Dragonfly Designs by Alisa



beetle wing embroidery

1850s Beetlewing Dress

I’ve been utterly enamored with beetlewing embroidery for a long time now. When I visited the Fashion Museum in Bath, England, I requested they pull out all their beetlewing embroidered items for me to examine (as well as a bunch of 1830s dresses). They had three beetlewing items, and the most impressive was this skirt.


It was an amazing experience to pull on those white gloves and handle these historical items!





And one from the back side:


Beetle wing embroidery uses the actual wing casings from real beetles. These beetles are extremely short-lived, and after they swarm to mate, they die, and the wings can be swept up and used. They are extremely beautiful; the glint and shine of them is hard to capture in photographs! It’s not surprising the Victorians were captivated by using them on dresses.

I’m finally sewing one of my own, using sheer cotton voile as the fabric, in a light beige. The crinoline period of history has never really been my thing, but I really do want at least one proper hoopskirt gown, so after browsing Pinterest for literally weeks, I chose a basic dress design. It’s going to be roughly modeled after Queen Victoria’s 1850 dress, shown below. I also had a chance to see this one in person, so I have a particular fondness for it.


I will be changing it slightly, however. As a beginning, I’ve been embroidering the middle panel of the skirt, which will be the most heavily embroidered. Although it’s not quite finished, here’s what I have, so far:



It is going to be wearable by December 17th, for a presentation I’m doing on the stranger aspects of Victorian clothing. Hopefully, it will be completely done, but as I’m intending to put embroidery all around the bottom hem of the skirt, I’m not sure I have time to completely finish. I can always add that after the event – they people attending will be mostly looking at the front, anyway!

Update: 1/6/2020

I have now worn the dress for the first time! As I suspected, I did not finish the embroidery around the hem of the skirt.


Besides that, I need to adjust the fit of the shoulders…the straps had a tendency to want to slide off. But that’s easy enough to fix. I also want to stitch over the metal grommets with thread so they appear handsewn. I know I should probably done spiral lacing on the bodice, but I frankly dislike the appear of spiral lacing, so I never use it.





I wore it to a presentation I did at my local library: Arsenic, Corsets, and Flaming Hoopskirts, the Myths and Realities of Victorian Fashion.




Steampunk Ottoman

First wearing – Steamcon 2011

You can read about my adventures here – I won “Best-Dressed Female” at the Wayfarer’s Brunch!

These pictures do not capture the colors – I didn’t realize how much the yellow hallways affected the shots until I saw them on my home computer!  Oh well, I’m wearing it again on Halloween, so I’ll try for some better ones then!

Beetlewing Vest 9/29/11

The vest is done!  I enjoyed the embroidery on this a great deal; quite a satisfying project.  I know I want to do more!  So here are the pictures:

Forgive that it’s still a bit lint-y; I need to get another of those sticky roller things!

The beetlewings are outlined in small gold beads, and couched gold braid is the stems. Also, I finished the front of the waist cincher with faux leather straps and buckles.

This one is officially done now – expect to see pictures of me wearing it (with the turban!) after Steamcon III.  I’m wearing this one on Sunday because of the Wayfarers’ multicultural brunch, so if you’re also coming to Steamcon, be sure to come up and say hello!  I’ll have badge ribbons to hand out!!!

Beetlewing Embroidery  7/25/11

In my push to get this costume finished *before* Steamcon III (so I have time to work on some other projects) I decided I really need to get started on the final layer…the vest.  This was originally going to have elbow length sleeves, but I like what I did with the sleeves on the red coat so much that I don’t want to cover that up.  So the vest is going to be sleeveless.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of trying out beetlewing embroidery – which is exactly what it sounds like).  The wings are shed naturally, and in certain countries, at certain times of the year, these gorgeous glittering wings literally litter the streets by the thousands.  I don’t know if the Ottomans were into this type of embroidery, but the Victorians certainly were, so I’m saying that’s good enough for steampunk!  You can buy the wings on ebay at a very reasonable price – about $5 for a hundred wings.  Here is a picture of my wings, as they arrived:

You have to steam them for about 5 minutes to soften them enough to punch sewing holes through them, and also trim them into your desired shape.  The process isn’t difficult, but it is a bit tedious, as you can only do about three before they cool down too much.  I left the pot steaming, and dipped out a trio at a time to work with. Here they are, trimmed and punched:

And here’s a bit of the (still unfinished) embroidery, on my black velveteen:

It’s almost too shiny for my camera to capture.  The wings are outlined in little gold beads, with larger oval gold beads on top. At the base of some, there is a faux pearl, also surrounded by beads.  The wings are really so pretty – and the colors are very changeable, sometimes bright blue, or green, or even bronze!

