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.

The Faience Necklace – still thinking…

Necklace Photo (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)
Faience Necklace (Copyright The Egypt Exploration Society)

After her discovery of the piece of tile that started it all, the first find that Mary Chubb describes is a faience necklace, discovered by the team then in Egypt, and written up in the Director’s Report which she has to disentangle and re-type legibly (remember, in the 1920s, typing wasn’t a skill that everyone had had to develop). It sounds completely enchanting, and yet I’m struggling to bring it to life.

In fact I last wrote about it in 2015, and I’m still wrestling with ways to represent it! I’ve already abandoned any idea of working a portrait of it (as it were). As you can see from the black and white photo, it’s crammed with faience beads, and it’s hard to imagine making a good stitchable design of it. So I’ve cut out some watercoloured beads, and pushed them around, taking photos as I go. Back to primary school!

Then another suggestion came in (thank you @IndiaGraceDsgns ), to think about mandalas…

And now I’m thinking about “samplers” of beads which still recall the way these broad collars and necklaces are sometimes displayed in museums.

I’m planning on using flat silks, when I finally pick one (comments, anyone?), and of course, the next question will be: what colour fabric I will be stitching it on?

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.

Finishing the Head of Nefertiti

Unless I decide otherwise, the head of Nefertiti is now finished.

Signature Cartouche
Signature Cartouche

I’ve worked my Morse Code cartouche slightly differently this time, using cross stitch for the dots, long armed cross stitch for the dashes, and counted running stitch for the frame. This works rather well, so it’s a possibility for any eventual canvaswork projects in the future.

However, in this instance it is almost completely invisible, so I may yet unpick it and rework it twice the size, with four threads in each direction instead of two.

Finished Head Of Nefertiti
Finished Head Of Nefertiti

In the end, if you recall, I decided to work Nefertiti’s cartouche, both the hieroglyphs and the frame, in reverse chain stitch using untwisted silk.

The rays of the Aten are worked in reverse chain stitch, but using hand twisted silk.

I am a little concerned about balance and the strength of the design, but when I was playing with my photos of of the finished panel, I noticed that when I cropped the picture closely, rather than including all of the length I have stitched of the rays of the Aten, it was much improved.

That happened with the Camberwell Panel, and with Loading the Felucca, as well, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

And I really should remember to play with that sort of detail when I am mounting and finishing my embroideries!

The Cartouche for the Head of Nefertiti

Trials For Cartouche
Trials For Cartouche

There were many false starts when I came to work on the cartouche. The fabric is under such tension, in order to work the metal and silk stitches, that it’s hard not to create something that looks very fragile and wispy.

Here you see stem stitches, back stitches, straight stitches, chain stitches of different lengths, some worked using the same twisted thread I used for the rays of the Aten, and some in untwisted thread of the same thickness.

And I didn’t like any of them.

In fact, I ended up doubling the thickness of the thread, but not actually twisting it. This creates a more definite line, and using reverse chain stitch throughout maintains the sense of continuity with the rays of the Aten.

Trial Hungarian Braided
Trial Hungarian Braided

Once I had finished the hieroglyphs, I had to work the frame of the cartouche, and guess what – false starts here as well.

I was rather saddened that among the stitches tried was one of my favourites, Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch, and that, like several others, ended up being sliced out with a penknife. A rather nice penknife with a mother of pearl handle, from a vintage sewing set, but it’s frustrating to dismiss a favourite stitch, even when it’s because you don’t think it works in the context.

There was a lot of this!
There was a lot of this!

After much to-ing and fro-ing, and a good few “ouches” from my recalcitrant sub-scapularis muscle, I finally got the cartouche finished.

I’m not entirely sure I like the finished result, so it is sitting in the living room, being stared at.

More Progress – at long last

Gold Stitching Done
Gold Stitching Done

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.

Starting The Hillocks
Starting The Hillocks

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.

Better Worked From The Back
Better Worked From The Back

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.

A Sideways View
A Sideways View

And here is the first hillock, finished and fluffy. It looks as though it would be beautifully soft underfoot, doesn’t it!