Thursday, July 7, 2011

Endangered Beautiful Butterflies

A while back I started working on a series of butterflies... specifically endangered ones. The butterfly, a ubiquitous motif in decorative arts throughout the ages, symbol of life, change and rebirth, adored for its extraordinary beauty and fragility: how incongruous that we should be killing something we apparently love so much. I’ve tried to make these as true to life as I can reasonably represent in free standing lace embroidery. It takes many, many hours of programming, moving stitch by stitch, and usually numerous test stitch-outs before I get all the bugs (sorry) worked out.

Technically lace, being entirely made of thread, their naturalistic pattern and vivid coloring don’t make one think of lace, although they can be lacy.  In an attempt to make them as accurate as possible, I decided to try to replicate both sides of the butterfly. This is difficult because the two sides are usually different, and sometimes radically so.  This is easy to do with the Monarch or the Swallowtail whose patterning is similar on both sides. It is much more difficult with the Blue Morpho which is iridescent blue on the back and a tan bark-like pattern with eye-spots on the underside. I’m still working on that one.
Early tests I found were too stiff. I found the key to keeping the butterflies thin and delicate feeling, yet strong and sturdy, is in careful attention to stitch direction and density during programming followed by attention to the bobbin colors during stitching. This video depicts the soft ‘hand’ of a Monarch butterfly embroidery.
With the Swallowtail design I added stabilizing stitches that serve a second purpose and become the wired legs, antennae, and proboscis of the finished butterfly. In this way, the butterfly requires only minimal finishing after being embroidered. The file and the finished butterfly are available in my Etsy shop.
This last bit – the legs, antennae, and proboscis – are a bit of a nod to an artist I so admire: Annemieke Mein, who has set the bar very high on naturalist fiber work. I recommend her book   Mein’s work depicts the beauty in creatures, some not always thought of as “beautiful”.  Depicting the butterfly as realistically as possible reminds us that it is a living being, part of the symbiotic life cycles of the earth requiring protection, and not merely the colorful, fairy-like creatures that amuse us.
And I think they are pretty clipped in the hair.


  1. I stumbled upon your site by way of Craft Gossip. Anyone (me) who has done machine embroidery knows that what you have accomplished is art & short of craftiness. I have become a follower and will be back often.
    Beckie in Brentwood, TN

  2. Beckie, you’ve made my day! I’ll look forward to seeing you again.

    Also, I invite you to visit and “Like” JeanineDesigns on Facebook, where you’ll see the latest studio news, and for products.