Seashell Topiary

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Do you enjoy making Christmas gifts and holiday decor ?  Crafting has remained a part of my December preparations since I was little.  And quite often I find myself turning to beautiful seashells for my projects.

When I was young, we came home from beach vacations with bags full of beautiful shells picked up along the islands off of North Carolina.  I worked those into wreathes and Christmas tree ornaments, and lit tabletop trees.  I remember one year hundreds of beautiful moon shells washed up along the northern end of Virginia Beach after a late summer storm.

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I lived in Virginia Beach for many years, before moving to Williamsburg, and sea themed Christmas decor became a way of life there.  I still love seeing shells worked into wreathes and garlands.

Now, finding shells on the beach has become a rare treat, and I end up buying bags of shells for my projects or relying on friends to share shells leftover from shellfish meals.  But there are many shell ‘beads’ wherever beading materials are sold, pearl tipped floral pins, and of course freshwater pearls to add a bit of elegance.

Back in the 70s and 80s many crafters finished their shell projects with a heavy coat of shellac or polyurethane.  I find this look dated and heavy.  I begin by wiping each shell with a light coating of mineral oil, which seeps into the shell’s structure and gives a more natural luster.  This brings out the beautiful colors, as though the shell were still seen through the surf.  The mineral oil lasts, but can be renewed easily should the shells ever begin to look dull.

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I made three shell topiary trees last December.  We enjoyed them so much that they never quite got given away or even put away.  They are still there on the mantle in the den waiting for the Santas to come out of storage.

I’ve made a new one this year; a taller one.  And I took lessons learned from earlier projects to make this one even better.  You see it here with little folk art Santas we picked up at a local crafts fair yesterday.

Shell topiary trees can be crafted in many different ways.  You might find these beautiful, or hopelessly tacky.  But on the chance that you feel a little inspired to make one for yourself, know that this is a fairly easy project to accomplish in  just a few hours.

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I’ll offer just a few tips to ease your efforts should you want to make your own shell tree.  I begin with a Styrofoam base, and cover the base with fabric.  A good low temperature glue gun is the essential tool for this project.  The actual Styrofoam cone may be anchored in a flower pot, on a wooden base, or even on shell ‘feet’ depending on your style.

After sorting and polishing the shells, begin by hot gluing the larger shells on to the fabric.  Anchor one shell to its neighbor where they touch with a touch of hot glue.  It is important to work slowly and cautiously at this stage to avoid burning oneself on the glue gun’s tip or on freshly squeezed hot glue.  Remember to carefully consider each shell to use it to best advantage.  Most shells have more than one beautiful side, and can be glued in several different ways to showcase different parts of the shell.

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Keep turning the tree as you work and work from bottom to top, building up your design layer by layer.  One can  overlap shells slightly to cover any broken edges or flaws.  Some crafters keep gluing here, and build up a second glued layer of shells to completely cover the base.  But I prefer a different approach.

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Once the tree is mostly covered, and a ‘top’ glued into place, it is time to fill in the spaces to cover every tiny bit of fabric possible.  I’ve used a combination of small shells sold as beads, bits of shell sold as beads, and freshwater pearls.  Each of these smaller pieces came pre-drilled with a hole just the right size to accept a straight pin.  Depending on your taste and purpose, you might even incorporate some glass or metal beads at this point in the design to embellish the tree.

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Again, I work around the entire tree, turning it frequently.  I usually complete the top first and then work down to fill in the spaces with small shell ‘beads’  and pearls.  At some point, all of the spaces are filled and you know your tree is finished.  And other than letting the tree sit undisturbed for a few hours while the glue hardens, that is all there is to it.  Your tree is now ready to display.

This tree will serve as decoration for a holiday gathering next week before heading out to a loved one’s home for the remainder of the holidays.   But I’m keeping these cute Santas, and will bring their brothers out to join them one day soon!

Happy Holidays!

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Shells in Christmas Decorations

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

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Sea shells may not seem like a traditional Christmas decoration, but they certainly can be lovely ones.

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Shells are commonplace for those of us who live near the coast; especially those shells left from a meal of oysters, clams, or scallops.  These wreathes on display now in Colonial Williamsburg feature shells as an important part of their design.

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We’ve probably all seen scallop shells transformed into angelic tree ornaments and white starfish hung from ribbons.  The della robbia wreathes at Colonial Williamsburg incorporate many surprising and commonplace materials, including shells, dried flowers, fruits, vegetables, vines, cotton, seed pods, nuts, cones and berries, as well as evergreen stems and leaves.