As an embroidery trial, I made a small Victorian purse, which is up for sale here.

First Wearing – as a Pirate! 5/21/11

The bare legs and sandals were not my preferred look, but it was too warm to wear with the stockings and shoes I *plan* to wear with it.

I wore it to my library workplace, for our second “Pirate Fun Day”.  Yes, we just randomly dress up in costumes for fun!

Ready for first wearing! 5/14/11

I’ve been working hard on this one, and here’s the results:

The undertunic/coat, with blouse:

The blouse is cropped at the waist, because I really didn’t care to add more bulk around there.  It’s a crinkly cotton gauze.  Thanks to one of the fabulous people I met through this website, I found the perfect frogs:

The next two layers are the overtunic/coat and the waist cincher:

The coat is DONE.  Yay!  The waist cincher still needs some work.  It doesn’t actually cinch my waist…since the boning isn’t completely in, and I still haven’t decided if I’m going to use buttons (as shown) or some other method of closure.  It is “done” for now, though, because my goal was to finish enough of this outfit to make it wearable by May 20th – which is a “Pirate Fun Day” at my workplace.

So here are pictures of it “pirate-ized”:

This last one is funny, because I was just wishing I could hold the sleeves out so I could show off the embroidery, when a gust of wind came up and blew one out – and held it out, long enough to get a picture!

Since my dressmaker’s dummy can’t wear pants, I can’t show you pics with the turkish trousers on, but here’s a sneak peek:

I used the tutorial from Multiculturalism for Steampunk and added buttons on the leg cuffs.  These aren’t quite done yet, either…there will eventually be spats.

More pics of me wearing the pirate version will be posted after 5/20!

Progress 4/28/11

Lots of progress!  I’ve *nearly* finished the next layer – and you can see the blouse underneath, although that is just pinned, and the sleeves aren’t there at all. 

It’s made of cotton “homespun” (WalMart has it for around $5 a yard) with embroidery in a gold color.   The collar is not done; it will be heavily embroidered, as will be the bottom front part of the coat’s hem.  I drew the design on freehand with a black sharpie, then embroidered over it.

The waist cincher is mostly done too.  I just have to install some sort of front closure, and I’m not sure whether I want buttons, frogs, buckles, or clips….so I’m saving that until later.  Notice there is a long narrow pocket on the right side (I have a knife in there now) and a watch pocket on the left.

I lined the sleeves in green stripe.  And notice the two little buttons at the elbow bend of the sleeves.  They are completely not functional….but they look so cute!

There are also two pockets on each side, also embroidered, and each will button.  I’m ordering buttons from Turkey (how awesome is THAT for an Ottoman outfit!) so I’m waiting for those to arrive.  There will also be buttons up the back:

Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, but the short bolero-type jacket will be black velveteen – and I’m going to embroider it with goldwork and beetle wings!  I got the wings in the mail from Thailand, and they are so pretty!

Progress 2/21/11

I cannot remember, now that I sit down to type this, what this type of tunic/coat is called.  So I will simply say that it is the middle layer of the Ottoman outfit, it goes over the shirt but under the sleeved coat.  Pretty much, you will only see a little bit of it around the neckline and the sides of the front.  It still needs the collar finished, hemming, and possibly more embroidery down the front sides and hem.  We’ll see.

And a close up of the embroidery…which is actually a crazy-quilt stitch!

I was given this fabric by a co-worker who no longer wanted it.  I’m back to square one, however, on the fabric for the sleeved overcoat.  My taffeta stripe turned out to be very stiff and didn’t drape well enough.  So I re-purposed it into an underskirt for the “Venetian Elf Courtesan”, and am hunting for a new stripe.  I’d love something woven, with maroon as one of the colors.

MOAR Inspiration photos – and fabric! 12/25/10

The below style is called a “ghawazee coat”.  So pretty!

The below is interesting; it’s a photo of a Victorian lady dressed for a costume ball. Not Ottoman, but so pretty I’m sticking it in here anyway as an example of how fascinated Victorians were with all things “oriental”.  This outfit would make a fabulous reproduction costume for someone!

The below is a bedouin woman, but the veil with coins is just so awesome.

Also, I completely adore this costume from The Kingdom of Heaven:

And, I went shopping on the Denver Fabrics website, and found two awesome fabrics for my outfit.  This one, for the outer coat:

And this one, for the inner coat:

Probably, they will be for the Ottoman.  If I don’t end up liking them for this, they will likely become something else.  I love striped fabric!

Inspiration 12/24/10


I’m not sure when I’ll actually make this one (perhaps late 2011 or early 2012?) but until then, I’m starting to collect some inspiration art.


