Nefertiti Shawl – an excursion into duality

Trying To Recover The Pattern
Trying To Recover The Pattern

Having completed one green panel, I decided that I wanted the other green panel to be not quite the same, and I couldn’t work out how to approach keeping the family resemblance and maintaining some sense of balance.

So I asked The Australian, who you may remember is also a mathematician. He looked at me in some perplexity for a while. In fact, as I explained the layers of patterns I’d created, he eyed me more than a little askance, and then went very quiet for a while (you’d think he’d be used to it by now…).

Finally, he suggested I think about duality. Now, this isn’t a philosphical thing – it’s quite tightly defined, in the geometrical sense, at least – see this Wikipedia page – so after some discussion over lunch, we decided that if I were to regard the elements of the two green panels as duals of one another, it would give me a systematic way to approach the second one, rather than flailing around randomly.

Now I had to decide what was what’s dual….

For example, in the first panel, I chose between floss silk or stranded silk, and in the case of stranded, between solid colour and variegated; then in terms of stitch orientation (going clockwise), between vertical, diagonal, horizontal and the other diagonal. In this context, I’m not sticking to the idea of a binary choice, so for example with stitch orientation I will go to the next 45degree angle around the clock face, while with the thread, I’m going to pick some ordering of variegated stranded, plain stranded and variegated floss and then move along to the next in that sequence.

Jacobean Trellis
Jacobean Trellis

In terms of the stitch choice, essentially there are four: Jacobean trellis, darning stitch (rows of irregular running stitch, in effect), Bokhara couching, and Woven Stitch.

Woven Stitch
Woven Stitch

I can choose to make Bokhara Couching and darning stitch each other’s duals – that will move the heaviest stitching to different places in the panel.

The other two will be each other’s duals, with the added complication that they have each involved two different threads.

Have I simplified my life or complicated it?

Green panels, Nefertiti Shawl

Completed Green Panel
Completed Green Panel

There are two green panels in the design of the Shawl, which is based on the polychrome panel around Nefertiti’s famous (and unique-to-her) headdress, and they’ve been giving me no end of trouble.

If I’m completely honest, in fact, this whole piece has been giving me no end of trouble. The fabric is particularly mobile (although not quite as bad as that other pashmina I did!), and it’s been hard to find stitches that work comfortably. Originally I was working it in the hand, and that made it even harder.

Close Up Of Progression
Close Up Of Progression

In the end I outlined the design sections with chain stitch, and then picked a few stitches and threads. I tried to get some sense of variation in stitch density as well as colour. So there are complete coverage sections (using Bokhara Couching) and almost-no-coverage sections (using darning stitches) and almost everything in between (everything else)!

I’ve also changed and counterchanged between variegated and solid colours, and between floss silk and stranded silk. This is one of the reasons I ended up needing The Australian’s mathematical eye to help me keep track of the pattern I was building up in my haphazard way!

Nefertiti Shawl – partial panels

Partial Red Panel
Partial Red Panel

There are partial red panels at the edges of the Shawl, and as I want the colours to run the whole way across, clearly I have to stitch them. While I was mulling over the blue panels and the green ones, I carried on with those partial panels.

Stitch placement diagram 1
Stitch placement diagram 1

The central circles in all cases are in chain stitch and stem stitch, but I wanted a variety of effects in the main circles. That wasn’t as easy to achieve as you might think, for all my extensive repertoire of stitches! I found “German Knotted Blanket Stitch” in Barbara Snook’s “Embroidery Stitches”, and Palestrina and Loop Stitch are old friends, but by this point I’d managed to rack my brain into remembering most of those..

Edge Panel in red
Edge Panel in red

I was beginning to be at my wits end for stitches, and spent some time rummaging in Edith John’s “Creative Stitches” and “New Stitches for Embroidery”. Many of them would be easier in a slightly stiffer thread at a slightly larger scale, so I find myself wondering what Miss John devised her stitches for.

Graphic of stitch choice
Graphic of stitch choice

The full circles here are in stitches which are old friends, but the partial circles are some of hers. Floral Feather is a feather stitch with an upside down blanket stitch beside it, and I quite fell in love with it. I’ll be looking for another opportunity to use that one!.

