent clue wraps to the spool, wind around the spool and tack the numbered end with a small amount of glue-stick adhesive. Then display on the rack in order, or as my kids prefer, completely out of order.If you don’t want to go the spool rack route, create a holiday advent swag with simple wooden bead garland.Use the set of numbered wraps that will read correctly when the spools are on their side.You can also create a set of individual tree or garland ornaments with wooden beads, string and your wrapped spools.Although I prefer my spools with their original labels and graphics, you can use a decorative circle punch to punch out the rounds to finish off your spool ends if you like, punch center holes if necessary.Numbered rounds can be cut with a 1″ circle punch or trimmed out by hand and attached to the tops of the spools.Trim off numbered section from the long labels and begin wrapping from the cut end for unprinted wraps and/or add your own graphics, ribbon, stickers or handwritten names to them.

Here are a few extra ideas and tips:

  • Paint your rack with acrylic craft or easy spray paint.
  • Make extra sets of calendars to give as gifts to other families.
  • Not just for kids! Make a romantic advent for your significant other!
  • In lieu of clues, write jokes, make coupons, or share motivational notes.
  • Place numbered spools about the bookcase, or along the fireplace mantle.
  • Print out lots of extra copies of spool wraps and/or ends to tuck away for the following years.
  • Print out copies of files and gather spools to create kits to share with friends to make their own calendars.
  • Share the project with your children’s teacher. Each child can write their own holiday wish per wrapper.
  • Use cut-out numbered circles for your own advent calender creations.
  • Can’t think of all the clues to write by the first of December? Use tiny blobs of sticky party-tack instead of glue to hold the wraps closed until you do.
  • Share your ideas in the comment section of this post!

UPDATE! Check out my 2010 post on making Christmas Advent Calendar Kits with more free PDF downloads, HERE!

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121 Responses to Simple Spool Advent Calendars

  1. #1 - gdyup says:

    Ok you are just amazing! What a great idea! So creative! And thanks for providing the download!!!


  2. #2 - Christie Cottage says:

    What a cool Advent Calendar!

    I love wooden spools anyway! Anything made from them is nostagic!

  3. #3 - Whitney @ Whisker Graphics says:

    Brilliant!! (as usual) What a great take on an advent calendar! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  4. #4 - Dragonfly Treasure says:

    Amazing idea! How in the world did you come up with that! You are so clever!

  5. #5 - Heather says:

    How much do I LOVE this idea!! I actually have two large packages of old wooden spools from my thrift store and haven't figured out quite what to do with them yet! I think I might even have enough to share with a friend of mine. thank you–this is going to be so much fun!

  6. #6 - FILIGREE MOON says:

    Such a clever girl! This is amazing and generous. Thanks ~ Angela

  7. #7 - Lorrie says:

    Very, very clever, and creative.


  8. #8 - Country Dreaming says:

    Very cute ideas–Currently I don't have extra spools but I can find some though.
    This would be fun for a family Thanksgiving activity. Have everyone write on their slips what
    they are thankful for and then each can be displayed with their phrases showing.


  9. #9 - Carmen says:

    Oh now this, this is officially my favourite advent calendar idea seen so far. GOT to be done. Thank you so much for sharing the idea and the download!

  10. #10 - Stephanie says:

    Super idea!

  11. #11 - Kileen says:

    What a great Advent calender! Love it!

  12. #12 - Noelia says:

    I love that, we dont have that tradition here, and no kids over the family, but i cant wait to use it one day 🙂

  13. #13 - Atelier de Charo says:

    So creative advent calendar!!!

  14. #14 - Sandy Toes says:

    so VERY VERY cute and sweet.

    sandy toe

  15. #15 - threemoonbabies says:

    So great!

  16. #16 - Erin says:

    I cannot believe how CLEVER this is! I don't have kids yet, but I think that my husband would LOVE this, haha!


  17. #17 - Jane's Designs says:

    What a really clever idea! We were just talking about what to do this year for a countdown calender. Thanks you for sharing your wonderful ideas.

  18. #18 - Kim @ NewlyWoodwards says:

    This is so clever. Thank you for sharing.

  19. #19 - Hopemore Studio says:

    Another idea if you don't have extra spools. You could print out the sheet and each day take the advent number strip and then create a paperchain. I was going to do this last year for my Godchild who lives far away. She is only 5 so I think a paper chain craft will still work for her.

    Thank you!

  20. #20 - Cathe Holden says:

    Hopemore Studio….THAT IS BRILLIANT!!!

