Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian was a German born Swiss naturalist, entomologist, botanical artist & all around BADASS woman born in 1647. One of the first naturalists to observe insects directly (as opposed to dead specimens), she collected live insects & created detailed drawings to illustrate insect metamorphosis. In her time, it was very unusual that someone would be genuinely interested in insects, which had a bad reputation & were considered vile & disgusting.

In 1699, the city of Amsterdam granted Merian permission to travel to Suriname in South America (a Dutch colony at the time), along with her younger daughter Dorothea Maria, to study & illustrate new species of insects.  Scientific expeditions at this period of time were not common. It was also almost unheard of for a woman to travel any great distance, especially without the accompaniment of a man. Only men received government funding for trips, so Merian financed the entire mission herself by selling 255 of her own paintings. 

In her lifetime, Merian described the life cycles of 186 insect species, amassing evidence that contradicted the contemporary notion that insects were "born of mud" by spontaneous generation. She not only described the insects she found, but also noted their habitat & habits, as well as many other details of the evolution & life cycles of the insects she observed. For example, she showed that each stage of the change from caterpillar to butterfly depended on a small number of plants for its nourishment. She noted that as a consequence, the eggs were laid near these plants. Almost two centuries before the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term Oecologie—ecology—Merian published plates that depicted ecological communities.

Published books of engravings:
Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung. 1679
Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. 1705

Hand water-colored copper plate engravings by Maria Sibylla Merian & her daughters:

merian_Citron with Monkey Slug Moth and Harlequin Beetle.jpg

Information compiled from HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE
Images from HERE & HERE

Moths Matter - Bell Armoire feature

The Moth Series scarves have been featured in the Summer issue of Bell Armoire! Get yourself a copy and check out the many many other talented makers featured in this issue!


Moths Matter    

The Moth series scarves were born out of a curiosity and passion for the exploration of the natural dye process. They also represent an integral part of the manifesto of my work, which reflects a central belief that the earth is a living organism upon which every living entity depends on every other living entity for its survival; a concept of no singular species holding the most importance, humans included. The more familiar a person is with something, the more knowledge they gain of it and the more value they place on it, meaning the more fervently they may fight to protect it. Through my illustrations of non-human organisms — moths, in the case of these scarves — I’m hoping to plant the seeds of familiarity, knowledge, and value for less appreciated species, in order to preserve and strengthen the delicate balance of their ecosystems. We can’t positively identify the complete effects a particular species has on its surroundings until it is no longer there. With that being said, I strive for my concepts and art-making practices to be congruous with one another. Through my dedication to translating my illustrations onto natural fibers by harnessing the powers of plant color, I am able to make sure that my practices are as low-impact as possible. I utilize plants from my immediate area by collecting food scraps, harvesting leaves, flowers, nuts, and berries from the local landscape, and growing plants I know to be good dye material. In order to put less waste into the world, every scrap of material I purchase is used in some way. I am constantly researching materials and techniques to ensure that I am developing work using the most ethical goods and processes with the least amount of environmental impact. I believe that the process is just as important as the concept, which is as important as the final product.

I choose to send my concepts and ideas out into the world via utilitarian objects so they may be used as daily reminders to the user and maybe, hopefully, as a conversation starter. Moths are important pollinators, many for nocturnal bloomers. Artificial lights distract moths and prevent them from pollinating plants that depend on them for reproduction. We can mitigate this by using colored light bulbs, installing outdoor motion sensor lighting, or putting a cloth or a net (maybe a naturally dyed silk Moth scarf) around the light. We can also help the populations of moth species, as well as other important pollinators, by planting local wildflowers in our yards and by continuing the conversation of their importance with our loved ones and community.


Constructing the Moth Series

I began the Moth series with questions about the science behind natural dyes in mind and techniques I wanted to learn. My primary technique for applying plant color to fabric is through a process called eco-bundling. The plant is placed on wet pre-mordanted fabric, rolled, secured, steamed, and then left to sit for a number of days or weeks. Within this step, I conducted pH balance tests to see how the plant color would be modified in the bundling process. The bundles were then unwrapped and washed. I made a natural dye print paste and used it to screen-print the illustration of moths on each square of silk. The squares were then steamed and washed. At this point, some of the silk squares were deemed finished. I then selected a few to do mordant modification tests, and a few to be batiked and dyed in an organic indigo vat. To finish each silk square, I hand-rolled or hemmed each piece.


