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…
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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..
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!
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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!
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…
As you may recall, my last attempt at a face for Akhenaten wasn’t entirely successful, so I started again… This time I needlefelted the shapes very fiercely (which I enjoyed more than I expected to!) until they were quite solid and strongly shaped, only to discover that they were far too deep and I had to saw off the back half with a penknife!
Then I stretched another fragment of silk over the top and worked the features.
When you consider how deep the eyesockets are in the felt, I’m a bit surprised that the eyes on this version don’t appear more deep-set, but he does have nice heavy brows, and the rest of the features aren’t too bad..
The face is also as narrow as it appears in that purple watercolour from a couple of weeks ago, so I felt quite optimistic when I turned back to the frame he sits on.
However, you can’t say that this face is much better than the apoplectic trumpeter – it has turned out by far too narrow for the space left for it, and I suspect that the detached buttonhole stitch with return used for the wig has done too much damage to the fabric to take it out.
So this is not the one to use, and I have to try again.
There’s more than one way of thinking about a project. I’m still trying to feel my way to an understanding of Akhenaten’s face, and this is one way of doing so. The purple one in the middle is the most recent, and most clearly shows the strong shape of the face. So I might be making progress.
But the watercolours also give me a chance to show things that I’m not at all sure I want to attempt in embroidery. Of course, I’ve already done “Loading The Felucca”, which shows people, and the background of the second panel does too, but in all honesty, I think that difficult as they are, the watercolours were actually easier than the stitching!
The felucca, and the Hittite Amulet have both appeared in stitch already. I’d like to do more of the jewellery (I’ve got an assortment of goldwork supples to play with, after all!). I’m planning to do some more fresco fragments, and I’m sure another idea or two will occur to me soon!
I’ve felt the face was rather weak, so I decided to try again.
This time I needlefelted the padding underneath, to try to get the nose, the heavy brows, and the mouth in place.
Then I covered the padding that seemed the better with silk, and stitched the features again. In some ways, this is better than the first attempt, but it still looks a bit twisted. The eyes are certainly staring, but the nose isn’t straight.
In my defense, it became harder and harder to stitch, even though I began to feel that the shaped padding wasn’t shaped enough. Or even padded enough!
I think that before I attempt another version, I need to work out a way of keeping the silk under control while I add the features, without actually attaching it all the way around
In spite of that, I decided to attach this face in place of the last, and see whether I felt that a face “stuck on afterwards” would be a problem.
Well, no, I don’t think it is, although it’s hard to be sure. Not least, it involved removing still more of his headdress. That will need more padding to sit well with a more padded face.
I am sure that I need a new version, though. At present he looks like an apoplectic trumpeter, and that is not a good look for the Heretic Pharoah!