Buzz buzz buzz…. What’s the first insect that comes to your mind? In my case, it’s always bees. Whether they are the hard-working honey bee, the tiny little sweat bee, or my favorite stumbling, fumbling, jumbling, bumbling bee, I always hear the gentle drone of wings and smile.
As a beekeeper, this year’s theme thrilled me, and I immediately knew the insect that I would use as inspiration. Spiders spin their ephemeral webs, and jewel wasps look pretty enough to wear on a necklace, but my love will always be for the little velvet tennis balls belonging to the genus Bombus.
What I especially love about bumblebees is that they are gentle bugs. Unlike their honeybee cousins, they do not have barbed stingers, so they can sting many times without dying – defense doesn’t have to mean death. However, even with this adaptation, they still choose only to sting when their nest is disturbed, and rarely act aggressively toward other animals. While everyone is currently on a mission to “Save the Bees!”, so many are also willing to swat them away the moment a fuzzy flier comes near. So many focus on the honey bee population, when it’s the other species that have seen the largest decline – to include the bee many Americans grew up with - Bombus pensylvanicus.
Even though I have several hives of honeybees, my first love will always be the sweet bumble who visits the catnip planted by the door.
Being so inspired by these downy denizens of the air, I knew I had to create an ensemble that mimicked the surprising grace that an insect known for bumbling actually carries. The hairs of her body would have to be polished and her wings would need to catch the eye. Yet I didn’t want this look to scream “I’m a bug.” Instead, I chose to create Bombus in a way that is subtle and surprisingly satisfactory when it comes to sounds – much like the bees themselves. Sadly, the sound isn’t something I can truly share unless it’s in person. The noise the Bombus makes is rather soft and soothing, and hopefully something a bee would appreciate.
As an artist, I’ve often struggled to define my brand aesthetic, largely because I’m so willing to take on custom work that is within the realm of my preferences, but not fully my own. This process of creating Bombus made me focus on what my design preference is: mainly mono- or dichromatic pieces with an emphasis on time consuming embellishment techniques.
Looking at Bombus, she’s not the most “out there” design as far as insects go. She’s fairly simple at first glance, but from a technical standpoint, really quite involved. The base corset is a fully cupped corset, constructed with doubled boning, underwires and light padding in the cups. Considering that the bust area is completely covered by beadwork it wasn’t necessary, but I think that gives a much more pleasing shape to the chest. The things that really frustrated me, though, were the materials.
The floating fashion layer is made of two colors of silk velvet – a material that loves to unravel and slide about while sewing. As someone who rarely ever pins, I found myself pinning every seam. At one point, however, I did resort to draping and hand finessing the yellow velvet under the beadwork. And what beadwork!
While I juggled other projects, the beading took almost a full month. The sheer number of beads I ended up requiring had me making multiple orders! All told, there are over 12,000 beads making up the “hairs” on Bombus, consisting of alternating combinations of black and gold seed and inch long bugle beads.
Finally, the finishing touch was to give Bombus wings of a sort. Rather than stiff organza, I opted for soft, unstructured silk gauze. With a beautifully smooth hand, it flows behind as you walk, giving a further sense of movement and flight. But, this sense wasn’t enough to truly suggest wings, and required more definition. To give it that little extra push, I scaled up bumblebee wings to a size that would support a much taller animal, and couched gold embroidery floss on the silk. It’s an understated pop of brightness to what would be more gossamer veining, but the look flows with the rest of the ensemble.
As a maker who has never quite managed to enter before, it was pleasant to be able to use this project as an excuse to do an ensemble strictly for me. Even though this is being used for my own business's couture collection, it was made with the competition and only me in mind, and it's pretty refreshing to do so!