There’s a fresco of two of the daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, which is quite well known, and indeed, was mentioned to me by the speaker, when I went to a lecture at the Egypt Exploration Society about the textiles in Tutankhamun’s tomb. I decided to have a go at representing this fragment using my embelllisher, to provide a companion piece for the three Amarna Geese I worked a while back.
Children in ancient Egypt – of whatever rank – appear to have run around naked much of the time, and with shaven heads. I’ll just have to get the outlines right….
I bought some more of the pre-felts I used for the Amarna Geese at “Sewing For Pleasure” in Birmingham, on the day I met up with Sue of Tortoiseloft blog.
Then I printed out the image I found online as large as I could and started planning my variation. It won’t, of course, be an exact reproduction of the fresco. It will be a sort of inlaid felt version of what I think might have been the real life inspiration for the scene.
Long-time readers may recall that I discovered with the Amarna Geese that embroidered details help to bring a scene to life, and at least if the embroidery is worked in wool, responds well to being needlefelted.
So after cutting out my two little princesses, in a single piece, I started to add details – lines to make sense of the bodies, the delicate eyes and eyebrows, the lips, and the necklaces. I’m very pleased with how they’ve turned out, because the felt doesn’t take pencil, so I was on my own – drawing with my needle.
Now I have to work out how to create the impression of the fabric backdrop and bench my two little princesses are sitting on….
So this is where we left the Head of Nefertiti. the polychrome bands and the gold edges of the headdress are done, and I have worked a section of necklace.
I keep flip-flopping between feeling that that section of necklace is just right, and feeling that it really isn’t enough at all. I like the sense of a delicate flash of colour barely surviving the years, but at the same time, there’s an inner glitter-girl that wants to see a bit more than that..
So, while I think a little more about the necklace question, I thought I’d make another attempt at the browband. This time it is simply straight stitches, in a slightly finer thread than the rest of the gold stitching. It’s not perfectly regular, but, again, the slight unevenness evokes the damage of the years.
And besides, by now, you must know that regularity of stitching is not my forte!
So, again, I find myself at a pause.
I’m happy with the browband, I think, definitely happy with the polychrome bands, and the gold trim.
However, I’m still not sure whether I’m happy with the necklace.
Since my thought is to quilt a pattern into the background, I had best be certain that I’m happy before I start attaching padding and picking patterns!
Once I had finished the polychrome bands, I sat back and looked at them. Using the darker shades of the colours in the darker part of the print helps to tie it all together and wrap the bands around the headdress.
I had a moment or two of concern, then decided that I would not, after all, ruin everything if I continued to add the other elements of the design that I had planned. There is always a moment or two of fear, especially when an early section has gone well!
The original bust shows something that looks like a browband of gold, fairly plain and flat. I fished out a piece of gold kid, but although the photograph doesn’t show it very well, the kid is the wrong colour (too pale, and not yellow enough) for the gold thread, so I have to think of something else.
Meanwhile, I thought I would experiment with the necklace, or collar. My thought was that, rather than do the whole thing, I would do a small section of it, to make sure that I maintain the feeling of an embroidery, and not a portrait of a portrait.
What I have done here is to make radiating stitches of the gold thread, and then use the same whipped filling stitch I used on the polychrome bands, but alternating them so there is a hint of a gold net underlying the collar.
I like this, but maybe I do need to do an entire collar’s worth.
There is a glass vessel which frequently shows up in image searches relating to Amarna, a representation of a Nile tilapia fish. I saw it reconstructed by a modern glassworker in a recent programme about the art of Ancient Egypt presented by the British art critic Alistair Sooke. The glassworker said it was a somewhat unnerving technique to do, and with all his experience, and all his practice, he was never entirely confident of his results until a fish was finished,
That being the case, it seemed to me that as an example of the skill of the artisans of Amarna, the glass fish deserved to be included. I’ve found a public domain image to act as my source – and to show you what I’m talking about. I’m thinking of padding it slightly and attaching it to one of the background panels as a fish-shaped slip, rather than a rectangular patch, but we will have to wait and see what seems the right thing to do when I’ve finished.
I’m using some rather lovely vintage linen thread, bought at the recent “Sewing For Pleasure”, on a fine but sturdy cotton. I wanted something that would not require a backing, but I’m not sure that the fabric will be left to show, so I could have used some plain calico. The thread is wonderful to work with, strong, lustrous, and resilient. Much better than any linen thread I’ve ever worked with before – they’ve tended to be stiff, and a little “dead” in feel. This stuff is a delight!
So far, the stitches are blanket stitch, seed stitches, chain, stem, and feather stitch. I’m rather enjoying this!
You will recall that I was rather underwhelmed by the effect of my first attempt at weaving the silk into the gold. Leaving the threads loosely packed to allow the gold to show through allows them to look untidy, and the colour is somehow a little flattened, not the rich, strong colour I wanted.
So I decided to work the whipped style of filling stitch instead. It creates a strong colour, something like a grosgrain ribbon, in fact.
I’m using primarily colours from the Mulberry Silks “Nefertiti” colour range (appropriate, don’t you think!), and I’m happy with the rusty red. The navy is actually a heavy perle type and I’m not sure where it came from. That works too.
The lightest colour, however, on the far right, is too fine. It produces too retiring an effect, and weakens the whole effect. So I tried one of the stranded silks from Thistle Threads (lower example, left), and wasn’t convinced by that, either.