The above images are taken from a book called “Ottoman Women: Myth & Reality” by Asli Sancar.  I highly reccommend it; it’s packed with interesting information!  I also have more pictures I’ve nabbed off the internet; I’ll post those later.

Here are a few internet links I found inspiring/helpful:

Multiculturism for Steampunk 

16th Century Persian Women’s Clothing

Ottoman Women’s Clothing

The Beautiful Necessity

Ottoman Clothing Information

If anyone has any other good links, feel free to leave me a comment or drop me an email at MiddleEarthFan (at)

Finally, here is a preliminary sketch I made with some of my current ideas:


The vest will be heavily embroidered/beaded with a design something like this (taken from the same book as the photos):


Steampunk Mummy

Finally posting pictures 11/30/13

First, a few more detailed shots of the various parts.

The belt is made of Christmas metallic mesh ribbon, spray-painted copper, and laid over fabric.  It was then embroidered with beetle wings and other things.

I made the headdress by making a “cap” of plaster gauze, then cutting wing shapes from cardboard, putting the wings into position, then layering more plaster gauze over the whole thing.  After the gauze had dried, I pressed a thin layer of Paperclay over the whole thing, and carved decorative shapes in it.  Then I sculpted the cobra head from more Paperclay, attached it, and painted the entire thing.  Lastly, I glued on a bunch of beetle wing “feathers”.

It was fairly simple, and turned out pretty well.

I wore it Steamcon this October, and it was surprisingly easy to wear.  I was rather worried I’d be tripping over wrappings all day, but (for the most part) that didn’t happen!

The paper silhouette cutter did one of me in this costume – and said I might actually make it into the art book she’s currently working on.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Professional photographers Thom Walls and J. Krolak were there, and they were kind enough to take a ton of pics of me.  Here are just a few.

You can read more about my adventures at Steamcon V here.

Almost done…and just in time, too  10/22/13

My costuming schedule was shot to hades this year.  After Gallifrey One was over, I just stopped sewing entirely and took a gardening-and-raising-quail holiday.  BUT I needed new costumes for SteamCon, because one always needs new costumes, right?  Usually I have at least three new costumes, and often four.

This year, I will have one.  This one.  And I’m only finishing it by the skin of my teeth.

I still need to finish the belt, the gloves, and the headdress (and I hope to make a mummified crocodile purse.)


It is a LOT of work to distress this much cotton.  So tired of doing it, by the time I was done.  And I could have done more, really.

The collar/necklace I beaded myself.  I could not find a cheap source of clay mummy beads, so I ended up buying a mummy bead egyptian collar off ebay, pulling it apart, and putting it back together my way.

The heart scarab has a bicycle safety light underneath.  I sculpted a top from Paperclay, painted it, and carved ‘cracks’ in it for the light to show through.

I love the front of the skirt.  It’s my favorite part.

I’ll be wearing this costume at SteamCon on Saturday, at least.  For the other days I’m thinking I’ll wear the Airship Pirate Steampunk (with a green wig and a little crocheted octopus in honor of Guest Brian Kesinger) and one other that I will probably put together out of bits and pieces of other steampunk outfits.

Come and find me.  I have ribbons and postcards from my Kickstarter!

Steampunk Mummy 6/1/13

I was intending to make this one for Steamcon last year, but it got dropped because I ran out of time.  Plus, I wasn’t *quite* sure how I wanted to make it!  But it is definitely going to Steamcon this year, and it still fits the theme “Around the World”.  What is more natural to travel than a revitalized Egyptian mummy?  😉

I started with three king-size cotton sheets picked up from the thrift store.  I made a button up fitted bodice – no hemming, no finishing of any kind – then tore strips of cotton, distressed them up a bit, and sewed them over the bodice.

This is how it looked.  The Egyptian collar is just for fitting purposes; I am going to make a much nicer antiqued collar myself.

Also, I have just pinned a band of fabric around the waist, to give the look of the waist-cincher I will be making later on.

Next, I made a cup of tea.  But not to drink!  I used the tea as a wash over the fabric, to give it a stained appearance.  This is how the fabric looked after:

I decided to do the wash after the garment was made, rather than before, because I wanted it to be very uneven, and I wanted to be able to control/choose where the uneven-ness went.

Then, I used the drippy tea bags to sponge over the fabric, giving a darker tint in certain areas.  Generally around the worst tears/rips, but also randomly over the fabric.

Then, I took dark brown fabric paint, diluted it with water until it was almost as thin as water, and sponged it into the worst of the distressed areas – and wherever else I thought it would look good.  Then I took a bit of less-diluted paint and touched it into a very few areas. 

Looks a lot more like ancient mummy wrappings, doesn’t it?

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