Akhenaten – more details

First Trial Armbands
First Trial Armbands

My first attempt to dress Akhenaten with his armlets and wristband used a strange gold fabric I’ve had for some years. An old friend bought it originally to make herself an evening dress, but it’s a very difficult fabric to work with – it frays if you even breathe near it, it doesn’t drape at all well, but it doesn’t like structured shapes either.

She despaired, and gave it to me. What are friends for, after all?

I’m playing with fragments to see whether I can find something to do with it. So far I have discovered that iron-on interfacing doesn’t stay ironed on to it, either.

Second Trial Armband And Beard Padding
Second Trial Armband And Beard Padding

And, frankly, I think the armlets look more like waterwings. So it doesn’t work for a Pharaoh’s armlets, either!

The next attempt was to use gold kid leather. I’m a bit happier with the kid leather, even though I’ve not been able to put the cartouches on it, but while I was thinking about that, I decided I should maybe think about the tie-on beard which seems to have been an element of royal iconography in ancient Egypt – to the point that even the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, had herself depicted wearing one.

I made a small, padded form, using cotton padding covered with gauze, and attached it carefully. Then I had to work out how to cover it, and what sort of pattern would be appropriate.

And I really need to think of some way to pad out his nose, don’t I!

Akhenaten’s Loincloth

Belt Fall Finished
Belt Fall Finished

In fact I had finished the belt before I started on “Leaving the Tyne, 1915“, so it was just as well that I had the belt fall to work on. It gave me something definite to do while I started to get myself mentally back in the groove, as it were. I thought about fading out to the blue green down the length of the belt fall, but in the end I decided to work it with only one colour of additional purl – just the purple.

I’m quite pleased. I can’t see a difference between the chipwork of the belt and the chipwork of the belt fall, which is especially good, considering there were five months, more or less, between them!

Started The Purls
Started The Purls

So at this point I could start on the element that I first “saw” in my mind’s eye, the element that inspired me to start on this piece. Unnerved, much?

The pleated linen of the loincloth is being represented by row upon row of silver purl, using four different types: smooth purl, bright check purl, rough purl and wire check purl. The varying reflectances of the different types create different shades, representing the light falling on the various surfaces of the pleats.

And now you can see – in case you were worried – why I was not at all worried by the big slub in the middle of the fabric. I always knew it would be covered with silver purl!

Loincloth Finished
Loincloth Finished

For those who don’t know, purl is made by wrapping very, very fine wire around a former. So it is basically a tiny spring. A fraction of a second’s inattention, and it spangs around the room, snags on curtains (and even the silk background fabric), and generally becomes a severe trial. On top of that, it has to be gently handled lest it bruise or break, creating a flattened section or a dark line in the finished piece.

And yet, surprisingly, I rather enjoyed doing it!

Classically, I believe purls like this would be edged with something, but even though the edges of my purls aren’t completely even, I think this helps with the impression of a garment wrapped around the body. And I love the effect of the different shades of silver!

The Little Robin finished!

Working On The Robin
Working On The Robin

I have to admit that I have enjoyed the little Robin. Here is a halfway point, showing that while many suggest drawing direction lines for their stitches, I chose to draw with my needle instead. I found that the more helpful because it gave me a chance to gauge the overlap of each section with the next.

I’ve gathered that some tutors suggest working small sections to completion, and others in colour layers. I took the latter approach with the (I’m sure not original) refinement that sometimes I went back and did another layer in a colour I’d already done.

Stumpwork Bits
Stumpwork Bits

I also had fun with the stumpwork elements: two simple wired leaves (nothing terrifying about that, after working on the Stumpwork Violets for Dreams of Amarna!) and three berries made of beads wrapped with thread. I’ve not wrapped beads before, but as it turned out, this, too, turned out to be fairly straightforward.

And fortunately, my wandering applique scissors returned to the fold in time to be of use…

The Robin Completed
The Robin Completed

So here he is.

As you can see, even though I worked him in a hoop, and regularly made sure the fabric tension was maintained, there is a little bit of puckering. That may reflect, as much as anything else, a certain anxiety on my part.  I think I will mount him on a round card and add him to the winter decoration corner when I set it up, and I should be able to ease some of the puckering then.

And – for those enquiring minds that wish to know – while I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with silk shading, we are definitely on better terms than we were!

Getting started on Akhenaten’s Belt

Trial Run - but Not Happy
Trial Run – but Not Happy

I knew I wanted to fill in the belt with coloured chipwork, but how?

