Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment!


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Who would ever think to embellish embroidery with bugs’ wings? When I mentioned beetle wings and goldwork previously, I had not seen the wings up close in person. What a surprise! Photographs don’t do them justice!

Wings from the Asian “green jewel” beetle (Sternocera aequistignata) have been used to embellish textiles in Asia for centuries. In the Victorian era, it became fashionable in the western world to add these glorious little wings to elaborate clothing and accessories. The wings are still used today to embellish textiles and to make jewelry and other decorative items. But really, who woulda thunk it? When I think “beetle,” it doesn’t really generate the most pleasant thoughts.

All that has changed – I look at beetles in a different light now!

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

A camera cannot catch the scintillating depth of colors in these wings. Predominantly, the wings are green, but some carry as well a copper, gold, or yellow tone, and others a deep blue-ish tone. The light plays on the wings to reflect almost “layers” of colors. They remind me of two-dimensional emeralds – you don’t get the depth in a glassy way like you do with a jewel, but, because of the reflection when you move the wings around, the colors are deep and changing.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

I’ve tried to photograph the wings from different angles, in different light, to see if I could give a good enough impression of their varying color.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

The copper-colored area on the foremost wing in the photo above isn’t always that dominant! It’s the angle! These are the same group of wings as in the photos above.

The wings are about the same consistency of a very strong fingernail. They don’t seem to break easily, but I’m sure, with a good pressure on the top, they would.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

If you happen to drop your camera on top of them – they break! The camera slipped out of my hand and landed on the whole pile – one took a direct hit, and it cracked. I broke it apart to see what it looks like. They don’t chip or crack easily, though. They’re sturdy.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

When you hold them in your hands and shake them, they make a pleasant little chinking sound. They’re very light.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

When I took them outside into the sun to photograph them, the wings took on a blue tint – at least, more so than when inside. Again, they’re pretty light – even the slightest breeze moved them around while I was outside.

Beetle Wings for Embroidery Embellishment

To use them for embellishment, the wings can be steamed for five minutes to soften them, and then, using a sharp needle, holes are pierced at the tips and also on the sides, if you want (you pierce them, I assume, wherever you want to secure them to the fabric).

You can also cut the wings into different, smaller shapes, too, or trim them so that the wings you’re using are all uniform in size.

Beetle Wings with Shisha

You can also stitch over the wings, without putting holes in them, and attach them onto the fabric with decorative stitching, like shisha embroidery. You can find a tutorial for attaching beetle wings with shisha stitching here.

Shisha and Variations

If you want to add a lot of variety in the shisha stitching, my e-book on shisha embroidery and varieties of stitches for shisha will help you out!

Where to Find Them

Now, where to get these things?

You can find beetle wings through shops on e-Bay and on Etsy. Just search for “beetle wings” or “elytra wings” and you’ll end up with several options! Be aware that some places sell them in bulk, which will give you a much better deal than places that only sell, say, ten or twenty in a package. However, if you’re only doing a very small project with one or two wings, then it might be more economically feasible to purchase the smaller package.

There are also some sellers who will offer color groupings, so if you’re looking specifically with wings with a blue hue or a yellow hue, this can be helpful!

I hope you give beetle wing embroidery a try!


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(20) Comments

  1. Certainly beautiful, but I only hope the trade on this beetles is regulated and that they are not endangered. Do they raise them for the trade or pick them from the wild? There are species of “jewel” beetles that are endangered bacuse of over-harvesting for unscrupulous collectors. I would check my sources. Sometimes difficult when dealing with Asian product: they do not have conservation laws.

    1. The beetles shed their wings every month or so. So the harvest does not harm the beetles.

  2. No, these aren’t endangered, and they are harvested under the guidelines of CITES, of which Thailand has been a member since the 1980’s.

    And many Asian countries do indeed have conservation laws!

  3. Your fascination reminds me of Jane Nicholas and her book “The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection”. In the book, there is a section entitled “Beetle Wing Embroidery”. I had the good fortune to take a class with Jane this past summer and her appreciation of and talent in recreating beetles is phenomenal.

  4. These beetles are actually raised as a food crop; they’re dirt-common.

    The wing that broke, broke in the classic pattern – I found that for some applications, I could snip with fingernail clippers a little v-dart out of each side to meet in the middle, making two pieces of each wing, and they’re much more fracture-resistant than the whole pieces.

  5. Hi, Joey – I love Jane Nicholas’s stumpwork. It’s really beautiful. I’ll have to check out her beetle collection! Thanks for the idea!

    Michael – thanks for the heads up on the “food crop.” Yum. I’m going to try clipping some of the wings when I work with them. I’d like to see how well they cut when steamed, to see if they can be effectively rounded off. I assume they can be…

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. You can certainly round them off; I experimented with it some here:

    I found that clipping then with the nail clippers worked much better than scissors (but if you have to use scissors, nail scissors are the closest to working as well as the nail clippers) and the nail file roughed up the edge pretty badly. It seems to make a nicer finish to clip it to whatever shape you want.

    Are you looking at making circular shapes, or just rounding out their natural shape?

  7. Hi, Michael – actually, both – making them a bit more even so that one side doesn’t “slant,” and even seeing if I can cut them into a round shape, or an oval shape (which I think would be easier), or even a narrower wing shape. Trimming them up a bit here and there – depending on the design I want to incorporate them into. I was thinking in terms of how to go about achieving uniformity in size and shape, although I think one of the appealing things is that they aren’t uniform, and are therefore obviously bug wings! I also want to play a bit with them in their natural shape, to see how they can be put together in a design – like you did on your project in the link above.

    It’ll be fun to experiment!

  8. Ah – Joey got in before me re commenting on the beetle wings in the Jane Nichols book.

    The book shows several pictures (including close ups) of a Victorian dress that was heavily trimmed with the wings, incorporated into a design with gold thread. Just lovely and well worth having a look at 🙂

  9. Wow! A friend and I exchange “bug” gifts every Christmas and birthday. I already gave him a professor Fizzby’s Wee Beastie embroidery of a fly and one of a beetle. He will love something with real beetle wings! I’m going to order some wings and get started right away! Thanks for the idea!

  10. I'm having a hard time finding beetle wings. The store that is mentioned on Ebay seems to be gone.
    Does anyone know where I can buy these lovely things now?

  11. If you do a search on ebay for "elytra wings" you should see a number of ebay stores come up. Hope that helps!


  12. I never cease to marvel at the beauty of nature. The beetle wings are fabulous, but the colours of fish, and some tropical birds, leave me breathless. If a child painted a fish in multicolours you’d probably say, there isn’t anything like that, but go into the oceans and those fish will be there, no matter how bizarre the colours look. Oh to be able to embroider these gorgeous creatures and do them justice.

  13. Ok, now you’ve done it, I think I’m gong to be addicted to bugs. Your web link for provider of the elytra is no good anymore, but I did find them at Amazon from several providers, the pack of 200 seemed like the best buy for a beginner. They ship directly from Thailand, my order took about two weeks to get here.

    The wings are beautiful, and I’m really looking forward to working with them.

    Thanks for sharing your photos and experience.

    1. Hi, Bethoc – Thanks for letting me know about the defunct link. I’ve changed it! I hope you have fun working with the beetle wings – they’re really beautiful!

  14. Hello,

    Do you know where I can buy some of the bug wings as seen here? Its a wonderful highlight for dresses! Please let me know.

    Thank you!


  15. Hi, do you know anything about how to wash beetle wing embroidery? I’m vaguely thinking of adding some designs to my clothes, but I don’t have the spoons to hand wash everything that often and I doubt dry cleaners would know how to deal with beetle wings.

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