Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram will have seen some rejoicings over the weekend. I have been working on the gold stitched background for the polychrome tent stitch for what seems like forever, but in fact it is less than a year – I began the Elizabethan Ground Stitch in October of last year. A serious shoulder problem interfered with my work at my floor frame at one stage, and then I was all taken with with my ideas for the Head of Nefertiti, so it was only recently that I got back to it. And now I have finished that laborious stage, and I can move on to the more complex and intriguing techniques which were the whole reason for taking the course.
For instance, this one. Tricia describes this as a variation on Velvet Stitch, worked in silk thread over what I presume is a fine double ended knitting needle. It makes a perfect spacer for the pile of the stitch, anyway, and arrived with all the other bits and pieces.
Tricia tells us to come up through the already occupied hole, to avoid pulling the thread through to the back and reducing the pile. I went a step further and worked it from the back, ensuring that I kept the stitch neat and the stitching going up through the right holes!
I must admit I enjoyed this, simple, and straightforward, but with just enough challenge to keep me awake and alert.
And here is the first hillock, finished and fluffy. It looks as though it would be beautifully soft underfoot, doesn’t it!
I suddenly realised that I haven’t got any representations of the Aten in the panels. Considering that Akhenaten’s new, monotheistic devotion to the Aten actually created Amarna (Aketaten in his day), that is more than a little remiss of me. So the extra details I am planning for Nefertiti – shown here, drafted on tracing paper laid over the the print I didn’t use for stitching – begin to right that wrong.
I’ve drawn the rays of the Aten ending in little hands outstretched in blessing, as seen in many wall-carvings and paintings at Amarna. For some reason (research to be done…!) the hands nearest the noses of Nefertiti and Akhenaten often hold an ankh, so that is also included.
I’ve added in Nefertiti’s cartouche, although I think I may have drawn it too large for the design as a whole, and my own, which will include my initials in Morse Code, as this is a standalone companion piece.
I want the lines to be there, and yet not there, so I found some filament silk that I bought at Texere Yarns before they closed their store, and had a go with it, using reverse herringbone stitch, as I did for the contours of The Map of Amarna.
And it completely disappeared.
So this is the next version, reverse chain stitch using a 2-into-1 twist. I’m much happier with that, although twisting the thread before I stitch with it does rather slow down the stitching part of it!
But still, here I am, stitching with hand-twisted thread, twisted by me. Never would fifteen-year-old me have believed I would be doing that!
So this is where we left the Head of Nefertiti. the polychrome bands and the gold edges of the headdress are done, and I have worked a section of necklace.
I keep flip-flopping between feeling that that section of necklace is just right, and feeling that it really isn’t enough at all. I like the sense of a delicate flash of colour barely surviving the years, but at the same time, there’s an inner glitter-girl that wants to see a bit more than that..
So, while I think a little more about the necklace question, I thought I’d make another attempt at the browband. This time it is simply straight stitches, in a slightly finer thread than the rest of the gold stitching. It’s not perfectly regular, but, again, the slight unevenness evokes the damage of the years.
And besides, by now, you must know that regularity of stitching is not my forte!
So, again, I find myself at a pause.
I’m happy with the browband, I think, definitely happy with the polychrome bands, and the gold trim.
However, I’m still not sure whether I’m happy with the necklace.
Since my thought is to quilt a pattern into the background, I had best be certain that I’m happy before I start attaching padding and picking patterns!
Once I had finished the polychrome bands, I sat back and looked at them. Using the darker shades of the colours in the darker part of the print helps to tie it all together and wrap the bands around the headdress.
I had a moment or two of concern, then decided that I would not, after all, ruin everything if I continued to add the other elements of the design that I had planned. There is always a moment or two of fear, especially when an early section has gone well!
The original bust shows something that looks like a browband of gold, fairly plain and flat. I fished out a piece of gold kid, but although the photograph doesn’t show it very well, the kid is the wrong colour (too pale, and not yellow enough) for the gold thread, so I have to think of something else.
Meanwhile, I thought I would experiment with the necklace, or collar. My thought was that, rather than do the whole thing, I would do a small section of it, to make sure that I maintain the feeling of an embroidery, and not a portrait of a portrait.
What I have done here is to make radiating stitches of the gold thread, and then use the same whipped filling stitch I used on the polychrome bands, but alternating them so there is a hint of a gold net underlying the collar.
I like this, but maybe I do need to do an entire collar’s worth.
You will recall that I was rather underwhelmed by the effect of my first attempt at weaving the silk into the gold. Leaving the threads loosely packed to allow the gold to show through allows them to look untidy, and the colour is somehow a little flattened, not the rich, strong colour I wanted.
So I decided to work the whipped style of filling stitch instead. It creates a strong colour, something like a grosgrain ribbon, in fact.
I’m using primarily colours from the Mulberry Silks “Nefertiti” colour range (appropriate, don’t you think!), and I’m happy with the rusty red. The navy is actually a heavy perle type and I’m not sure where it came from. That works too.
