Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen a Tweet full of rejoicings last week – I have finished the Hittite Amulet at last! He’s been quite a challenge, and required considerable stores of patience, but I’m very pleased with him. He’s looming out of the darkness very impressively!
I began working on him last July, and got rather less than halfway before I put him away in a boxfile before Christmas when I was getting ready for festive visitors. After Christmas, I decided to concentrate on the Glittering Nightcap, because I was beginning to fear that otherwise I would never finish it, and didn’t begin again on this fellow until May.
Since then I have simply persevered. I’ve not written about him, because in truth there is little to say. Or nué is a simple enough technique – in essence, satin stitch over a metal thread – it is just that there is a lot of stitching needed before any appreciable change is seen.
Although it is a simple technique to describe, doing it well is less so. As you can see from the close up of the head, I’ve not managed to keep the rows perfectly even in their spacing or coverage. Perhaps, although I used pre-shrunk calico as the basis, I should have used two layers to make it sturdier (I hope not, it was tricky enough already!) or perhaps the waverings are owing to stitching over two rows at a time.
Now he can doze quietly in my Dreams of Amarna box while I continue with new pieces…
I had a skein and a half left of the dark silk, after all that panic buying last year. Getting quantities right is almost impossible.
It is months since you last saw the Hittite Amulet. I put him away in a boxfile before Christmas and refused to get him out again until the embroidery on the Glittering Nightcap was finished.
Of course, it takes a while to gather ones’ wits, and restore the “flow” of a piece like thisl. Since there are two alternating tasks – laying the silver thread and then covering it with silk as appropriate – it is hard to develop a sense of momentum. If I succeed, I may find he gallops away with me – which would be gratifying, because I have a lot more ideas for Dreams of Amarna pieces that I want out of my head and onto fabric!
I’ve tautened the fabric again, and I am trying hard to remember not to let the lines of couching sag in the middle. Sometimes I forget and stitch too tightly, but usually only for one row, so the situation does not get out of hand!
This close-up, oblique view, gives you a sense of the ribbed, “grosgrain” type effect of the background, and the speckling of stitches across the Amulet himself that give the light and shade.
I really think it’s working!
There was a slight, panic-stricken, pause in progress on the Hittite Amulet recently. As you can see, I’ve barely completed a third of him, and I’ve used half of my darkest silk. This is a graver situation than I anticipated, because since I bought the thread – three years ago! – the master dyer at Pearsall’s has died and they have closed the company.
I can leave to your imaginations how I felt when that realisation hit home…
Fortunately, the remaining stock was sold to Tristan Brooks Designs in America, and while it is extremely frustrating to have to have thread dyed in England shipped back to England from the States, the two skeins I bought do seem to match well enough. I’m going to alternate strands from the new skeins with strands from the old, all the same – that should help to make sure any change is gradual.
When I was at the Knitting And Stitching Show in Harrogate, I bought an extra skein from Laurelin Specialist Embroidery. The colour is very slightly brighter than the darkest one I am using for the background, but I am hoping that it will help to add a bit of depth and strength to some of the shadows on the Amulet himself.
You can also see in the close-up that I’ve nearly got the rows straight again after their wanderings. Now I know I have to be careful, I hope that the problem won’t arise again.
Now that I have started on the main design element of the Hittite Amulet, I am entering a familiar and disheartening stage. There is so much more to do, it’s very concentrated work, and at the moment, I’ve not done enough to be confident it will work at all.
In fact there is a good chance that until it is completely finished, I won’t be sure that it is working, which in turn means I need to ignore my doubts and just keep at it!
The fact that I have several needles with different shades of thread in them, all working at once, will explain why I can’t do very much at a time – I need to avoid tangling the threads, and as soon as I start to get tired, the threads tie themselves in such convoluted knots they’d make a macramé expert think twice!
This close up should give you an idea of what is involved. I decided to allow the coloured silk stitches on the Amulet to be either across the same pair of threads as the background, or across pairs which are off by one. This should allow me to be a little more precise in colour placement. It may or may not matter, but I felt that since this is such a strange piece, I wanted to have as much flexibility as possible.
I have already discovered that in some ways the straight rows are harder than the spiral that I used for Christus Natus Est. As the backing fabric sags, and the stitching became more widely spaced over the Amulet, I found that the rows were no longer straight. I’ve spent several sets of rows geting the rows more or less straight again, which was just a little scary!
So, with the Hittite Amulet painted on my fabric, stretched, and ready to go, I have now settled down to stitch. I have decided to aim for a more strongly corded effect in the background of this piece than I used for Christus Natus Est, so each row of stitches will be worked over two rows of silver.
This in turn means that I will spend a lot of time wrangling the springy silver thread to make it lie close and straight. Even the first row was a challenge, and as I reach the core of the spool and find the thread that has been wound closely around it, I am expecting the challenge to become even more challenging!
