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Creating Jewelry With Seashells

Making jewelry from seashells that you found on vacation is a really fun way to apply your jewelry-making skills to create your own special souvenirs. Like lots of jewelry-making projects, there are many steps you have to follow to get to your finished piece. You may be surprised to find where the first step starts.

The first step actually starts on the beach while you're collecting the shells. When collecting shells make sure that you only collect shells that are no longer some sea creature's home. On Sanibel Island and its neighboring island, Captiva, where I was collecting shells, it is actually illegal to collect a seashell with a living creature still in it. Making sure you understand the rules of the beach you are on is always an important first step, along with not displacing wildlife. Once you know the rules of the area you are in, grab a bucket or sturdy bag, a strainer (or a shovel) to scoop into the sandy water just off shore. Or for the more adventurous shell seeker, grab a snorkel and some goggles and dive in!

While collecting seashells for jewelry making, think about what types of jewelry you want to make. While I was collecting seashells on my trip, I knew I wanted to make some pendants and a few sets of earrings. With this in mind, I focused on trying to find matching sets of shells for earrings, and complete shells and interesting pieces of dried coral large enough for pendants. Keep in mind when looking for earring shells that you probably will not find perfect sets of shells. Look for close matches, but don't drive yourself nuts looking for the perfect match.

It is recommended that you go through your shells while still on vacation so you can weed out the ones you really don't want to keep. Each night I would go through the shells I had collected that day and sort out a pile to return to the beach the next day. I returned to the beach any broken shells or shells that didn't look like they would survive the trip back home, let alone wire wrapping or drilling. Sometimes I was lucky and found shells or coral with holes already in them so no drilling was needed. I carefully wrapped the shells I wanted to keep in paper towels and packed them for my trip back to the cold Midwest!

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Here is a small selection of the seashells I found one day on the beach.

Before making jewelry with found seashells it is important to clean them. I cleaned my seashells using a diluted bleach-and-warm water solution and a soft, old toothbrush. I let the shells soak for around 20 minutes and then rinsed them thoroughly. After that, I scrubbed them lightly with the toothbrush. You want to do this because these seashells once had something living in them, so they could smell a little. Some people also put a little mineral oil or baby oil on the shells to give them a nice shine. I skipped the oil step with my shells; I liked the way my shells looked without any shininess.

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Soaking the shells in bleach is really key to cleaning your shells. I have skipped this step in the past, but after doing some research, I would never skip this step in the future. No one wants a set of stinky earrings as a gift!

Now that my seashells are clean and dry, I am ready to drill holes. I have decided to use a small metal engraving drill bit in my husband's drill to create small holes for threading jump rings and head pins through my shells. I did this by laying my shells on a piece of board and applying even pressure on the drill while pressing down into the shell. I was lucky and none of the shells I selected broke! I did have a few shells I could not drill because the drill would just slide off the shell. I chalked that up to the shining slickness of the shell. I have seen other people use a Dremel tool to drill holes in shells, and others who skip making holes altogether. I have also seen people adhere bails on the back of shells and wire-wrap shells.

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Drilling holes in the shells was much easier than I thought it would be. Be sure to wear eye protection when using a drill on shells. Make sure you create holes large enough to fit your desired finding through.

When creating jewelry with shells, I make sure the shells are the focal part of each piece. Try not to overwhelm your shell pieces with too many beads or moving parts. You can use head pins, eye pins and even simple jump rings to create interesting and simple pieces of jewelry. Here are a few pieces I came up with after drilling holes.

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When creating earrings just add a simple crystal or other blingy bead to add a little glamour to the beauty of the natural shell. When creating pendants, I looked for unusual hollowed-out shells to use as windows to hang beads in. I also looked for large chunks and fun matching shells in different sizes to create layered looks.
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Larger scallop shells (the large pink shell) also make great pendants. However, don't overlook broken shells that create interesting flat pieces that would otherwise be hard to create pendants out of (small white shell). This coral was a great find because it had natural holes in it that I could use to thread a jump ring through.

All of these are going to be pieces of jewelry that will always remind me of the trip I took to Sanibel Island with my family!

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