  21. #21 - CreativeBusyHands-Scrapbook Freebies Search says:

    This is beautiful!!! I love Christmas. Right now, I am putting my Halloween decorations out. Nothing too scary though 🙂

  22. #22 - Pfeiffer Photos says:

    Love this! I think I'd make them into ornaments but the garland is cute, too. If I did make a calendar, I'm thinking scriptures from the Christmas Story would be neat. 🙂

  23. #23 - CitricSugar says:

    Fantastic project! I'd try to come up with a clever idea to share but it's Canadian Thanksgiving and I'm too full of turkey….:-)

  24. #24 - Laura says:

    I love this idea! Especially the garland one. You're so clever. 🙂 We've been doing an activity tree ( that I started this month and hope to keep doing every month by just changing the leaves- or leaving it leafless and doing snowflakes in the winter. But we might have to try this idea just for December.

  25. #25 - Charmingdesigns says:

    so clever!!cant wait to see what you do with the

  26. #26 - Anna MacNeil says:

    I love this calendar idea. I think it will a great gift. I look forward to more great ideas to come!

  27. #27 - SharDon Exclusives says:

    YOU are so clever! I love this idea as I have numerous wooden spools from my MOmmas stash. I will try this one!

  28. #28 - SharDon Exclusives says:

    YOU are so clever! I love this idea as I have numerous wooden spools from my Mommas stash. I will try this one!

  29. #29 - minnamarika says:

    Thank you so much!!! You are such a talented and generous person. I have dozens of wooden spools and finally I can create something of them. Your Idea is perfect! Thank you for sharing this clever idea with us!!!

  30. #30 - Jeanne says:

    How cute! And SO clever!!! I've got one of those spool holders and lots of old sppols. Can't wait to put one of these together for myself. Thanks so much for the great tutorial!

  31. #31 - My name is PJ. says:

    This was a standing room only demo, Rock Star! Wish I'd known you when my kids were little!!!!

  32. #32 - Missie/Crafting with Cat Hair says:

    I absolutely love this idea, especially the garland. What a cute idea! Thanks for sharing.

  33. #33 - WhyMommy says:

    This is AWESOME. And I'm unfortunately not very crafty. thanks for the wonderful idea!

  34. #34 - SisterDG says:

    Absolutely wonderful! I love how simple and graphical and fun it all is. Bravo!

  35. #35 - Carla says:

    This idea was just so great! Especially since I have a whole tub full of antique spools that were just 'too cheap' at my aunt's estate sale, yet I haven't ever used them… Please tell, though, some of the ideas of the 'gifts' you give your children! Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  36. #36 - Lorraine @ creativedaily says:

    I love to visit your blog. You come up with the most amazing ideas and projects. I don't have kids myself but can see this would be so much fun – a treasure hunt! Thanks for sharing all your goodies and please continue!

  37. #37 - DudeCraft says:

    Holden! Will your awesomeness ever cease? I hope not. Great project.

  38. #38 - Cathe Holden says:

    Carla, I listed some ideas in last year's advent calendar post, the link is in the first paragraph. They were tiny gifts to fit into the little bags. This year I won't have to try so hard to find miniature items, and I'm not quite sure what I'll be hiding just yet.

    Here's last year's post:

  39. #39 - rosemary says:

    wonderful idea! simple and classy – I love it!

  40. #40 - Betz White says:

    I love this idea, thank you so much for sharing it! Our advent calendar was handmade with tiny gift boxes. It's hard to find little treasures to tuck inside, so I have done the "treasure hunt" notes as you have. The kids love those the BEST. I usually write a goofy poem like:
    Christmas is coming,
    You know it's true.
    To find your treasure
    Go look in your shoe!

    We have a lot of fun with it!

  41. #41 - DangAndBlast! says:

    My favorite advent calendar idea was one I was given in Germany — where every day's gift is part of the whole gift. With me, it was a name necklace (hey, it was the 90s), each letter on one day and a cord on the last (I have a 10-letter name), with candies on the in-between days. A charm bracelet could be done that way too. Or a stationery set, or some other kind of kit… or a model set, or a chess set… so many possibilities!

  42. #42 - Erin Glee says:

    Our Advent tradition has been the Trader Joe's chocolate calendar~at a dollar a piece the kids each get their own and I don't have to remember who gets to open it that day! If I come out of this "semi-coma" in time to make your clever project, it will be the first of the Holiday crafting! Very cool!

  43. #43 - kelly says:

    I LOVE this project! Thanks so much for sharing!

  44. #44 - Anonymous says:

    I only got into the sewing and crafting the last couple of years. I love this advent calender and have been looking at different ones that I could find this year, due to my interest in making one. I don't have the old spools, but really like the concept. Any ideas for a good variation ???

  45. #45 - curegirl0421 says:

    I love love love that – no shocker, I love all your cool ideas.

