Boy’s T shirt with insect appliqué – orange on royal blue

I received my AstraZeneca jab against Covid-19 on Wednesday lunchtime. It was a pleasant walk to the inoculation centre –  basically not much more than going round two sides of Cheltenham College (gothic main buildings and attached playing fields).  The sun was out but snow was in the air, fine dots of white that danced around and stung our faces with cold. Fortunately, the wind was strong and blew the snow away before it could land so the road and pavements remained dry and not at all slippery. Almost half a million people were vaccinated today in the UK, par for the course in recent days but an even more impressive figure when you consider that about half of those jabs are done in areas where snow falls have been heavy and where roads, with much reduced traffic, must be treacherous. Yes, I know, we’re weather wimps in the UK but that’s because we never have enough extreme weather to merit investing in appropriate but expensive equipment which would lie unused for 50 weeks a year.

Boy’s T shirt with beetle appliqué (Protorhopala sexnotata, family Cerambycidae, subfamily Lamiinae) Hand embroidered by Mary Addison

Jab plus five hours I started excessive and dramatic shivering. We piled on blankets and I hugged close a hot water bottle, scarcely registering it as hot. The shivering took a couple of hours to die down and at that point I realised I had classic flu symptoms – headache, aching muscles and lethargy. Waking in the night I was very dizzy and fell over. A day mainly spent in bed later, I woke this morning with a red rash all over except for hands and feet. This comforted me somewhat as for years it has been my classic reaction to flu like viruses. It starts with little pinpoints of red and these then join up until I’m pretty red all over and at this point I’m usually on the way to getting better. Still, I’m not complaining if  this stops me getting the real thing. And anyway it seems, from reading the information sheets that my reaction is far from unusual as up to 1 person in 10 reacts in a similar way and it is not abnormal to feel unwell for up to a week!

Embroidered long horn beetle, Protorhopala sexnotata, family Cerambycidae, subfamily Lamiinae )Hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Lethargy is taking me over once more, so I leave you with this wonderful long horn beetle from northern Madagascar,  Protorhopala sexnotata, a species in the family Cerambycidae and subfamily Lamiinae. In reality, it is a glorious orange red colour but white where I have used blue thread or revealed the underlying blue fabric of the T shirt .

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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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