Zen and the Art of Dragonfly Motifs

Rissa Peace Root 2005

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I am lucky to be a member of a very small online group of talented women know as the Crazy Gathering.  Somehow, the dragonfly has become the totem for this group, so it is a recurring motif in round robins and group projects.  I have had the good fortune of studying several of these interesting creatures up close in my own back yard.  I have taken photos of these iridescent flitting creatures over the last few months as study aids and I created a small notebook of dragonfly images to use for inspiration. I find this is an excellent method for working out motifs and patterns of all sorts.

Despite my study of actual dragonfly images, it is not my goal to realistically recreate a dragonfly.  My goal has always been to create a motif that is instantly recognizable as a dragonfly, regardless of materials or method of construction. The stick figure body and round eyes really lend themselves to beading, but other methods also work well. Jane Nicholas has an entire book devoted to Dragonflies created in Stumpwork, so in terms of execution, you are only limited by your imagination.  

The dragonfly above was made by creating the beaded body first.  I matched a silver-lined pony bead with slightly smaller large seed bead and attached them to the background fabric.  Then I came back and strung a size 11 seed bead, a size 2 bugle,  and another size 11 seed bead before securing my thread. I came back up through the fabric, ran my needle through the last seed bead and picked up another bugle and six more seed beads.  I made the last bead a stop and put the needle back through all of the beads I had just strung, plus the rest of the bug body, except for the first pony bead and secured my thread. This allows the last section of the tail to stand free above the fabric.  The final step was to pass my needle through the pony bead, pick up a single purple bead for an eye and secure the thread once for each eye.  Once there was a body, I could stitch an outline for the wings in 1000 denier silk and fill them in with Kreinik Silver Japan Thread.  The final step was to stitch the legs.  I wanted this particular dragonfly to be delicate and ethereal.

In stark contrast, this huge and very vivid dragonfly was a better choice for Kathleen Brulc's exotic beaded round robin block. Barbara Blankenship found some really unusual beads on eBay and was not sure how to best use them, so she sent me a couple to see if they would inspire me. My house has been a wreck during the whole remodel and moving process, so it took me months to get around to really looking at these beads.  To me, what originally looked like flower petals, suddenly looked like they would make cool wings on a block that could accommodate a motif of such grand scale and Kathleen's block was the perfect proving ground.  The body is a simple line of seed and bugle beads. Again, while not realistic, the motif is instantly recognizable as a dragonfly.

Sometimes the trick is to stop seeing your efforts as an attempt to recreate a dragonfly and instead an attempt to capture a sense of the quality of dragonfly-ness.  Okay, so that sounds just a little too new-age, but the idea is very old and it works for me!

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