    I could see maybe running some ribbon up the middle of these and hanging them on a small tree too… they'd have to hunt up the number! 🙂

  46. #46 - Regina says:

    Wow! So awesome of you to share this great idea!!

  47. #47 - Paper Lady Invites says:

    Great idea! I love advent calendars!


  48. #48 - jenny b harris says:

    Wow! That is truly clever. Thanks for the labels and instructions!

  49. #49 - Claire says:

    What a great idea! It would be fun to add things like "Come into the kitchen for hot chocolate". So creative, Cathe!

  50. #50 - mayaluna says:

    this is so wonderful, Cathe!

  51. #51 - Kate says:

    OK, Cathe, I've emptied my spools and have piles of the thread lying around. Now what do I do with all that thread? 🙂 Looking forward to that post.
    Thank you for the Advent Calendar idea. I'm looking forward to making it, probably on a garland, with Bible verses related to Christmas on each one.

  52. #52 - Cynthia says:

    I love sewing and the idea of the spools is great! I have an advent box that was a gift, but I run out of ideas for small gifts. Last year I started putting notes about special holiday things/activities that we would do when they got home from school. They look forward to playing a game with me all day and I don't have to find tiny gifts for each day.

  53. #53 - Michelle says:

    What a great idea!!! How do you come up with so many amazing ideas??!! I wish I had 1/3 of your creativity!!! lol

  54. #54 - Yvonne says:

    Advent calenders have a long tradition here in Germany. And each year i'm looking forward to getting one. My mother makes mine for me, even though I'm already 31.

    I met my mister at a local coffee shop. And I created his advent calender out of coffee paper cups. I had a lot of cups to go!

    I glued christmas wrapping paper around them. Put the nummers on top and each year I fill the cups…

  55. #55 - Christibale says:

    Totally planning on doing this with a little alteration this year.

    We are going to use wine corks and string them up by threading them vertically. We are in wine country after all.

  56. #56 - Enchantedmama says:

    Love this idea. Very creative. I am intrigued with vintage spools of thread. Thank you.

  57. #57 - Hyla says:

    This kicks sooo much a$$! I am ordering my supplies right now!!! Thank you! I know my kids will love this, not to mention it will become a family heirloom! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  58. #58 - Helena says:

    OMG what beautiful ideas, I love the "treasure" hunt idea, and the beaded one looks beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing!

  59. #59 - Tracy Suzanne says:

    Hey Kathe. Oh' you smart girl. Isn't this so clever. It's one of those things that we're all going why didn't I think of that – to simple to see. But not you ~ your creative eye caught it. I just found you from Connies blog She Dreams Big and I'm so glad I did. I'll be following to see what more tricks you have up your sleeve!
    Have a blessed & Sweet Sunday…Tracy

    Come by http://cottonpickincute.blogspot and visit me sometime.

  60. #60 - craftygal86 says:

    cute!! Where did you find the vintage spools?

  61. #61 - Cathe Holden says:

    Hi craftygal86, If you can't find them locally at thrift stores or garage sales, try ebay. There's a lot on there. keywords: wooden thread spools

    Hope that helps.

  62. #62 - wideopenspaces says:

    you are KILLING me. this is amazing.

  63. #63 - unionvalehome says:

    What a great idea. I just found a box of old spools in my craft closet and this will be a great way to use them…

  64. #64 - JoJo says:

    this is such a clever idea! It's like combining easter and the advent calendar. I think it would be really fun to do this leading up to a big event in someone's life like a kid going to college or someone getting married.

  65. #65 - House Elf says:

    Wonderful!! What a beautiful idea, love the use of wooden spools 🙂

  66. #66 - Creative Craft Ideas says:

    I Love this idea for an advent calendar. I especially love them strung up on the tree. So so cute.


  67. #67 - Noreen says:

    I love this idea! What a neat way to use old wooden spools (of which I have quite a few). I hope it's okay that I put your idea on my website:

  68. #68 - Nathalie says:

    This is my first time visiting (came over from Celeste post) and I am loving this project!!!! Off to visit more of your lovely blog!

  69. #69 - mary says:

    great idea !

  70. #70 - Allison says:

    REALLY fabulous. I just had to post a link to this project on my blog. I'll be checking back often!

  71. #71 - Devon of STELLAandHODGE says:

    That is a wonderful idea. I love it!

  72. #72 - Bethany says:

    I can't wait to make this!! We are moved away from family and will not be home for Christmas this year. This will be the perfect "fun" for us this month to not only anticipate the Birth of our Savior but to ease the missing of family.

