In the case of these plants, instead of stem stitch on either side of the stems, I narrowed and neatened them with a single felting needle, and then added feather stitch over the top, using another of those lovely Gumnut Yarns. The flowers have a flourish of Cretan Stitch, with two colours at the base.
Then I started to think about the leaves. At first, I was going to add fragments of felt for all of them – the original fresco looks as though they are in a single colour – but then I reminded myself that I’m an embroiderer, and after all, texture is one of the reasons why.
The back couple of stems have felt leaves, but then I used loose, large split stitches in Persian Yarn. This maybe looks a little more dense and “jungle-y” than the original fresco, but the Nile valley is famously fertile, after all…
The sharp, curved leaves on the other side were a little harder to deal with.
In the end I decided to make life easier for myself by putting in running stitch curves to help me place them. I’ve spaced them out a little more than in the fresco itself, because the variegated wool thread has created a lot more activity in the embroidered leaves than the frescoed ones.
I think that’s clear in this photo of this section. The sharp, curving shapes, the variegated thread and the varying stitch direction all create a rather busy effect, and I’m even thinking of removing the lighter pink stitches in the flowers. That decision can wait until everything is in place.
I wanted to do something slightly different with the pink flowers, but still modify the colour with stitching. The braid stitch made the shape too angular, and emphasized the edges too much; up-and-down buttonhole stitch, a favourite from the Jacobean Coat, might do a better job. Certainly, it provides a delicate edge that doesn’t impose itself too much.
You will see that the left-hand side looks sharper than the right hand side. There is stitching and there has been extra needlefelting on the stems and flowers, while the right-hand side still looks rough, like a quick, splodgy sketch. I found I rather enjoyed narrowing the stems and rounding them off – by hand, with a single needle, not the embellisher, of course. There’s a gap in one of the stems because the calf will go over the top!
I may not have managed quite enough curve and flow in the lighter stems, but we will see how I manage to develop them later. They will have leaves added, and that will change the effect and the emphasis…
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…
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..
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….
I’m continuing to experiment with my embellisher, trying to learn new tricks.
I’ve found a photo of the Dig House from a different view to the previous one I tried, and cut out some pieces of felt to represent the trees and the various pieces of building. It’s not going to be a very accurate representation, because, firstly, my cutting wasn’t as accurate as it could have been, and second, I’ve found that needlefelting doesn’t always go to plan.
That said, a bit of stitchery helps to keep the pieces at least approximately in place.
I felt the felt of the trees looked a bit too solid, and snipped holes in it, snipped the edges, and then tugged and tweaked at it to open up the fabric.
Then I started to use my embellisher. And oh joy, a needle broke! I changed the needle plate and slowed down a bit after that. It turns out that three layers of even this fairly light felt are a bit much for the machine.
However, after much slow and careful embellishing, I have this.
The trees look much better now, with the edges and the holes satisfactorily destroyed and battered around the edges. The various layers of felt are melting into one another and flattening together.
This should at least provide me with an interesting basis for further stitched details!
I’ve reached a sort of sticking point with the Modern StitchOff project, so I’ve decided to pause and think about it.
I took the blanket outside (all four and three-quarter pounds of it!) and hung it on the washing line to stare at, and photograph for you.
This is the reverse side – that is, the side you don’t see when sitting at the embellisher, trying not to break needles.
This is the front. It can be quite fluffy – the hexagonal net keeps fibre in place while embellishing, but at the cost of sometimes failing to realise it hasn’t been firmly enough attached. I’m learning that I need to make a first pass with the net, trying to be thorough, but then take off the net and go over the same area again.
I’m also noticing that although I used two different types of felt for the leaf shapes, and they behave differently under the needles, the effect on front and back is sufficiently similar that in future I will pick the felt which felts easily (if you follow me!).
The reverse has a rather intriguing spotty effect. When there’s only one layer of embellishing it is easy to see that it is one tiny dot of colour for every needle (which makes sense!). The front varies rather more, sometimes flat and densely textured by the needles, sometimes fluffy and fly away.
My challenge now is to work out how to extend the colour and texture to the rest of the blanket, and then to decide, do I add some lines of roving, and if so, how. Although if anyone suggests using a hand-embellisher, my howls of outrage will be heard by NASA’s “Juno”!
I’ve started adding more detail with needle and thread. The chevron pattern, the eyes, and the detail on the beak are all made using straight stitches in single strands of Appletons wool. I can’t think where I got a whole series of greys, unless it’s from hand-me-downs. I’m glad I have them now, but it isn’t a colour I much like and I can’t imagine going out and buying them!
For the legs, I have used three different colours of wool in the needle. I can see that for all my staring at photographs and trying to sketch, I’ve not really got a clear or accurate idea of the details of goose anatomy! And somehow, for all my care in placing the cut out felt geese, they’ve ended up attached in not-quite-the-right place.
Still, let’s not despair.
I’ve also added some ground below the the geese. Three strands of different colours of wool, again. I did a sort of loopy knot stitch crossed with a split stitch, which I couldn’t reproduce if I tried. But it produces a very good broken-ground effect, so as long as I don’t decide I need more ground, we’ll be fine.
Then I sat down at the embellisher and tried to blend the fabrics together. This meant quite heavy embellishing, but fortunately the fabrics are none of them dense, so there was room for the fibres to mingle.
When I noticed that the legs weren’t getting caught in, I twisted some more threads around them. That’s better.
Then another pause. Do I add leaves, to match my vague memory, or shall I leave well alone?