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Beetle-Wing Doily Artifact Highlight #29

This doily was donated to our collection in 1968. It is round with gold-colored metallic fringe and outlines. It has a mesh center with a design made of iridescent emerald green beetle wing casings. The casings are sewn onto the mesh with thread. The doily dates to around 1900 and is probably a souvenir from India.

The San Francisco Examiner July 17, 1898

Beetle-wing applique embroidery is a technique that has been used for centuries in parts of Asia and the Middle East. The wing casings of different species of wood-boring beetle, sometimes called the jewel beetle, were used in this decoration. These beetles have two sets of wings and the outer hard casings, the elytra, are used in this form of art. The most valued were the beetles belonging to the Sternocera genus, known for their iridescent colors.

Beetle-wing embroidery became popular during the mid-19th century in Europe and examples were imported from India, Myanmar, Thailand, China, and Japan. These green wings were used as “natural sequins” in fashion, jewelry, on table linens, wall hangings and other textiles. The wing casings were collected, dried, and trimmed to size before they were secured to the fabric with very fine thread. The casings often broke in the process, so many were needed to complete the design in this time-consuming process. They were sometimes steamed for a few minutes to soften them to make the needle-piercing easier.

The doily was donated to our collection by Edwina Robbins of Yuba City. Robbins was the sister of Wendell Robie, the Auburn banker, community activist, member of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame and founder of the Western States Tevis Club 100-Mile Endurance Ride. Robbins was a graduate of Placer High School.

Auburn Journal October 29, 1975