I had started off with the idea of making lotus flower shapes, but very soon became frustrated. I didn’t like the way it was looking, and, adding insult to injury, it was exceptionally fiddly to do.

So, no, think again. It might be possible to do something like this another time, but at the moment I can’t quite think how I would do so!

Scatter Of Coloured Purl
Scatter Of Coloured Purl

The next attempt was to use standard chipwork without attempting to make pictures. I know that the chips are very spread out here, but I began with the coloured purls, scattered across the belt to create a graduated colour effect, which shades from purple in the middle through blue to dark blue-green and light blue-green. The gold background had to wait until I had the colourwork right.

Belt Complete
Belt Complete

Once that was done, I went back and added the gold chipwork. I have four different types of gold purl, some smooth and some rough, so the sparkles would have some variety and colour. I think I’m much more pleased with this, and I will be able to tweak the blue twist to bring it more to the foreground.

Renovating Grandmama’s Footstool

Beginning Refurbishment
Beginning Refurbishment

Having been working on the Heart, I was still thinking about Grandmama, and noticing that one of the footstools she made was getting a bit shabby and buckled, I decided to renovate it…

It’s worked in tapestry wool on binca (that strange cotton matting fabric that stitching happened on at primary school – does anyone else remember it?). I think I still have, somewhere, Grandmama’s draft of the pattern on squared paper, but the best I can do for putting my hand on it is to say it is Somewhere In The House! Since I don’t have a workroom, I put the footstool in a plastic tray, which I seem to remember is sold for cleaning oven trays. I use it for wet felting and to contain messes when I’m doing things like this. The blued-steel flat-headed nails were very hard to get out, and indeed, some of them lost their heads (!) and didn’t come out. In due course they were hammered firmly back in, instead!

Repaired Stitching
Repaired Stitching

The binca around the edge was badly mauled by the nails, so I knew I would have to do something about that, but in the meantime, there were sections of the canvaswork that needed to be reinstated. First I washed and dried the whole thing (by hand) and then spent some time looking very hard at the stitching. More than fifty years of use have worn a few small sections, and the stitch took some identifying, but in the end, I decided it was Rice Stitch, and found a pale oatmeal tapestry wool that didn’t shout its’ newness too loudly.

Attached To Calico
Attached To Calico

Then I attached the binca to some calico and covered the join with one of the long-armed cross stitches. I wasn’t absolutely sure I had enough of the plain oatmeal colour so I alternated a needleful of each all the way around.

In the end, I had plenty left over, but I’ve said many a time before that when ekeing out assorted supplies, the trick is to Make It Look Deliberate!

Finished Footstool
Finished Footstool

I had to do that with the trim as well. Nothing in our local needlework shop was even remotely suitable so in the end I took some bobble fringing, a length of ribbon and some ricrac, and made my own!

There are one or two infelicities in the details, but it’s certainly got a good few years left in it now.

Thank you, Grandmama.

 

“Leaving The Tyne, 1915”

Leaving The Tyne 1915
Leaving The Tyne 1915

 

My contribution to the Embroiderers Guild 100 Hearts Project, commemorating the end of the First World War.

 

Dedicated to the memory of the men of the merchant fleet, and in particular the many immigrants and naturalised citizens who, sometimes in the face of xenophobic hostility, continued to serve their adopted country faithfully and well, and brought up their children to think of it as home. But in especial memory of my great grandfather Henry Frederick Bloom, who was Swedish, naturalised shortly after my Grandmama’s birth, and himself served throughout the War in the merchant fleet.

 

It has been allocated to the Liverpool exhibition, at Liverpool Cathedral, from September 7 until October 10.

Assembling the Heart

Gathering Backing Fabric
Gathering Backing Fabric

The assembly involved a lot of stages. I cut the backing fabric into a circle and gathered it up behind the design to provide an extra layer of protection against the hurly-burly of the stuffing.

Title Label
Title Label

Then I had to make a stitched title label (it also has my Guild membership number, but I forgot to take that photo!) to attach to the back.  I’m really not keen on lettering in stitch…

Morse Code Label
Morse Code Label

At this point, though, I thought, I simply cannot fail to have my Morse Code signature on the back too. Morse Code was a staple of communications until well after the Second World War, so it was very much in use during the First World War..

Dedication Stitched In
Dedication Stitched In

Having attached my title and signature labels to the back piece, I printed a photo of the finished roundel, the title and the dedication onto a piece of fine cotton, within a circle, to echo the circular shape of the roundel on the front. Then I attached the cotton circle to the inside of the back piece. When the piece is finished, a circle of backstitches on the back will be all that shows that this is there, but I will know.

