How To Decorate With Your Shells – Cobaqa

How To Decorate With Your Shells

If you’re like me, you find it very difficult to return home from a beach vacation without at least a few shells.  And, generally I lug home way more than “a few”.  And, this is all great and wonderful, I love seashells and love having them around me.  But, eventually, you’ve got to figure out something to do with all those shells.  I’ve got a few ideas that I would like to share with you.

(And, if you’re not like me and actually resist the beach combing temptation, but still want to make some of these things – you can go buy shells at a craft store.)

First things first

Once you get your shells home, and before you do anything with them, they need to be thoroughly cleaned. I usually use a very weak (10 to 1) solution of bleach in very warm water. Put your shells in a container and cover them with the warm water/bleach and let them set for about 10 minutes or so.

Then rinse very thoroughly so you’re sure none of the solution is still on them. As you rinse each one, set it onto a soft towel where it can be left to dry. At some point (a few hours is good) turn the shells each over so they dry well. There is a very thorough article outlining cleaning on

They advocate a much stronger bleach solution and also give detailed advice on how to clean shells with creatures still inside. (My personal philosophy is that if there is still something living in the shell, I put the shell back, but that might just be me…)

Now what do I do?

Now you have your nice clean shells, what are you going to do with them? You could put them in that shoebox and shove them to the back of the storage cupboard, or you could enjoy them. One of the simplest and highly effective ways to decorate with shells I ever saw was at a friends grandmother’s house.

The grandmother in question had been collecting shells for decades, with one or more trips a year to the beach. She used most of the shells collected to ring a tree near her patio. By the time I saw it, the shells were an inch or two thick ringing a sizable maple for several feet. (The attached picture is not of that particular tree, but will give you the idea).

You say you want to keep your treasures inside? Well, your possibilities are truly endless. From simply arranging them in a bowl or on a shelf, or around a candle. You can fill a lamp, or make a picture frame. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. When I am making or arranging something with shells, I always try to remember the last trip to the beach. And that will always make me smile.

Shells and Candles

You can get pretty glass trays and pillar candles in colors to match your room nearly anywhere these days. And, unless you actually live near the beach, you’ll want to get some craft sand. Once you have those elements,You’re ready to start.

Place your candles on the tray, then put an even layer of sand around them, not too deep, you’re not looking to fill the entire tray. Now you can start placing your shells. If you have a large showpiece shell, place that one first. Other than that, just start with the larger of your shells you plan to use, going from the base of the candles outward.

I will then usually fill in spots with smaller shells. You don’t want to try to pile too many on, or you will find that you are always trying to restack them. The accompanying photo shows a large tray with multiple candles, I have also made a nice small arrangement with a single pillar, positioned off center on a 6″ base. One thing to note is you want to keep your glass candle holder simple, so that the eye is drawn to the shells. I usually choose clear glass, or a very muted green or light blue.

Shell Baskets

One of the easiest, and in my opinion prettiest, ways to display your shells is with a small basket of them placed on a side table or a shelf. You will want to keep your basket size proportional to the size and number of shells you have to display.

Start with your larger or plainer shells on the bottom to give you a base for the smaller, prettier ones to show on top. If you have a large conch shell or starfish, angle it up from the side and back of the basket so that it can still be seen. You can also do this type of arrangement with a bowl or a tray, or, any container you choose — for my desk at work, I keep shells in a glass candy dish.

Picture Frames

You can stay as simple or get as fancy as you like with a picture frame. For ease of completion, I would say to start with one that is already finished for your first effort. Wood is a better material for the frame to be made of, but you can go with any color or finish, but simple will look better in the end.

While you might be able to use this idea with a metal or plastic frame, you will likely be much happier with the results on a wood frame. Once you have selected your frame, choose some complimentary shells that you want to attach to it. You can go all the way around it, some just at the bottom, the four corners, or however you like.

Work over newspaper to protect your surface and use your hot glue gun for this project. You will be much happier with your finished product if you do a dry placement of the shells before gluing them in place. Once you know where the shells will go, begin gluing them around the frame. (BE CAREFUL: Hot glue guns can burn you, exercise caution when using one.)

Even though hot glue does dry quickly, to ensure you don’t have any problems, allow your new frame to sit over night before placing on display. For your next venture you might want to consider a frame you finish or paint your self to get a truly customized look. You will be amazed at the wide selection your local craft store will have. The possibilities are limitless. You can also decorate the edges/frame of a mirror with shells.

Make A Wreath Of Shells

I love the look of a shell wreath, but was intimidated to try one as I was sure they were too complicated. But, it doesn’t have to be. For a project like this, more than any of the others, you should have a large number of consistently sized shells to start with.

For your first wreath, go small, get an 8″ or 10″ foam wreath base from your craft store. Because I don’t want any white to show through, I would say to give it a quick coat of a light colored spray paint. Another necessary tool is a hot glue gun.

I can’t imagine having made a wreath of any type without one. I suggest you lay out all of your shells that you want to use near your work area so you can see what you have to use. (It might also be helpful to arrange them in a circle to play with size and color placement.)

Start at the top, gluing your shells in place as you go around, filling in around the circle once, then going back in for your next row. (BE CAREFUL: Hot glue guns can burn you, exercise caution when using one.) Once you have the front of your wreath filled in with shells, you’re nearly done. You can now add some ribbon all the way around the wreath, or simply an accent bow.

Turn your wreath over and attach a wire hanger into the back and secure with a dab of hot glue. Even though hot glue does dry quickly, I would suggest you still let your wreath set overnight before hanging it. Now, just sit back and enjoy…and start planning your next wreath.

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