Stuart Silk Purl Flower – Month 2

Couched Loops and Chipwork
Couched Loops and Chipwork

There was quite a lot to do in the second month, learning new ways to wrangle silk-wrapped purl.

The first element was composed of the loops of purple, short lengths bent in two and controlled by an extra small couching stitch to hold them in place.

This is a technique I’m sure I’ve seen before, and I must say I rather like the effect, although I found it rather worrying to do. The purl is small and fragile, and I think that at the moment I still don’t quite have the headspace to do as well as I would like.

Shaded Loops
Shaded Loops

I do think, however, that the time for just not doing it is passed. If I want my skill to come back to me, I will have to use it! Who was it who said, “the more I practise, the luckier I get”? I would like my embroidery to be good because I have worked at it, not because I “just got lucky”!

The next was chipwork, which is just like chipwork in ordinary purl except for the added terror in case the silk wrapping comes off..

And then I got more practice with those nested loops, with the added adventure of adding shading as I went along.

Couched humps and chipwork
Couched humps and chipwork

Finally, there was more chipwork, and some little raised humps. These are made of purls stitched on like beads, but with a stitch slightly shorter than the length of purl chosen.

Again, these are not quite as consistent as I would like them to be, although I carefully used the ruler provided in the instructions to cut the lengths.

More practice needed!

More on Akhenaten’s Return

Trying Again for the Face
Trying Again for the Face

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.

Twice.

Separate Face
Separate Face

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.

More work needed!
More work needed!

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!

Getting back to Akhenaten

I’ve not written about the Colossus of Akhenaten for a while, but that isn’t to say I’ve stopped thinking about it. Unfortunately Akhenaten is proving obstreperous (as in life, so in embroidery…!)

The Crook
The Crook

I decided to try to sneak up on him by playing with details such as the crook and flail regalia.

I don’t want these to be couched to the fabric in bits, I want them to seem like miniaturised regalia, so I’m planning to thread various coloured purls onto wire and then poke the end of the wire through the fabric to the back.

This heavy purl – called “Rope” on the Golden Hinde website – seems to work perfectly for the crook, but single wire wasn’t strong enough to support it, so much of the experimentation was to get the right number of strands. I’m so glad I have proper goldwork scissors – the rope is tough and springy stuff.

Flail Experiments
Flail Experiments

You may recognise the materials in some of these experiments for the flail!

The two on the left use silk-covered purls in blue, with heavy gold pearl purl. The two on the right are coloured and gold purls, some of those used in the chipwork on the belt.

The potential handle is a gloriously stiff, over-the-top purled pearl purl in blue and silver, named something like “winter spiral”. I have my doubts about it in this context, because it’s silver rather than gold, but we’ll see…

Regalia Placement Experiments
Regalia Placement Experiments

I couldn’t resist trying the crook and flail trials in place.

I’m happy with the crook, but the flailing bits of the flail are giving trouble. None of the options really looks the right scale – the purls are too small, the pearl purl may be a bit too heavy, and the “winter spiral” handle doesn’t look quite right, either.

So I have some more thinking to do. Again…

Stuart Silk Purl Flower – Month 1

Stuart Silk Purl Flower Kit
Stuart Silk Purl Flower Kit

There’s a new course from Thistle Threads, concentrating on the use of silk-wrapped purl threads. It looked like fun, and it includes the bonus of some extra samples of different sizes and colours.

I’m always trying to learn more about the more obscure and interesting corners of embroidery, and the reconstructions of no-longer-current threads and materials play directly into my fascination with early technologies.

Stuart Flower outlined in Gold
Stuart Flower outlined in Gold

The first stage in this case is to work outlines in gold, and on this occasion I deviated slightly from the instructions.

Normal practice these days is to plunge the ends of the gold thread and sew them down at the back, but it used to be more common simply to cut the thread and oversew it firmly on the front. So I’ve done that. It saves a bit of the expensive gold thread, and as this is a small decorative panel and not for a garment or other item which will move a lot, I think it will be successful.

