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Shell Projects

Martha Stewart Living, February 1997

Did You Know?

In the nineteenth century, New England whalers brought shell-covered gifts, called sailors' valentines, back from the Caribbean to their sweethearts at home.

Using seashells to adorn household objects gives beachcombing a purpose. Each of the items shown below owes its delicate beauty to the addition of shells: A plain ceramic pot is decorated with a rim of "violets" made of dyed 1/4-inch cup shells; a simple wood frame is covered with coquinas; and a hinged wood cigar box is adorned with cup shells. Individual shells can also be used to great effect to make pretty candles.

Choosing and Preparing Shells for Crafting

-Use shells that are easy to find, such as scallops, quahogs, or cup shells.
-Be selective, taking only unbroken specimens.
-Pack shells carefully to transport them home; take a few more than you need, since some may break. -Don't worry if you can't find enough of a particular type of shell; many varieties are available from crafts stores and from online sources.
-Before using shells, scrub and soak them in soap and water, or lighten them in a solution of half bleach and half water; allow them to dry thoroughly.

Making Shell Flowers

-If you wish to dye the shells, boil them for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 cup distilled water, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Transfer them to a pot containing 2 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon powdered dye (we used purple). Boil 10 more minutes. Strain shells, and spread them onto paper towels. Allow them to dry thoroughly.
-Dab 527 airplane glue on a plastic sheet; using tweezers, place five shells on glue, overlapping them so they form a flower.
-Glue a pearl bead on each flower.
-Use airplane glue or hot glue to attach flowers to your pot, box, or frame.

Making a Shell Box

-Use a palette knife to spread an even layer of grout mastic compound (available at hardware stores) onto a wood cigar box.|

-Adhere rows of cup shells to the box until it is completely covered.

-Let dry before affixing a cup-shell "flower" to the front of the box.

Making a Shell Frame

-Use craft glue to attach coquinas to a flat, wood frame, overlapping the shells slightly.

-Let dry; affix coquina "flowers" to the frame's corners.

The terra-cotta plant pots shown at left were covered with snail shells, Atlantic cockles, quahogs, and black calico scallops; the one pictured below was covered with 1/2-inch white quahog shells. Shells of uniform size work best for this project.

-Use craft glue or hot glue to attach shells.

-Start with a ring of shells at the top (shells should extend above the rim of the pot).

-Work downward, placing each successive row about halfway down the shells on the previous ring.

Mercury mirror glass, available at fine glass stores, is well suited to weathered shells. Have the glass cut to size; a framing store can secure it to the back of the wood

-Paint the front of a flat wooden picture frame white or a pastel color to match your shells. Use black paint for the underside and inside edge, which will be reflected in the mirror.

-To make the rectangular mirror shown above, sort your shells by size, shape, and color. Arrange them on the frame in even rows, using delicate shells such as snails to line the inner edge, full shells such as tulips for the middle row, and flat scallops or cockles to form a fluted border. Glue shells to the frame one at a time using extra-thick craft glue or hot glue.
-To adorn the oval frame shown above, left, we used 1-inch-wide scallop shells in a variety of colors.