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Florida Shelling

Source: Martha Stewart Living, February 1997


On Sanibel Island, they call it the Sanibel Stoop. Next door, on Captiva Island, it's the Captiva Crawl. What a strange phenomenon. Here in paradise, on beaches framed by mangroves, where pink clouds float on the horizon and brown pelicans bob in the gentle surf, people are largely oblivious to the view. Instead, they walk with their heads down, or crouch on their hands and knees. The most determined wade right into the Gulf of Mexico, where clear waters magnify their prey.

It is seashells they are after, and they've come to the right place. The barrier islands of southwest Florida rank among the best shelling grounds in the world, right up there with the Philippines and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Unlike most coastal islands, which run parallel to the coast, Sanibel is perpendicular, jutting out in the path of the storms (or southers, as the locals call them) that blow across this part of the Gulf. As a result, the beaches on this island archipelago are literally heaped with shells, two hundred species in all, including unusual specimens like banded tulips, with their concentric brown bands, and shark's eyes, also known as Paul Newman's eyes because they spiral into a bright blue center.

Here, collecting and creating with shells is a widely shared passion. Style editor Hannah Milman combed the beach and came up with these projects:

A small terra-cotta garden pot was covered with 1/2-inch white quahog shells. Use craft glue to attach shells. Start with a ring of shells at the top (shells should begin higher than the rim of the pot). Work downward, placing each successive row about halfway down the shells on the last ring.

Collect scallops in a variety of colors, all about 1 inch wide. Paint a flat oval mirror frame white, including front, back, and inside edges. Lay shells on frame to determine color arrangement; dab craft glue to inside tip and base of each shell, and press onto frame.

Flowers were made from 1/4-inch cup shells from the Philippines, which shell stores sell by the quart. Boil shells for ten minutes in one cup distilled water, one teaspoon white vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Transfer shells to a pot containing two cups water and 3/4 teaspoon powdered purple dye. Boil ten more minutes. Dab 527 airplane glue on a plastic sheet; using tweezers, place five shells on glue, overlapping so they form a flower. Glue a "pearl" on each flower.


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