Still, nothing easy was ever worth doing – so they say…
This second photo shows the stitching halfway along the third row of background at the base of the piece. You can see the ribbed effect is already building up, and it will create a good strong background. If I get the rest of it right, the Amulet should almost pop out of the surface at me!
I am still trying to decide how to organise my stitching of the Amulet himself, but I plan to allow the silver to show through across the entire design, spacing my silk stitches accordingly. The stitches for the design may cover two silver threads or only one, and I am going to try to space them using the original black and white photo for guidance, to create some sense of the shadows breaking up across the surface.
Since I finished the Lotus Flower Tile Fragment, I haven’t had a piece for the Dreams of Amarna to work on. I’ve been thinking about several, of course, but in combination with the Online University projects I’m working on and my sudden idea for the Vision Of Placidus, none of them really caught fire.
Then I filled very dull, dreary afternoon – pouring with rain, with no light to embroider by (remind me, it’s summer here in the northern hemisphere, right?) – with the preparations for working the solo version of the Hittite Amulet. He’s going to be worked in or nué – actually argent nué, since I’ll be using a silver thread! – so the first thing to do was prepare the base fabric.
There were two photos from the EES to choose from, one of them rather moody, with the amulet seeming to look out from the black background, and the other, arguably better lit, and full face rather than three-quarter. Guess which I chose?
Yes, of course, the moody, dramatic one!
It’s very hard to trace a picture that doesn’t show everything you know is there. You will see that the lines I’ve traced produce a sketchy effect, not complete detail. That’s because I decided to paint more of the details onto the background fabric to help guide my needle, and the lines were really only there to guide my brush!
It may seem that creating this painted panel is a lot of work that will be completely hidden, but while my other or nué panel, Christus Natus Est, had simple sweeping lines, and the coloured background was merely there to prevent cream calico from grinning through any gaps, the Hittite Amulet is a very much more intricate design. Creating my painted version putting darks and lights in the right places took immense concentration and I would hate to have to concentrate that hard on the design when the execution is going to be so challenging.
Wish me luck!
I’m pleased with the progress I’m making on the panel now, but I’m becoming slightly anxious that I might run out of the gold thread before I finish the panel. I don’t know how thick the core is at the centre of the spool, and I’ve noticed that the kinks in the gold thread are getting tighter and more stubborn. If I do run out, that will put paid to the idea of photographing the finished piece for this year’s Christmas card.
You can see from this shot that the extra thickness of the silk thread forming the star is creating an extra curve in the lines of gold. If I were working a classical piece of or nué, with straight lines of gold, I would be trying to space the lines to reduce the effect, or I would have chosen a finer silk thread, with the same aim. In this case, however, I am quite happy to add an extra couple of curves to the gold lines, because it will add life and movement to the background.
If I have enough gold thread, I will rework the corner that is infilling that triangle on the left-hand side. I don’t think that the bends in the thread work as well as they might, and they are revealing the core more than I like. I need to finish the rest of the panel first, though.
As you can see, my recent obsession with this panel is paying off. I’ve finished the two bottom corners of the panel, and sunk all the loose ends. The red of St Joseph’s robe is enlivened with the rust sprinkled through it. Under normal lighting it barely shows, but it does make a slight difference, and with a strong side light, it warms up the red and increases the contrast with the blue of the Virgin’s robe. Good. I’d hate to have to unpick it!
The view of the whole thing shows that I have now only got the star to do in silk – all the other design elements are in. I still have to add St Joseph’s halo, but I’m running slightly short on the cream silk thread and I want to get the star in before I start going back to the haloes.
I’ve also begun to correct the curve of the Virgin’s robe. At the moment it is much too straight, so I am trying to curve it some more.
In fact it is the tidying up of small details such as this which might interfere with my ambition to have this finished by mid-November. I’ll have to continue to tweak until it looks right, and who knows how much I will need to do?
I’ve now got to the stage where I’ve started to leave uncovered gold thread at the bottom, and the sections of silk are reducing in size again. I’ve introduced a third shade of red into St Joseph’s robe, as well. It barely shows in most lights, but I think that it will make a difference in the end, by creating a sort of “ripple” in the appearance of the colour.
While I’ve been stitching I’ve been trying to see whether this interpretation of my mother’s original design says something different to the other versions. What occurs to me now as I look at the photo is that the shape of the Christ Child reminds me of the many Renaissance Nativity paintings in which He is shown with arms outstretched, prefiguring the Crucifixion.
I’ve also been thinking about mounting the piece when it’s finished. I went to the framing shop and looked at their gold card (all much too green), and then thought, since it’s a textile piece, maybe the mount should be textile too. There’s a fabric shop just around the corner, and although they didn’t have anything that was immediately suitable without alteration, they did have a sort of flimsy “cloth-of-gold” which gave me an idea. I’ve overlaid two layers of amber net over the cloth-of-golf in this photo, and the trimmed the edge with a piece of braid I found somewhere else. If I do this it will be nearly as much work as the embroidery was, so I’m hoping that I might have another idea soon!