A Sailor’s Valentine is a unique and beautiful form of seashell art traditionally created by sailors as a gift for their loved ones. These intricate and decorative designs are composed of various seashells arranged in a symmetrical pattern within a shadow box. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to make your own Sailor’s Valentine, allowing you to create a special and meaningful piece of art.

Centuries ago, Sailors’ Valentines were handmade gifts by sailors to be given to their girlfriend or wife. I can only imagine just how difficult it must have been to be a sailor in the 19th century and to be away from his true love for months, possibly even years at a time. There certainly was no form of constant communication like phones or the internet, and there was no mail delivery at sea.

A sailor could write a letter to his love and mail the letter when he was in port, but mail to him would be sporadic, if at all. It would require a great deal of devotion to remain bound to someone you couldn’t see or talk to with any regularity.

What is a Sailor’s Valentine?

A Sailor’s Valentine is a small, framed mosaic-like artwork made from seashells. It typically consists of a symmetrical design, often in the shape of a heart or other geometric patterns. These intricate creations were originally crafted by sailors during their long sea voyages and presented to their loved ones upon their return.

Materials Needed

Before you begin making your Sailor’s Valentine, gather the following materials:

  • Shadow box or deep picture frame
  • Assorted seashells of various sizes, colors, and shapes
  • Hot glue gun or craft glue
  • Small paintbrush
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Colored felt or fabric (optional, for background)
  • Tweezers (optional, for precise shell placement)
  • Clear adhesive sealant or varnish (optional, for protection)

Choosing a Design

Selecting a design for your Sailor’s Valentine is an important step. You can opt for a traditional heart shape or explore other geometric patterns or symbols. Look for inspiration online, in books, or even by examining antique Sailor’s Valentines. Once you have a design in mind, sketch it lightly on a piece of paper or directly onto the background of your shadow box.

Step-by-Step Guide – How to Make a Sailor’s Valentine

1. Creating the Base

  • Disassemble the shadow box and remove the glass panel.
  • If desired, cover the background of the shadow box with colored felt or fabric to add contrast and texture.
  • Place the background back into the shadow box, securing it in place.

2. Arranging the Seashells

  • Start arranging your seashells on the background, following your chosen design. Experiment with different arrangements until you are satisfied with the placement.
  • Use a hot glue gun or craft glue to carefully attach the seashells to the background. Be mindful of shell orientation and ensure they are securely attached.

3. Adding Additional Elements

  • Consider adding additional elements such as small pieces of sea glass, beads, or pearls to enhance the design. Use tweezers or small paintbrushes to position and glue these elements in place.

4. Finishing Touches

  • Once all the seashells and additional elements are securely attached, inspect the Sailor’s Valentine for any loose shells or areas that need reinforcement.
  • Use a small paintbrush to remove any excess glue or debris from the shells and background.
  • Allow the artwork to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

5. Displaying Your Sailor’s Valentine

  • Carefully reassemble the shadow box, ensuring the glass panel is clean and free of fingerprints.
  • Place your Sailor’s Valentine in the shadow box, making sure it is centered and level.
  • If desired, you can apply a clear adhesive sealant or varnish over the shells to provide added protection and a glossy finish.
  • Once the sealant is dry, your Sailor’s Valentine is ready to be displayed.


Creating a Sailor’s Valentine is a wonderful way to express creativity and showcase the beauty of seashells. Whether you follow a traditional design or create your own unique pattern, the process of arranging and crafting the seashells into a meaningful piece of art can be a rewarding experience. Share your Sailor’s Valentine with your loved ones or proudly display it as a reminder of the seaside’s charm and the heartfelt sentiment behind this cherished tradition.

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FAQ 1: Can I use fake seashells for a Sailor’s Valentine?

While traditional Sailor’s Valentines are made with real seashells, you can certainly use artificial or resin seashells if desired. Artificial shells can provide consistency in size and shape, allowing for precise design elements. However, using real seashells adds an authentic and natural touch to the artwork.

FAQ 2: How long does it take to make a Sailor’s Valentine?

The time required to make a Sailor’s Valentine can vary depending on the complexity of the design, the size of the shadow box, and the intricacy of the shell arrangement. It can take several hours to a few days to complete, allowing for drying time and meticulous placement of the seashells.

FAQ 3: Are there traditional designs for Sailor’s Valentines?

While the heart shape is the most common traditional design for Sailor’s Valentines, there are various other symmetrical patterns and motifs that you can explore. Some traditional designs include starbursts, anchor motifs, and compass rose patterns. Feel free to personalize your design and incorporate elements that hold special meaning to you or your recipient.

FAQ 4: Where can I find seashells for my Sailor’s Valentine?

Seashells can be collected from beaches, purchased at craft stores, or sourced from online retailers specializing in shell supplies. If collecting shells from beaches, ensure that it is legal and respectful to do so, and always prioritize sustainable harvesting practices.

FAQ 5: Can I personalize a Sailor’s Valentine with specific seashells?

Absolutely! Personalizing your Sailor’s Valentine with seashells that hold significance to you or your loved ones can add an extra layer of sentimentality. Consider using shells from a memorable beach trip or incorporating shells that reflect the recipient’s interests or hobbies. The personal touch will make your Sailor’s Valentine even more special and meaningful.


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