Adventures with a screen print

It occurred to me recently that when I finally finish the Dreams of Amarna panels I will probably want to exhibit them somewhere – displaying them at home would require a complete redesign, including moving walls! – and that, however large or intricate they may be, two panels do not an exhibition make.

Nefertiti rendered in "newsprint"
Nefertiti rendered in “newsprint”

At the same time, however, I’d had an idea for a design for which I could apply the combined silk and gold stitches of the Tudor Rose, and furthermore, that might allow me scope, later, to play with some of the mixed media techniques that are available…

So I went rummaging among the assorted copyright-free and Creative Commons images on the web (my goodness, there are thousands!) and found a photo of the famous painted head of Nefertiti which is in the Berlin Museum. Then with some cropping and processing, from a photo of the bust in its case it became a plain headshot with no background, rendered in the style of an old-fashioned newsprint picture. An email conversation and a payment later, that image had been turned into a custom-made Thermofax screen…

At which point, all the simplicity fell over. I’ve actually done four screen prints on the faience-coloured linen, and about three on sandy coloured linen, and none of them was good enough for my purposes. I’m not sure whether the screen is too detailed for the fabric or whether it is simply my technique that is faulty.

So I guess I just need to try harder!

Suddenly Re-Thinking

Drawing Design
Drawing Design

I bought the turquoise pashmina with the intention of working one of the Stitch-Off designs on it, but as I was playing around with colours, I had a sudden thought…

It’s an absolutely gorgeous faience colour, so why don’t I choose colours inspired by my Dreams of Amarna project. And while I’m about it, create a design inspired by those patterns I’ve been playing with…

That famous bust of Nefertiti
That famous bust of Nefertiti

In the end I’ve decided to take my inspiration from that famous bust of Nefertiti, discovered by Ludwig Borchardt in 1912. It would therefore have been known to Mary Chubb. This picture is a Creative Commons-licensed image I found online, but in this particular case, all I wanted it for was to check on the distribution of small and large segments and colours.

So that’s garnet or carnelian coloured sections, lapis-coloured sections and jade-coloured sections, all outlined in gold. In this case, I don’t want to use metallic thread, so the gold will be rendered in golden-yellow.

Choosing Colours
Choosing Colours

I’ve been working on making a design printing and transferring board, so I pinned out the end of the pashmina I want to embellish on the board, and simply drew straight lines as a guide.

Then I had a wonderful time fishing out jewel-coloured silk threads.

All I need now is some idea of the stitches I intend to use!

Amarna Geese – stage 2

Detail Added To The Geese
Detail Added To The Geese

I’ve started adding more detail with needle and thread. The chevron pattern, the eyes, and the detail on the beak are all made using straight stitches in single strands of Appletons wool. I can’t think where I got a whole series of greys, unless it’s from hand-me-downs. I’m glad I have them now, but it isn’t a colour I much like and I can’t imagine going out and buying them!

For the legs, I have used three different colours of wool in the needle. I can see that for all my staring at photographs and trying to sketch, I’ve not really got a clear or accurate idea of the details of goose anatomy! And somehow, for all my care in placing the cut out felt geese, they’ve ended up attached in not-quite-the-right place.

Geese Needlefelted
Geese Needlefelted

Still, let’s not despair.

I’ve also added some ground below the the geese. Three strands of different colours of wool, again. I did a sort of loopy knot stitch crossed with a split stitch, which I couldn’t reproduce if I tried. But it produces a very good broken-ground effect, so as long as I don’t decide I need more ground, we’ll be fine.

Then I sat down at the embellisher and tried to blend the fabrics together. This meant quite heavy embellishing, but fortunately the fabrics are none of them dense, so there was room for the fibres to mingle.

When I noticed that the legs weren’t getting caught in, I twisted some more threads around them. That’s better.

Then another pause. Do I add leaves, to match my vague memory, or shall I leave well alone?

The Stumpwork Violets Finally Planted

Assembled Violets
Assembled Violets

I wouldn’t care to do much real hand embroidery on a fabric “doped” (after the fashion of early aeroplane wings!), with the mixture of inktense and aloe gel. Once it had dried, the calico had something of the texture of a cheap printed furnishing fabric, and did not recover well from having holes poked in it. I suspect it would prove rather abrasive on more delicate threads, but in this case I was simply using stranded cotton.

And there were many holes poked in it – one for each of the elements. I turned back one of the two wires at the base of each, to help to support the curves I was trying to set into them, using the wires around the edge. The other wire I poked through a hole which was in turn poked through the fabric using a stiletto. Bending that wire back on itself should have kept the elements in the place, but as with all of my embroidery adventures – it wasn’t quite that easy!

