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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Stitch Fun: Beetle Wings & Shisha!


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Perhaps it’s the time of year. Things are very Sparkly this time of year, aren’t they?

I like Sparkly! I love rich jewel tones, and I especially love them when they are combined with gold.

So when a reader asked about the possibility of doing shisha with beetle wings, a lightbulb went off. Why not? Shisha embroidery can hold practically any-shaped, flat-ish anything onto fabric. And beetle wings! Well, they are magnificently rich in color, and they can be trimmed to practically any shape.

If you’ve never heard of beetle wings being used with embroidery, you’ll find some magnificent images online. I’ve worked a beetle wing and goldwork project and written a few articles on beetle wing embroidery here on Needle ‘n Thread, including tips on preparing beetle wings for embroidery.

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

For the embroidery to really look spectacular with the beetle wings, I figured a metal thread – a gold thread – would be ideal. I used tambour thread #7 from Access Commodities for this tutorial. It’s a little stiff for the tiny chain stitches, but with care, it does work.

I’m using a wing that was already trimmed down a little bit into a more regular shape. I’ve already covered how to prepare and trim beetle wings for embroidery (and how to pierce them, if you’re using them for regular surface embroidery embellishment). You don’t necessarily have to trim and shape the wings, but it does make them a little more uniform, and it eliminates some of the irregularity in height across the surface of the wing.

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

The only thing that provides a real challenge with working shisha around a beetle wing is the shape of the wing. The foundation threads must be worked in a way that makes sense and that holds the wing securely to the fabric.

In the diagram above, beginning at “a” and traveling around the wing twice, ending up finally at “r”, you can see the order I followed in working the foundation stitches. The concept is exactly the same as working the foundation stitches for the traditional shisha stitch, only adjusted to work around the shape of the wing.

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

As far as the decorative part of the stitch goes, I worked the traditional shisha stitch, which you can find explained in this step-by-step tutorial. You can certainly try other variations of the stitch. I hope to down the road a bit, and if I do, I’ll share any discoveries with you.

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

There’s nothing at all tricky about working the shisha around the wing. When you come to the tip, just continue right around it.

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

The best thing about beetle wings? The way they change color in the light!

Shisha embroidery with beetle wings

Are they green? Are they blue? Are they yellow? Gold? Copper with reddish hints? It depends on the wing! This particular wing is primarily green-blue. Some wings are green-yellow, and some are a deep coppery-yellow-bronze-gold-reddish color. (A little hard to explain!).

I always think of peacocks when I see these green-blue beetle wings. How about a goldwork peacock with beetle wings and shisha in the tail?

I’m thinking in terms of a Christmas ornament. How many days do I have?

If you want to find beetle wings online, check eBay. You’ll find them more economically and in larger quantities on eBay than you will in individual retail shops. Search for the following terms: beetle wings, beetle wings for embroidery, beetle wings for crafts, elytra wings, jewel beetle wings, or Sternocera beetle wings – so many options! Normally, they come directly from Thailand. The beetles are farmed, and the wings are collected from beetles once they are dead, after their short 3-4 week lifespan.

So, what do you reckon? Would you try shisha with beetle wings? Or is it just too weird? Happy to hear your thoughts, below!

If you’re looking for some fun stitch tutorials, feel free to visit the Stitch Fun Index, where you’ll find a whole list of stitches to explore!


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(55) Comments

  1. Just what I need…you always peak my interest. I practiced Shisha thanks to your great tutorial, so this would be nice to try. Best try to locate some beetle wings!

  2. This is so fascinating to me – I guess we can embroider most any trinket down – using your wonderful lettered guide. This is a keeper. I was chuckling a bit – though – wondering if you can “wrap”
    this beetle wing so wonderfully – how beautiful are your wrapped presents? Thanks, again, Mary.

