Beach Rock Souvenir Collage

For part of our family vacation and reunion this year, we went to the beautiful (and windy) Oregon Coast (more info in this post). As we walked down the beach, I loved finding these beautifully smooth black rocks. So, I (with a few little helping hands) gathered a pocket(or two)ful and brought them home with this project in mind.

Of course, once the rocks were home and dry, they weren't that beautiful jet black anymore. Luckily, spraying the rocks with a clear varnish can very nearly duplicate the wet look. :)

Want to make your own rock souvenir? Or maybe you just want a better way to display your your kid's rock collection (because I certainly do not still have a rock collection sitting in my closet...). This project is easy, but takes some time and waiting and patience.

Time spent creating: 2.5 hours (not including waiting-to-dry time. or driving-to-the-beach time!)
Money spent: $8 for spray varnish and E6000 -- free if you already have those on hand!

What you'll need
  • Rocks, all sizes, rinsed thoroughly
  • E6000 industrial strength craft glue
  • Crochet thread, like you would use for a doily
  • Heavy laundry starch spray
  • Matte ModPodge
  • Matte clear spray finish (I used Krylon)
  • Toothpicks (for fine-tuning)
  • Foam paint brush
  • Cookie sheet 
  • Spatula
  • Newspaper
  • Ironing board
  • Steam iron
  • Straight pins
  • Scissors
Tutorial, the short version: Arrange and glue spray-finished rocks in your chosen collage shape. Arrange, starch, and glue crochet thread to form the word of your choice. Frame and enjoy.

Tutorial, the numbered real version
*This is how I did it... which is not usually necessarily the best or easiest way. I've included some "do as I say, not as I did" steps as well. :)

PART ONE: Creating the rock shape
  1. Draw or trace your desired collage shape on a piece of paper and cut it out.
    • Make at least two copies. Trust me. :) (Step one and there's already something that I'm telling you to do that I didn't do...)
  2. Cover the cookie sheet with newspaper and place your paper shape on the newspaper.
  3. Arrange your rocks in the collage shape so that you'll know they fit. Think of it as a "green" jigsaw puzzle.
  4. Carefully transport rocks outside and spray with clear finish. I gave my rocks two thin coats to give them a nice wet-looking sheen.
    • Keep the rocks laid out in your collage, if at all possible. That will make it so much easier to glue them in the same arrangement as you laid them out.
  5. While the rocks are drying, take the second copy of your shape and trace it very lightly in pencil onto your shadow box back piece (the one that goes right in the frame).
    • If you plan to re-use the shadow box later, you'll want to find and cover another material to serve as the backing and to glue your rocks to. (That's another thing that I didn't think about until too late.)
  6. Once the rocks are completely dry, begin gluing them to your backing, one by one using E6000. Use a toothpick as needed for positioning.
    • Very important! Be sure to erase the penciled line in sections just before you glue the rocks.
PART TWO: Creating the crochet thread word  (inspired by MADE and peace love crafts) Please note than an extra measure of patience is required for this part of the creation process. :) The method I chose for forming the letters is long and complicated, but it was exactly what I wanted in my crazy perfectionist head. Unless you are also crazy like me, try another method, like those listed at the end of the post. :)
  1. Trace or write the word(s) you want to frame with your collage. I used a font from my computer because my cursive handwriting is not pretty at all.
  2. Carefully cut closely around the traced word(s) (which I did not do until later) and place your trimmed paper on your ironing board.
    • If you don't want your ironing board cover drenched with starch, place a cloth underneath the paper.
  3. Pin the crochet thread to the paper and ironing board, following the shape of the letters.
    • Place the first pin a quarter inch or so from the end of the thread, not right at the end. The tension as your form the other letters will pull it out and fray the end, and you'll have to start over. :(
    • Another do as I say not as I did (at least not until later): Push the pins all the way down into the ironing board.
  4. Keep pinning. This will take awhile. :)
    • For some sections, I used the pin as a post to wrap the thread around instead of putting the pin right through the thread.
    • Use a toothpick as needed to get the thread in the right place.
  5. When you've pinned the entire word(s), douse (and I mean douse) the thread with laundry starch and allow it to penetrate the thread.
    • If you get impatient at this point and start ironing before the starch has penetrated, you'll have flakes of starch on your painstakingly pinned thread-letters.
  6. Carefully remove the now-soaked paper in small chunks, using a toothpick. 
  7. While you're allowing the starch to penetrate the thread, heat your iron to a high steam setting.
  8. Once the starch has had ample time to penetrate the thread, begin steam-setting the starch. Steam steam steam your painstakingly pinned thread and then gently iron the thread-letters.
  9. Repeat the dousing-waiting-ironing at least once more. I starched twice, but a third or fourth starching would be even better.
  10. Once you are happy with the starching and ironing, dry the pinned letters completely. Just leave them overnight or for the day while you go run errands.
    • If you remove the pins while the starch is still wet, your letters might not hold their shape. Do you really want to have to redo all that pinning because of impatience? I didn't think so. :)
  11. When the letters are completely dry (and I mean completely dry), very carefully remove the pins.
    • It's helpful to use a toothpick to lift up the head of the pin and/or hold the thread in place while you remove the pin.
  12. Apply a thin layer of ModPodge on your backing where you will place your thread-letters. 
  13. Carefully transfer your letters to your backing. This is where my spatula came in handy.
  14. Arrange the letters exactly how you want them using a toothpick.
  15. Cover the letters with a thin layer of ModPodge.
    • This is the time to pinch closed the little holes that the pins may have left in your thread. I just used two toothpicks. The ModPodge helps keep the holes closed.
  16. Apply 1-2 more thin layers of ModPodge, until you feel confident that the letters are firmly attached to the backing and will hold their shape. 
  17. Allow the ModPodge to dry completely (an hour or so) and take a minute to admire your hard work.
  18. Place the backing in the frame.
    • If you adhered the rocks and letters to a backing other than the original backing, this would be the point where you attach that backing to the original backing before placing it in the frame. :)
Then, all that's left is to decide where to put the frame. For me, this is the most difficult part of the project!