Centre Chain stitch alternates single chain with fly stitch, starting each chain stitch within the previous one. That might be a way to vary textures with Wheatear Stitch, while still keeping the overall pattern. And Double Chain Stitch places a chain stitch and an open chain stitch side by side, alternating the ordering to create a checked effect.

Nefertiti Shawl – the second pair of blue panels

Trialling Sorbello Stitch
Trialling Sorbello Stitch as a background

You may recall that I wasn’t entirely happy with the the first two blue panels. I’m still not entirely sure why, but I decided that I would work the second pair rather differently.

The outline of the pillar like shape, this time, was in Vandyke stitch using a Stef Francis variegated silk. Tricky, on such a mobile fabric, but I liked it enough to keep going, and moved on to a background using Sorbello Stitch. I rather like Sorbello Stitch – I used it for the villages on the Map of Amarna – and because I was working it at a tiny scale, the mobility of the fabric wasn’t a huge problem.

Second Version of the blue panel

On to the internals of the pillar like shape, and I started with a Ceylon stitch wheel. This is a needlelace stitch, and even with the fabric in a hoop, tension was an interesting challenge…

I’ve also made the background a chequerboard of Sorbello Stitches in two shades of blue. I must have really enjoyed myself!

Finally, I filled the rest of the body of the pillar with Ceylon Stitch. Tension was even more of a problem here, and I may have to come back to this and tweak it, restitch it, or even change my mind again. We’ll see!

In the meantime, however, I have to do another one on the other side of the panel.

Finally, a way forward

Where I had Got To..
Where I had Got To..

The Nefertiti Shawl started with great enthusiasm, but I ran into a few hitches. I’m not at all confident of the blue panels, and my first couple of efforts on the green ones took me nowhere at all.

Chain Stitch outlines, green section
Chain Stitch outlines, green section

Finally, I came up with a possible way forward. The scale pattern is taken from one of the Tutankhamen coffin panels, among other places, and each scale is outlined in gold, but the coloured fill is in progressively darker colours, not edged.

I’ve edged the scales with a very pale shade, and outlined the colour progressions in darker shades. The fabric is very mobile, so a little more definition may help..

Dark and mid shades, green section
Dark and mid shades, green section

I’ve picked several filling stitches, and I’m working them in various orientations, and several different combinations of solid and overdyed colours in stranded silk and silk floss.

That paragraph glosses over some considerable confusion and head scratching. Being so closely involved, I lost track of the sequence of patterns, and had to call for the assistance of The Australian’s mathematical and analytical eye!

Lost Momentum…

Where I had Got To..
Where I had Got To..

I’ve run into a bit of a problem here. I still love the idea, and I still want to finish the Nefertiti Shawl, but I’ve lost all momentum, and all sense of structure.

Red and Blue Sections
Red and Blue Sections

I’m happy with all the red circles. I like the colour variation and the unevenness – in real life, in a half-decent light, which winter in Britain rarely provides, there’s a vibrant, lively feel, and the use of the line stitches reflects the original pattern I used for the filling. Good.

Blue Section
Blue Section

The blue section is where the trouble started. I’ve done two of them already in spite of my doubts because I’ve come across all too many instances where a piece only worked when I’d kept on through the doubts.

I’m not sure whether it is the yarns, the colours, or the stitches that are the problem, or even whether there is a problem at all.

The pashmina is in a lovely twill weave which flows beautifully, but it’s quite fine, and a lot of the threads are thicker.

Green Section
Green Section

But the problems of the blue section fade into nothing when I get to the green. I love the overlapping scale pattern, and I was really looking forward to stitching it. But I can’t find a pattern of stitching that works, and again, I’m not sure whether this is the colour, the thread, or the stitch.

I have no idea how to sort this one out. Unless inspiration strikes, it will be some time before you see it again.

The Red Panel on the Nefertiti Shawl – Part Three

More Circles
More Circles

Third installment..

Remember, the two inner circles are always in the same stitches – Open Chain Stitch, and Stem Stitch.

The two outer circles in this case are in Herringbone Stitch, and Half-Chevron Stitch. I’m a little disappointed that neither the counterchanges of colour nor the counterchanges of thread seem to show in this photo. I assure you, they were there when I worked it!

Still More Circles
Still More Circles

The first of these is Breton Stitch, which is a little like Herringbone stitch with added twist. I’m sure I could have done it with the twist towards the outside, but I think like this, it will balance some of the other circles which have a strong edge.

