Trash-to-Treasure Jewelry: Make Art Jewelry With Me Using Gifts from the Sea

Beachcombing has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Through years of family vacations and girls' weekend trips, my mother and I have visited dozens of beaches on the east and gulf coasts–including nearly every beach from the Outer Banks of North Carolina down to the Florida–and throughout all of my travels, I've been to at least one beach in every continental state that has one–except for New Jersey.

We love to walk on the beach like we're in a big surfside Easter-egg hunt, finding pretty (or peculiar) little bits and pieces of shells, coral, sea creatures, or even true trash that has been ocean-worn into a thing of beauty, such as sea glass, driftwood, and gnarled old metal pieces, many of which we keep.


The result, as you can imagine, is that I have bags and bags of seashells and other gifts from the sea. I've collected this stuff for years, long before I had a career in crafts or jewelry making. I chose pieces knowing that I'd do something with them, someday.

Nudged by last week's episode of Project Accessory (where contestants had to make jewelry out of junk scavenged from an old storage warehouse) and our Project Accessory-inspired Make-Along, I turned to those bags this week with a trash-to-treasure jewelry-making mission in mind.

I had already collected some found objects from my craft junk box that I thought might lend themselves to jewelry making. I gathered a few shiny metal blobs of melted industrial solder that I'd collected from my grandmother's yard years ago, left behind by a recent repairman, along with a broken multi-strand clasp that I like too much to throw away, a hand-written tag from an old skeleton key that I've always been inexplicably attached to, a beaded satin butterfly removed from a pair of party shoes, the handle from an old fork, a pile of broken aquamarine gemstone beads, some old watch faces, and a gnarly piece of driftwood.


I still haven't figured out how to use my broken aquamarine gemstone beads, but for this particular jewelry-making project, their color led my thoughts to the ocean . . . and that of course led me to my bags of shells. I found one holey piece of shell that was dark inside and sun-bleached white on the outside, giving it a very fun but still natural-looking polka-dot design. I love polka dots, so I dug into some other bags of shells, finding more similar white and gray pieces. I ended up with nearly ten such pieces.

With the Project Runway and Project Accessory "edit, edit, edit" mantra in mind, I've decided to save the other things I'd collected for another project and focus on my polka-dotted shells. They're so intricate and detailed by themselves, I didn't want anything to compete with them, so I just needed to think about how to connect them, what to use for the base of the necklace, and most importantly, to bling or not to bling! In my opinion, there aren't many pieces of jewelry that can't be made better with the addition of a little crystal or pretty sparkling faceted gemstones. Ha!

For the base of the necklace, I have a shiny but dark gunmetal-colored vintage chain taken from a piece of costume jewelry somewhere, years ago, that I think will be a perfect contrast for these white pieces and coordinate with the dark holes in the shell. I can't decide whether to make jump rings out of some dark metal wire or white craft wire, which sort of disappear between them. I also have a bag full of base metal jump rings of all sizes and gauges that I might use alternately. Which option do you like best?


I have a large stash of found and purchased chandelier crystals that I could add to the necklace, either between the shell pieces or on the ends between the shell and the chain. Should I use small crystals, dangling crystals, or both? All the same size and shape or all different?

I've also considered wiring crystals or gems randomly on the shell pieces, or putting gem-topped head pins in them, what do you think of that? Would you use clear crystals or just a single bright red gem, for a little unexpected punch of color among all these neutrals? I love that idea, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.


For dozens of tips and techniques (such as using resin, fibers, and more) to help you use found objects (from the sea and everywhere else) in your mixed-media and trash-to -treasure jewelry, check out our Handcrafted Jewelry special issue, available in print and in digital format on Zinio!

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