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This wreath hangs at Chowning's Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

This wreath hangs at Chowning’s Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

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These are unusual and playful decorations for the Christmas season.

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I used shells and pearls in  decorations for a ladies’ luncheon earlier today.

My ‘vase’ held branches pruned from our Mountain Laurel shrubs, dusted with gold; ‘flowers’ made from Lotus pods; white seashells; and sprays of fresh Magnolia.

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Carved wooden birds perched in the branches of the arrangement.  Several of the small Christmas trees on the tables were made entirely from shells and pearls.

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Christmas decorating is far more fun when we can take a light and playful attitude. It is fine to change things out a bit year to year, trying out new ideas and revising old ones.

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Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

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This is especially true in the fabulous wreathes which come from the  CW workshops each year.   Walking the old city streets each December is an adventure, as new and creative designs manifest year after year.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Christmas Tree Topiaries

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This year I’ve been inspired to make tabletop topiary Christmas trees.

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A few friends and I are hosting a Christmas luncheon next week.  I wanted to make a small Christmas tree for each dining table, and also some for the buffet tables.

It seemed like a fairly easy project as I dreamed it up…

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After several days of research, studying photos online and visiting Sharon’s beautiful Crafts ‘n Coffee blog a few dozen times; I was ready to begin assembling the materials.

After looking at many different topiary trees, constructed from various materials, I finally had a few basic ideas for tree designs.

People can be incredibly creative!   There are so many ways people have designed topiary Christmas trees from simple Styrofoam cones!

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Choosing ribbon for the first set of topiaries helped establish the color scheme: soft greens and a golden cream.  I found a coordinating sueded fabric to use with the shell trees.

All four of these designs are enormously simple to make.  Tracking down the materials was the most challenging part of the project.

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All begin with a Styrofoam tree form and a square wooden base purchased at the crafts store.  The ribbon trees were made entirely by attaching ribbon to the form with straight pins, then embellishing the trees with glass beads and pearl topped straight pins.  The tiny birds are actually metal beads.

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The shell trees were assembled on a fabric covered Styrofoam base.  The shells were hot glued into place, then the trees finished with shells and freshwater pearls, attached with pearl headed pins.

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Many shells can be found pre-drilled and strung, wherever strings of beads are sold.  Most shells come rather dull when found on the beach or purchased in bulk. 

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I polished these with a cotton swab dipped in pure mineral oil to bring out the colors of the shells.

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Finally, the wooden trees were the most interesting to assemble.

There are five different sizes and cuts of wooden sticks, found at several different craft stores, in addition to bamboo skewers from the kitchen.  I’ve added sheet moss to the undersides of the Styrofoam cones and to the wooden base for these trees.

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A ‘trunk’ is made by gluing broken sticks into the base of the cone in a roughly round pattern; about 1.5″ in diameter.  Glued to the styrofoam and to the wooden base, this makes a fairly sturdy foundation for building the trees, which are quite heavy.

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A friend made the miniature gnomes and rabbit for me a while ago.  They originally lived in a ‘fairy garden’ amid some shade loving plants.  Now they will live under these trees.  The larger gnome, and the mushrooms, came from the craft store.

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Interestingly, each tree came out differently. The wooden sticks are glued both to the Styrofoam, and to each other.  Larger sticks can be broken, and both ends used.  so long as the rough edges are covered by another stick, construction continues.  The bamboo skewers help cover gaps and holes.

The largest tree was constructed over two days.  I ran out of wooden sticks and had to finish after a shopping trip the following day.  I can see a difference in style from each session working with the trees.

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I hope these little trees inspire you to try something new this holiday season.

The shell trees are on our mantle at the moment; the other trees on the buffet in the dining room.  Since we start late with decorating here, these are bringing a little holiday joy to our home as they await their day at the luncheon.

Since we don’t truly need nine topiaries, we’ll find new homes for most of these after the luncheon next week.

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I enjoyed working on these topiaries and learning some new techniques.  And, I”m still inspired by the fascinating photos of others’ trees discovered in my search.

There are free form driftwood trees, trees made with Cinnamon sticks, button trees, scrap fabric trees and trees covered in shiny glass balls…

Please do visit Sharon if you enjoy making things with your hands.  She has some wonderful designs, and offers clear and easy to follow instructions for her projects.

I appreciate the inspiration and guidance she offered as I was exploring ideas for this project.

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It always surprises me how much cheer a little Christmas decoration can bring as we descend into winter and the short dark days of December.

Whatever we can do to brighten the world for ourselves and for others is a good thing, I believe.

And I hope these little trees end up making the season a bit brighter for you and for all who see them.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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