The Archaeology of a Dress. A dress decorated with 1,000 real beetle wings is set to go back on display following 1,300 hours of conservation work. A stage costume worn by Ellen Terry, one of the most celebrated and glamorous actresses of the Victorian age. The emerald and sea green gown, covered with the iridescent wings of the jewel beetle (which they shed naturally), was worn by Ellen when she thrilled audiences with her portrayal of Lady Macbeth at London's Lyceum Theatre in 1888.
Beetle wings first appeared in Europe in the 1820s, exported from India by the East India Trading Company. These beetle wing encrusted fabrics were created by local artisans on a small scale, but due to the growing trend in Europe, specifically England, of collecting "exotic goods" from the far corners of their Empire, larger industry centers were needed. They set up in Calcutta, Madras and Delhi.The European women could take the textiles and have them fashioned in iridescent, glittery…
Mat, India, 19th century. 46 x 67 cm. Beetle wings incorporated into a design of stylised flowerrs stitched in laid and couched gold threads and braids. Gift of Miss C.M. Harris. Photograph by Stephen Brayne.
This bag uses the vivid-green iridescent casings from the wings of an Indian beetle. Known as "beetle wings" these were popular trimming for women's dresses and accessories from the 1830s because of their resemblance to emeralds when seen at a distance or in subdued evening light. Lengths of muslin with applied beetle wings were imported from India to be made up into gowns or shawls, and sometime simple loose ready-made dresses were sent.