Category Archives: Taxidermy

On Dead Squirrels

I don’t specifically remember what sparked my interest in taxidermy. A long fascination with ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and ET perhaps; or maybe it was my abject failure at triple science GCSE at school, where I convinced Miss Celentano for an entire year that I was a mastermind of physics by copying Lucy’s work on solenoids. All I achieved was long-sightedness and a deep appreciation of multiple-choice exam questions. More likely, I think it was all those trips to the London museums my parents took me on.

The animals in those museums looked so good to touch. The Horniman, in particular, houses a gigantic walrus brought back from the arctic in the Victoria era. Taxidermists at the time had no clue what a walrus was meant to look like and so, presumably confused by the sheer amount of stretchy, wrinkly skin, stuffed the walrus to bursting. The walrus looked ten years younger. I didn’t particularly care about the lifespan of the animal, or the eating habits, or any of the facts printed next to the glass cases. I just used to want to pick up the snarling, stuffed foxes just to see what the fur felt like; push my fingers against the teeth to see how sharp they were. I wanted to hold a bear’s paw, stroke a lion’s mane, and balance a squirrel on my shoulder and wander around Tesco attracting impressed glances. “There she goes”, they’d exclaim in aisle three, “the squirrel whisperer.” If I got through the aisles fast enough, they wouldn’t notice the glassy-eyed stare of the thoroughly immobile animal stapled to my jumper. I still have these fantasies sometimes.

The appeal of taxidermy is how tactile it is. You’re not generally allowed to touch wild animals and yet, when they’re dead, it’s somehow ok. With this unsavoury reassurance in mind – I can’t write anything more on it without beginning to sound like Ed Gein – I booked myself my first ever taxidermy lesson.

The mice were on special offer. They were all lined up, white and furry and frozen, on a glass table. Our tutor was an upsettingly handsome man with an intense gaze and an even more intense beard, and he explained to us in a low Yorkshire accent, as we made the first incision from breastbone to tail, that he was a men’s fashion designer. He was most proud of a jacket he’d made with two foxes leaping over the shoulders, and he showed us a photo of the jacket on his iPad. It was very impressive, like a kind of vermin lumbar support.

Skinning a mouse is very much like skinning a chipolata with smaller chipolatas attached to it. Manoeuvring a thin, stretchy membrane up and over tiny arms and legs is no mean feat, and god forbid you get overenthusiastic and pierce its little bag of guts. Often our tutor would tell us to just pick up some scissors and snip away the base of the tail, the ankles and the wrists – all of which feels like a cop-out, like John Singer Sargent changing the brightness and contrast of Whistler’s Mother on Photoshop. Once the body is free you dunk the skin into cold soapy water, wring it out like a flannel, and pin it to a board for drying.

At this point, the cute bit of taxidermy finally comes in. Loathe to share the snapshots of entrails falling onto the lino cutting board like spilled soup, most trendy young taxidermists like to portray the process as being like a book club or a knitting circle. Using wood wool, wire and thread, we made little mannequins of the bodies of our freshly skinned mice and set the hairdryer on the skins, the tail whipping and flailing, the legs furiously windmilling – I’m always reminded of the Wuthering Heights dance on fast forward. Then you shovel Borax into the skin, position your mannequin inside of it, pad it out a bit and sew it up.

Inevitably, with its rigidly outstretched legs, the little mouse looks only slightly less dead than it was when you started. That’s when hours and hours of positioning come into play – do you want it to look realistic, holding a piece of cheese or standing up on its hind legs? Or do you, as many seem to, prefer a mouse in a cardboard top hat and ill-fitting doll clothes?

Personally, I don’t like the anthropomorphised taxidermy that was all the rage in the Victoria era. A guinea pig squashed into Barbie’s wedding dress seems somehow undignified, its tiny eyes imploring you to leave it a shred of rodent masculinity. One taxidermy enthusiast sells a whole range of rats dressed up as Walter White, Mr Spock, and Beyonce amongst others. I figure if you’re going to do that, you might as well make it really niche: have rabbits dressed as Mary Wollstonecraft and Germaine Greer, a mole as Van Gogh. You could even have a squirrel dressed as Ed Gein.

I continue to practice taxidermy in the relative comfort of my flat, to the complete disgust and abject horror of Ed. Some days are better than others, and I have learned that, even if you accidentally decapitate a blackbird, you can still keep its feet and turn it into ghoulish jewellery that absolutely nobody wants to buy. Next on the project list is Pierre the Gerbil, the beloved pet of a friend; a chicken killed by my aunt’s dog (she wants to give the mounted chicken back by way of apology); and a squirrel I bought on Ebay for a fiver. Dreams do come true.

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Taxidermy Adventures

I’m a card-carrying taxidermy fanatic. Fortunately, Brighton – with its weird Victoriana fetish and oodles of old trinket emporiums – is pretty much the hotspot of taxidermy these days so I’m in good company! I’m fifteen minutes down the road from the Booth Museum, Eaton Nott and Snoopers’ Paradise, so I have all the borax and wood-wool stuffed critters I could ever hope for.