This looks better. In fact the two light blue-greens are different, although that isn’t as clear in this photo as I might have liked. They aren’t as green as I would have liked, but I’m reasonably happy. If I decide to redo them, I may have to redo the whole thing, as the unpicking earlier on has left the Ladder Stitch a bit floppy.
There are small elements of goldwork which I am planning to work last, but most of it, I wanted to put in place first, so that I can be sure that the whole thing remains in balance.
As I’ve mentioned, the framework for the silk is in Ladder Stitch – the whole of the first section redone, as I threatened.
The narrow line around the base is in reverse chain stitch (much easier to work in a frame than the ordinary chain stitch). The coloured bust suggests a gilded inner section for the headdress, and I have yet to decide how to represent that. Maybe gold kid?
The ornament on the front of the headdress looks rather heavier and thicker than the other lines, so I’ve worked it in Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch. I’m a little disappointed with it at present, and wondering whether I need to pick a still heavier stitch – such as the dreaded (not any more!) Plaited Braid Stitch. I’ll decide, I think, when I’ve completed the rest of it.
So, on to the silkwork. I had a previous, failed print to experiment with, and I’m just as glad I did.
I’m rather underwhelmed by this effect, with the silk woven through the gold. I thought it would allow a subtle glint of gold, but in the end it has simply undermined the effect of the silk. Hmm…
This is much the best print I’ve managed of Nefertiti, pressure, speed and amount of ink all working nicely, and very few really dark sections. What I want to do now is to highlight the coloured elements of the crown she wears – unique to her, apparently, no-one else in ancient Egypt has ever been depicted wearing it. I’ve got some gorgeous silk threads from Mulberry Silks which should do the job perfectly, but first they need a skeleton of gold. I had a lovely rummage in among the assorted wonders I’ve received from Thistle Threads (they have their own special box, of course), and after staring critically at the linen fabric, picked out the Special Tambour, and made a start.
My idea is to create a framework of Ladder Stitch, and then add colour – as in the Tudor Rose project – using silk threads. Long term readers may recall that during the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass, I had some trouble with Ladder stitch, so although I was fairly sure the idea would work, I sat down with some trepidation.
To be very pleasantly surprised. Something has happened in the intervening few years, and my ladder stitch wasn’t as trying as I expected, and moved fairly swiftly, too. I may yet decide to redo the stitches, because I re-tightened the fabric in the frame about halfway across, but that will depend upon how much better the second section looks when I have done it.
You may recall that the final “Dreams of Amarna” pair of panels is intended to include the heads of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, screenprinted onto gauze, and floating over the top as free-hanging veils.
I decided to have a small screen done of Nefertiti, in order to practice the technique and experiment with the different types of gauze.
The screen duly arrived, and I did about six prints, all of which were dreadful. I put the screen away in disgust and decided to try another time.
This print shows some of the problems. I pressed too hard, obscuring some of the detail and caking the fabric – in this case a linen, because I have a plan to add silk and gold embroidered highlights. It would be impossible to get a needle through, and if I did, a metallic thread would be stripped in short order.
There’s clearly a trick to it – a combination of pressure (not too much), amount of ink (enough!) and angle of the squeegee (just right).
These two prints on gauze give me some hope. The orangey-terracotta is the small, blocky screen I bought to test out the idea first of all. I’ll embroider something over the top of this, just to see how it works.
And the head of Nefertiti is rather better, too. Next time I get out my Dreams of Amarna pieces to stare at them and play with layouts, I will be able to hang the gauze in front and play with distance and placement.
I’m beginning to think that it isn’t outside the bounds of possibility that I might finish the Dreams of Amarna one of these days, and even be pleased with it!
Remember, the two inner circles are always in the same stitches – Open Chain Stitch, and Stem Stitch.
The two outer circles in this case are in Herringbone Stitch, and Half-Chevron Stitch. I’m a little disappointed that neither the counterchanges of colour nor the counterchanges of thread seem to show in this photo. I assure you, they were there when I worked it!
The first of these is Breton Stitch, which is a little like Herringbone stitch with added twist. I’m sure I could have done it with the twist towards the outside, but I think like this, it will balance some of the other circles which have a strong edge.
The second is Wheatear Stitch, which I have found myself turning to every now and again, although maybe not often enough. It produces a spiky but continuous line, so while it has definite uses, it is also one which doesn’t work in all contexts. That said, I enjoyed working it, so maybe I will be able to tweak either the context or the stitch, so as to use it more…!
This pashmina is going to be quite the stitch sampler, isn’t it!
The circles weren’t perfectly drawn, so the slightly wonky appearance of perspective is partly owing to that. The lighter coverage is Cretan Stitch. I often have trouble using cretan stitch in my more figurative projects, so I’m hoping that being reminded of it will help me to find uses for it in future. Up and Down Buttonhole stitch is an old favourite, as long term readers will know. I’ve done it more neatly, but I always enjoy stitching it.
This pair was actually among the last to be finished. Italian Border Stitch can be described as a fly stitch with a French Knot instead of a straight stitch. First I did a single row, and it looked a bit thin, so I added a second layer. Much better!
The second circle is in Chained Feather Stitch. This one curves well around the circle, and has something of the feel of a victor’s laurel wreath about it. Maybe an omen for me finally finishing the Dreams of Amarna in the next year?