  3. G’day Mary,
    At least you’re not like the Wizard of Id who complained that he needed ideas and all he got were lightbulbs. The comic had him sitting on the steps with a lightbulb above his head and a pleased expression on his face, and then in the second frame he was looking gloomy with lightbulbs scattered around him on the floor. Hence his complaint!
    So, the idea was very successful, It’s neat and beautiful. Thank you.
    Cheers, Kath.

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing that link. The dress is amazing and I loved reading about the history! Absolutely amazing. To think about how such a work of art was constructed… blows my mind. And the restoration techniques using modern technology to restore it! Delightful read, ty Maxine! : )

  4. I’ve wanted to try this for a while, but it keeps getting pushed down my list of stitching projects.

    Love the one you did; it looks great!

  5. A very unique technique. Would I ever do it? Probably not, but I wish someone would give me a gift with it. Chances of that happening are nill. It would look beautiful multiple times around a foam-based ornament, and would end up being a treasured one. Most likely will just be something I google over or is that drool?

  6. Mary, you consistently have the VERY BEST blog I know about in the needle world! What interesting topics and fascinating subjects. Who would have thought you would hit a topic my entomology daughter would appreciate. After all, many of her treasures are parts of expired ‘friends.’ She still have her collection from grade school in the 1980’s! Your instructions are wonderful! I went right to the link about steaming beetle wings (who would have thought?) and learned all about it! Keep it up! There ARE those of us who really, really enjoy your detours, thought process, and variety!

    1. Hi, Jen! Don’t you love that thing? It’s on my Pinterest page – I just saw it this morning when searching for beetle wing images. I’m not sure I would every actually use a tea cozy that fancy, but I love the combination of the gold and beetle wings on the red!

      I suppose I could always top my Christmas tree with it…

  7. Dear Mary

    What a beautiful Beetle wing I love the way the wings change colour in the light and with the gold added it really is impressive. I love the way Shisha embroidery works on all sorts of materials and the beetle wings above could be used as singularly as an embellishment. Thanks for showing us how to embroider Shisha on the beetle wings another embroidery technique to add to my list.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. Good morning Mary ~ I can see many possibilities for the beetle wing – but I have one question, or maybe I missed something
    what do you use to make the beetle wing? and where do I find it?
    I anticipate more fun here – good thing I am retiring at the end of the year
    Thank you ~ Sharon

    1. Hi, Sharon – I’m not really sure I understand the question. If you mean, is the beetle wing manmade, no. It’s a beetle wing – I didn’t make it. It really is a beetle wing, from a beetle! 🙂 ~MC

    2. OOOHHHH>>>>> where does one find real bettle wings – the beetles in my backyard aren’t that colorful… thanks

    3. Hi, Sharon! I suggested looking on eBay – there are some search terms up there at the end of the article that will help you track them down. You’re right – they aren’t your average every day garden beetle! (At least, not here in the States!) 🙂

  9. Wonderful tutorial! I have often wondered if they needed support from behind to keep them from crushing when you worked on them. Must be pretty tough, though. Thanks for the inspiration. Have to try this!

    1. Hi, Laura – The wings are Very Strong. They can crack if you step on them or push on them really hard, but they are pretty darned tough! You don’t need to put anything behind them to support them. ~MC

  10. Im curious – did you ever finish the beetle wing flower project Mary? I wanted to see how the “dusting” turned out! tres cute.

  11. Those wings you stitched looked beautiful. Had also read of Jane Nicholas using them and so relieved to read that they are taken from dead beetles!

  12. No wings for me. thank you. When I studied the shish photos I thought more of artificial fingernails than beetles. LOL maybe I’ll try them.

    1. I think artificial nails is an awesome ideal. They look very much like the beetle wings in shape. Solid colors or painted fancy-both would be awesome.

  13. Mary,
    You did beautiful work on these. Love them, and an avid lover of peacocks. Could definitely see these in the tail of an embroidery. Great tutorial. Thank you.

