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Beetlewing Embroidery

Length of silk cloth decorated with gold wire and beetlewings (19th century, India). Length of silk cloth decorated with gold wire and beetlewings (19th century, India). Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. 6281(IS).

Beetlewing embroidery is an applied technique using iridescent beetlewing casings (rather than the actual beetlewings). For at least several centuries, this type of work has been carried out in various Asian countries, notably China, India, Japan, Myanmar and Thailand.

Examples of beetlewing embroidery can also be found in the Middle East, including Ottoman Turkey and some European countries (notably Britain and France) with historical connections to the Middle East and Asia. Different species of wood-boring beetlewing casings are used, but the most valued belong to the genus Sternocera. These beetles have hard wing casings, which have a metallic, emerald green iridescence. The wing casings are either sewn down completely to the ground material or cut up into small pieces and then stitched down.

In Thailand the most widely used beetle is the Sternocera aequisignata. The beetle traditionally used in decorative work in Japan is Chrysochroa fulgidissima, also known as Tamamushi (‘jewel insect’).

In the nineteenth century this type of applied decoration was used in Britain for table linen, a variety of covers, as well as garments. According to Mary Gostelow, in 1928, Liberty's of London was selling a dress with beetlewing embroidery (Gostelow 1978:247).

The illustrated example from India used to be part of the collection of the India Museum and was transferred to the holdings of the South Kensington Museum (after 1899 the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1879/1880.

See also the TRC Needle entry on a cloth with gold thread and beetlewing embroidery from Chennai (c. 1880).

Source: GOSTELOW, Mary (1978). Mary Gostelow's Embroidery Book, Newton Abbott: David and Charles.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 15 June 2016).

GVE

Last modified on Sunday, 16 April 2017 08:28