It’s still important to run the thread in the right way over the design to minimise the number of cuts, of course!

Silk Purl Couched in a spiral
Silk Purl Couched in a spiral

The final part of the first month’s instructions is the first element of the silk purl, couched in a spiral to fill a pair of leaf shapes.

You can see that I have rather crushed the silk purl into place, which is a pity as it has introduced breaks or cracks into the purl, but then, this is an extreme close up. Without a magnifier, it is simply an impression of colour and texture.

The spiral is worked inwards from the gold outline, which is probably the only way it could be done – imagine the difficulties of finding the right central point to start from!

Akhenaten’s Beard, And Other Details

Starting The Beard
Starting The Beard

I spent a bit of time looking at images of pharaonic tie-on beards (now there’s a sentence I never expected to write – not in a normal frame of mind, anyway!) while I tried to work out how best to portray the impression created, even if maybe not the precise pattern that was used for Akhenaten’s version.

The patterns included a sort of interlaced pattern, and a vaguely herringbone-brick-like pattern, and some widened towards the base, and others became narrower and curled up a little at the tip. My version – based on the images of the Colossi of Akhenaten that inspired this piece – widens towards the base.

Akhenaten's Beard
Akhenaten’s Beard

I’ve chosen a plaited effect in blue and gold, using one of the standard gold threads from Thistle Threads and a plain blue silk perle, alternating two stitches from each side (the blue is used double, so had to be flattened and untwisted at every stitch). It required a bit of juggling with needle, thread, and bone stiletto to keep everything in order, but once I had the trick of it, the beard progressed relatively smoothly.

The widened base isn’t quite as wide as it was, but on the whole, I’m fairly pleased with it. So I’ve added a few more details, and some of them I am really not sure about.

Torso To Assess
Torso To Assess

I’m happy with his belly button. Somehow it makes him even chubbier!

I think I’m also happy with the cartouches on his tummy. It’s the same silk as the background, but turned at right angles, which shades the colour slightly.

My concern lies with the armlets and wristlet. I’ve given two of them edgings, one of gold pearl purl, the other of flattened silver purl with a gold strip threaded through, and at the moment, neither of them looks right.

I do have an idea for the crook and flail he is holding, but I may leave those and buy the materials at the Harrogate Knitting And Stitching Show. So I have time to think, assess, and Stare Thoughtfully.

And as one of my offline friends reminded me recently – Akhenaten wasn’t known for smoothly following the existing tracks during his lifetime. It would be too much to expect his stitched representation to do so!

Finally Finished Eve In The Garden Of Eden

Eve In The Garden Of Eden Finished
Eve In The Garden Of Eden Finished

Well, at last!

My word, it’s taken a long time! I started it in November 2015, and it took nearly a year just to finish the tent stitch, and then about eight months to do the gold Elizabethan Ground Stitch.

Progress wasn’t helped, of course, by the fact that counted work is something I can only do in short spurts. Or by the number of times I got distracted by wonderful new ideas I simply had to bring to life!

Spine Of Box
Spine Of Box

However, once I had got to the end of the stitching, and then the goldwork (isn’t it gorgeous, by the way – do click to zoom in on the photos!), there was a whole new level of puzzling to do, cutting out and assembling the lining for the box and then the box itself.

What with layers of padding and card, and the lining (silk, of course!) and the (silk) brocade covers for the outside of the box, there was a lot of pre-assembly to do, since the padding and lining, and the padding and external cover all had to be sewn together before the final assembly.

Silk Lined Box
Silk Lined Box

That final assembly was fiddly in the extreme, but is now finally complete.

I’m going to wrap it up and hide it for a few weeks until the pain is merely a memory, and then find somewhere to put it and gloat, because I am very pleased with it. Just a bit sore from wrestling with sharp needles and too many layers!