Recently I booked myself a place at a workshop with the London Taxidermy Academy. They’re great because they run very small classes, with a maximum of around six people (there were four at mine), so you get a lot of guidance and attention from the intense and heavily bearded tutor, Lee Paton. The class was so much fun, and the process is very therapeutic. It’s much easier and far less gory than you’d think – unless you accidentally stab the guts and spill mouse soup everywhere, like my classmate did.

So without further ado, here’s how to skin, clean, stuff and sew a little mouse! It’s under a cut, because I know some of you are a bit sensitive 😉

Continue reading Taxidermy Adventures

Tiny teeth, beautiful bugs

Hey all,

As some of you know, I have a little shop called Lily’s Shop of Horrors 🙂 you can find my shop on Facebook and on Etsy.

I sell pretty handmade jewellery made of bones, teeth, dead insects and the like, as well as some little Breaking Bad bits and pieces (because I am OBSESSED with that show.)

Here are some photos of my stuff! If you’d like to buy something, drop me a line on my facebook shop (prices are all on there) or send an email to lily.liar@gmail.com.

202720_798167010209460_262943334_oBee in a bottle! £8 + P&P

1008620_798167240209437_2111905400_oOak eggar moth wing (female), £8 + P&P

905385_798166900209471_206868984_o 1506268_798166926876135_1444758737_o 1518226_798167456876082_1058052823_oHeisenberg necklaces! £8 + p&p

1537546_798167340209427_836094189_oGenuine canine toof from either a cat or a fox – I’m not sure (I found it, you see, and they didn’t leave a note.) £8 + p&p

1540315_798167213542773_261430181_oBee & Lavender. £8 + p&p

1553126_798167090209452_1075699058_oDor beetle & lavender, £8+p&p

1654791_798167413542753_1335957880_oCream coloured moth, £7 + p&p

1658436_798167433542751_1931962006_o 1795209_798167373542757_92094851_oShield beetle, £7 + p&p

1795313_798167300209431_317572572_oTulips in bottles with glass soil! £10 each + p&p

1795356_798167173542777_1692696080_o 1836695_798167126876115_1328004990_oDor beetle and lavender. £8 + p&p

1278125_701224149903747_2144094346_oSheep-teeth! Hand-pulled by me from a skull I found in the Lake District 🙂 £8 each or £8.50 with a bell on, + p&p

Thanks for looking ❤ I’ll be adding more stuff in the near future so watch this space!

The Horniman Museum, scribblings and Fresh Meat Tryouts!

My lovely friend Robyn came to visit this weekend. She was here to try out for the Croydon Roller Derby Fresh Meat programme, but the clever git has also been a runner on a TV show!

Robyn is an animator, and pretty much the nicest and most talented person I know. We’ve been friends for around eighteen years, from our halcyon days pretending to be Mice With Swords (we got through a lot of Redwall) right through to the discovery of boys and the misery of the graduate job market. On this occasion, we ended up going to the Horniman museum…

Taxidermy at its weirdest.

I met an owl and was too starstruck to say hi.

Robyn and her new boyfriend.

And we found some bees too.

See?

We also drank three bottles of wine between the two of us, and had a rowdy game of Cards Against Humanity (my little brother won, because he’s a deviant) followed by an evil hangover and lots of skating.

Croydon Roller Derby held its Fresh Meat trials on Sunday, and we had a great turnout – there were even a couple of familiar faces in the paceline! There were a few people there who had skated before, some hoping to transfer from other leagues, and others who had never even put on a pair of rollerskates. Riot Squad and Vice Squad, our A and B teams respectively, are playing against Milton Keynes Roller Derby this coming weekend… which means I need to stop eating biscuits and do some press ups. I’ve found that Tabata high intensity workouts are good – they’re usually under an hour but there’s enough in there to make you really knackered. (A note to the derby contingent – I am far too poor to afford gym membership, but the FitnessBlender workouts on YouTube are fantastic – highly recommend ’em!)

I’ve also started making use of this beautiful sketchbook I was given for my birthday! The first one is me completely ‘borrowing’ Angelique Houtkamp’s style…

And this is a little sad Saint Sinead O’Connor I spent far too long on.

Yes, I know. John Singer Sargent I am not, but it’s a start.

I also finally, finally saw Frozen. I know it gets a lot of comparisons to Tangled, but I think I actually preferred it to Tangled… it’s got a great little curveball at the end, and I’m happy that there seem to be so many films popping up at the moment with the sentiment “boys: they’re not that important” rather than “be skinny, get married, profit.” Even the talking snowman wasn’t as irritating as I thought he would be.

The week ahead promises adventures with the Portuguese, and a Max Richter concert followed by carrying a watermelon around a party with a man dressed as Patrick Swayze (it’s 80s-themed, and I got carried away with notions of making a huge Falcor costume for Ed before realising that Dirty Dancing was probably easier). I’ll also be trying to stay motivated in the eternal hunt for a job that doesn’t require me to sell Jagerbombs.

Hurrah!