  14. Ohhhh Mary. Now you’ve got me hooked. I have a stash of beetle wings and you’ve just shown me everything I need to do with them. And you’ve turned them into jewels!! All I need to do is find the right material: either black wool or dupioni silk. Oh I’m in heaven: decisions, decisions…..such a joy to have to pass the holiday season downunder.

  15. Hi Mary, just read that you’ve used gold tambour thread. As I don’t have that, what gold thread would you suggest, please?

  16. I would love to try the beetle wings in some of my works. Embroidery or in my art quilts. I think they are simply beautiful. A few years ago I bought a pair of earrings for my daughter-in-law and she loved them (she is an entomologist)

  17. You hit a nerve with this! My young lady (ages 12-14)art students who want to paint fairies, while I want them closer to nature (REAL-life)and what you can actually see, might begin to find a compromise here!! Have you seen the http://www.faerie-tailor.com/ ?? How durable are these beetle wings? I’m sure feathers have been used in embroidery before too. I wonder what other natural objects are lasting enough to use this way? Very exciting, thanks!

  18. Now, that’s the answer to applying those wings I have sitting here. I just haven’t sorted out how to apply them. Thanks Mary, once again. You’re a valuable resource.

  19. I can`t help but think that the beetle wings look SO much like fake fingernails–painted with today`s iridescent polishes! Maybe I will try that and let you know how it goes…in my copious free time, that is 😉

  20. You’ve done it again Mary! Something different and wonderful, and so much information in one place. Maybe that’s why there are so many questions about things you’ve already mentioned: everyone is so overwhelmed by the beauty and breadth of this. I have wanted to work with beetle wings for a while and now I think I have the right impetus. Thanks again.

  21. Sooo pretty, anxious to try these. I should be able to find someplace on my crazy quilt to showcase some. loved the story about the dress.
    Deonia in Florida

  22. Hi, Mary, I love the idea of using beetle wings for shisha embroidery. The insect isn’t harmed, collecting and marketing the wings must provide income for people, and the beauty the wings add to an embroidered piece is obvious.

    On a related note: I have used beach glass, small pretty stones and shards of broken crockery for shisha embroidery. Best wishes, Ardeana

  23. I would love to stitch with beetle wings if I had some as pretty as this! I must go and read your post about how to prepare them because I wonder just how delicate they are. Would they crumble after awhile? Off to read…..

  24. As I scrolled thru comments I can see I was not the only one who glimpsed the equal possibility of using fancy false fingernails more easily obtained locally than I suppose beetle wings. I especially appreciate your grid alphabet steps for such an unusual shape. I think I need you to produce a booklet of your abundant shisha techniques that I want to buy at once! The ideas in your columns from October added much to what I thought I knew. Thanks much for what you share each day.

  25. I just found some on a website called http://www.zibbet.com. They have them in all sorts of different colours, from the greens and blues to copper and gold. I have ordered a bunch of different ones to see what they are like.

  26. Recently my husband took me to visit a reasonably local stately home called Castle Howard. In one of the rooms there is a framed piece on the wall. It’s a beautiful gossamer thin shawl, woven and then has beetle wings stitched all over in a pattern. I can’t remember how old it was but I think definitely 1800’s. The workmanship is breathtaking. Unfortunately many of the wings have been damaged before it was framed as it has clearly been worn. Imagine the effect of seeing a fine lady with that shawl around her. Peacock like I would think.

  27. Good morning Mary
    Yes, indeed. I would try beetle wings. I am not that keen on shisha work but the colours of the beetle wings are my colours.
    Regarding your recent post on neatness.
    I do tend to be neat – before and after. But, while I am working it is much like working in a construction zone. The last five minutes of my work I do have a fit of the tidies and everything is put where it should be. That would be away, or arranged in a neat fashion for the next session.

  28. I would like to subscribe to your post. I use to follow you before Sept.2020. We lost everything in the Almeda fire in Oregon.

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