Beach Combing for Sea Glass

Searching the beach for sea glass with Isle of Man sea glass jewelry designer Eve Kelly. Sea glass is broken pieces of glass softened by the sea and shore.

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Last year, while on my way out a local gift shop, I spotted a new display of beautiful sea-glass jewelry made here on the Isle of Man. Most of the frosted pieces, both large and small, were crafted into pendants wrapped in silver designs. The one that caught my eye was an unadorned shard of light blue glass set on a simple silver mount. I bought it then and there and this necklace has since become one of my favorite everyday pieces.

With it being such a small island, I met the designer, Eve Kelly, shortly after and was cheeky enough to ask her to take me beachcombing sometime. To my delight, she got in touch last week and invited me along for a morning of hunting for sea glass along the rocky beaches near Castletown.

Foraging for Sea Glass

I’ve been on a few beaches on the island and to be honest, haven’t had much luck in finding anything interesting. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough but after my day out with Eve, I think I might have just been looking in the wrong places. Starting on a rocky beach near Pooil Vaaish we walked slowly, backs stooped, trying to spot glimmers of color in the grey stones and sand. Every now and again Eve would let out a little cry of discovery and pull a piece of blue or green glass up from the beach.

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I found a few pieces at the beginning but walked past many without seeing them at all. Eve would point those out to me from time to time but after a while, my eyes started getting a bit sharper. I quickly saw how this hobby could become addictive – the thrill of finding a pretty piece of glass really hits on those hunting and gathering instincts we all share!

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What was most fascinating to me, other than the sea-worn treasures themselves, was how each tiny cove would have a different offering. Eve knew which ones we should visit and also what types of things we might discover in each. In one there were pieces of broken pottery and glass from a 19th-century shipwreck but in the next there was nothing other than weathered driftwood and washed-up bits of plastic rubbish. As we trekked our way towards Scarlett I started thinking of how the sea is really a strange creature, leaving treasures scattered across some beaches and others scoured of anything other than large boulders.

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Finding Treasures on the Beach

When Eve first started hunting for sea glass three years ago, she used to pick up everything. Now she’s more selective and looks for pieces of a certain size, color, and weathering. If a piece doesn’t fit the bill she’ll toss it back down towards the sea in hopes that maybe in time it might transform into something more beautiful. The exception to this rule is blue glass. If she spots any, she picks it up with a whoop of delight and takes it home for her collection.

Blue glass is relatively rare and but when you spot it, it can sparkle like a sapphire amid the grey stones. Interestingly, the blue glass found on Manx shores comes predominantly from 19th-century poison bottles rather than from modern sources. Eve also explained that many of the pieces we found on the day were also from the 19th century or earlier; she could tell this just by seeing the thickness of the glass. Glass bottles in the past were made to last and were often more than a centimeter thick.

Looking Through Our Finds

After a couple of hours of climbing down into windy inlets and filling our carrier bags with glass, shells, and other discoveries, we headed back to Castletown to defrost. Over cups of hot coffee, we had a look through Eve’s finds which also included two glass bottle tops – we actually found them in the same spot together.

She found the first and explained what it was and then within a minute I’d found another more intact one. I gave it to her to take home and I wonder what she’ll end up making with them eventually.

After an initial sort, Eve laid out the best pieces on the table and then selected one from the bunch. Then out came her tools and silver plated wire and she began working her magic. She works quickly, wrapping wire around the glass in a way to both hold the piece securely and also add visual interest.

Making Sea Glass Jewellery

A twist from one tool can create a spiral and another one gently crimps the wire into an elegant bend. Within a matter of minutes, she created a pendant that would have looked lovely around anyone’s neck. It was incredible to think that that piece had only hours before been lying alone on the beach under the cold January sky.

I have a collection of finds that I’ve taken home with me but will leave the jewelry-making to Eve. Instead, I’ve got another idea in mind and hope to share it soon. To see some of Eve’s work, or purchase her jewelry, she does appear from time to time at local events. Her pieces are for sale in a few shops too – including the travel agency she works in for her day job.

Each piece is absolutely unique and has a story behind it, from the source of the glass, to how the color has changed over time, to Eve’s discovery and critical selection of it for use in pendants, earrings, and other items. I can’t think of a more beautiful way to be reminded of the beaches of Mann!

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  1. Michelle Walton says:

    Thank you so much for your post! I am visiting Isle of Man this week from America and was wondering if you might share where you found the old pottery pieces? I once bought a piece of old pottery jewelry from a lady in Nova Scotia and have always wanted to find some ever since!

  2. Josie Sewad says:

    Sea glass searching is EXCITING,a great way to enjoy the beach .
    Each piece is a treasure.

  3. Such a wonderful way to spend a day Tanya, and some great discoveries at bits of history too.

  4. My heart also leapt when I saw the sapphire blue glass – it's a rare colour to find, red is even rarer and only found on the Northumberland coast (or so I've been told) a spin-off from glassworks dumping the less than perfect creations. I've found black glass and lots of bottle tops, all kept in jars around my home to bring back beach combing memories of the Isle of Wight. Were you tempted to pick up the driftwood? It's another of my favourite finds! I love those pendants and can see why you treated yourself – very beautiful – another thing to look out for if I ever get to visit the Isle of Man!

  5. This post brought back memories from my childhood. I spent hours collecting sea glass when we went on family holidays to the seaside. I had quite the collection, including some red glass which is apparently quite rare. They were the best holiday souvenirs. I live in the US now and not many of the Rhode Island beaches are rocky enough to have good seas glass finds but I look every time we go!

  6. Beautiful, she is very talented to make something so lovely. There's a beach near us with lots of sea glass – we pick up a few pieces whenever we visit. I didn't know it could be so old – as usual a very interesting post Tanya. Glad you had such a good day.

  7. Stunning – and what a feeling of accomplishment Eve must feel on completing a "make-over".

    And one of the better recycling projects for glass that I've read :)

    Lucky you!

  8. How neat, I saw one piece of ceramic with the red that looks to be red feather edge china from the early 1800s that I have seen at cabin sites in Virginia, maybe from a ship wreck.