    Thank you for posting all the links, instructions, and sharing your wonderful creation! I showed it to my mom and she is going to make it with me while visiting!

    YAY!! I love it!

  73. #73 - boliyou says:

    I love this idea! I may have to try it myself for my grandchildren.

    With your permission, I'm going to feature your advent calendar as part of a series I'm doing on my blog for advent. Please let me know if you would prefer not to be featured.

    You can see the post on December 5 at

    Thank you!

  74. #74 - --- Ruth --- RuRebo --- says:

    Wonderful idea!
    I'll save it dfor the next year!

  75. #75 - Hyla says:

    I made one!!! Check it out HERE!

    Thanks so much, I think my kids are going to LOVE it!

  76. #76 - Andrea Baker says:

    I love this calendar. I have two girls. 9 year age difference as well. So our plan is to hide two pieces of candy for each clue. This way each daughter gets to participate each day. Thank you so much for sharing this. Its clever and a great way to use old wooden spools.

  77. #77 - Bethany says:

    I just LOVE this idea! Thanks so much for generously sharing! I just posted pictures of ours here:

    Thank you again!!

  78. #78 - Aldana says:

    Is very very beautifull your calendar!!! The next year i want make some similar! sorry but me english is very very bad!!!
    Here in Argentina don´t exist this Wooden spools…
    Congratulations for upur blog, is very very pretty!!!

  79. #80 - Andrea says:

    I am really excited to do this for Christmas this year for my boys (I know I am way early!). I don't have any vintage spools though and was going to order some new wooden spools from a craft site. What size are these? I am not sure what a "standard" size spool is but if you have appr. measurements, that would be wonderful!! thank you! great idea.

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  81. #81 - bernadette says:

    Je vien sde découvrir votre superbe calendrier,merci à vous pour votre générosité.

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  83. #82 - Pamela says:

    What a wonderfully creative and simple idea!

  84. #83 - Melisa says:

    I love the garland idea!! That’s the one I’m going with this year. Since I don’t have children, I’ll probably adhere the labels permanently. 🙂

    Thanks again for such wonderful inspiration Cathe!!!

  85. #84 - Theresa Begin says:

    Cathe, absolutely love this Idea, you do truly have an incredible gift not just for crafting, but what an amazing imagination. I would have never have thought of this. Thank you so much for sharing your talent and Inspiration. God Bless, Theresa

  86. #86 - Tinabobina99 says:

    Wow. I’ve been giving my goddaughter advent calendars for many years. She’s now 30 and living in another state, but I still like to send something — preferably hand-made.

    I think I can do this as the swag. It should be fine (and not too spendy) to send in the mail.


  87. #87 - Nikki M says:

    What an elegant holiday decor idea! Thank you for sharing!

  88. #88 - Ellen says:

    This is lovely–thank you so much for the wonderful ideas and inspiration.
    The printable PDF files are very much appreciated–Thank you.

  89. #89 - Noreen says:

    I have been reading your blog for quite some time, and I love the projects you do. I love wood spools and Advent calendars and this project really appeals to me. I have put your link on my Advent calendarspage, and have used a few others of your links as well. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas.

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  91. #90 - Helen says:

    i was wondering what i was going to do with the wooden cotton spools i had inherited from my nan, without even worrying too much i found an idea for them. so thanks for the idea

  92. #91 - Lisa says:

    That has to be the cutest project I’ve seen in a long time! Wonderfully creative and fun!

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  94. #92 - Rebecca says:

    Hi Cathe,
    I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I wanted to let you know that I’m linking to this project. I’m trying to adapt it to my own advent calendar plan, so far with little luck. Anywho, you are always an inspiration for my projects, and since I’m starting to share them on my new blog, you will probably be hearing about more links in the future. Thanks for sharing such amazing ideas!

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  97. #93 - Bridget says:

    Super cute idea! Thanks for sharing!!

  98. #94 - Tanya says:

    come ON! so cool- love the display idea here… hmm not sure which one I will make- this one or your new one from 2010…

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  105. #95 - Elaine says:

    Hi Kathe, I am a 60++ grandmother & not very creative in the craft department. I need some super simple craft ideas that I can give away as Christmas gifts to most on my list. Any suggestion?

    Grandchildren: girls ages 16year & twins 18 months by Christmas.

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  107. #96 - Mixed Kreations says:

    What a cool idea. Love it! Pinning and sharing.

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  110. #97 - Jolene says:

    Love these numbers, I would like to use the for a Christmas journal but would ideally like to do the whole month, any chance of numbers 25 – 31??

    I would be really grateful.

    Here’s hoping.

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  115. #99 - lemondedis (LMI) says:

    this is awesome ! thank you so much ! i share the link here :

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