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!

More of Akhenaten’s Accessories

I feel as though I’ve spent as much time on Akhenaten’s accessories as I did on the silver purl loincloth, and tied myself in as many knots as I did when I was doing his wig!

Flail, unsatisfactory

I do hope he starts to approve of my efforts again soon…

When last seen, I was content with the crook, done in alternating blue and gold wire rope, strung on a former made of fuse wire, but I was expressing doubt about the flail.

The gold purl and silk wrapped purl was too frail, and this version, using gold wire rope, was visually too heavy, and much too springy. So I knew that something else would have to be devised, and racked my brains repeatedly for ideas.

The ideas finally came late one night, and – too drowsy to wake up properly and write notes – I fell asleep hoping I wouldn’t have forgotten in the morning.

Beadwork Swipples

Fortunately, I hadn’t!

I’m assured that the word for the parts of a flail that flail is “swipple”, which sounds too outrageously appropriate not to make use of.

The various turquoise beads came from a friend on Instagram, who saw my wrestlings with the armlets and offered some treasures from her stash to assist. After several trials, I settled on a combination of gold and coloured beads, and a particular length of loop.

Crook, Flail And Wristlet

The finished flail has a handle of gold wire rope, a head of gold pearl purl, and four strung bead swipples. In fact, the inner two swipples have different coloured beads to the outer two. This is part of the layering of detail I’m trying to develop with Akhenaten, to help with the impression of rich gorgeousness I want to convey. It might be barely noticeable (although more so in real life), but it will break up what might otherwise look a bit monolithic.

I’ve taken the same approach with the wristlet, which uses silver rough purl (leftover from the loincloth) in combination with a pale pinkish rough purl. Anything single-coloured was too obvious and argumentative, especially as it’s placed right in the centre of his chest, but when I left it out entirely, that looked worse!

The Frolicking Calf Fresco Fragment

Materials For Calf
Materials For Calf

In among my image sources, I found a really joyful image of a calf bounding through vegetation, kicking up its heels. I decided it would be fun to do another felted piece. Like the Two Princesses, there will be stitchery, too, but it’s a change of pace and scale compared to Akhenaten, and I try to have more than one project on the go so that I can think about tricky bits of one while doing easy bits of another…

Hexagonal Net
Hexagonal Net

When I first bought my embellisher, the lady demonstrating them told me about using hexagonal net to control pieces of felt and wool while running them under the embellisher. So I bought several yards of cheap hexagonal net, and I’ve found it very useful indeed. It doesn’t get felted in, or at least, not to the extent it can’t be picked out with tweezers, and you can see through it to what you’re working on. So I begin by laying out the pieces I want, hand-needlefelt it roughly in place, and then lay the net over the top and run the embellisher in little moving circles to attach the layers properly.

Midway Stage
Midway Stage

Once the initial felting has been done, I can start adding stitchery. In this case, I’ve stitched a dark line down one side of each of the stems, and twisted chain down the edges of the lilac flower. I wanted a slightly ruffled effect to the mouth of the flower, so I’ve hand-needlefelted some detwisted yarn into place. I’m not quite sure that I’m pleased with it as it stands. Still, more to do!

The pink flower is still entirely un-detailled. I don’t want to use the same stitches and processes for those, so there’s more thinking to come…

Akhenaten’s Armlets

Brass Mess, Looking Dull

You may recall that I had some trouble with the armlets the first time I was working on them. Now, as I’ve come back to Akhenaten again, I’ve decided that the gold kid I’d settled on isn’t at all right. Off it came, and after some puzzling, I attached the brass mesh instead.

Only to decide that no, that looks dull, doesn’t capture the effect I’m after, and even edged with a flattened gold spiral, doesn’t stand out enough against the silk.

Coloured Purl Armlets

My next thought was to do some patterned chipwork. I chose a rather gorgeous, very ancient-Egyptian-looking blue, and a sort of diagonal basketweave pattern which is not a million miles removed from some of the patterns I have seen on ancient pieces.

The blue did at least help the silk to show something like true colour, but when I looked at the whole piece, I found the blue too bright, and the pattern altogether too much of a good thing.

I thought that was strange. The alternating directions should have echoed the beard and helped the two sit nicely together, and there is so much personality in the silver purl loincloth that you would have thought nothing could have been too much!

Armlet Trimmed With Silk Wrapped Scallop

Then I had a thought – the kit for the Stuart Silk Purl Flower contained some bonus silk-wrapped wires and purls, and fortuitously, when slightly overstretched, there was just enough of one of the turquoise ones to do top and bottom on each armlet.

At this point I decided, somewhat tentatively, that maybe I’d got this bit right, or at least right enough to move on.

The bird’s wings

False Start Corrected
False Start Corrected

The wings caused much struggle and heartache.

After a morning’s stitching, I realised that all the details I had added were on the wrong side of the felt base, with the result that the wings were facing the wrong direction for the composition.

So here you see a start on the second pair of wings. I learnt from the first attempt, and the difficulties I’d had around the edges, and left the wings as part of the fabric as I worked them, using rows of fly stitches for the pinions.

Second wings
Second wings

After working over the wings with the embellisher to reduce the potential for stitches unravelling, I cut them out, with as much precision as I could. But I’m really not happy with them.

They are dark, heavy and clunky, too densely stitched, and much too sombrely coloured. No bird will soar on wings like this.

Third Wing Attempt Begins
Third Wing Attempt Begins

So, the third attempt begins. I used a fragment of felt as the leading edge of the wings and then added lengths of fibre. I’m outlining the wing shapes using a single needlefelting needle, and I’ll try to creep up on more successful wings, learning from all my past mistakes.

