Green panels, Nefertiti Shawl

Completed Green Panel
Completed Green Panel

There are two green panels in the design of the Shawl, which is based on the polychrome panel around Nefertiti’s famous (and unique-to-her) headdress, and they’ve been giving me no end of trouble.

If I’m completely honest, in fact, this whole piece has been giving me no end of trouble. The fabric is particularly mobile (although not quite as bad as that other pashmina I did!), and it’s been hard to find stitches that work comfortably. Originally I was working it in the hand, and that made it even harder.

Close Up Of Progression
Close Up Of Progression

In the end I outlined the design sections with chain stitch, and then picked a few stitches and threads. I tried to get some sense of variation in stitch density as well as colour. So there are complete coverage sections (using Bokhara Couching) and almost-no-coverage sections (using darning stitches) and almost everything in between (everything else)!

I’ve also changed and counterchanged between variegated and solid colours, and between floss silk and stranded silk. This is one of the reasons I ended up needing The Australian’s mathematical eye to help me keep track of the pattern I was building up in my haphazard way!

Nefertiti Shawl – partial panels

Partial Red Panel
Partial Red Panel

There are partial red panels at the edges of the Shawl, and as I want the colours to run the whole way across, clearly I have to stitch them. While I was mulling over the blue panels and the green ones, I carried on with those partial panels.

Stitch placement diagram 1
Stitch placement diagram 1

The central circles in all cases are in chain stitch and stem stitch, but I wanted a variety of effects in the main circles. That wasn’t as easy to achieve as you might think, for all my extensive repertoire of stitches! I found “German Knotted Blanket Stitch” in Barbara Snook’s “Embroidery Stitches”, and Palestrina and Loop Stitch are old friends, but by this point I’d managed to rack my brain into remembering most of those..

Edge Panel in red
Edge Panel in red

I was beginning to be at my wits end for stitches, and spent some time rummaging in Edith John’s “Creative Stitches” and “New Stitches for Embroidery”. Many of them would be easier in a slightly stiffer thread at a slightly larger scale, so I find myself wondering what Miss John devised her stitches for.

Graphic of stitch choice
Graphic of stitch choice

The full circles here are in stitches which are old friends, but the partial circles are some of hers. Floral Feather is a feather stitch with an upside down blanket stitch beside it, and I quite fell in love with it. I’ll be looking for another opportunity to use that one!.

Centre Chain stitch alternates single chain with fly stitch, starting each chain stitch within the previous one. That might be a way to vary textures with Wheatear Stitch, while still keeping the overall pattern. And Double Chain Stitch places a chain stitch and an open chain stitch side by side, alternating the ordering to create a checked effect.

Finishing the Frolicking Calf

Finished the Background
Finished the Background

I ran the embellisher over the whole thing, to knock back the colours and the stitches a little, and tugged at the fabric to even it out. Then it was on to the calf, cut out separately and given darker patches on his back and legs. I’ve attached him using single-needle needlefelting, by hand. His ear is sharpened with a twisted chain stitch, his eye is a tiny chain stitch and his hooves are straight stitches.

Finished Frolic
Finished Frolic

I intend to cut an irregular shape and attach it to a padded wool felt background stretched over a frame, as I did with the Two Princesses. I mustn’t forget to sign it at that point!

Adding details to the Frolicking Calf Fresco

Tendril Plants
Tendril Plants

In the case of these plants, instead of stem stitch on either side of the stems, I narrowed and neatened them with a single felting needle, and then added feather stitch over the top, using another of those lovely Gumnut Yarns. The flowers have a flourish of Cretan Stitch, with two colours at the base.

Then I started to think about the leaves. At first, I was going to add fragments of felt for all of them – the original fresco looks as though they are in a single colour – but then I reminded myself that I’m an embroiderer, and after all, texture is one of the reasons why.

The back couple of stems have felt leaves, but then I used loose, large split stitches in Persian Yarn. This maybe looks a little more dense and “jungle-y” than the original fresco, but the Nile valley is famously fertile, after all…

Running Stitches to guide leaf placement
Running Stitches to guide leaf placement

The sharp, curved leaves on the other side were a little harder to deal with.

In the end I decided to make life easier for myself by putting in running stitch curves to help me place them. I’ve spaced them out a little more than in the fresco itself, because the variegated wool thread has created a lot more activity in the embroidered leaves than the frescoed ones.

Sharp Leaf Plants
Sharp Leaf Plants

I think that’s clear in this photo of this section. The sharp, curving shapes, the variegated thread and the varying stitch direction all create a rather busy effect, and I’m even thinking of removing the lighter pink stitches in the flowers. That decision can wait until everything is in place.

So I have a little more thinking to do.

Nefertiti Shawl – the second pair of blue panels

Trialling Sorbello Stitch
Trialling Sorbello Stitch as a background

You may recall that I wasn’t entirely happy with the the first two blue panels. I’m still not entirely sure why, but I decided that I would work the second pair rather differently.

The outline of the pillar like shape, this time, was in Vandyke stitch using a Stef Francis variegated silk. Tricky, on such a mobile fabric, but I liked it enough to keep going, and moved on to a background using Sorbello Stitch. I rather like Sorbello Stitch – I used it for the villages on the Map of Amarna – and because I was working it at a tiny scale, the mobility of the fabric wasn’t a huge problem.

