Bringing Home the Beach

Photo 1

There’s sand in my suitcase, and I put it there.

We just returned from a week on Cape Cod with three generations of family. This is the second year we’ve participated in what is already an annual event—the cost, hassle, and too-close-to-the-first-day-of-school timing of which is easily justified because the kids are “making memories.” So while Amelia and her cousins were playing on the beach and boogie boarding in the waves, we threw a crafty memory into the mix. We each brought home a piece of the beach.

This is a project I first read about almost a year ago on The Artful Parent. At the time, I thought it looked interesting but who wants to schlep plaster of paris on vacation? This year, it reappeared on The Artful Parent blog right before we left, and it occurred to me that there are hardware stores on Cape Cod. Coincidentally, right next to a coffee shop I needed an excuse to visit. Four dollars later, we were project-ready!

This is a really easy project, and perfect to do in the background on a day at the beach. The first step is to pick up some shells or rocks. No magic number, just a handful of pretty ones will do.


Next, dig a hole in the sand. The size of the hole will determine the amount of plaster of paris you’ll need, and the size of the finished casting. These things are heavy, so this is not the time to dig to the center of the Earth! A hole about the size of a small bowl is ideal.  Line the hole with shells, remembering that the side of each shell that is facing down in the sand will be facing up in the finished casting. So place them with the preferred side facing down.


Mix the plaster of paris with water in a container you can throw away, following the directions on the package. I don’t know whether salt water or lake water would work, we brought a jug of tap water just in case, and used an empty orange juice bottle to mix it up. Pour the plaster of paris into the hole, covering the shells and rocks.


Go play, and in about 30-40 minutes the castings will be hard enough to lift up.  When they are fully dry (this doesn’t take long in the sun!) you can brush off the excess sand to reveal all the shells.


My suitcase isn’t happy, but we made a memory!

A few lessons learned:

  • I’d never used plaster of paris before this, and it was really very simple. But it does dry quickly.  To prevent it from drying in the container, mix up only what you’ll use within a few minutes, it’s easy to make more.
  • I wish we’d thought to put a hand or footprint, our names or the date on the back of each casting before they hardened. Next time!
  • Be sure your shells are empty! We found a few that were “stuck” to other shells and we thought they were cool and used them. Well, it turns out they weren’t stuck – their inhabitants were holding on tightly! Snails won’t survive this project, and they won’t smell very good later…so trust me, make sure the shells are empty!
  • We haven’t tried any variations yet, but I don’t see why this project wouldn’t work away from the beach, using a shallow hole in dirt or sand in a sand table or tub. Instead of seashells I might try acorns, pretty rocks, leaves, beads, broken pottery, or tiles. And a little glitter couldn’t hurt…

Happy Beachcombing!

Want more Mess? Visit Melanie’s blog, or drop by her Etsy store, Made by Mommy.