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!


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 – the 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, I’m told by Michael Cook, the Wormspit guy, that the wings should 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).

Now, where to get these things? You can find them on e-Bay, actually, at “herbkerb’s” eBay store, Best deal Thai Goods. He sells them in different quantity packages: 200 of the regular green run about $15, with $5 shipping…. or you can go for bulk with 1,000 for $65.00! The smaller packages are grouped by color, so you can actually get predominantly blue-ish tones, green tones, copper tones, or whathaveyou. All of the wings are, of course, green, but they have these different elements of color in them. I have recently placed an order through this eBay store, but have not received it yet, so I can’t vouch for the service personally yet, but they seem to have a good track record. The batch of wings above are from Michael Cook – I swapped with him for some silk samples! And speaking of which, he also sent a cocoon and some of his own silk – so more on that later!

The beauty and variety in God’s creation is just amazing, isn’t it? I’m really in awe of these little wings, and I’m looking forward to playing with them when the opportunity arises! I’ll post results eventually.


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(13) 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.

  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.

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