I’ve decided that Akhenaten’s headdress should continue with basketweave couching in crimson twist. I was in a quandary about the padding for this – it would be dreadful to have white padding leering at me where the twist changes from up to down – when it occurred to me to colour my own. So this is the ordinary cotton “string” used for padding, which I have coloured with one of my inktense blocks and a little aloe vera gel, and then waxed once it had dried.
Of course, the colour didn’t seep all the way through, as you can see from the whitish-grey ends of the couched pairs here, but at least the colour will ease back rather than drawing attention to itself.
You would think, by the way, that the waxed string would be fairly easy to couch in place, but it wasn’t. It had a will of its own, and far too many ideas about wandering off!
But it worked beautifully.
As I understand it, basketweave couching can be worked turning the thread at the end of each row, or sinking it. I would have liked to have turned it, as that is the more economical technique, but I felt that this would create the impression of a compact and complete shape, whereas – however stylised it is – this shape represents a three-dimensional object, the headdress wrapping around Akhenaten’s head.
That means more than 70 ends to sink, through silk, thin padding, and calico.
I’ve not been finishing any of the Amarna pieces for presentation, because once mounted and framed, they take up much more space, and also because I’m not sure which pieces are going where. However, the needlefelted pieces are not going to form part of the main panels, and I rather think it may take more than one attempt to get them just right. I’ve decided I want to present them rather as pieces of fresco are presented in museums, on a background which is similar in colour to the main colour, but not close enough to mislead.
So the first thing to do was to find a suitably-sized artist’s canvas, and cover it with some padding and then a nice woollen fabric which is a warm yellow, slightly darker than the felt background. Then I cut around the Amarna Geese to make a rough, uneven shape. I should probably have cut off a head or something so that the fresco would look suitably fragmentary, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that!
I used a fine woollen thread to attach the felt to the background fabric, as far as possible remaining within the thickness of the felt. That was quite tricky, and I wonder whether there might be an easier way. I’m glad I didn’t start with the two princesses!
My Morse Code signature is in double straight stitches, following an edge. And there’s a bit of a corner left open there. I might do an extra goose head and add it in as a separate fragment!
Working with goldwork in a European winter is optimistic at best, and much as I enjoyed working the Detached Up and Down Buttonhole Stitch with Return, it took rather longer than I might have hoped. When I managed to sit down with a quiet mind, a good light, and plenty of time, I found that the work would speed up. It was tricky to keep it even – I didn’t entirely succeed, either – and I wondered, halfway through when it was rather too late, whether I should have worked it “upside down” as in Jacquie Carey’s book “Elizabethan Stitches”.
I have decided to keep working on the head and the crown, at least until I don’t know what to do next, so the next section was to be the top of the headdress. Now, although the colossi don’t show Akhenaten wearing the combined crown of upper and lower Egypt, I’ve decided to reference it in the colours for the headdress.
So the top section of the headdress is a zigzag of sliver plate. It’s not as even as I would like, perhaps, and I am wondering (I’m doing a lot of wondering with this one, aren’t I!) whether I should have started at the bottom and worked up. I’m not sure I have enough left over to do it again, so unless and until I decide I can’t bring myself to leave it this way, I’m going to remain content with my very first effort using silver plate.
Once I had stuffed the figure from the back, I began to add to the backstitch outline with, for want of a better term, internal outlines.
I realise that the detail of the crossed arms has given him a hollow chest, but as the embroidered details are added I will be able to adjust the padding, if necessary removing some of it. Adding the stitching is going to be interesting. Some of it will need to balance over the curve of the padding, and some of it I will need to tighten a little through the padding – for example, his carefully-carved belly button.
At this point, I had to pause for thought. When the idea first came to me, it was the pleated loincloth that I could visualise, but the rest of the piece had yet to come into focus. I went rummaging on the web for polychrome representations of Akhenaten, and rummaging in my stash of threads for inspiration. And then suddenly, that inspiration duly arrived….
I remembered the ornamental stitches of the Tudor Rose Project, and fished out the Gold Special Tambour and Gilt Sylke Twist. Akhenaten’s wig is sometimes represented as black, and sometimes as blue. Black can be a somewhat problematic colour, often too dominating or simply “killing” other colours, so I decided I would go for blue, and the Indico Blewe Gilt Sylke Twist looked like it would produce just the right effect. Using the Gold Special Tambour as the thread for the return of the Detached Up And Down Buttonhole Stitch With Return helps to give a little more emphasis to the glint of the gold in the Gilt Sylke Twist.
But it’s not a quick stitch. This is going to take a while….
I’ve run into a bit of a problem here. I still love the idea, and I still want to finish the Nefertiti Shawl, but I’ve lost all momentum, and all sense of structure.
I’m happy with all the red circles. I like the colour variation and the unevenness – in real life, in a half-decent light, which winter in Britain rarely provides, there’s a vibrant, lively feel, and the use of the line stitches reflects the original pattern I used for the filling. Good.
The blue section is where the trouble started. I’ve done two of them already in spite of my doubts because I’ve come across all too many instances where a piece only worked when I’d kept on through the doubts.
I’m not sure whether it is the yarns, the colours, or the stitches that are the problem, or even whether there is a problem at all.
The pashmina is in a lovely twill weave which flows beautifully, but it’s quite fine, and a lot of the threads are thicker.