Akhenaten – more details

First Trial Armbands
First Trial Armbands

My first attempt to dress Akhenaten with his armlets and wristband used a strange gold fabric I’ve had for some years. An old friend bought it originally to make herself an evening dress, but it’s a very difficult fabric to work with – it frays if you even breathe near it, it doesn’t drape at all well, but it doesn’t like structured shapes either.

She despaired, and gave it to me. What are friends for, after all?

I’m playing with fragments to see whether I can find something to do with it. So far I have discovered that iron-on interfacing doesn’t stay ironed on to it, either.

Second Trial Armband And Beard Padding
Second Trial Armband And Beard Padding

And, frankly, I think the armlets look more like waterwings. So it doesn’t work for a Pharaoh’s armlets, either!

The next attempt was to use gold kid leather. I’m a bit happier with the kid leather, even though I’ve not been able to put the cartouches on it, but while I was thinking about that, I decided I should maybe think about the tie-on beard which seems to have been an element of royal iconography in ancient Egypt – to the point that even the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, had herself depicted wearing one.

I made a small, padded form, using cotton padding covered with gauze, and attached it carefully. Then I had to work out how to cover it, and what sort of pattern would be appropriate.

And I really need to think of some way to pad out his nose, don’t I!

Akhenaten’s Loincloth

Belt Fall Finished
Belt Fall Finished

In fact I had finished the belt before I started on “Leaving the Tyne, 1915“, so it was just as well that I had the belt fall to work on. It gave me something definite to do while I started to get myself mentally back in the groove, as it were. I thought about fading out to the blue green down the length of the belt fall, but in the end I decided to work it with only one colour of additional purl – just the purple.

I’m quite pleased. I can’t see a difference between the chipwork of the belt and the chipwork of the belt fall, which is especially good, considering there were five months, more or less, between them!

Started The Purls
Started The Purls

So at this point I could start on the element that I first “saw” in my mind’s eye, the element that inspired me to start on this piece. Unnerved, much?

The pleated linen of the loincloth is being represented by row upon row of silver purl, using four different types: smooth purl, bright check purl, rough purl and wire check purl. The varying reflectances of the different types create different shades, representing the light falling on the various surfaces of the pleats.

And now you can see – in case you were worried – why I was not at all worried by the big slub in the middle of the fabric. I always knew it would be covered with silver purl!

Loincloth Finished
Loincloth Finished

For those who don’t know, purl is made by wrapping very, very fine wire around a former. So it is basically a tiny spring. A fraction of a second’s inattention, and it spangs around the room, snags on curtains (and even the silk background fabric), and generally becomes a severe trial. On top of that, it has to be gently handled lest it bruise or break, creating a flattened section or a dark line in the finished piece.

And yet, surprisingly, I rather enjoyed doing it!

Classically, I believe purls like this would be edged with something, but even though the edges of my purls aren’t completely even, I think this helps with the impression of a garment wrapped around the body. And I love the effect of the different shades of silver!

Getting started on Akhenaten’s Belt

Trial Run - but Not Happy
Trial Run – but Not Happy

I knew I wanted to fill in the belt with coloured chipwork, but how?

I had started off with the idea of making lotus flower shapes, but very soon became frustrated. I didn’t like the way it was looking, and, adding insult to injury, it was exceptionally fiddly to do.

So, no, think again. It might be possible to do something like this another time, but at the moment I can’t quite think how I would do so!

Scatter Of Coloured Purl
Scatter Of Coloured Purl

The next attempt was to use standard chipwork without attempting to make pictures. I know that the chips are very spread out here, but I began with the coloured purls, scattered across the belt to create a graduated colour effect, which shades from purple in the middle through blue to dark blue-green and light blue-green. The gold background had to wait until I had the colourwork right.

Belt Complete
Belt Complete

Once that was done, I went back and added the gold chipwork. I have four different types of gold purl, some smooth and some rough, so the sparkles would have some variety and colour. I think I’m much more pleased with this, and I will be able to tweak the blue twist to bring it more to the foreground.