Beetle Wing Embroidery

One of the most interesting known types of embroidery was the elytra embroidery, i.e. with the wings of beetles of the genus Sternocera, particularly Sternocera aequisignata. These beetles are usually found in Asia, mainly in India and the Indochina Peninsula. Its wings have an exceptionally iridescent emerald sheen. The species was first described in 1866 by Edward Saunders.

The life span of an adult individual is approximately 1-4 weeks. Dead specimens are collected, and wings, sometimes also heads, are obtained from them.

The wings are pretty durable (if not exposed to mechanical damage) and retain their shine for a long time. Also, It is effortless to use scissors for freely modelling. The wings are usually pierced at both ends and sewn onto the fabric.

When the observer looks at the embroidery from different angles, the colours glitter green, blue, and purple shades, the colour also depends on the type and angle of the light.

At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, this technique found its way to Europe and slowly gained popularity.

Most of the preserved garments with embroidery of beetle wings come from around the mid-nineteenth century. Most are matte white cotton outfits that emphasize the brilliance and iridescent green colour of the exquisite decoration.

The most famous dress of this type is the Ellen Terry dress, in which the famous actress appeared as Lady Macbeth. It was immortalized with its owner in a painting by John Sargent (1889).

The gown is in the collection at the National Trust – Smallhythe Place Museum in Small Hythe.