The lightest colour, however, on the far right, is too fine. It produces too retiring an effect, and weakens the whole effect. So I tried one of the stranded silks from Thistle Threads (lower example, left), and wasn’t convinced by that, either.
This looks better. In fact the two light blue-greens are different, although that isn’t as clear in this photo as I might have liked. They aren’t as green as I would have liked, but I’m reasonably happy. If I decide to redo them, I may have to redo the whole thing, as the unpicking earlier on has left the Ladder Stitch a bit floppy.
There are small elements of goldwork which I am planning to work last, but most of it, I wanted to put in place first, so that I can be sure that the whole thing remains in balance.
As I’ve mentioned, the framework for the silk is in Ladder Stitch – the whole of the first section redone, as I threatened.
The narrow line around the base is in reverse chain stitch (much easier to work in a frame than the ordinary chain stitch). The coloured bust suggests a gilded inner section for the headdress, and I have yet to decide how to represent that. Maybe gold kid?
The ornament on the front of the headdress looks rather heavier and thicker than the other lines, so I’ve worked it in Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch. I’m a little disappointed with it at present, and wondering whether I need to pick a still heavier stitch – such as the dreaded (not any more!) Plaited Braid Stitch. I’ll decide, I think, when I’ve completed the rest of it.
So, on to the silkwork. I had a previous, failed print to experiment with, and I’m just as glad I did.
I’m rather underwhelmed by this effect, with the silk woven through the gold. I thought it would allow a subtle glint of gold, but in the end it has simply undermined the effect of the silk. Hmm…
My mother and I have been planning a backdrop for some crib figures I inherited some years ago from a great aunt.
We started off by thinking about a stylised landscape (I might still do that one of these days), and then we thought about some sort of embroidered “stable” (likewise!), but none of the ideas really came together.
The crib figures are simple, and carved in wood, and we think they were bought in Germany after the war. We think that simplicity might be best set off by something really gorgeous and colourful, so then my mother designed a chorus of angels inspired by the “May Queen” design by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. She substantially simplified the basic design, added wings and then created two ranks of singing angels.
She’s also created a wonderful top panel of graduated blues and superimposed the text “Gloria in excelsis Deo” over the top. At the moment we are thinking about creating an ombré dyed section for the graduated panel, and couching gold and silver threads to make the framework. Then maybe using golden gauze for the lower panel, using a second layer for the capes.
As for the wings – well, detached buttonhole stitch, perhaps? Maybe in Gilt Sylke Twist, if I can get the right colours. I’m torn between a rainbow of colours, as my mother has painted them, or some other selection. Really, it will depend on what takes my eye when I get to that stage!
We want to work it on silk, and I want to be a bit clearer about what I’m doing before I get started. So it won’t be done in time for this Christmas.
At long last I got a chance to finish up and turn the Tudor Rose into a little mounted panel. I got a local framing shop to cut me two pieces of acid free mount board, and mounted it over one of them, with a little padding to bring it to life. Then I covered the other (also with wadding) with some upholstery fabric that happened to be to hand, and overstitched the two boards together.
I covered the overstitching with a ribbon trim left over from when I finally mounted Christus Natus Est (whoo-hoo, some stash busting achieved!) and then, at some length and not without difficulty, attached a fine kumihimo cord around the front edge of the panel to frame it nicely.
It will go in that famed (and so far, still mythological) Winter Decoration Corner that I keep on talking about – when I finally create it.
Last month, I had made several unsatisfactory trials with silver thread, and took my headaches to the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show to ask advice on the Golden Hinde stand.
I got to the show with about 40 minutes to go of the Thursday evening late opening, which meant that the aisles were relatively clear and I could actually talk to Sarah. After some discussion, we came up with a very bright and blingy silver Jap. In fact it’s so bright and blingy as to be verging on mirrored, and I was surprised at quite how calm it looked when I finished it.
The reason it is so bright is that the metallic wrapping film is much broader than it was on any of the other silver threads I tried. That carries its’ own penalty, because turning corners becomes trickier – and indeed, in a few cases, rather untidier (click on the picture to enlarge it and look at a few of the corners!). I found that I had to devise new pathways for the couching, and use more short lengths. This panel is markedly more fluffy on the back than the gold one was!
I just have miles of that cloud filling stitch variation to do now (and, of course, choose and apply the braided edging!). The background stitching will help to throw the silver crest into relief. I have laid the completed gold over the silver so that you can see. With decent lighting, it should have enough personality to hold its corner.
If it doesn’t, I will frame it up as a separate panel, and show people just how difficult it was!
Now, you may recall from when I began the first one that there are to be two Crests, one for each panel, balancing each other. Furthermore, since there will be a gauze overlay, everything has to have the visual strength to show through it.
I don’t think that this silver thread has enough force or shine. Even with a fairly strong background using my Cloud Filling variation, to throw it into relief, it will simply disappear.
So I have been experimenting. The edge of the shield, the top of the scroll, and the bottom of the scroll, all use different threads.
All of them are equally insipid in comparison with the gold. I’m afraid that if I use any of these threads for the panel, I will end up with an unbalanced overall appearance with one corner panel seeming very faded in comparison with the other.