Making a Butterfly Natural History Collection


August 12, 2012 by magpiemenina

It’s been a fun, busy weekend! I managed to get a craft project started and finished, which is no small feat considering most of our belongings (including my crafting materials) are in boxes in storage.

The old natural history collections are quite the trend right now in home décor. These are the objects you might find in the basements of natural history museums (taxidermy pieces, butterfly collections, bug collections, shell collections, etc.). It is a way of bringing the museum home, resurrecting the cabinet of curiosities, and enjoying some of the scientific mania of the Victorian era.

DIY Butterfly Collection

In keeping with that, here are directions to make a lovely butterfly collection for your home that is very butterfly-friendly.

For this project, you will need:

  • Shadowbox
  • Foam core board, cut the size of the shadowbox back
  • Cotton cloth
  • Tea bags
  • Flat-headed pins
  • Glue (I use Beacon 3-in-1 Advanced Craft glue)
  • Butterfly images (more about that below)
  • Gloss medium (like Inkssentials Glue n’ Seal in gloss finish)
  • Paintbrush

1. Make a soft back for the shadowbox that pins will go into: Take the back out of the shadowbox and cut the foam core board the same size. Lay the board out on the cotton cloth (I used the remnants of a white sheet I had lying around from another project) and cut, leaving two to three inches extra to fold over, covering the foam core board.

2. Tea-dye the cloth: Put three tea bags (a dark tea) into a saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Turn heat off, remove tea bags, and place the cotton cloth in the water. Let sit for a few hours to dye the cloth until it is the color you desire. Take the cloth out, dry, and iron.

3. Cover the foam core board with the fabric: Lay the foam core board on the fabric. Fold the fabric over the board, gluing the corners down first, then the sides, top, and bottom.

Fold and glue the corners first.

Fold and glue sides, then top and bottom, pulling tight. Mew is, as usual, oh-so-ready to help.

4. Cut or punch out your butterfly images. I was lucky enough to happen across the American Museum of Natural History book, The Exquisite Butterfly Companion: The Science and Beauty of 100 Butterflies by Hazel Davies. Not only does it have an interesting book, it also comes with one hundred gorgeous paper butterflies, ready to be punched out. It is definitely a good buy for the crafter! I also recommend heading over to The Graphics Fairy ( The site has wonderful, free clip art designs, including great butterfly images that would be perfect for this project.

5. Optional step: If you are using realistic-looking butterflies, as I did, coat them with Inkssentials Glue n’ Seal gloss finish. Apply the medium with a paintbrush, following the lines of the wings. The medium makes them shine a little more, like real butterflies. If you have fine glitter to match, I would recommend giving that a try, too. Let dry, then press the butterflies flat in a book for a while.

Coating the butterfly with gloss medium.

6. Make specimen tags for each butterfly: Cut out a slip of paper for each of the butterflies. These will be glued underneath each butterfly as a specimen tag. Write the scientific name* of the butterfly on the tag. I used an old-fashioned dip calligraphy pen. You could also include the area of origin and the common name. For example: Colotis ione – Africa – “Purple Tip.” Let the ink dry, then spritz the tags with some tea water or dunk them quickly into some coffee.

* If you are interested in making it look really serious, here are some quick tips about scientific names. The scientific name consists minimally of the genus and species. The genus name (“Colotis”) is always capitalized. The species name (“ione”) is always lower case. The full name should be underlined or italicized.

7. Arrange, glue, and pin: Arrange the butterflies on the cloth-covered board to your satisfaction, with the tags underneath. One at a time, glue down the tags. Then glue a small piece of foam core board under the body of the butterfly and force a flat-headed pin through the butterfly and board. Position the pin and butterfly and push into the backing. Repeat.

Glue the foam core board to the underside.

8. Finish up: Carefully reinsert the backing into the shadowbox and replace the original back of the shadowbox. There you go! A beautiful, butterfly-friendly natural history collection for your walls.

The finished product. Despite the glare from the camera., you can really see the gloss and colors of the butterflies.


6 thoughts on “Making a Butterfly Natural History Collection

  1. jnice3871 says:

    love this!

  2. Great idea to make paper ones, so the real ones can stay alive. Thanks for the instructions.

  3. magpiemenina says:

    Thank you very much. I really enjoyed seeing your photography at your blog!

  4. Thank you for visiting! 🙂

  5. […] laboratory during the Victorian era (goes nicely with the butterfly natural history collection DIY here). These read, for example, “Specimen no. 46 Rattus norvegicus cranium and scapulae.” You could […]

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