I haven’t yet finished Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories by Karen Russell (Kindle here), but what I’ve read so far has been imaginative and beautiful–but with underlying horror and sadness. In the story “Reeling for the Empire,” a group of girls are held captive to produce beautiful silk for their government.
In this case, “produce” is quite literal as these girls transform into human silkworms. They feel the silk form deep in their gut, like a physical embodiment of their regret and shame. They hold on to their humanity for as long as they can, but it’s only when they submit to what they have become that allows them to build a cocoon and transform from slaves into something else.
It’s not a happy story. But it is beautiful. I love the contrast of something so pretty and delicate in the setting of such a dark story. The silk these girls create is colorful, every color of the rainbow, and each girl produces a color unique to herself. So in my design inspiration I focused on bold, beautiful colors in materials like velvet, chrome, cashmere, and–of course–silk.
The bed is a canopy bed, where you can be warm and safe in a personal cocoon, and the drapes over the bed are dip-dyed, from a light, pure white to a dark, sinister blue-black. The mirrored bed frame reminds me of an industrial factory, but it also represents how these girls had no mirrors and could not see what they had morphed into. The gold table, rug, and mirror call back to a moth’s wings in this story, which are gold and ivory with an intricate design. The oval mirror is the same shape as their only window. The pillows remind me of loopy handwriting–the handwriting that signed the contracts to work in the factory.
And the tea cup, of course, is where their transformation began.