I felt that the finishing technique for the Amarna Geese really worked, creating just the right impression of a fragment of fresco, so, after thinking it over a little more, I tackled the Princesses.
The depth of layering of the felts made it much easier to attach to the padded mount, although if I could only have found my curved needles, it might have been yet easier.
Again, I couldn’t bring myself to chop the princesses into bits. If I had thought of the display method to begin with, and created the piece with that in mind, I might have been able to do so, but as it is – they are so exquisite, I simply couldn’t do it!
Finally mounted, with the separate bits on the corners. They look just the way I hoped they would!
I’ve not been finishing any of the Amarna pieces for presentation, because once mounted and framed, they take up much more space, and also because I’m not sure which pieces are going where. However, the needlefelted pieces are not going to form part of the main panels, and I rather think it may take more than one attempt to get them just right. I’ve decided I want to present them rather as pieces of fresco are presented in museums, on a background which is similar in colour to the main colour, but not close enough to mislead.
So the first thing to do was to find a suitably-sized artist’s canvas, and cover it with some padding and then a nice woollen fabric which is a warm yellow, slightly darker than the felt background. Then I cut around the Amarna Geese to make a rough, uneven shape. I should probably have cut off a head or something so that the fresco would look suitably fragmentary, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that!
I used a fine woollen thread to attach the felt to the background fabric, as far as possible remaining within the thickness of the felt. That was quite tricky, and I wonder whether there might be an easier way. I’m glad I didn’t start with the two princesses!
My Morse Code signature is in double straight stitches, following an edge. And there’s a bit of a corner left open there. I might do an extra goose head and add it in as a separate fragment!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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….
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
For my next drapery experiment, I began by using the embellisher to add some of that divided felt onto another piece – do you see that the red is in patches, a dark pink (the background) and a rather brighter scarlet? That worked well, I think, as it has warmed up the colour, and made it more interesting.
I had decided that I would stitch a pattern and then use the embellisher to make it blend in a little more, but once I’d worked this pattern of herringbone stitch stripes, I sat back, stared at it, and said “No”.
So the second pattern I tried was a little more complex. It’s still worked largely in herringbone stitch, and the colours are the same, but this time I’ve reversed the second row to create a series of lozenge shapes, which could then be filled in, after a fashion, with little upright cross stitches.
I liked this much more, so I decided to go with this pattern.
Although, of course, I was referring to the picture that was my original spacing, that red is very reminiscent of Persian carpets, and the combination with blue and yellow is one which we still find in widespread use.
The next stage was to use the embellisher again. To begin with, I covered the stitching with a layer of net, and worked an initial pass of small circling movements, up and down each stripe. Then I removed the net and kept going.
As you can see, the stitching is almost melting into the background. Certainly it’s a more convincing representation of a piece of fabric than my first piece of drapery, although I will be using both.
The idea of using the netting is that it does not become caught up in the embellished fabric, and that it prevents bits of embellishment from becoming caught up on the needlehead and generally misbehaving.
As you can see, that sometimes doesn’t work quite as well as one might wish! Fragments can, and do, work themselves through the holes torn in the netting by the embellisher’s needles, and then jump with alacrity onto the needles, where they whizz up and down before the bemused eyes of the person operating the machine, causing no little apprehension as they do it!
There’s something else that doesn’t quite go to plan, as well. The netting does indeed become somewhat enmeshed with the felt.
As you can see, my little additions are by no means felted into the backing piece, but I’m already having to be very careful to peel off the netting, and if I had done much more with the embellisher, I might never have got the netting off at all!
I think it would be fair to say that I don’t really have anything like a real understanding of the effect of the embellisher on particular materials or combinations of materials. I’ve several more projects in mind so I’m sure my understanding will grow, but even by my standards, this is a venture into the unknown.
You can see that some of the pieces moved, and some never attached themselves at all. The pattern is distinctly higgledy-piggledy, and the elements aren’t equally firmly attached.
That said, I’ve managed to create something that has the warm red and the flashes of blue and gold, and although it isn’t the same pattern as the one in the fresco, it is certainly reminiscent of it.
I’m going to try another method entirely for a second section of drapery, and see whether that creates the effect I want.
I’m going to build up the panel in layers, so I began by playing with bits of felt. I’ve cut small squares and triangles from other pieces of felt I have to hand, and begun to make some attempts to build up patterns with them.
The darker red shown here is actually one of the pre-felts painstaking split horizontally and then cut into bits. The idea was to produce something that gave the impression of folds in the drapery. I’ve come to the conclusion that that doesn’t work, and what’s more, I don’t think it ever will, partly because needlefelt applique turns out not to be a terribly exact science..
This seemed better. You’ll notice that it’s a bit haphazard, and that it runs over the whole piece, even though we know I will be covering quite a bit of it with the princesses themselves. I learnt a long time ago (with the Camberwell Panel, in fact) that when layering like this it is a false economy of time and effort to attempt to minimise the details on intermediate layers. This way I have more freedom for the exact placement, and can move the pieces around until I am happy with them.
Once I had layouts I was happy with, for both the drapery at the back and the patterned bench or divan covering the girls are sitting on, I created sandwiches of netting with my layouts- lightly hand-needlefelted – in the middle, and two layers of net back and front.