Lovely reader Swati commented: "I am a tad confused about all the extra work that went in making the letters. I should have thought that the simplest way would be to simply use fabric glue to glue the thread on the base. If you are using a different material (ie some other cloth so as to reuse the shadow box later), the word can be stuck before and then ironed as per instructions - and then the rocks go on. Is there any reason why that wouldn't work?"

My answer: No reason whatsoever! Especially if you are using a different material for the backing, fabric glue would be a much simpler method. It wouldn't have worked for me, unfortunately, because I do not usually think that far ahead. :) I didn't envision the letters until after the rocks were already glued. Also, I wanted to trace the letters (from a font that I loved) and I was using the original shadow box backing, which prevented me from tracing the letters like I wanted.

Most of all, I got the crazy idea and went for it without thinking about making it easy... If I had, I might have soaked the crochet thread in liquid starch (like these lanterns from Sallygoodin or The Project Corner or this bowl/nest by Stephanie Lynn from Under the Table and Dreaming) and then pinned it (or glued it, like Swati suggests). So many simpler methods to choose from. :) Thanks, Swati!

So flattered to be featured at


Dusty said...

Wow! That looks awesome Lu!! I love it.

elizabeth @ twelvecrafts said...

That is beautiful Lorene . . . absolutely beautiful! I am totally loving it, and I can see why it would take so long . . . getting the rocks just right and those thread letters . . wow! I have a feeling that I would have trouble making my kids' rock collection that beautiful.

Tammy said...

I just showed my kids...they loved it, we were just talking that you could make it into a fish shape, the sun etc...I will be putting this in my favorite file. Thanks for sharing! :)

Charmaine said...

This is a lovely idea. My little girl is always finding "treasures" for me when we go for a walk and this is a fab way to make a keepsake.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Unknown said...

this is fantastic. i love the threaded word and the creative design.

Bridget said...

What a great idea - now I know what to do with our next trip's collection!

Unknown said...

this is a really neat idea! come on over and link up to MMM :)

Mickey said...

I love it!! We collected beach glass from Italy this summer and I have them sitting in a little glass bowl. This will look sooooo much better. Can't wait to get started. Thanks for sharing.

Christine said...

Such a great idea - I have so many "collections" from trips, I've found a fun use for them!
Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I LOVE it! It would look so cute with sea shells too in a star shape...or leaves from the mountians...oh you have my imagination soaring! It's beautiful thanks so much for sharing!

Megan Gunyan said...

Wow. The rocks, beautiful. The words-genius!

I'm having a Target giveaway at my blog! Love it if you could stop by.

Ann @ makethebestofthings said...

Beautiful and clever! It would also look nice with small driftwood pieces. Definitely both are on my list of things to do, and soon.

Amber D said...

That is amazing! That is really all there is to say about that.

samantha said...

Oh how I wish I would have seen this sooner. We were just over at the Or. beach this weekend and I would have loved to bring home rocks from our beach trip. I may have to find rocks from the valley. =) Great little blog. Samantha

even-star said...

what a great keepsake. And so much more meaningful (and cheaper!) than a cheesey mug or key chain. Though I will admit those do have their place.

Beach combing is one of my favourite holiday activities but I never know what to do with what gets collected. It all just piles up and gets forgotten about.

This really is quite special. :-)

Amie said...

I absolutely love this! What a creative keepsake, so much more memorable than a magnet or a loose handfull of shells. Beautiful work, thanks for sharing. :)

Sassy Sites! said...