The second is Wheatear Stitch, which I have found myself turning to every now and again, although maybe not often enough. It produces a spiky but continuous line, so while it has definite uses, it is also one which doesn’t work in all contexts. That  said, I enjoyed working it, so maybe I will be able to tweak either the context or the stitch, so as to use it more…!

This pashmina is going to be quite the stitch sampler, isn’t it!

The Red Panel on the Nefertiti Shawl – Part Two

More circles..
More circles..

Moving on to the next set of stitches…

The circles weren’t perfectly drawn, so the slightly wonky appearance of perspective is partly owing to that. The lighter coverage is Cretan Stitch. I often have trouble using cretan stitch in my more figurative projects, so I’m hoping that being reminded of it will help me to find uses for it in future. Up and Down Buttonhole stitch is an old favourite, as long term readers will know. I’ve done it more neatly, but I always enjoy stitching it.

Still More Circles
Still More Circles

This pair was actually among the last to be finished. Italian Border Stitch can be described as a fly stitch with a French Knot instead of a straight stitch. First I did a single row, and it looked a bit thin, so I added a second layer. Much better!

The second circle is in Chained Feather Stitch. This one curves well around  the circle, and has something of the feel of a victor’s laurel wreath about it. Maybe an omen for me finally finishing the Dreams of Amarna in the next year?

The Red Panel on the Nefertiti Shawl – Part One

Two circles
Two circles

Once the colour scheme was sorted out, I decided that I was going to try my usual trick again. There are elements of the panel which will be the same, and other elements which will change. The combination ensures that there is interest everywhere, but rhythm and similarity to help the eye rest.

So, the two inner circles are open chain stitch for the innermost one – at about the largest scale at which open chain stitch works without decoration, which is tiny! – and simple stem stitch. Furthermore, the open chain stitch always uses the thread used for the outermost circle, and the stem stitch counterchanges to a different weight and tone of thread.

The first circle here is done in Chained Blanket stitch using a silk perle in a warm russett-y red. Chained blanket stitch is one I’ve rarely used, but I’ve decided I like it. It produces a strong edge, and a pleasing texture. The second circle is in a rather finer silk thread, with a blueish tone – counterchange again, you see. This time I used Closed Feather stitch, which is one of the old faithfuls…

Two more circles
Two more circles

The next two continue the theme…

The outer circles are in Basque Stitch (top), which is another stitch with a family resemblance to chain stitch and blanket stitch, this time using two strands of stranded silk, and Chevron Stitch, in another silk perle. Chevron Stitch is an old friend, but as you see, it doesn’t run happily around curves – or at least, not curves as tight as this.

Still, the counterchanges of russet against burgundy, thick against thin thread, same stitches against new stitches, all seem to be working so far…

Progress on the Nefertiti Shawl – the frame

Golden Border
Golden Border

The internal borders of the Nefertiti Shawl, outlining the various coloured blocks, turned out to be fairly easy, as they were part of the inspiration that struck me when I was laying out the pashmina to transfer a design to it. The threads are all silk, with a soft perle used for the chain stitch. The vertical internal borders ended up as two rows of chain stitch, which should define the coloured blocks nicely.

The horizontal border consisted of two rows of chain stitch, in the same variegated silk thread, bordering a single row of cable chain stitch in a much shinier silk thread, which turned out to have a mind of its own. It kept trying to tie itself in knots, it twisted into snarls, and it unwrapped itself when I tried to finish off ends. But it looks lovely!

Wavy Chain Row
Wavy Chain Row

My design ideas put two lines of gold on either side of the coloured blocks that I’ve taken from Nefertiti’s crown. I didn’t want to do them the same, so I decided to make the rows nearest to the coloured blocks slightly wider. Then I had a wonderful rummage in my books of stitches and chose to take the opportunity, since the rows are straight, to use the Wavy Chain Stitch I found when I was doing the Circle Skirt and couldn’t get to curve. It works beautifully on the straight!

Shell Chain Row
Shell Chain Row

The outer lines, I decided should be narrower. Shell Chain Stitch seemed to fit the bill perfectly. It belongs to the same family – chain stitch – but produces a light, almost textured effect.

Having made all my decisions, it became a matter of sitting quietly, doing miles of chain stitch variations.  The coloured panels will follow later…