My lovely model, Olivia Rose, is also a wonderful photographer.  Click here to check out her work!

pH test : eco-bundle

Normally, when I eco-bundle, I douse the fabric in vinegar, throw in some flora, roll, secure, steam, and wait. I've gotten some pretty beautiful results in my haphazard way of doing things, but these days I'm becoming more curious about the chemistry and reason behind it all. I've known about pH modifiers since the beginning, but never paid to much attention to it, until recently when I started an indigo vat... results from that later...

Because I had 10 yards of silk to dye for new scarves, I decided to do an experiment with how varying the pH in the bundle might affect the color extracted from the plant materials.

I used 8mm silk habotai: scoured and mordanted with alum + cream of tartar. 

On the Left side of every image you will see results from a pH of around 4 to 5. To get this I diluted white vinegar in tap water. On the Right side of every image you will see results from a pH of around 9 or 10. To get this I diluted soda ash in tap water. Each bundle sat over night and were steamed for about an hour the next day, then left to sit (wrapped in plastic to retain moisture) for six days.  Each piece of fabric was unbundled and left to dry on the line, then steam ironed. I have NOT washed any of the fabric yet, as I want to let them cure for a few days.  


What I have noticed is that a lower pH achieves a much more crisp and defined print from each plant, EXCEPT from the carrot tops. And all of the colors are a bit warmer when compared to the colors achieved from the higher pH bundles. The higher pH bundles gave greener shades and seemed to allow the color to disperse a bit more into the fabric. 

Here are the results:

 carrot tops. dried rose leaves. fresh stinging nettle leaves.

carrot tops. dried rose leaves. fresh stinging nettle leaves.

 red onion skins

red onion skins

 hibiscus. locally harvested and frozen + dehydrated/dried store bought 

hibiscus. locally harvested and frozen + dehydrated/dried store bought 

 dried marigolds (mostly what you see here). dried coreopsis. dried/frozen goldenrod.

dried marigolds (mostly what you see here). dried coreopsis. dried/frozen goldenrod.

 yellow onion skins

yellow onion skins

 fresh maple leaves

fresh maple leaves

 dried eucalyptus leaves

dried eucalyptus leaves

If anything changes after the fabric is washed, I will post an update. I am very eager to have a dialogue about these results, so please comment below if you have any information as to WHY these results have happened and if you have any questions.

There was only one major change that happened after the wash. The hibiscus fabric changed from vibrant magenta to a dusty purple. 

These pieces of silk still have to be printed on, batiked, and re-dyed as they turn into scarves, so stay tuned! ( and follow me on instagram : jamiebourgeois

To cure infinitely and beyond...

The studio I work for, Lovelane Designs, is doing the crowd funding thing (through Etsy!) and asking fans to help expand the company. Demand is growing and production is unable to keep up! We need a special piece of equipment, a large scale conveyor dryer which cures the printed ink to the fabric, in order to stay in flight. This With your super powers and ours, we can continue to create hand-crafted heirloom quality imaginative play-wear for the little ones. Check out the video and the merchandise, support if you're into it!



Savannah Mossterpiece illustration

Before being awarded the opportunity to complete the Savannah Mossterpiece, I was asked by Judge Realty to create this illustration. It was for the invitations to a party that was held to celebrate the tenth year anniversary of the company, to raise funds for a local non-profit organizaton, ArtRise Savannah, and to celebrate the completion of the Savannah Mossterpiece.

I've been in the garden

I planted a dye garden this year, and it is the most glorious thing. 

        storing coreopsis

       storing coreopsis

        avocado pod

       avocado pod

        carrot top babies getting tucked in

       carrot top babies getting tucked in

        carrot stack

       carrot stack

 a successful day's work

a successful day's work

         un-bundled: rosemary

        un-bundled: rosemary

Stay tuned for results!

