Collecting shells, creating mementos

Visits to the beach never seem to last long enough. But if the seashells you collect are put to creative use, they can bring to mind summer days long after the season has passed.

Shells are beautiful simply displayed on a shelf, but they are also perfect for any number of projects, including making magnets, night-lights, candles, garlands or picture frames. In most cases, all you need to turn these ordinary objects into special keepsakes is a hot-glue gun.

Take care when selecting shells. Never remove any shell — no matter how small — from its habitat if there’s a living creature inside. Also keep in mind that some communities have ordinances against removing natural materials, such as shells or driftwood, so it’s a good idea to check before you haul your treasure away.

To prepare shells for projects, soak them overnight in dish detergent and water. The next day, rinse the shells and soak for about a half-hour in a weak bleach and water solution to help remove any remaining odor and bacteria. Be sure not to soak the shells too long in the bleach water, or they may fade in color and become brittle. Allow to dry completely.

Here are some projects to try:

  • Decorative magnet: Using a hot-glue gun, secure a round, flat magnet to the inside of a clam or scallop shell, positioning the magnet so it can make contact with the metal surface on which it will hang.
  • Shell night-light: To shed some light on a hallway or bathroom, use a medium-sized shell that is translucent enough for light to show through. (Scallop shells work well.) Remove the plastic shade from a plain, plastic night-light (available for a few dollars at hardware stores) and dab hot glue inside the shell’s hinge. Position the shell in place on the light’s frame. Hold for about a minute, until the glue dries.
  • Candle holder: Empty clam or cockle shells, which once housed sea creatures, make charming homes for candles. Begin by melting paraffin wax or used candles in the top of a double boiler. (Pots with lips make pouring easier.) Since wax is flammable, never melt it directly over an open flame.You might try melting colored candles together: Pink, mauve and yellow candles, for example, create a coral hue that complements shells.

    While the wax melts, anchor a 2-inch piece of cotton wicking to a metal wick holder, which can be found at craft and candle-making supply stores. Center the wick in the bottom of the shell; if the wick droops, trim it a bit.

    Fill the shell about three-quarters full with melted wax. If you have trouble getting your shell to rest without wobbling, prop it in a teacup. Let the wax cool for about a half hour, or until hardened.

  • Shell garland: A hanging garland of flat shells can decorate a door, stairway or window. Start with a ribbon slightly wider than the widest shell you plan to use. Cut the ribbon to the desired length, then use a hot-glue gun to affix the rims of the shells to the ribbon, spacing them evenly along its length. Allow glue to dry 15 minutes.Sew a 1-inch plastic ring to one end of ribbon, and hang garland from a tack or nail.
  • Picture/mirror frame: Choose a wide, flat frame of painted or unfinished wood. If you want to paint the frame yourself, use wood primer first, then acrylic paint.Lay out the shells on the frame to establish a pattern, then make pencil marks or take a Polaroid picture to guide you when gluing the shells in place. Any variety of shell will work as long as the size suits the proportions of your frame.

    Begin gluing the shells onto the frame with craft glue, attaching the bottom layer of shells in your pattern first. Build up your pattern by gluing shells to overlap the first layer. Allow to dry overnight.

  • Seashell planter: Small air plants (a member of the bromeliad family), which absorb nutrients through their leaves and do not require soil, can live happily inside seashells. Insert an air plant into the cavity of a large shell (nautilus shells are ideal), making sure the plant is secure. Heavily mist the plant, but do not allow water to get inside the shell. Place in a bright spot with indirect sunlight and good air circulation. Heavily mist the plants once a week, or as directed by your nursery.
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