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It’s been a while since I’ve posted about decorative paper. Today’s topic: insects, and which ones make the cut as worthy of appearing as decorative motifs on handmade sheets.

Insects are incredible. They’re found almost everywhere, and make up more than half of all the living things on earth. There are several hundred thousand different kinds, surviving in every habitat except the ocean.

Beetles are the most prolific order of insects, exceeding 270,000 species, and are among the most beautiful. With iridescent shells, endless color combinations, along with some crazy shapes and textures, you’d think that they’d be beloved worldwide. Look at these beauties!

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Albrecht Dürer even painted one back in 1505.

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But insects are tricky. Some, the most obviously beautiful, like butterflies and dragonflies, are embraced. The lady bug, a beetle sporting a witty and colorful pattern, not to mention a helpful appetite for aphids, is adored. But despite their visual appeal, most others are ignored or disliked. I suppose that little butterflies floating along a breeze are much more appealing than a hard-backed bug skittering along the edge of your baseboard or a pest munching in your garden.

Although insects are often used as a decorative motif in handmade papers, this bias holds true there as well. Butterflies abound, dragonflies occasionally buzz by, ladybug beetles pop up here and there, but other insects are scarce. I find it interesting that we are so limited in the insects that we find appealing. Even across cultures that make paper, the papers produced still adhere to a limited view of which insects are deemed acceptable for viewing.

I found one paper, an Italian Cavallini sheet, featuring a range of insects. So pretty!

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But that was it for variety.

Ladybugs show up now and then, as in this Japanese Chiyogami sheet. In Japan, as in many cultures, ladybugs signify good luck.

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And dragonflies are popular in Japan, too, where they represent power, agility and victory.

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This Nepalese paper also features dragonflies. Depending on the culture, dragonflies can represent everything from evil spirits to transformation and rebirth.
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But the most popular insect by far is the butterfly.

From Italy, a few beauties. First, butterflies as a detail in a Florentine paper, followed by two Cavallini sheets.

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A batik paper from Thailand:

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A screen printed metallic sheet from Thailand:

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I’m not sure where this paper comes from.

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And of course butterflies are found in Chinoiserie scenic papers…

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… as well as in collage-style Italian papers.

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Butterflies are wildly popular in Chiyogami papers from Japan, where they signify joy and longevity, and the souls of people both living and dead.

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So I’ll keep hunting for papers with insects, and maybe one day I’ll find one printed with beetles. I’ll end this post with one of my all-time favorite insect papers. I was so surprised when I found it that I bought it without hesitation. All I have left now are little scraps. But how could I resist a bright orange sheet covered in a swarm of little ants?

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