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.
Wish me luck!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…!)
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.
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…
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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!