Starting on the Hunting Cat Fresco

Starting on the Hunting Cat
Starting on the Hunting Cat

I was leafing through my image sources, looking for some relief from the concentration of Akhenaten, when a fragment of fresco caught my eye. I’d not really registered it before, but it’s full of vitality, and I thought it might give scope for more Fun With Felt.

I may simplify – or complicate – my ideas as I go along, but since I wanted to include the whole cat, the first thing I did was spend some time looking at pictures of cats on the internet (which just goes to show that one can find a research excuse for almost anything!) to see whether I could draft some suitable hindquarters to replace what my source didn’t show.

Beginning the felted underlayer on the cat
Beginning the felted underlayer on the cat

I’m sure my cat isn’t quite the way the Egyptians rendered him, but as ever, I’m aiming at a “reinterpretation” or “realisation”, not a photographic rendering. As it was, I had to tug at my felt and give thanks that there’s no grain in non-wovens to get it to fit at all. Especially since I had decided to make use of the leftovers of stitching for the cushions for the Two Princesses to give me a head start on his nose.

I began with a few lines of stitching, and a golden eye, and then needle-felted fragments of felt and untwisted plies of thread onto his neck and chest (for some reason I feel as though the cat is a very young boy cat!).

Trialling prey placement
Trialling prey placement

The next thing to do was to do an initial layer of stitching all over my cat. I’ve just used simple straight stitches, to echo both the cat’s fur and the simple brush strokes of the ancient Egyptian painter. When the cat is needle-felted onto the eventual background, that will blur the stitches into the felt, and created a softer effect.

I had to draft a body for the bird as well. This might be less successful, but I think it will do..

Akhenaten’s Headress Rethought – stage two

The Cobras Hood
The Cobras Hood

Having decided that all those delicious manipulations of brass mesh weren’t going to help in this case, I cut out the shape of the cobra’s hood from the brass mesh, (not getting too close, in case I cut the thread attaching it!).

At this point I realised it wasn’t quite strong enough, and attached the bent piece of pearl purl from the first attempt to the back in order to provide more support.

Bending back the brass mesh helped to conceal the supporting pearl purl – although whether anyone will be able to notice it is a moot point!

Cobra In Place
Cobra In Place

The final stage of the cobra was to attach the same piece of silver spiral with gold band to take the place of the snake himself, in front of the hood and to a new piece of gold kid. This time I looked again at some pictures of cobras, and made sure the hood was set back a little from where the mouth would be.

New Version Of Headdress
Cobra and vulture heads in place

I used the same “vulture’s head” as last time, but helped it to stand out slightly by winding some blue wire from a tiny bit of blue purl around the large gold rope I used for the vulture’s neck. You can see how small it is, but it’s surprising how much difference it makes to the final effect!

Once I’d attached the gold kid, I could cover the bottom edge with gold spiral, and then trim the upper edge to create the shape I wanted. This is the stage you see here. However, I then decided that the upper edge needed a trim, so at some point I must tie myself in knots to attach some sort of trimming to a curved shape stretched over a padded base.

Wish me luck!

Akhenaten’s Headdress, Rethought

Original Headdress
Original Headdress

Of course, I had to take off the gold headdress when I decided to make another attempt (and another, and another!) at the face. Then, when I looked at it again, with my new version of the face in place, and still more new ideas swirling around in my head, I decided that it wasn’t quite right, either in shape or in conception, and needed a little more help…

Blue Twist And Brass Mesh
Blue Twist And Brass Mesh

First of all, I think the first piece of gold kid I cut was the wrong shape, but secondly, and more interestingly, the cobra doesn’t really stand out against the gold kid, so I decided to try again.

So I began by folding a piece of brass mesh and attaching to it a loop of the same blue twist I used to emphasize the edging of the belt. I had thought that this might be rather tricky, but the brass mesh is fine enough to take stitching without too much trouble.

At this point I should probably say that from the base to the top of the loop here is no more than a centimetre. This is all very small and very fiddly indeed!

I also experimented with some pleating and crinkling of the brass mesh. I like the various effects, and I’d love to fit them in somewhere, but unfortunately I couldn’t quite work out how to make them work in this context.

The whole piece is so striking that I am finding it particularly difficult with the last little details, because they need to have enough personality not to be overwhelmed, but I don’t want the final piece to feel “spotty”. The eye needs somewhere to rest occasionally, rather than zooming frantically in all directions!

Akhenaten’s Face – Yet Again

Needlefelting A Different Way
Needlefelting A Different Way

Having found the last attempt didn’t result in quite what I was aiming for, I tried a new approach.

This time I took the outline of the face from the main piece, and needlefelted around it to get the shape to fit. Then I tried to get the features in place again, but having learnt from last time, I tried to leave the felt padding a little softer so as to be a bit easier to embroider. When I was trying the wet-felted versions to be further needlefelted, I used several different wools to see whether it made a difference, but with my level of inexperience, it didn’t, so this time I just used the first that came to hand.

Face In Progress
Face In Progress

Then I stretched silk over the top and began to stitch again.

When I tweeted this picture in a frustrated I’ve-had-enough-of-him pause, one of my friends replied “It’s Cassandra O’Brien!”. Which gave me a much-needed giggle – although I have a lowering feeling that Akhenaten and Cassandra might have got along quite well. Not necessarily the most admirable of people, either of them.

And don’t my lovely copper/rose-gold headed pins disappear beautifully against the fabric!

Face In Place
Face In Place

This looks rather better, I think.

I would have been happier if I could have made the brow heavier, and the nose more forward, but by now I feel I’m entering a world of diminishing returns, and may even start to make negative progress, which would be disheartening to say the least.

Now to see how this face copes with all the fuss of headdress and accessories…