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Dress

  • Place of origin:

    Britain

  • Date:

    1868-9

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles (Sternocera aeqisignata)

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Kathy Brown

  • Museum number:

    T.1698:1 to 5-2017

  • Gallery location:

    On short term loan out for exhibition []

The wings of jewel beetles (buprestidae) were traditionally used to embellish textiles in South America and South and Southeast Asia. Emerald-green beetle-wing decoration became a symbol of high status in India during the Mughal period (1526-1756). Western traders in India then introduced these textiles to Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. British newspapers report on several women wearing dresses decorated with beetle wings at court during the late 1820s and early 1830s. By the 1860s beetle wings were being imported to Britain in volumes of 25,000 per consignment, to be applied to textiles in imitation of the Indian technique. The wings were cut, shaped and arranged in stylised floral patterns, often accented with metal thread. The wings would have glittered in candlelight, achieving a sought-after iridescent and jewel-like effect.

Physical description

Cotton muslin with beetle-wing and metal thread embroidery. The style of metal thread embroidery indicates that it was done in Britain; it does not surround each wing case as it would have done if executed in India.

Place of Origin

Britain

Date

1868-9

Materials and Techniques

Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles (Sternocera aeqisignata)

Dimensions

Height: 1450 mm, Width: 1150 mm, Depth: 1200 mm

Descriptive line

Dress of cotton muslin, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles (sternocera aeqisignata), Britain, 1868-9

Labels and date

[]
Object label from Fashioned from Nature exhibition, V&A, 2018:

GREEN AND GLEAMING

Over 5000 beetle wings or parts of wings were used to decorate this dress. Europeans first encountered the use of jewel beetles to embellish clothing in Asia and South America. By the late 1820s European fashions were decorated with the shiny metallic wing cases.
India exported beetle wing cases, as well as stoles, dress panels and flounces embroidered with beetle wings. In 1867, a consignment of 25,000 wings was sold in London.

Dress (with replica belt)

Britain, 1868–9
Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles (Sternocera aeqisignata)
V&A: T.1698:1 to 5-2017
Given by Kathy Brown []

Materials

Beetle wings; Cotton

Techniques

Embroidery

Categories

Fashion; Women's clothes; Clothing

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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