Savannah Magazine for Libbie Summers

The May/June issue of Savannah Magazine is here and guess who has tiny tape bugs featured on page 97!? A few months ago I was asked by the vivacious and multi-talented artistic director, producer, and food stylist, Libbie Summers, to make a few masking tape insects for her spread in the Epicurean issue of Savannah Magazine. Here's a snippet of my feature, make sure to grab a copy so you can see the entire editorial!  All photos were curated by Libbie with the help of Candace Brower, Anthony Lunsmann, and uber-talented photographer Cedric Smith

And here are some up-close-and-personals of the praying mantis and io moth.

Phhheeeeewwww WEE!

Vultures slop around on dead meat all day. Fortunately for them they have two species of anaerobic bacteria living in their gut that help withstand any internal bacterial toxins AND they’re able to bathe their legs in their own urine to kill any outside bacterial toxins!

This all may seem vile, but it’s all necessary for both the vultures and us.  Vultures play a major role in the ecosystem by munching on all the dead flesh hanging around. These scavenger birds help to get rid of potentially deadly bacteria and viruses that may inhabit and breed on rotting carcasses. We should praise them, really, for taking the heat and doing what they've evolved to do. Unfortunately, many species of vulture are either endangered or threatened. So, who’s going to do their job once we've killed them all?

But, to leave this one on a happier note, next time you pee your pants, just explain to everyone that you decided to take an anti-bacterial bath.  

Crazy Cat Lady: Why You Shouldn't Eat Cat Poo

Reilly Allen, a great friend of mine, came to visit me a few months ago. She promptly accused my cats of harboring a parasite that would make her go crazy. (as if anything could make her go more crazy…)

Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, is a parasitic protozoan that can infect all warm blooded animals. T. gondii is primarily a feline parasite because only in the intestines of a cat, can the parasite sexually reproduce, and the parasite is transmitted through the cat’s feces.  Asexual reproduction is possible in all other mammals, but they will only be clones of the initial parasite. The parasite can also be sexually transmitted in some animals. If a human is infected with T. gondii, he or she can develop a potentially deadly disease called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is only really harmful to infants and people with weakened immune systems. If a healthy human is infected with T. gondii, they will experience flu-like symptoms for a bit and then the parasite goes “dormant”…in their brain cells.

This is where it gets bizarre, it’s possible that a dormant T. gondii in humans is not so dormant. According to Czech scientist, Jaroslav Flegr, it’s possible that this “laten parasite quietly tweeks connections between neurons.” It changes our responses to trust, how outgoing we are, scent preference, and can even be the cause of car crashes, suicides, and schizophrenia. He claims that 1 million people die a year due to these tiny tweeks. Apparently about 1/3 of the world’s population carry the Toxoplasma infection.

He and other notable scientists have done extensive research on Toxoplasma gondii. Here’s a long, but very interesting article on the whole matter.

One might say that the main purpose for an organism’s life is to reproduce. Well, it seems as though the brain manipulation done by T. gondii is all executed so that it can return to a feline host and sexually reproduce.

Scientists have done a lot of research on T. gondii using lab rats. Rats infected with T. gondii were not only less cautious of the threat of a cat predator, but actually attracted and sexually aroused by the scent of the predator’s urine; which led the rats right into the mouth of a hungry feline!

Through these studies, scientists have also found that T. gondii jacks up dopamine levels in warm-blooded animals. Dopamine highly attributes to the feelings of fear, pleasure, and to attention.

I don’t believe that T. gondii has found a way to mind control a human into getting a cat to eat him or her, but there has been research done that T. gondii does affect the human brain and the way it works.

Flegr's tests on humans have shown that males who are infected with T. gondii were more “introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, inclined to disregard rules, [and] had less friends.” On the other hand, women infected with T. gondii were more “outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, rule-abiding, [and] had more friends.”

“After consulting the psychological literature, [Flegr] started to suspect that heightened anxiety might be the common denominator underlying their responses. When under emotional strain, he read, women seek solace through social bonding and nurturing… Anxious men, on the other hand, typically respond by withdrawing and becoming hostile or antisocial.”

Lots of research has been done between the connection of T. gondii and schizophrenia as well. People who have schizophrenia and test positive for T. gondii have way less grey matter in their brain than other individuals. T. gondii is also thought to be a trigger for schizophrenia.

