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The History of Beetle Wing Embroidery

Beetle wing, or elytra, embroidery is an ancient craft utilizing the wings of iridescent beetles as embellishments. Historically practiced in India, East and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, clothing, accessories, and home furnishings were all adorned with the jewel toned blue-green wings.

The earliest designs of beetle wing embroidery can be traced back to 15th century India, used to decorate the clothing of those with a higher status within the Mughal courts. Often paired with “zardozi” embroidery, a type of metal embroidery incorporating gold and silver threads with precious stones or beads (in this case beetle wings) to create heavy and intricate patterns. 

Eventually this embroidery style caught the attention of European countries with strong colonial ties to Asia, making its way onto the gowns and accessories of Victorian women in England, America, and Australia. By the 19th century, Indian embroiderers were creating elaborate elytra work solely to satisfy the European/ American market and their demand for “exotic” goods. 

A famous example is the “Peacock Dress” worn by Lady Curzon for the Delhi Durbar in 1903. Designed by Jean-Philippe Worth of the House of Worth, the dress is covered in zardozi in the shape of peacock feathers as an ode to India and its craftsmanship. 

On Aura Tout Vu Spring Summer 2013 runway look

Beetle wing embroidery can still be seen incorporated within current fashion, utilized in costume designs and haute couture runway looks. Always maintaining its enchanting, fantastical look, the wings continue to mystify and draw attention upon any surface they adorn. 

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