I am hosting a giveaway over at Sassy Sites. Come on by and join in on the fun! We would love to have you!


Summer Rae said...

Gorgeous! I live in Oregon so I am lucky enough to visit the coast often. A simply lovely keepsake!

Brianna! said...

this is PERFECT I LOVE It!!
Thanks so much for sharing.
This is going in my PROJECT IDEA file!


Vanessa said...

What a great way to remember!

michelle@somedaycrafts said...

This rocks!!!! Seriously. I love this idea! I am featuring this at Grab my 'featured" button.

Swati said...

This is lovely, and the spray varnish idea really did the trick.

However, I am a tad confused about all the extra work that went in making the letters. I should have thought that the simplest way would be to simply use fabric glue to glue the thread on the base. If you are using a different material (ie some other cloth so as to reuse the shadow box later), the word can be stuck before and then ironed as per instructions - and then the rocks go on. Is there any reason why that wouldn't work?

Ami Allison said...

I LOVE THIS!!!! We are visiting San Diego in 3 weeks! It will be our very first trip there and to the Pacific! I am SOOOO doing this!!! Thanks for sharing! :)

the cape on the corner said...

ok, i now want to go back to every place i have ever visited and collect rocks! i could see this done with other items, too, like maybe matchbooks somehow. not sure. this is fantastic!

stopping over from somewhat simple said...

That is so cute! It never occurred to me to do this with rocks. I just clicked over fro Tatertots and Jello and I'm so glad I did. I would love to link to this if you didn't mind.

Anonymous said...

Really amazing project! I'm going to link to you on my blog party, since I see you're a party goer, and would love to see you there in person as well! All the best!

Gwen @ Gwenny Penny said...

This is just beautiful. I never have any idea what to do with the pocket full of rocks/shells that my daughter brings home every time we go to the beach. This is fantastic.

Lisa said...

OMG, this is gorgeous! I LOVE it! What a creative idea!

Kristin said...

How pretty! We have so many rock collections at our house...I love tying them to the place with the word.

Katie Lewis said...

Love this. Especially since I'm from Oregon. :)

Leanne said...

This is so beautiful! What a wonderful idea. Thanks for linking to the POV Summer link party. I just wanted to let you know that I'm featuring this.

sharon said...

I love this idea! We collect smooth rocks, shells, beach glass, etc when we are on vacation and I love the idea you have of turning it into a collage that we can display! (Although I would probably find an easier way to add the name of the vacation spot! :)

I am going to feature this on my Sunday (7/31) Links to Love post over at

Stacie said...

Loved it and pinned it!

Jonie Marie said...

This is a great idea! I love that you now have a reminder of your family vacation that is both sentimental and beautiful. The thread letter idea is genious. I can see that technique being useful in many projects to come.

Thanks for linking to Point of View!

Ashlee Marie said...

I love it! I'm featuring your art on my blog today. Thanks for linking up to the Point of View! Totally pinning it- I grew up in OR and the coast is my very favorite place to vacation by far!

Hsaarela said...

Lu, where did you find this size shadow box?? I can't seem to find the smaller ones anywhere...

Unknown said...

Hi Hsaarela,
This lighter colored one I got from my sister, but I finally managed to find one the same size at my local Michael's craft store, but in a darker wood. Michael's has a decent selection of smaller shadow boxes, or, if you don't have one close, you can try IKEA -- their RIBBA frame is a pretty good shadow box and available in a few sizes.

Lauren said...

How did you secure and find/choose the right sized backing for the size of the shadow box?

I am about to start a shadow box project with rocks and I can't figure out how to secure them correctly to the shadow box. I'm planning on using E6000, but do I secure them directly onto the back frame of the shadow box?

Any advice would be helpful!

Unknown said...

Hi Lauren - my shadowbox came with that muslin-type fabric in the back, but I made a similar one of these that had the more traditional black felt type material in the back, and I just glued the material I wanted over the top of that, and trimmed it at the edges so that the backing would still fit in the frame -- and then I used the E6000 to glue the rocks right to the backing. Hope that helps!

Lauren said...

Hi Lorene,

Thank you for your reply! Where did you get your shadowbox? I'm looking at the Studio Decor Adjustable 12x12 at Michael's but I don't know if it comes with muslim backing. To glue the black material you wanted, did you use E6000? Or a spray adhesive? Or some other type of securing?

Unknown said...

It's been a few years, but I believe I just used a spray adhesive, with extra e6000 around the edges. The shadowbox in this post was a gift, but I found one the exact same dimensions at Michaels -- although, again, that was a few years ago. Most of their shadowboxes have a textured black felt type backing, so you could use some type of pin to display something -- but it covered up just fine for the other collage I did. Good luck!

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