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Explore!

Big initial M  Every January, Erin and I each choose a word for the year. She makes a banner of her word out of individual letters that have been letterpress-printed on small circles of card stock and hung from attractively rusted spiral wire. I write my down on an attractive Post-It and promptly forget it.

Here’s the thing about choosing a word for the year: You don’t choose it, it chooses you. You announce to yourself — and others, if you want — your  desire for a word to inspire and guide you through the year, then you keep your eyes open.

That’s the state I was in — having announced my intention and promptly forgotten about it — when I was in a vintage clothing store with a friend who was buying crocodile shoes. On a bookshelf I spotted the little (10″x 10″) painting above. It wasn’t vintage and it wasn’t clothing. It was bright and exciting and the stars were dotted with glitter. It practically shouted: LOOK AT ME, I’M YOUR WORD FOR THE YEAR!

And I got it. Since I’m pretty adventurous in my external life, I think this year’s exploring needs to be done internally — to fearlessly go where I haven’t gone for years — in fact, ever since I met the love of my life, got married, bought a house, started Sassy Feet, expanded my editing business, etc., etc. It’s clearly time for me to slow down and listen to what my soul wants to say.

Deborah's beetle boots

In the meantime, let me show you where an exploration of the other kind took me recently. It all started when a Sassy Feet customer named Deborah sent Destiny and me a photo of some boots she had painted and embellished.

Deborah told us, “There’s a story behind these. Five or six years ago, Doc Martens came out with a patent leather, light green boot that reminded me of Japanese beetle shells. They did not come in my size, but I never forgot them.”

“Cue Sassy Feet!  Once I realized I could paint my own boots, I bought a pair of men’s Doc Martens in my size (sadly in white, but they were on a very good sale) and painted them with Lumiere Halo Blue Gold.  This wasn’t quite enough for me, so I attached some jewel beetle elytra [hardened forewings] to the back. Elytra used to be used in artwork in Asia, and during the Victorian period were very fashionable for sewing onto clothes. They’re really light and tough and kinda wonderful. You can get them on ebay for really cheap, too.”

Bootls and beetle wings

I took one look at Deborah’s photos and immediately Googled “elytra.”  They are described as green jewel beetle wings, although they are actually the hardened forewings of a beetle formally named Sternocera aequisignata. They can be purchased on ebay from Thailand, and they are surprisingly cheap and sturdy. Each one even has a little natural indentation on the wide end that you can easily work open to make a hole for a jump ring.

Deborah attached hers to the back of her boots with varying lengths of chain that linked to a larger jump ring, which, I believe, she stitched onto the boot. “They rattle when I walk,” she wrote, “which I think is great!”

Beetle wing bag, before and after

I decided to attach my jewel beetle wings to the top edge of a little black handbag made of lightweight crinkled polyester. I stitched a piece of silver-toned chain to the fabric of the bag with embroidery thread, then used fairly large silver jump rings to attach the wings to the chain. I had to be careful to close the jump rings completely, or else the wings would fall off.

(Confession: The first time I attached the wings, I sewed the jump rings directly to the purse and my tight stitches didn’t leave enough ease for the beetle wings to dangle freely. So I redid it. Explorers have to be ready to retrace their steps without a lot of sturm und drang when they get lost.)

Embellishments on the bag

There wasn’t a lot more that could be done to this bag — but that didn’t mean I stopped working on it. In wearable art, the real magic seems to happen after you think you’re done. So I consulted with Destiny, and we decided I should string some iridescent green glass beads on strands that could be woven into the black-beaded handle. That actually turned out to be quite easy, though I am a novice when it comes to beads.

Finally, I decided to add a little surprise inside the bag and stitched three enamel charms to the little pocket. And that was that!

I wish I were as excited and happy at the prospect of exploring my inner world…. Well, I’ll let you know how that goes. Maybe if I glitter my hiking boots I’ll be more enthusiastic about setting off into lesser-known lands….

Portrait of Ellen Terry

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Ellen Terry in the elytra-covered dress

P.S. There’s a famous dress embellished with beetle wings that you might want to read about. It was made for actress Ellen Terry in 1888 when she appeared on the London stage as Lady Macbeth. The painter John Singer Sargent saw her perform and painted her portrait the following year — in the dress. That dress still exists — it has just been exhaustively restored — and is on display at Ellen Terry’s home in southeast England. The painting is in London at the National Gallery.

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