But the problems of the blue section fade into nothing when I get to the green. I love the overlapping scale pattern, and I was really looking forward to stitching it. But I can’t find a pattern of stitching that works, and again, I’m not sure whether this is the colour, the thread, or the stitch.
I have no idea how to sort this one out. Unless inspiration strikes, it will be some time before you see it again.
I undid the stitches holding the silk and top layer of wadding to the calico backing, and cut away the polyester wadding close to the back stitches outlining the figure. Quite apart from the fact that I had to tie myself in knots to follow the edge around, particularly around the neck and shoulders, and beneath the arms, I was terrified of cutting through the backing, or the padding I didn’t want to cut, or, worst of all, cutting through the silk.
If you are of a nervous disposition, do not attempt this technique. Try something soothing instead. Like base-jumping.
The next bit was hardly less scary.
Having been terrified of the prospect of cutting any of the layers, I then had to cut slits in the calico at the back, in order to stuff the figure more firmly.
I’ve had occasion in the past to express my conviction that holes into items to be stuffed actually open into the Fourth Dimension or something. The capacity of the item to be stuffed always seems to be higher than is suggested by the measurements.
And guess what, it happened again. I’ve done my best to stuff evenly, using small pieces of stuffing, but I won’t be at all surprised to find that after the next stage (whatever that turns out to be!) I will be doing more of it.
Naturally, once I’d done the Head of Nefertiti, I wanted to do something of Akhenaten. The question was, what?
But I needn’t have worried. Almost before I have posed myself the question, an idea had sprung, fully formed, into my mind, rather as Nefertiti had done. It’s going to be a sort of unholy, but with any luck, truly gorgeous, combination of trapunto and goldwork.
I’m basing the design on the four colossi of Akhenaten, all of which are damaged in different ways, allowing me to put together something that should resemble an undamaged one. Then I started to forage among my silk fabrics to find something suitable, finally choosing a sort of pinkish orangey-brown which reminds me a bit of pink granite. The colossi aren’t made of pink granite, but the Egyptians did use it, and besides, this is a work of artistic interpretation!
Since the idea is such a mash-up of techniques, I’m not at all sure whether it will work, or what order to do what in (if you follow me!). I’ve started by stretching the calico backing fabric in the frame, overlaying it with two layers of a fairly lofty synthetic wadding and a denser layer of cotton, and then stretching the silk over the top.
Then I stitched the outline, using close back stitches. It doesn’t look very good at this point, because there is extra wadding where I don’t want it.
But the next stage is a bit scary, so I had to clutch my courage in both hands…
I decided that I would actually sew down the princesses. Everything else has been needlefelted into place, but the texture that creates, especially on a light felt, is a bit too regimented for the impression I want to convey.
I’ve very carefully, and as near as I can make it, invisibly, attached the felt around the edges, stitching into the thickness of the felt that makes the two girls and using a wool thread that is close in colour to the felt.
So far, so good.
I then used a hand needlefelting tool and went just around the edges, and into the sections that are further back. I’m trying to create a slightly sculptural effect, so that the princesses have a slight roundness to them. Remember how, at the beginning, I said I wanted to recall the scene as the original fresco artist may have seen it, as well as recalling the fresco itself?
I’m rather pleased with my two little princesses.
I need to work a little magic in straightening up the panel and working out how to display it, as I think the three felt panels that I’ve done so far would all die if put behind glass, and may not even be happy in frames. A question for another day.
I’ve not finished the Dig House panel yet, but I’m working on it!
I’ve tried to add detail and shading to the walls of the house by running threads underneath the top layer of felt, and then running the embellisher over the top to help that added layer to show through a little more.
I’m also adding a lot of detached chain stitch leaves to the trees. This is overbalancing the detail on the whole piece, pulling the eye out to the side, so although I still need to do more of this, I need to sharpen up the details on the central section a bit more as well.
It’s easy to make this sort of mistake when you’re making something up as you go along – they don’t always arrive in your head fully formed! – but fortunately, a bit of my favourite thoughtful staring helped me to work out what I need to do.
Now it is just a matter of actually doing it right….
Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter will have noticed that the embroidery you mostly see has been supplemented by the occasional piece of crochet over the past few months. I’ve found my crochet projects easier to travel with than embroidery, and it’s a different sort of puzzle to solve.
I’ve done a few shawls or scarves, and a pair of socks, and while I try to work out whether crocheted lacy socks are really “me”, I thought I would try something else that isn’t flat. Issue fifty five of Simply Crochet contained a backpack project designed by Ilaria Caliri. The colours didn’t really appeal to me, but the idea of the structure, and the tapestry crochet band across the middle, definitely did.
I started playing around with ideas for colours and designs, and it took me really quite some time to settle on something simple and repetitive enough that it might actually work. The dreadful picture of a picture at the beginning of this post is one of the pictures I took when the EES let me spend a day in their library, and I think that the fact it was so poor really helped me to cut out frills.
The backpack will be navy blue, and the tapestry crochet band is a series of petal shapes in turquoise and lapis, with a background of gold, and bordered with carnelian (approximately!). I had a lovely half hour in SMD Knitting while we found the right shades of acrylic aran-weight yarn, and now all I have to do (all!) is decide whether my petals will be broad end up or broad end down and then get to work…