Second Version of the blue panel

On to the internals of the pillar like shape, and I started with a Ceylon stitch wheel. This is a needlelace stitch, and even with the fabric in a hoop, tension was an interesting challenge…

I’ve also made the background a chequerboard of Sorbello Stitches in two shades of blue. I must have really enjoyed myself!

Finally, I filled the rest of the body of the pillar with Ceylon Stitch. Tension was even more of a problem here, and I may have to come back to this and tweak it, restitch it, or even change my mind again. We’ll see!

In the meantime, however, I have to do another one on the other side of the panel.

The Faience Necklace – still thinking…

Necklace Photo (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)
Faience Necklace (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)

After her discovery of the piece of tile that started it all, the first find that Mary Chubb describes is a faience necklace, discovered by the team then in Egypt, and written up in the Director’s Report which she has to disentangle and re-type legibly (remember, in the 1920s, typing wasn’t a skill that everyone had had to develop). It sounds completely enchanting, and yet I’m struggling to bring it to life.

In fact I last wrote about it in 2015, and I’m still wrestling with ways to represent it! I’ve already abandoned any idea of working a portrait of it (as it were). As you can see from the black and white photo, it’s crammed with faience beads, and it’s hard to imagine making a good stitchable design of it. So I’ve cut out some watercoloured beads, and pushed them around, taking photos as I go. Back to primary school!

Then another suggestion came in (thank you @IndiaGraceDsgns ), to think about mandalas…

And now I’m thinking about “samplers” of beads which still recall the way these broad collars and necklaces are sometimes displayed in museums.

I’m planning on using flat silks, when I finally pick one (comments, anyone?), and of course, the next question will be: what colour fabric I will be stitching it on?

More floral details for the Frolicking Calf

I wanted to do something slightly different with the pink flowers, but still modify the colour with stitching. The braid stitch made the shape too angular, and emphasized the edges too much; up-and-down buttonhole stitch, a favourite from the Jacobean Coat, might do a better job. Certainly, it provides a delicate edge that doesn’t impose itself too much.

Half Done, Half Not
Half Done, Half Not

You will see that the left-hand side looks sharper than the right hand side. There is stitching and there has been extra needlefelting on the stems and flowers, while the right-hand side still looks rough, like a quick, splodgy sketch. I found I rather enjoyed narrowing the stems and rounding them off – by hand, with a single needle, not the embellisher, of course. There’s a gap in one of the stems because the calf will go over the top!

I may not have managed quite enough curve and flow in the lighter stems, but we will see how I manage to develop them later. They will have leaves added, and that will change the effect and the emphasis…

A few last details

Detail of Akhenaten's face
Detail of Akhenaten’s face

I added a few extra details, to sculpt the face a bit more – tiny stitches in silk, broadening and deepening the eye sockets, altering the shape around the nose, adding more stitches attaching the face.

In fact, to make sure the silk was fine enough, I twisted it myself from a spool of Japanese silk bought for the purpose. I think I ended up with three twisted threads from one length.

The gold kid of the headdress now has an upper edge trim as well. That would have been much easier to do if I could have done it before attaching the kid to the head!

Akhenaten's hands
Akhenaten’s hands

As I was looking over the whole thing, it occurred to me that Akhenaten’s hands weren’t convincingly grasping his crook and flail. Fixing that wasn’t hard in theory – new hands cut from the edge of the silk, padded with padding from the edge of the piece, and attached with more hand-twisted silk thread.

In practice, it took several attempts before I was at all happy with the result, and I could be seen contemplating my own closed fist thoughtfully at various points in the process. Which doesn’t always help as much as you might think, when the aim is something slightly different to a realistic representation….!

Signature on Akhenaten
Signature on Akhenaten

However, I now think he’s probably as finished as I can make him. As I wrote to a friend: I may have doubts about detail, but I think Akhenaten is now as good as my current level of skill will allow. I hope someone will take him off my hands before I get good enough to shudder every time I look at him!

Finally, a way forward

Where I had Got To..
Where I had Got To..

The Nefertiti Shawl started with great enthusiasm, but I ran into a few hitches. I’m not at all confident of the blue panels, and my first couple of efforts on the green ones took me nowhere at all.

Chain Stitch outlines, green section
Chain Stitch outlines, green section

Finally, I came up with a possible way forward. The scale pattern is taken from one of the Tutankhamen coffin panels, among other places, and each scale is outlined in gold, but the coloured fill is in progressively darker colours, not edged.

I’ve edged the scales with a very pale shade, and outlined the colour progressions in darker shades. The fabric is very mobile, so a little more definition may help..

Dark and mid shades, green section
Dark and mid shades, green section

I’ve picked several filling stitches, and I’m working them in various orientations, and several different combinations of solid and overdyed colours in stranded silk and silk floss.

That paragraph glosses over some considerable confusion and head scratching. Being so closely involved, I lost track of the sequence of patterns, and had to call for the assistance of The Australian’s mathematical and analytical eye!