Akhenaten – the scary bit!

Trimming Excess Padding
Trimming Excess Padding

I did say the next bit was scary!

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.

View From The Back
View From The Back

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.

Starting On Akhenaten

Starting Akhenaten
Starting Akhenaten

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!

Outline Stitched
Outline Stitched

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…

Two Amarna Princesses – Finishing Details

Sewing On The Princess
Sewing On The Princess

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.

Ready For Her Close-Up
Ready For Her Close-Up

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?

Two Amarna Princesses
Two Amarna Princesses

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.

Dig House Progress

Dig House Texture
Dig House Texture

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.

Dig House Progress
Dig House Progress

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….

Amarna Backpack

Picture of Pectoral
Picture of Pectoral

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.

Yarn And Pattern
Yarn And Pattern

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…

 

Two Amarna Princesses – the results of thought

Layout With Cushions
Layout With Cushions

The felted cushion fragments worked rather well, surviving the cutting out procedure so that I could start to play with the layout. Prints of the images I’d used to hand, I fiddled happily for quite a while.

This isn’t quite what I ended up with, but you can see how vividly the colours play off against one another. Very promising!

Drapes Attached
Drapes Attached

The first stage was to attach the drapery assembly to the background. This is where the experimental nature of my needlefelting may come back to bite me, because there is a risk that I have taken it too far, and that I will finish with a completely destroyed background.

However, the goldeny-mustardy-yellow wall shows through a bit, which is what I want, as that helps to make the connection with the frescoes at Amarna as they are found by archaeologists – fragile and fragmentary, only a hint of their former glory. I may have to hand-needlefelt some of those little squares, as they’re not as well attached as I would like. I don’t want them falling off at some time in the future!

Two Amarna Princesses – having to think again

Spotted Cushions
Spotted Cushions

A little while ago, the Ashmolean Museum tweeted another reproduction of that fresco of the two little princesses, this one in black and white, and it brought to the fore something that had been less clear in the colour reproductions I had seen – the girls are actually sitting on cushions. Originally, I had interpreted the lowest border design as fabric covering a divan of some sort, but now I found myself developing some possible cushion fabrics..

Once again, as with the drapery, I stitched patterns with additional needlefelting in mind. I decided in the end that the satin stitch spots weren’t working very well. Sorbello stitch is the stitch I used for the villages on the Map of Amarna. It’s another stitch I rather like, as it produces a neat, square stitch, with an interesting texture – more obvious with some fabrics and threads than others, of course. The cross stitch spots are in a colour closer to that of the felt, and should produce a more subtle effect.

What I have done is to stitch the patterns on a section of felt, and then pass it under my embellisher. I hope that this will create enough fibre entanglement that when I cut out the cushion shapes, the stitches will not unstitch themselves.

I wonder whether it will work…!

Finishing the Head of Nefertiti

Unless I decide otherwise, the head of Nefertiti is now finished.

Signature Cartouche
Signature Cartouche

I’ve worked my Morse Code cartouche slightly differently this time, using cross stitch for the dots, long armed cross stitch for the dashes, and counted running stitch for the frame. This works rather well, so it’s a possibility for any eventual canvaswork projects in the future.

However, in this instance it is almost completely invisible, so I may yet unpick it and rework it twice the size, with four threads in each direction instead of two.

Finished Head Of Nefertiti
Finished Head Of Nefertiti

In the end, if you recall, I decided to work Nefertiti’s cartouche, both the hieroglyphs and the frame, in reverse chain stitch using untwisted silk.

The rays of the Aten are worked in reverse chain stitch, but using hand twisted silk.

I am a little concerned about balance and the strength of the design, but when I was playing with my photos of of the finished panel, I noticed that when I cropped the picture closely, rather than including all of the length I have stitched of the rays of the Aten, it was much improved.

That happened with the Camberwell Panel, and with Loading the Felucca, as well, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

And I really should remember to play with that sort of detail when I am mounting and finishing my embroideries!

Two Amarna Princesses – Assembling the Drapery

Detail OF Drapery
Detail OF Drapery

Having chosen my bits of drapery, I’ve stitched them together at the edges.

This means that they won’t move when I’m felting them to the background, and that I could actually cut off some of the second drapery, rather than overlapping it on the first. This will reduce the number of layers I will be felting through, which turns out to be a good idea. I don’t want any more broken needles, thank you very much!

Drapery Assembled
Drapery Assembled

The assembled drapery now makes a rather peculiar shape, but it gives me part of the background for my princesses, and a basis for any further embellishment I may feel is necessary.

However, as I was contemplating that eventual embellishment, I found another source picture and now I have to do a little more thinking.

The Cartouche for the Head of Nefertiti

Trials For Cartouche
Trials For Cartouche

There were many false starts when I came to work on the cartouche. The fabric is under such tension, in order to work the metal and silk stitches, that it’s hard not to create something that looks very fragile and wispy.

Here you see stem stitches, back stitches, straight stitches, chain stitches of different lengths, some worked using the same twisted thread I used for the rays of the Aten, and some in untwisted thread of the same thickness.

And I didn’t like any of them.

In fact, I ended up doubling the thickness of the thread, but not actually twisting it. This creates a more definite line, and using reverse chain stitch throughout maintains the sense of continuity with the rays of the Aten.

Trial Hungarian Braided
Trial Hungarian Braided

Once I had finished the hieroglyphs, I had to work the frame of the cartouche, and guess what – false starts here as well.

I was rather saddened that among the stitches tried was one of my favourites, Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch, and that, like several others, ended up being sliced out with a penknife. A rather nice penknife with a mother of pearl handle, from a vintage sewing set, but it’s frustrating to dismiss a favourite stitch, even when it’s because you don’t think it works in the context.

There was a lot of this!
There was a lot of this!

After much to-ing and fro-ing, and a good few “ouches” from my recalcitrant sub-scapularis muscle, I finally got the cartouche finished.

I’m not entirely sure I like the finished result, so it is sitting in the living room, being stared at.