Cut And Padded
Cut And Padded

When I fished out the packet of stamens from my second Frostings Box, I found that there were three strands of each of three types, and picked the most delicate gold ones, so as not to overpower the flowers. So that worked out nicely – one strand for each flower! – and caused three more holes in the calico..

The elements were still wriggling a bit, though, so I decided to put some padding behind the clump to help to entrap the wires, and also to enhance the domed effect that I was hoping for. That meant that it made sense to trim the padding and enclose it with the calico, creating a single, “free-standing” clump of violets. The elements are held in place with minimal stitching, the curves nestling together, and the wires and threads entrapped in the padding. It wouldn’t stand up to much handling, but then it won’t get any!

Click on the pictures to see them at full size – I think they give a good sense of the dimension and “loft” I managed to achieve.

Can you tell that I’m rather pleased with my violets?

Returning to the Stumpwork Violets

Array Of Petals And Leaves
Array Of Petals And Leaves

I finally gave myself the necessary encouragement to get back to the Stumpwork Violets.

Er, that is to say, I spoke to myself very severely, and pointed out that it was looming over me and needed dealing with!

I used my new Inktense blocks to experiment with colouring the base fabric on the last few leaves, painting over the top with the aloe vera gel suggested by Deanna over at Eclectic Meanderings as a substitute for textile medium.

Background Inktense
Background Inktense

I also used the aloe gel on the spare piece of calico I painted as a background for the clump of violets. I don’t intend any of this to be visible. It will just provide some dark green depths underneath the clump, rather than leaving me worrying that the fabric underneath might grin through if the leaves move. As with the clothing on Loading The Felucca, I don’t want to stitch everything down too much, so this will relieve a certain anxiety.

In this context, the effect of painting over the marks with the aloe gel, deadening the marks and blending the colours, is not a problem. I’m not keen on the overly blended effect with ordinary pastels, as it looks a little mannered, but as all I want is that a sense of depth behind the violets, I’m content. Given how much dust those few strokes created, I certainly would not want to have an un-fixed piece of fabric anywhere near the finished Dreams of Amarna panels!

Elements Cut Out
Elements Cut Out

While the aloe-and-inktense blend was drying, I tackled cutting out the elements of the stumpwork.

In spite of all my care – and they do look lovely in the sunlight, don’t they! – I ended up with little white edges on all the pieces.

So, out came the inktense blocks and the aloe gel again, and I spent some time colouring the little white edges and then painting gel on them.

I wonder whether I might be avoiding the assembly process…?

Needlefelted Amarna Geese

Sketched Geese
Sketched Geese

I have a picture in my mind of a gaggle of geese, fresco’d on an Amarna wall. Unfortunately, all my rummagings haven’t turned up a reference or any idea where I saw it.  So I am going to make it up!

I spent some time online, looking for pictures of geese, and made some sketches. I’ve decided to use my embellisher – this is a sort of “bonus” project, as it won’t go on the main panels.

Geese Cut Out
Geese Cut Out

So the next stage was to cut out some geese from some light grey pre-felt. One of them is to be slightly more upright than the other two, but since needlefelting – like wet felting – reduces the dimensions of the piece, it’s anyone’s guess how clear that will be when I’ve finished!

Goose with layers
Goose with layers

I’ve tried to create the basic appearance of the goose using fragments of wool – several shades of grey merino, and some of the very wiry white wool from Heligan. It’s all needlefelted into place by hand.  Not enough hands – I’m sure I could have done with another pair, or some other way to control the bits I hadn’t managed to deal with yet!

At this point there was a pause for thought… I have neither the inclination nor the patience to add the details with needlefelting, but equally, how much detail will I really need?

Working on Nefertiti’s Cartouche – 3

Cartouche Finished
Cartouche Finished

I did a lot of staring balefully.

I picked out a whole selection of threads, looked at them, and dismissed them. Partly, it must be said, because I had decided, after all, to use Plaited Braid Stitch, and that uses a lot of thread. I wasn’t sure that I even had enough of some of my choices!

In the end, I decided to use an overdyed pearl cotton in a sort of faience colour. Years ago, my mother managed plaited braid stitch using stranded cotton, but I tend to feel that that is making life unnecessarily difficult, so stranded threads or floppy threads were removed from consideration as soon as I had settled on the stitch…

I must say, I hadn’t expected to find the stitch getting narrower as I became more practised. I had to deliberately broaden the stitch as I got nearer to the start so I had some chance of joining the ends neatly.

Can You See The Join?
Can You See The Join?

And I really don’t think I did too badly – in fact, if it weren’t for the colour change, I think the join would be rather hard to spot!

