Boy’s T shirt with insect appliqué


T shirt with appliquéd and embroidered jewel beetle (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

My grandson, also known as the small person to readers of my blog, is now in his eighth year. Presents for boys as they grow older  become ever more of a challenge, especially if the present is to be something made rather than bought, which is what I like to do. His birthday is  at the very end of December, but as far too many presents wing their way in his direction at that time anyway, I feel no guilt about our present not arriving until February!

Detail of T shirt with appliqué and embroidered jewel beetle (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Clothes as presents for boys would normally be a bit of a no no but I thought if I bought a few T shirts from a high street chain and stuck a big bold beetle on the front, they might be quite welcome. I’ve had this idea at the back of my mind for some years ever since I became enamoured of Natalie Chanin’s appliqué work for the company she set up, Alabama Chanin. Her designs using T shirt fabric combine stencilling and appliqué (applied both on top of the fabric and also beneath where the top layer is cut away to reveal another layer, usually of a different colour below). She also sews entire garments by hand – including fitted jackets and wedding gowns – but for a small boy enjoying rough and tumble, machine sewn seams are just fine with me. I further depart from her technique by using Bond-A-Web to fuse the appliqué to base fabric which I then reinforce with simple running stitches to make the whole thing as serviceable as possible for when the wearer shins up a tree, play fights with twigs or cuddles a cat or two. (Her classic designs are her best. To my taste, some of her recent garments are too amorphous as to form and have less interesting appliqué )

2 books by Natalie Chanin:
Alabama Stitch book (STC Craft Books, 2008 & Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns (Abrams, 2015)

Choosing beetles was surprisingly good fun with lots of brilliant pictures posted on line. I tried to be as anatomically correct as possible but have taken a bit of licence with smaller body parts and with colour. This one is a jewel beetle, whose outstretched wings are echoed not by another set of wings but by a pair of elytra or wing casings. Hard, shiny and made of chitin the elytra function to protect the delicate wings from damage when not in flight. They are also very attractive natural decorative alternatives to sequins for the decoration of women’s dresses. Fortunately, beetles shed their elytra so in the heyday of their usage these cast off  ‘jewels’ could just be collected  from the forest floors in South-East Asia. (See this post on a C19th dress decorated with beetles in Cheltenham’s costume collection at The Wilson.) Since I’ve been researching beetles, I’ve discovered I’m bang on trend – both Paul Smith (adults) and Boden (kids) have insects, large and small, single and multiple, black and white or ablaze with colour, all over their shirts and T shirts. To my credit I was embroidering them on shoe bags in November 2017!

Rooster stensil and appliqué by Natalie Chanin

One of our regular walks through the town takes us downhill past the Montpellier Rotunda (now home to The Ivy Brasserie), and along the row of shops separated one from the other by those splendid caryatids which have eyes only for the greenery of Montpellier Gardens on the other side of the road. After a brief pinch point where the road narrows and there are shops on both sides, things open out with the more formal Imperial Gardens on the right over which 3 detached mansions on the left seem to cast almost proprietorial rights – so easy is it to personify these beautifully proportioned early C19th façades. The first of these houses, recently renovated and now a boutique hotel, is particularly delightful – a pretty balcony across the front has a gently canopied roof which if you part close your eyes looks like heavy eyelashes sweeping down over dark eyes (the windows) and porcelain cheeks (the stuccoed walls), a charming girlish image recently reinforced by the sudden strong smell of sweet flowers – hyacinths, where no hyacinths could be seen. The second time we walked past, we looked harder for the hyacinths, but once again found nothing. Then my husband pointed to a rather inconsequential looking shrub with small glossy leaves and rather ragged white flowers  hanging in profusion from the plant like little crumpled tassels on a dress slept in rather than hung up on its padded coat hanger. We stuck our noses into the bush  and it was indeed our fake hyacinth. An internet search later and the plant becomes Sarcococca confusa, aka Sweet Box Sarcococca, a Chinese relative of the common box.  That scent was a little shaft of spring and put a zing into our steps – much needed as the journey in reverse is uphill.  Thoughts turned to home and fresh coffee – and how so very often things we pass by without a second glance can suddenly surprise us.

Jewel beetle appliqué on T shirt (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The small person received the T shirts yesterday (I shall blog the other 2 over the next couple of weeks). In a rather hazy video, he thanked me and showed me which he was wearing, saying he’d chosen this insect because “it’s the biggest and it can fly and it’s how I’m feeling right now” (because of receiving the T shirts). “Do you want to fly away from Aunty P? ” said the nanny aunt, thinking of the weeks of close proximity they’d spent together. “No I’m incredibly happy, flying happy.” said the diplomatic child, (pulling rather too strongly at the beetle as he viewed himself in the mirror and thus justifying my relying on stitches AND Bond A Web to secure  beetle to T shirt.) Don’t you love the idea of “flying happy”?

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  1. ceci
    Posted February 6, 2021 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be flying happy!

    Your regular walk sounds wonderful – and Sweet Box is a favorite of mine; I first met it against an old brick wall garden next to a Smithsonian Institution building in Washington – as you say, heavenly scent. I have tried small plants (its rather pricey here) in several places; the only one that is doing reasonably well is in a spot the water company likes to dig up or rest equipment next to, usually in the heat of summer. I need to remember to take a lot of cuttings this spring in hopes of having some babies to follow on if they strike again.


    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2021 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, let’s try to feel flying happy and perhaps we will feel lighter and uplifted!
      I can’t think how I’ve never encountered sweet box before – still it’s rather nice to think the world is probably full of as yet unnoticed little joys like this unassuming, sweet smelling flower.

  2. Posted February 7, 2021 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s a very good description of something I have felt a couple of times. Lucky child!

    I think you can still get beetle wings, from some of the needlework suppliers.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2021 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes, beetle wings are still available and if we use the ones that are a by product from insects farmed for food in southern Asia are a much greener alternative to sequins made from plastic.

  3. Amara Bray
    Posted February 7, 2021 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    What a kind boy he seems to be. I love the big beetle and I am glad he appreciates it!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2021 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s great to find boys too can appreciate embroidered present!
      He is a kind boy and at a lovely age.

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