Underside couching, I’ve decided, is rather like satin stitch. In concept it is simple, not to say obvious. The execution, accurately and aesthetically, is very much less so!
I had intended to use the gold thread left over from the Amarna Family Group as my thread for William’s background, in the interests of economy, if nothing else, but then I had advice from Tanya Bentham and others, to at least try the Smooth Passing, which might for a multitude of reasons behave rather better.
So here you see the second practice block started, again using silver, but this time smooth passing thread.
The passing thread is, as suggested, much pleasanter to use, and creates a smoother and less shadowed surface, which in turn, I think, should help the pattern I intend to use. Which, you may note, I’ve not yet got around to practicing!
However, that brings me to my decision. I do not think that I can be certain that the spool of Gold Smooth Passing I have left over from a Thistle Threads project will finish the job, so I shall have to buy some smooth passing. And it turns out that Gold comes in more than one shade!
The decisions are never at an end, are they…
And since I’m working on pulling the Amarna pieces together properly at present, I can’t claim to be giving my whole mind to the decision-making!
You may recall that when I had finished the or nué I started to apply it to the stela and was very upset because it did not look at all right.
Oddly, it seemed to need backup, as it were. So I thought – Ancient Egypt, gold, let’s give it a gold cushion, as it were.
Only to be less than thrilled with the result. I will grant you that merely pinned in place and without smoothing out the “cushion”, it wasn’t going to look its best, but still..
It has been leering at me across the living room for some months now, and every time I’ve caught sight of it, my head has dropped.
But then I had a thought – maybe what I need to do is pull out the colours in the border.
So I bought a couple of metres of satin ribbon in decreasing sizes, and spent quite some time attaching them to one another down one edge.
This is the result, attached in a very off-hand fashion, to be stared at for a while..
I think it’s better.
The question is, is it Best?
The crosses in place, and the whole border looking very much like a Book of Hours, or at least, a rather tame Book of Hours, I sat back and drew breath.
Having got William and his border done, and being really very pleased with how he’s turned out, I now need to tackle the sky. And from the first, I have intended the sky to be in basketweave pattern underside couching, which is an entirely new technique to me.
Regular readers may have spotted that I only rarely practice beforehand, regardless of the technique, preferring to throw myself headlong into the novelty, mind concentrated by terror. The exception tends to be in goldwork, when an exception occurs, and indeed, I had some of the fabric stretched in a frame, ready to practice, well before I had got William to that stage of finishing. Mindful of the advice from Tanya Bentham’s Opus Anglicanum book, however, I decided not to try practicing while I was still working the silk. In winter it is hard enough to keep the hands from catching on silk without making it worse by using metal threads!
I’m using silver for my practice pieces. One could practice with silk, or pearl cotton, but they would both spread and cover any failure to keep the lines close. I think this silver is the same size as the gold I intend to use, so it will make a better practice material.
It’s easy enough to understand the principle underlying underside couching, but there are all sorts of hazards, As always, I suspect that once the management of the thread becomes second nature, all the difficulties will fall away, but packing the thread closely without cramming, making sure the stitches lie happily on the surface, and stopping the couching thread (a sturdy linen, beeswaxed before use) from showing, are all proving challenging at present.
I am determined to practice this properly, so I’m going to do this inch-wide strip before even considering practicing the basketweave pattern.
I have been looking further at Ko-fi, and how it might be used as a shop front, at least for digital items, and as an experiment, I’ve uploaded the Hug For A Handbag instructions to my Ko-fi Shop as a free/pay what you feel download. If anyone would like to go through the process and tell me what it’s like, and give me the opportunity to see what happens from this side, I’d be very grateful!
As I forecast, I had a rather entertainingly messy time with plaster bandage and acrylic paint to create my Trinket Tree.
As you can see, foamcore, wire, crumpled paper and lots of tape were involved, as well as some tissue paper to vary the texture a little. Although I needn’t have worried – now the Trinket Tree is loaded, you can barely see it!
At present it sits on the hall table – the table it is on for this photograph is where I stitch and usually covered with bits and pieces relating to the current task. Not a good place for a glass dome, although it fits so neatly over the trinket tree’s base, that it’s quite hard to knock adrift!
Of course, as I was unpicking the seat, I had to unpick more than just the seat so that I could get to the stitches I needed to unpick (are you keeping up?!). I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the result was some rather uncontrolled gold thread flapping loose. I found myself becoming very afraid that I would end up crossing the gold thread, and that would never do!
So I found a nice, slippy machine thread and used it to tack down the thread in the middle of the unstitched area. I didn’t want to be too thorough, in case I ended up leaving gaps that weren’t there originally, but at the same time I had to control all the threads..
Reinstating the seat was actually rather less troubling than Akhenaten’s kilt, which required some extra thinking about, because of course pleats falling close together, and pleats opened a little as they curve around the body look rather different.
But this is now at the stage where I need to start considering how to mount it, which in turn means, I think, deciding how to assemble a velvet-covered stela. I may need some help…
Episode 55 of SlowTV Stitchery is now live, in which I declare a Year of Experiments, muse on lessons from The Camberwell, and consider the need to develop thread-wrangling techniques.
It has been some time since I reported on the Amarna Family Group, and that is partly because, when I had finished the basic design, I was more than a litttle uncertain how much detail I wanted to add, and quite frankly, I was a little unnerved by the mere idea of adding any detail at all!
However, eventually, I gathered my courage in both hands, and started to make an attempt. First, a few lighter and darker purple stitches on the grapes – I may decide to add more, but I don’t want the details to overwhelm the design.
And this is the point at which I went astray. Whitening the kilt with dark lines for the creases and additional white stitches was rather difficult and stressful, so I moved on to tackle the seat. I tried to add enough details to bring the seat to life and pull it away from the background, but instead found it too detailed, too fussy, drawing the eye away from the warmth of the family group and emphasizing the furniture. Not at all what I wanted.
