Making beachcomber hearts

Aren’t these hearts just adorable? The base is a heart shaped MDF plaque. You can get these on our website.

The next time you are wandering along the beach, in the countryside, park or anywhere that you might find interesting natural bits and bobs – start collecting! There, you have official permission to collect bits and pieces… as if you didn’t already if you are a crafter!

Once you have a collection then sit down at your craft table or kitchen table or wherever you prefer to work, and start creating. It’s rather like doing a jigsaw! If pieces are too big, you can cut them up, but once cut it is worth sanding or smoothing them so there are few rough edges. You can use pieces of cork from wine bottles too (now they’re fun to collect!) but if you don’t drink wine you can try asking at your nearby pub or restaurant they will often oblige with used corks.

You could add little shells, pieces of dried sea weed, mini cones, even tiny pieces of sea washed glass… the sky’s the limit and I think it’s a lot of fun!

The key obviously is strong glue. My choice is a hot melt glue gun, but you could also use something like Pinflair glue gel – just be a little patient while it dries overnight.

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Beautiful shell boxes

Decorating boxes with shells has been a popular craft for centuries… possibly as long as humans have admire shells! I am a huge fan of Mary Delaney, who was born in 1700 but managed during her lifetime to create some of the most beautiful craft pieces I have ever seen. Mary loved decorating with shells but also created many paper decoupage works depicting flowers, so that gets several of my favourite crafts in one hit!

The boxes in the picture were actually made by my mother. As a young child we always collected tiny shells and treasures whenever we were on a beach and to this day (she was 84 this week), she has a big collection of beautiful shells in the bathroom and some tucked away in her craft room.

I believe to get the best effect when decorating objects with shells, the trick is to use smaller shells and arrange them artistically as opposed to sticking big blobby shells on randomly. Here you can see why you need tweezers to work on intricate patterns like these. Another crucial thing is a good glue that will dry clear – I use Pinflair Glue Gel but there are other makes that are just as good.

Inevitably you will get some unsightly gaps between the shells, no matter how you tweak and twist, shells simply won’t fit together like Lego! The way we have got round this is to gently sprinkle a little sand between the shells before the glue is dry. This stays in keeping with the theme but gives a neutral filler that is easy to find and quick to drizzle over your finished design!

Both of these boxes were ‘found’ items at either a car boot or a local giftware shop, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for objects that would lend themselves to this lovely form of decoration.

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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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Seashore inspiration…

It’s been so warm this past week I was determined to set foot on the beach at least once! I adore beachcombing – it’s relaxing, therapeutic, invigorating and just plain old fun!

Finding pretty shells is an obvious attraction, but some of the plant life is fascinating. Sea holly, beloved of many flower arrangers, looks stunning in its natural setting, alongside grasses and samphire and other weird and wonderful looking things that I don’t even know the name of.

Thrift is another favourite – such a cheerful little plant – I really look forward to seeing it every year – but goodness knows how it manages to grow in such barren rocky areas.

I love the colour palette of the seashore, and I’ve used it for inspiration when decorating – restful and cool blues and greeny-greys alongside pale blonde sand. But there can be vibrancy too, as in the thrift and in startling yellow/orange lichens. We are blessed with turquoise blue seas down here and that is a wonderful colour to use as a starting point for any water-themed project.

On my recent beachcomb, I picked up a spider crab shell. The detail in both colour and texture is extraordinary. I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it, but I’ll store it away for future use!

 

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Shellcraft

We are so lucky to live near the coast and beachcombing is great fun. Sadly, I don’t have as much time to do this as I’d like but, whenever I do, I always keep my eyes open for pretty shells and interesting shaped bits of driftwood and pieces of dried seaweed as you never know when they might come in handy…

I wonder how many of you have tried using shells? The finished results can range from really rather yukky seaside ornaments (that aren’t even made in the UK!) to works of complete and utter beauty that can be found in museums and art galleries.

My Mum’s work comes somewhere in the middle – I would say they are definitely of complete beauty but I do realise I am utterly and forever biased – so I am trying to seem fair!

I have used shells many, many times in craft work and you can get the most amazing results. Here are a few tips to help you get the best results when working with shells:

If you are doing something small – as these boxes are – scale down the size of shells that you use.

A detailed little mosaic of miniscule treasures is going to look amazing – clunky lumps of big shells just don’t do it.

I have used shells mainly for mirror frame decoration – so I upgrade the size slightly but again try and go for a more complex intertwining shell look. I usually mix with preserved ivy or something soft and feathery like silk foliage to fill the gaps and balance the strength and angles of the shells. You really can create some beautiful effects.

Experiment with several glues before you make your definitive masterpiece.

Nothing is more infuriating than shells dropping off or not standing the test of time. I have used a dozen different glues over the years but I would say the most useful ones have been pinflair glue gel, hot glue and tacky PVA. In all cases I would ensure you have a fine nozzle rather than gloops of glue – it’s never a good look!

There are lots of places online that sell shells and the little ones look fab on cards – the huge ones are a work of art in themselves – why not have a play? And next time you are on a beach, make sure you keep your eyes peeled!

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