Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Link List: Bejeweled Skeletons on Display, Beetle Embroidery, Knights Fighting Snails, Etc.

1) Take a look at these bejeweled skeletons. It seems that in Medieval times, the bones of saints weren't just collected and saved in caskets. Sometimes, they were decked out in jewels and clothing and displayed.

Paul Koudounaris was photographing a crypt full of skulls in Oppenheim, Eastern Germany, when a local told him about a fully-dressed skeleton saluting all comers with a goblet of blood. He had to go see it, and after that, went around Germany looking for other, similarly preserved and bedecked saints--or ex-saints; come the nineteenth century, folk started to question the saintly origin of the bones and packed many of them away. Some, however, are still out there, greeting the world in style.

2) There's crafting, and then there is crafting IN SPACE. NASA astronaut Karen Nyber just finished making a cute little dinosaur toy--while she was working as a flight engineer on the international space station. The cute little T-rex is " made out of velcro-like fabric that lines the Russian food containers [that are] found here on the International Space Station," and "lightly stuffed with scraps from a used t-shirt."

Found on collectSPACE

3) Beetle wing embroidery was a thing in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This dress and the accompanying text from the Museum of London is evidence. You cannot buy the dress, but you could buy a picture of the dress, if you so wished. According to the museum,
Although Indian embroiderers introduced the technique, using it to decorate dress and domestic textiles, Europeans copied them, sometimes using the wing cases of a species of South American jewel beetle. This style of embroidery was also thought to be a suitable pastime for ladies of leisure, who were advised to use a Walker's number eight needle and green silk thread.
I like that bit about the thread; it's so very precise and domestic for such an interesting decorative choice.

Once I started searching, I found a whole plethora of links and images.

Here, for example, is a Victorian tea-cozy, probably made in India and exported and "perhaps put away for best, and then thought too precious to actually use, merely adorning a sideboard for high tea on occasion," so it may never have covered an actual teapot. That's probably why it's in such good shape, but at the same time, it's almost a pity. Something so sparkly and strange really ought to be used at least once.

Best of all, it turns out that Victorian actress Ellen Terry wore an elaborate, sparkling green beetle-wing dress as Lady MacBeth. It seems a fitting dress for the role.

There are, of course, modern practitioners, though, while more common than fore-edge painting, it doesn't exactly seem an every-day art. Michael Cook, embroiderer, silk-worm breeder, and author of WormSpit has several examples of work from 2006.  Mary Corbet of Needle 'N Thread has examples of work from 2007 through at least 2012 up together with suggestions for your own projects (like this article on wing preparation).

If you want to learn how to do it for yourself, Mary Corbet's blog has some advice, and there's also The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection by Jane Nicholas is supposed to be a good source. I say "supposed to be" as I have yet to look at it myself and am unlikely to try the projects if I do. But, hey, if you do let me know! Also, please let me know if you have so I can give more accurate information than a third-hand reference. It is probable, however, that there are not very many instructional manuals to compare it to, not on beetle wing embroidery.

For further reference:
 Beetles in Textiles. It covers ancient and modern use in a number of countries, plus adds a bit about the beetles themselves.

4) I have a long-standing love for Improv Everywhere, "a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places," and can spend a long time browsing back through their old missions. Favorites of mine include "Look Up More," which I think is the first mission video I ever saw, and "Food Court Musical," a spontaneous musical staged in a public food court. I check regularly to see if there have been any updates, and this last week included a new mission, "Conduct Us," in which a Carnegie Hall orchestra sat out in New York with an open invitation to passers by to "Conduct Us." It's my favorite sort of mission: Lots of laughter and fun for everyone. There's no "gotcha" in this joke, only fun.

5) I had to read this Io9 article just for the title "Why do knights fight snails in illuminated manuscripts?". Knights fight snails? Really? When? Where? And, why?

And, yes, those are three different links gained from link hopping, each leading to more illustrations and random musings about the snails and their knightly opponents who, I will add, often seem to be losing their battles..

You're welcome.

About Books

The Urban Bestiary by Lyanda Lynn Haupt came out September 17.

From the publisher's description:
In The Urban Bestiary, acclaimed nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt journeys into the heart of the everyday wild, where coyotes, raccoons, chickens, hawks, and humans live in closer proximity than ever before. Haupt's observations bring compelling new questions to light: Whose "home" is this? Where does the wild end and the city begin? And what difference does it make to us as humans living our everyday lives? In this wholly original blend of science, story, myth, and memoir, Haupt draws us into the secret world of the wild creatures that dwell among us in our urban neighborhoods, whether we are aware of them or not. With beautiful illustrations and practical sidebars on everything from animal tracking to opossum removal, THE URBAN BESTIARY is a lyrical book that awakens wonder, delight, and respect for the urban wild, and our place within it.

I enjoyed her Crow Planet, and this sort of book--exploring what's happening with wildlife in the cities--is just my cup of tea, so I'm definitely going to be reading it.

There's a good-sized excerpt here, if you're wondering about whether or not to read it.

Teasers and Trailers

Marvel has finally released an official version of theier teeny, tiny teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Basically: Someone builds Ultron while clips from The Avengers play in the background. It's nice to see it real, for true, and not fuzzy and leaked, but it's not very informative.

I won't be posting Age of Ultron links nearly as religiously as I did the Shield teasers (take that as a warning or a reassurance, as you will!) because, much as I loved Avengers I'm not looking forward to the movie with quite the same intensity as I looked forward to the TV show.

The movie I will share every tiny little detail about is Guardians of the Galaxy. That, you'll hear about endlessly.


  1. I can't believe what fascinating links you always come up with. Those beetle-decorated fabrics are so lovely. Must've taken forever to make, too. And the knights battling snails! What??! I never have looked closely at the margins of medieval texts (not having any at hand, ha ha) so never noticed but I'm really intrigued. My guess is they must have some symbolic meaning or widespread (for the times) inside joke that was so well-known no one ever thought to explain it! And of course, you've added another book to my list, it looks like the perfect read for me.

    1. Always glad to add to someone's to-read list!

      And glad you enjoy the links. I wish I knew more about the knights and snails--it's such a weird image. I'll keep my eyes open for more.

  2. I forgot to mention the first time round, that I saw one of those bejewled skeletons! It was on display in a castle I visited in Czech Republic- forget exactly which one. The info was all in Czech but my friend roughly translated a German placard and it seems the skeleton was brought back as a relic from someone's conquering travels- I thought it was a saint or king or some other important local person, but no. It was a souvenier. Confused the heck out of me.

    1. Neat!

      Might it have been both relic and souvenir?