And so will you!

Antwerp Stitch Edging
Antwerp Stitch Edging

I made assurance doubly sure of the assembly by first using running stitch to assemble the two sides of the Heart, and to close it after stuffing it. Then once the Heart was stuffed and closed, I reinforced the edge by stitching around it using Antwerp Edging Stitch, which is a knotted variation of blanket stitch.

Final reveal next week…

Final Details – I hope!

First Attempt At a Bow Wave
First Attempt At a Bow Wave

My first attempt to tackle the bow wave was to shred some white silk ribbon and try to attach it to the bow. That seemed a bit too white and a bit too solid.

What it did do, however, was give me an inkling as to how tricky the attachment of the bow wave was going to be. “Fiddly” doesn’t come close! And remember, there are a lot of delicate little details already assembled, so I couldn’t be too heavy handed with the attachment, either.

FreeForm Crochet
FreeForm Crochet

Having decided something lighter was needed, I tried another experiment: freeform crochet. In this case I started by using one strand of a stranded silk, decided that even that was too heavy, and moved on to sewing cotton. I’ve done a sort of shell pattern, but varied the sizes of the shells slightly to give a bit more unevenness to the whole thing. I’ve also crocheted fairly loosely to give the right frothy effect of seafoam.

Last Few Tweaks
Last Few Tweaks

The last few tweaks here are: the addition of the bow wave, and then the addition of railings around the deck cargo on the bow, and finally the rigging. The railings are made using a paper covered wire painted silver and dirtied with inktense for the posts, and two lines of black and silver twist for the chains. They’ve been surprisingly effective in helping everything to sit at its right plane in the sequence from foreground to background.

There maybe isn’t enough rigging for an operational vessel, but the photo wasn’t clear, and there is enough to have point and purpose

Now all I have to do (all!!!) is assemble my Heart!

More on the Wreath, and Other Details

Mast Spars and Wheelhouse
Mast Spars and Wheelhouse

In the end I covered the twisted cord (actually a bamboo and cotton blend knitting yarn) for the mast and spars with silk ribbon, which was more than slightly fiddly to achieve. There’s a collar around the mast, which, in an echo of the lifebelts, is a loop of buttonhole stitch. That was even fiddlier (is that a word? It is now!).

And Great-Grandfather’s wheelhouse has acquired a roof, made of several layers of buckram covered in silk ribbon, with buttonhole bars for the struts holding it up. That was also fiddly!

Detail Of Wreath
Detail Of Wreath

So, on to the wreath itself. That involved three different colours of silk ribbon, in two different width. I briefly considered something like the folded “leaf” shapes using wrapped parchement you sometimes see in 17th Century work, but in the end I decided I didn’t want to create anything too formal here, because it wouldn’t match the flow of the stitching. Sometimes a formal section provides a framework for everything else to clamber over, but here I felt it would create stopping-points, interrupting the eye as it moves around the piece. So the ribbons were knotted and looped and caught down in a sort of flowing chaos. White stranded silk French Knots, representing white berries, provide subtle accent and punctuation.

Wreath And Rigging
Wreath And Rigging

As you see, the wreath is now in place, with just a few white berries – white for peace.

I have quite a few more little tweaks to make, details to emphasize, maybe a bow-wave to add, but this is the original sketch brought mostly to life, and provides me with some hope that all that thinking and working will have a good result.

 

Progress on the wreath

Raised Stem Stitch Band
Raised Stem Stitch Band

The last time I used Raised Stem Stitch Band, it was for the rim of the Crock of Gold, and it went around concentrically.

This time I wanted to create the twisting appearance of a rope frame, so there was a little trial and error involved in working out how to make it work. Here you can see that there are green sections (which will be under the wreath) and yellow sections with differing shades to help create the rope effect. It’s not the classical version that runs straight along the axis of the foundation stitches, but I think it has worked rather nicely! That’s a relief…

Rope And Wreath
Rope And Wreath

It is a little lumpy, perhaps, but the shades of thread do create some shaping in the rope section, and I think the wreath itself will help to enhance that.

You can begin to see that the weight of stitchery is making the fabric sag, in spite of the backing. It’s just as well I did back it!

On The Bridge
On The Bridge

Another close-up, this time to show Great Grandfather in his place on the bridge.

He’s tiny, of course, and many onlookers won’t even notice him. But he’s there, the one human element in the piece, standing for all the hundreds of thousands of men and women involved in the war effort, military and civilian alike.