But, with all that, Squirrel and Harry ain’t goin’ nowhere! Apparently indoor cats don’t pose a threat, because they don’t carry the parasite. Outdoor cats only really have the parasite for 3 weeks while they are young and first hunting. It seems like most humans catch T. gondii through consumption of other contaminated mammals, vegetables, and water. So, if you keep your counters and table tops clean, scrub your veggies before you eat them, drink purified water, and either cook your meat fully or freeze it before it’s cooked, it’s alllll gravy. No parasite for you!

Ambush ye? Or Ambush ye not?

Assassin Bugs are terrestrial ambush predators. They are stealthy, hearty, True Bugs in the Order Hemiptera. There are many different species of assassin bug living all over the world. Most have a curved proboscis that some scientists like to call the ‘rostrum.’ But, I’m going to call it a proboscis, because I like that word better. They look a lot like Gonzo from Sesame Street…but a more maniacal version of Gonzo.

Anyway, assassin bugs use their long, curved, sharp proboscis to stab, inject, liquefy the insides of, and consume their prey. Their saliva contains enzymes that predigest the tissue of the prey for them, so that they always get to enjoy a nice gut-slushy for every meal. Some assassin bugs have long hairs on their legs which help them to hold their prey while they slurp away!

But, what really caught my attention with these guys has to do with a specific species, the Acanthaspis petax assassin bug. These guys specifically eat ants, and are very resourceful with every meal, attempting to use all parts of their pray to their advantage. After a nice dinner, each ant victim is piled high onto the back of its predator, stuck there with a sticky secretion.  That’s right, the assassin bug wears a coat of dead ant carcasses. Not for fashion, but for protection, a very, very smart camouflage. You see, the number one predator of the Acanthaspis petax assassin bug is the jumping spider. The jumping spider knows very well not to attack a swarm of ants, because a swarm of ants will most definitely win; but, a jumping spider will most definitely attack a naked assassin bug! An assassin bug is like pizza. Everybody likes pizza. But a pizza piled with ants is not good pizza to the jumping spider. AND even if the jumping spider DID feel like having a slice of ant piled pizza, thanks to that impermanent sticky secretion, the assassin bug has a sweet get away opportunity while the jumping spider is still wondering what just happened!

Some species of assassin bug are no good for humans either. They will stab you and try to liquefy your guts too. Some may even transmit potentially fatal diseases to you. But, they’re not all bad on the home front. Some species are actually kept as pets in some countries because those species like to munch on household pests, like cockroaches and bedbugs. And even better, some species’ venom is being studied due to potentially positive effects against human pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria.

These guys are all over the place, literally and figuratively.    

It's A Good Thing Your Boogers Don't Eat Bones

The Osedax mucoflon literally means Bone Eating Snot Flower. It’s a small sea worm that only really survives and proliferates when there is a whale carcass for it to consume. They don’t actually have stomachs or mouths; but, instead they attach themselves to the bones and team up with symbiotic bacteria to help digest the nutrients released from the fats and oils. The males, however, don’t actually feed on the whale. The females are the larger visible snot flowers. The males actually are microscopic dwarfs that live INSIDE of the lumen of a gelatinous tube that surrounds the females. These male dwellings are actually called “harems,” and there are anywhere from 30 to 100 males living inside of a female at a time! They sustain themselves on the yolk left over from the egg that they hatched from. It is said that the sex of these bone eating worms is actually determined by their environment. Apparently when females reproduce they disperse “undifferentiated larvae” into the ocean on a quest for whale bones. The larvae that settle on the bone turn into females, and the larvae that settle on top of the females turn to males! Once the whale is consumed most of the Bone Eating Snot Flowers die with the hope that the larvae floating in the ocean will find a new carcass to colonize.

The Osedax mucoflon is only one of countless more species of bone eating worm. You can read more about them hhhhheeeerrrrreeeeee.


"Nom nom nom," said the Clothes Moth.