I left it alone overnight, hoping that it would settle together and I would see it with a clearer eye.
It didn’t settle together, and I did see it with a clearer eye. I was so frustrated and upset, I didn’t stop to take a picture, but sat down, picked up scissors, stitch ripper, tweezers, and a blunt tapestry needle, and unpicked it.
It took all day.
That was some time ago, so Episode 50 of SlowTV Stitchery is about Something Else Entirely. A fishy experiment is introduced and there are some musings on the blending of threads.
As I kept on with the little girls, of course, I kept on with Nefertiti, and eventually tackled the famous profile, which worked better than I feared, although I will admit that the lighting here doesn’t let the skin colour show as much against the gold as it does in real life. Next was the gold uraeus on the headdress, which, as I commented when I worked Akhenaten’s uraeus, does feel rather “peak Ancient Egypt” in the use of gold to hold down gold! Still, the royal blue against the golds is enough to make the heart sing.
You can see here that the blue in Nefertiti’s skirt has been replaced – all but one stitch, which I will have to deal with in the “details” phase of this one – the list for which is getting increasingly full of anxieties!
Nefertiti’s feet were among the anxieties, but as you can see from this photo, just leaving them right to the end was increasingly untenable, in spite of the stool leg and the foot cushion to anchor the gold threads.
However, the difficulty of working them starting away from the rest of the body was also considerable, and I do think I made the right decision in waiting until I could start from the legs!
I’m still not sure whether I will fill in some of the sections of the stool Nefertiti is sitting on. At the moment, it looks strong, but it doesn’t separate itself from the background as much as perhaps it should, especially as the figures are looking so striking. I don’t want Nefertiti to look as though she’s sitting on air!
Episode 28 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live, and it considers the post mortem reputations of kings, the perils of scarifying a lawn, and the expertise of the laundries of Amarna.
So, edges. Obviously, with the straight version of this technique, the edges are simple – either every single one is plunged, or maybe every other one, if the threads are used doubled. I have a strong aversion to plunging threads, I hate waste, and I just couldn’t face the tangles I experienced when I was working on Christus Natus Est.
So the edges of this piece are being done simply by turning the thread back on itself. I will, of course, have to cut the thread to fill in the corners, but that’s much less fuss, and I am intending to oversew each end very firmly, and not plunge the threads at all.
I began on Nefertiti’s dress intending to do something like I’d done with the pleats on Akhenaten’s kilt, but making the lines more definite.
Having started, though, I decided it wasn’t at all satisfactory. Whether it was the wrong colour, the wrong resolution (not that I can make the lines any narrower!), or simply not simple and crisp enough, I’m not sure. I was sure that it needed to come out.
So that’s what I did.
Unpicking is really not fun, and some of the white silk fell victim to my unpicker, so the raggy bits had to be eased to the back and tidied up before I could even think about reinstating the white.
Notice, however, that the little girls are making pretty good sense just as they are!
The next episode of Slow TV Stitchery is up – Episode 24 – which covers Looking ahead to The Next Epic Project, lessons from the Impressionists, and the trick of making a design’s evolution look “meant”. Do go and have a look!
In the end, I sighed, consigned the Cretan memories to perdition, and decided to do the little girls in the same colour as their parents. However, while I was looking at the tangle of limbs and bodies of the two smaller girls on Nefertiti’s lap, I thought that something definite would need to be done to keep them from turning into an amorphous tangle of limbs, something like one of my early memories of my two big cousins. I’ve since got my cousins separated in my head, but I thought it would be nice to keep Nefertiti’s daughters individual from the start!
So I started putting in an outline on the eldest daughter, using a fine, very dark brown thread from Devere Yarns.
Only to stare at it with hostility, because it somehow managed to look a bit too clunky!
Considering that Devere silks are really very fine, this is quite an achievement, although I’ll admit it wasn’t one I particularly cherish.
So I decided to just keep working on the “block colours” of the design and trust to later inspiration to find out how to keep the girls from blurring into an undifferentiated shape. I’ve left a few deliberate gaps where limbs cross, to help the design “read” properly.
And I’m not sure, now, that they really need anything else…
The video is well in advance of these posts, because I lost the photos I was going to use. Heigh-ho. Anyway, enjoy Episode Twenty Two, in which, among other matters, the mathematical concept of “triviality” is discussed…!
I’ve decided to work spiral Or Nué, as I did for Christus Natus Est, rather than the straight version I used for the Hittite Amulet. It creates more of a sense of movement, and that is very much in keeping with Amarna period art.
That, however, meant that I had to work out where to start the spiral, and as I mentioned on the first video, I had several options. The first was simply to start in the middle of the piece, but I felt that would either look very static, or, almost worse, create a rather 70s psychedelic vibe, not at all appropriate! The next three options could all be taken as emphasizing interpretations of the story of Akhenaten and Amarna. One of these was to centre the spiral in the centre of the Aten – but to be honest, for all Atenism is seen as one of the very earliest adventures in monotheism, that didn’t seem to me to reflect the stories that filter through Mary Chubb’s book.
So then I had a choice between centring the spiral on Akhenaten’s head, to reflect the idea that he espoused Atenism as a political ploy to break the power of the priests of Amun at Thebes, or centring it on his heart, to suggest that he believed he’d received a genuine religious revelation. You can see which I chose!
The second video is here, and will show you some of the progress to this point, as well as my musings as I stitch. I have a few more quandaries to sort out, but you’ll hear about those in the next episode, as I tackle them. As before, if you have any questions about what I’ve said in the video, or what I’ve done, please ask, and I will do my best to give you a sensible and useful response!