Monday, May 21, 2012

Decorating with Sea Shells

I live in the South, just a few hours from the coast, and have spent many an hour walking beaches to collect shells.  I have come to learn that every beach has its own, unique personality.  The shells, coral, etc. that I see at each one are just as unique. During one of my first trips to St. George Island, FL, just after a red tide came through, we found thousand upon thousand Olive shells and Whelk shells, Calico crabs and Sand Dollars scattered all over the place.  I keep the shells from that trip displayed around my house, and I smile every time I look at them.  Not only because they are beautiful, but because they remind me of how it seemed someone had scattered the most perfect shells on the white beaches just for us.

I've read that one's house should always include elements of nature.  This post discusses a few inexpensive, creative ways I've displayed nature, in the form of sea shells, to enhance my spaces.

First, A Note about Cleaning Shells
Most of the shells I pick up on the beach are empty, fragmented and free of algae, critters, etc.  Sometimes, inhabitants are still living inside - I leave those on the beach.  If staying somewhere with a heat source and large pot,  I usually just boil my shells for a few minutes and lay them out to dry on plates or towels.  This gets rid of the sand too.  This web site offers great tips for cleaning sea shells, including freezing the shells, microwaving shells, and creating a 50-50 solution of beach and water.  Any method works well, and keeps you from travelling home with stinky shells.

Three days of shells drying after being boiled
Display Shell Collections in Vases or on Platters and Dishes
Mason jars, clear vases, and interesting glassware are all great vessels in which to display shells.  I usually keep shells separated by trip.  A platter of assorted shells sits in my entryway and shows off the more unique, favorite shells we've collected.  I added colored and opalescent beads to the platter to add a bit of sparkle.
An antique Mason jar holds shells on my mantel.
A shallow glass bowl contains shells collected from a specific trip

Glass beads add a bit of sparkle to this collection, which sits in the entry hall.

Sand Dollar Art
Who does not love Sand Dollars?   Finding full Sand Dollars is, to me, a real treasure.  When we lived in Savannah, Sand Dollars were all over Wassaw Island, our nearest beach.  However, they were usually alive (it's against the law to take live sea life) and, therefore, not available for the taking.

Sand Dollars are glued to a frame covered in brown micro suede.
I had been keeping the Sand Dollars from my first trip to St. George Island wrapped in tissue paper in a box after a recent move.  While hunting around for something to display on an empty bookshelf, I rediscovered them, and a broken frame (the glass broke months prior).  A little more digging brought me to the remnant fabric.  Read below to learn how I took these items and created my Sand Dollar Art:

  • Four Sand Dollars
  • Frame whose glass broke
  • Piece of cardboard cut to fit in the frame.  (Mine is an 8" x 10" frame).
  • Fabric of your choice
  • Hot glue gun

General How To:
  • Clean the Sand Dollars or shells.
  • Cut a piece of fabric a 1/2" larger than your cardboard on each side (the piece I used was approximately 9" x 11").
  • Lay the fabric wrong-side down and place the cardboard on top.  
  • Wrap the fabric around the cardboard and adhere using the hot glue gun.
  •  Flip the cardboard over, arrange the sand dollars and adhere using a hot glue gun.
  • Carefully place the frame around your completed art and enjoy.

Sea Shell Shadow Box Art:
Another beach treasure trove is when I find both halves of a clam, mussel, etc. washed up and still attached at the joint.  A trip to Hilton Head Island, SC beaches yielded several small, full clam shells.  I created a simple piece of art using these shells.   
Sea Shell Shadow Boxes

Read below to learn how I made my Seashell shadow Box art:

Find the shadow box at most any craft store
  • Sea shells 
  • Unfinished, wooden shadow box
  • White spray paint or craft paint
  • Bamboo place mat
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue gun
General How To:
  • Remove the back of the shadow box and apply two coats of white spray paint or white craft paint.
    Note:  I used spray paint because it was quicker.
  • Cut a bamboo place mat to fit the back panel of the shadow box.
  • Use hot glue gun to adhere the place mat to the back panel of the shadow box.
  • Position shells on the place mat and use hot glue gun to adhere.
    Note:  One of my clams came unhinged during this process.  I simply dotted glue on the joint and held it until it dried.
  • Carefully replace the back panel and close the shadow box.
  • Hang on wall or place on shelf and enjoy.

Sea Shell Pins:

Many of my smaller shells, like Tellina,  have a tendency to fall to the bottom of jars, or get lost underneath bigger shells.  However, I love these little guys - the colors and detail on these is just great.  I made push pins out of a bunch of mini shells recently and just love them!

I used a hot glue gun to adhere ordinary push pins and stick pins to the back side of the shells.

Use hot glue gun to attach a pin to the backside or inside of a mini shell
Shell push pins on bulletin board
These are really easy, inexpensive ways to use sea shells.  I believe keeping the shells as natural as possible helps me to appreciate the amazing job Nature did.  They are simply beautiful!

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