And by the way – the dreaded Plaited Braid Stitch is no longer dreaded!

Working on Nefertiti’s Cartouche – 2

Top Block
Top Block

After I’d finished the spiral trellis stitch circle, I had some doubts about it. Maybe it wasn’t strong enough, maybe the texture clouded the impression of the shape, maybe it even killed the colour. I’ve decided – with continuing reservations! – to keep it for now. I like the effect, and the knotted texture contrasts nicely with the long and short stitch beside it. If it can’t live with its companions when I’ve finished the piece, I will be in a better position to work out how to replace it.

The zigzag is about as simple as it could be – straight stitches, tightly whipped – and the half-circle, like the one in the lower section, is  detached buttonhole stitch.

Needs A Border
Needs A Border

So far, so good.

All the individual hieroglyphs have been worked, and I think the colour balance has turned out pretty well.

However, cartouches have borders, and the border is giving me a raging headache!

I had thought of working the border in Plaited Braid Stitch, in a copper or gold, or maybe couching down a knitted ribbon. Maybe a border in some other stitch, in blue-green?

So far, every thread I’ve tried has either disappeared into the background, or made itself altogether too obtrusive. I can see myself staring balefully at it for weeks, so in the meantime I am going to tack guidelines for the eventual border (in silk, what else?) and hope that inspiration dawns…

Working on Nefertiti’s Cartouche – 1

Lower Block
Lower Block

I need to learn to believe in myself more. As I was stitching this little seated figure, I was really very doubtful about it. I was twisting the sandy silk filament for every stitch, and it was being difficult, and looking rather odd and clunky.

Then I added the wig, in a variegated – and slightly slubby – silk perle, and suddenly I’m completely captivated!

The walking-stick like thing is a row of chain stitch with detached buttonhole stitch added to broaden the shaft. I think that works rather nicely, too.

Middle Block
Middle Block
False Start
False Start

There was a slight false start with the row of spoon-like things. After I did the bottom row of this pair, ending with a crossed spoon in heavy chain stitch and long and short stitch, I wondered whether perhaps I should vary the stitches in the row above. An experiment in that direction soon proved me wrong, though!

The two little blocks started out as closed herringbone stitch, but that looked scrappy and a bit twisted. I left the closed herringbone stitch in place, and covered it with satin stitch, breathing a sigh of relief when it worked.

The fabric is the same as I used for the Faience Hippopotamus, and it’s frightfully difficult to photograph. No matter what I do, the colour careers around the spectrum, and the grey, overcast days aren’t helping, either.

Nor is it especially easy to stitch on. It doesn’t look like a loose weave, but it behaves like one, even though I’ve supported it with a piece of calico. Stitches that I like using are proving unsuccessful and behaving oddly. All in all, although I’m enjoying it, it feels most peculiar!

The Cartouche of Nefertiti

Cartouche of Nefertiti (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)
Cartouche of Nefertiti (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)

Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti are prominent characters in Mary Chubb’s imaginative response to the city they built, so I feel they need to appear more than once in the embroidery as well. The trick is to balance the story of the archaeology and the archaeologists with the story of the ancient inhabitants..

The gauze overlays I plan will give the sense of the Pharoah and his Great Royal Wife brooding over their city, but among other things I want to include their cartouches.

A few weeks ago, I attended an evening lecture about woven patterns discovered by Howard Carter in Tutankhamun’s tomb (more on that another time!) at the Egypt Exploration Society, and spoke briefly with the Director, Chris Naunton, who has been very helpful to my research in the past. I mentioned that I would like to do at least one set of cartouches in colour. There was a thoughtful pause, then he said “I think I have the very thing – send me an email to make sure I don’t forget, but it is just a matter of finding the file!”

Hatiay Drawing Composite(Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)
Drawing of Hatiay’s Lintel
by
Hilda Pendlebury
(Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)

I hadn’t even arrived home the next day when an email showed up in my inbox. The image showed a composite of watercolours by Hilda Pendlebury, depicting Hatiay’s Lintel. This was a carved and painted door-lintel discovered in the very season Mary was writing about, and what’s more, mentioned at some length in the book. It was both archaeologically and historically interesting (two of the cartouches were scratched out in antiquity), as well as providing a challenge to transport, being large, heavy, and because of the embellishment rather fragile.

My current thought is that I will work a version of the cartouche of Nefertiti, either in cottons or silks, either directly on the pale faience coloured linen or maybe on the fabric I used for the Faience Hippopotamus, which would help to balance him slightly. I’ve been reassured that I won’t give any Egyptologists apoplexy if I tweak the colours slightly….!