I’m practically neighing with excitement: after well over three years (I first mentioned him on FoF in November 2018) Hengest the Medieval Unicorn is finally nearing completion!
But there are, to employ a horsy metaphor, a few hurdles to overcome before we get to the finishing line, and I’m hoping they don’t turn into a full-blown steeple chase. One of these things is his horn. Since his conception Hengest has diverged fairly dramatically from the horse on the Steeple Aston cope which inspired him, not least by becoming a unicorn. The original, therefore, has no horn which I could use as a model. Now I had envisaged stitching the horn in two shades of dark golden yellow, in short lines curving around the horn; probably two or three lines of the lighter shade, then one of the darker shade, and so on.
When I got to the point of actually stitching the horn, however, I started to have my doubts. These would be very short lines, especially towards the tip. And would I be able to keep the curve even along the length of the horn? Wouldn’t it be very difficult to keep the edges neat? And wouldn’t it be better to have long lines along the horn to contrast with the stitch direction in the surrounding mane? I decided to do some sampling. One horn with the lighter shade stitched in long lines and the darker shade over the top, and one with both shades worked in curved lines across the horn, three light to one dark.
What did I learn from this sampling? Well, the first thing was that unless I have very good light, I don’t see pencil outlines. One thing I liked about the right-hand horn is that it kept its pointy tip better. Closer inspection shows that this is because I didn’t fill the whole shape (purple arrow). So we’ll ignore the relative pointiness and concentrate on other things. In the left-hand horn, with dark stitches worked across the long lines of lighter ones, the first cross lines I did were too straight (blue arrow). I like the effect better when they are more diagonal (red arrow). In the right-hand horn, with both colours worked across, I found at first that my stitches were different lengths from one shade to the next (yellow arrow). That can be sorted with proper attention – I was stitching these samples while chatting and having tea at my embroidery group – and so is not a deal breaker. More difficult was to keep the edges straight (green arrows). And the colour difference between the two shades is not as clear as in the other one. On the other hand, I think it looks more natural when the stitch direction follows the spiralling pattern of the horn.
So shelving the dilemma of the horn for the time being, I concentrated on the eyes. You might wonder what the problem is there, as they have already been stitched. Well, the trouble is that they don’t look the way I meant them to. They evolved quite a bit from the first sketches: from big black eyes looking sideways, to smaller ones looking slightly up, to ones with blue irises (added when I noticed that the Steeple Aston horse had them) still with that slightly-up orientation.
But what I had actually stitched was this:
There are a couple of things there that I am not altogether happy with, neither of which is easy to change. His eyes are quite boldly outlined in dark grey (in my first attempt they were even more boldly outlined in black, but that was quickly knocked on the head). This is at least in part because the Steeple Aston horse has boldly outlined eyes – but quite a lot of the rest of him is too, whereas I opted to stitch Hengest without any outlines, so the eyes stand out more than I really intended. Stitching them in a grey one shade lighter would make a difference, but unfortunately the dark grey is so completely embedded in and connected with other stitches that unpicking it is a complete no-no. The other issue is the direction of his gaze: straight upwards, which I think makes him look rather goofy. Mind you, not as goofy as the original horse, whose uncoordinated eyes appear to be in some disagreement about direction.
Still, goofy. Could this perhaps be changed with a few extra grey stitches? I tried to position a tiny bit of dark grey wool over some of the iris to see if that would look any better. It was very fiddly, but it was also immediately clear that trying to show the effect on one eye only wasn’t going to help!
I tried it with bits of wool on both eyes – better, in the sense that he looked a little more sane, but I wasn’t sure I liked the effect. It makes the pupils an odd shape, and loses part of the irises.
So what to do? Well, both before and after I expressed doubts about the eyes, stitching friends have described Hengest’s gaze as “expressive”, “regal”, “heavenward”, “noble” and “magic”, so I’m beginning to think I should accept that I am in a minority of one describing them as goofy, and leave well alone .
Just so I didn’t feel all this had been a futile exercise, I added a little white to his eyes where I had previously left the fabric uncovered:
And while I had the white in my needle, I also added two stitches to his body to improve the outline.
Now for a decision on that horn…