Tineola bisselliella, or the Common Clothes Moth, is a species of fungus moth. Fungus moth larva (aka the caterpillar) mostly feed on, well, fungus, lichens, and detritus. Detritus, if you, like I, didn’t already know, is dead particulate organic matter…like bones, horns, feathers, and poop. But as you may have deduced from the name, clothes moths primarily feed on clothes. Protein and cellulose based clothes, like wool, silk, cotton, linen, and fur are preferred, but they will also feed on other things like flour and salt.   

Only the larva of the clothes moth actually eats. Adult moths have enough food and moisture saved from the larval stage in order to sustain them for the duration of the time it takes them to complete their sole adult-life goal, and that is to reproduce. And, unlike other moths you may have observed, clothes moths prefer the darkness. In fact, they will die if exposed to the sun for more than just a few hours!

Annie Dillard wrote about Edwin Way Teale’s findings on the clothes moth larva in my favorite book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," stating that when there is a shortage in food, the larva will sometimes go into a ‘molting frenzy.’ It will molt and shrink over and over and over again, becoming smaller and smaller and smaller! And then what?!

I also found a really great option of ridding your house and wardrobe of these guys that does not involve chemicals. Trichogrammatid wasps. These are tiny parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside of the clothes moth. The wasp’s larva feeds on the moth’s eggs, and bam! These tiny tiny (.079in) wasps are completely harmless to humans and disappear with full bellies within 2 to 4 weeks. Or, you could clean and aerate your clothes often, and store them in cedar with lavender satchels. Your choice.

Not Just Wood: Tree Anatomy

I feel as though we are not properly taught about plants. But really, I don’t think we really know about plants like we think we do. We just think we know, but we have no idea; True Life, PLANTS.

What I mean by that is, I grew up and learned about trees as these green and brown things that existed in the world. They grew, shed their leaves, grew some more, and then we cut them down to build stuff. I never thought of them as MOVING, COMMUNICATING, and HAVING LIFE. Or maybe I just wasn’t a very sensitive child?

So, in this post I’m going to layout some of the anatomy of a tree, which may help you understand that it is a living thing, just like youuuu and meeeeee.  Respect.

First I’m going to start with the trunk.  The trunk is not just wood. It is an amalgamation of cells adapted to serve different purposes, like strength, resistance to decay and injury, transport of liquids and minerals, and for storage.

The first thing you see when you look at the trunk is the OUTER BARK. It serves as the tree's primary protection and is continually renewed, much like our skin. Then we have the inner bark, or PHLOEM. This is the pipeline that transports food and hormones throughout the tree. It soon dies and becomes cork which eventually becomes the outer bark. Next there is another thin layer called the CAMBIUM. The cambium is the growing part of the trunk. It responds to the hormones that are passed and annually produces new bark and new wood.

The XYLEM makes up the “wood” of the tree. Within the xylem you have the next layer, which is SAPWOOD. This is the pipeline for water to get from the roots to the leaves. This layer is able to form anti-microbial substances to respond to injury, much like antibodies! It is also the new wood of the tree. As newer rings of sapwood are laid out, the inner rings lose their vitality and eventually turn to the next layer, which is the HEARTWOOD. The heartwood is the central support. It is dead and discolored, but is very very strong and keeps the tree standing. And finally, at the most central point, you may (in some species) find the PITH. This is a Styrofoam-y material left over from the primary tissue that was the twig. In some species it goes away as the tree gets older.

If you go upwards from the trunk and through the branches you’ll reach the tips of the twigs. These form buds in the spring which is where those hormones I mentioned before come from. These hormones help the tree to go. (sound familiar?) These buds also produce leaves. The leaves are basically spongy cells that connect the air- to the tree- to the roots. Leaves create  food for the tree. They take carbon dioxide from the air and water from the roots and convert it to sugar, then send it down the phloem to the roots. In order for the roots to use that sugar to grow, they need oxygen. They search for oxygen in pockets between the soil. The roots then return the favor to the leaves by sucking up water and minerals and sending it back up to the leaves via the sapwood. The leaves use that water to create the food, and send it back down to the roots, and back and forth, back and forth.  

And that's only part of what we know! There's a great PBS documentary called "What Plants Talk About," that discusses communication between one plant to another, and plants to insects and animals. CRAY.