Thursday, 17 November 2011

Elephant No. 46: Sequins

Today I wanted to make something gaudy and sparkly and silly. One of my close friends will loathe this (she hates sequins), but I like them, so that's what I decided to do today.

Sequins of beaten gold were likely used on clothing and other accoutrements as far back as 2500 B.C. in the Indus Valley. In the Middle East, and throughout the Mediterranean Basin, gold coins were sewn into women's clothing—particularly into headdresses and veils, as well as over the chest and hips—to both display and carry the family's wealth. This ancient custom is the antecedent to the modern use of sequined trim on clothing.

The word "sequin" was originally a French word, believed to derive from the Italian zecchino: a coin of pure gold first minted in Venice in A.D. 1284. Zecca means "mint"; i.e., a place where coins are produced. It comes from the Arabic sikkah, which literally means "minting die" and describes an ornamental disc or spangle. 

Although coins are still used today as clothing decoration in some cultures, most sequins are solely decorative, and are made either of metal or metallicized plastic. Sequins are sometimes called diamantes, spangles or paillettes—although the latter usually refers to larger, flat sequins. Many sequins are made with facets to give them added sparkle. Sequins are either stitched flat to fabric, or are sewn so that they dangle, allowing them to catch more light.

 For today's elephant, I decided I would sew the sequins flat onto a piece of black velvet. I had no preconceived design in mind, so I started by pulling out the different kinds of sequins I have, hoping they might inspire me. They didn't. On the other hand, I never mind looking at colourful sparkly things.

I also decided to use seed beads to anchor the sequins. Without a seed bead, I would have to sew through the centre hole, then over the side of the sequin, which means the thread would be fairly obvious. With a seed bead, I can stitch right through the middle, giving it a more finished look. It's a little more work, but worth it. So I dragged out my seed beeds as well, still not sure what colours I would use.

I eventually decided to start with purple sequins. Although I started stitching sequins in a vague shape, I quickly realized that a faint chalk outline would make this go a lot faster than if I tried to wing it.

Once I had a vague outline in sequins and chalk, I started filling things in. 

Once I got everything more or less outlined, I thought I'd better make some decisions on colours. I decided to use mostly purple sequins, with silver for the trunk, and a few pink sequins around the mouth, in the trunk and in the ears. I tried a few other colour combinations, just to be sure. For the look I had in mind, however, I found that the sequins were sparkly enough that adding contrasting colours made it too chaotic in visual terms.

This was more time-consuming than I expected it to be—not because it's particularly difficult, but because you need a surprising number of sequins to fill in the space. I suppose I could have spaced the sequins out a bit, but I really liked the overlapped look.

I also ended up liking the black open area in the face. The black is partially the result of me running out of time—and partially, if I'm honest, the result of me getting a bit bored. Sewing sequins may not be difficult, but it is a bit tedious. This exercise reminded me why it's been so long since I sewed sequins on anything. Well, that, and the fact that I don't normally go out dressed like a contestant in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest.

I wish I'd had time to add a crown or something, but I can always go back and add accessories later. In the meantime, I'm actually quite happy with this little disco elephant.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants don't have scales like my sequined elephant, their hide is definitely thick. One of their nicknames, "pachyderm", literally means "thick-skinned animal". 

Most of the skin on an elephant's body is extremely tough, measuring about 2.5 cm (1 inch) in thickness. The only delicate parts of the skin are around the elephant's mouth and inside its ear, where the skin is much thinner.

The skin of Asian elephants has more hair than that of an African elephant. Baby Asian elephants are particularly hairy, covered with a thick coat of reddish-brown fuzz when they're born. As Asian elephants grow, this fuzz darkens and coarsens, and much of it falls out. 

As a species, elephants are usually greyish in colour. African elephants often appear brownish-red, but this is only because they tend to wallow in mud, coating their skin as protection against sunburn and parasites. Because Asian elephants live primarily in forested areas, they don't coat themselves as heavily with mud.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation


  1. Very bollywood feel to this one! :-)

  2. Excellent! I'll remember that if the filmi people ever come a-calling!