Thursday, May 16, 2019

Nefertum's Wesekh

When I saw the Beadworkers Guild challenge theme for 2019, "Jewels of the Nile", my first thought was to not make a collar. No way! Because there are so many out there already and amazing ones. So I searched for what could be another Jewel of the Nile and found the Egyptian blue lotus flower and god Nefertum.
Oh my!

Nymphaea caerulea. The Egyptian blue lotus is, in fact, a waterlily, but most call
 it the Egyptian blue lotus

I instantly fell in love with this beautiful waterlily and started my first creation immediately: a small vessel for tooth picks representing the waters of the Nile with the flower floating atop of it.
However, this was not a very stable construction, and the crystal beads in the vessel  - which is a bola canastas made with diagonal Cellini peyote - cut the thread without mercy. Twice...

This had the merit to answer my question as to keep the flower as a toothpick holder or not: I repaired the vessel mimicing the art of Kitsugi to forever remind me that crystals are not bola-friendly, and made that a nice toothpick holder, and created a barrette with the flower (not yet finished).

This is a sign that Eddie didn't hear it this way (Eddie is my muse and tyrant). He wanted a wesekh. Nefertum's wesekh. Bead woven. Of course!
The rules of the Guild's challenge say "we urge members to concentrate on the personal challenge - to be as good as they can, rather than pitting themselves against others". Bead embroidery would not have been easy for me. Rather the contrary. But to weave a dense collar with a curve that doesn't ruffle yet still moves with the wearer's movements, is a challenge, at least for me. So I gave in.

But before writing more about the making of the collar, I wish to tell more about lord Nefertum and his attribute, the sacred blue lotus:

Antelope with
lotus flower
The Egyptian sacred Lotus flower

While doing my research, I discovered that lotus flowers can be seen in countless ancient Egyptian tomb wall paintings and temple carvings, from the oldest to the most recent dynasties. It is everywhere: in people's hair or hands, in large collars, on piles of offerings to the gods, etc. Even around an antelope's neck. Some temples even have columns with lotus-inspired forms.

Painting of Funeral banquet in Rekhmire's tomb at Luxor,
showing servants offering lotus flower necklaces to
female guests who are seated on mats.
Photo Mick Palarczyk and Paul Smit
The god

In early Egyptian mythology, Nefertum was believed to be the first god, the young Atum (Nefertum means beautiful Atum, or youthful Atum), who came out of the blue out of a blue lotus that emerged from the primeval waters of Nun. He cried because he was alone and his tears created humanity.

Egypt, Tomb of Ramses I, Pharaoh (center)
presenting offerings to Nefertum (left)

Atum was a solar deity, so Nefertum represented the sunrise. He matured into Atum during the day before passing into the world of the dead with every sunset.

Later, as time wore on, Atum became assimilated into Ra (as Atum-Ra), the sacred scarab became the symbol of the rising sun, and so it came to be that people regarded Nefertum as a separate deity. The lotus flower never lost its popularity though. Rather the contrary.

Another funeral banquet (of Nebamum) showing
musicians and servants dancing and offering
lotus flowers and flower necklaces to guests

The Egyptian geranium
smells like roses
In the Pyramid Texts (book of the death), Nefertum is said to be the scent of the lotus flower which is held before the nose of the aging god Ra:

"Rise like Nefertum from the blue water lily, to the nostrils of Ra (the creator and sungod), and come forth upon the horizon each day."

Priest (botanist or
 with botanical
attributes and
I think that the heavenly smell of the flower is both a memory and a 'promise': the soon to come rebirth in the lotus flower (the next morning). For the Egyptians, the flower represented rebirth and they celebrated the passing of a dear one as the beginning of a new life. Of course there are many other - sometimes contradictory - legends and myths and gods.

Nefertum eventually became the lord of perfumes, patron of the cosmetic and healing arts derived from flowers. Associated to other medicinal flowers, such as geranium (another divine smell) and cornflower, he could be described as the archetypal aromatherapist.

Actually, this blue lotus study made me order blue lotus essential oil. It smells divine and has no narcotic effects. Learn more about my love of scents in my article Perfumes and Pomanders.

What is a wesekh and / or a menat

I thought that a broad collar was called a menat, another name of goddess Hathor, whose attribute was a collar with a heavy counterpoise. It was used by her and her priestesses as a rattle for blessings.
In fact, wesekh is the name of the large Egyptian collar, thought to have many (protective) properties, hence worn by men and by women, and the menat is the name of the counterpoise, keeping it in place.

18th Dynasty Menat (approx. 1300 BC)

Many ancient Egyptian wesekh represent the wings of a vulture or a scarab. The golden counterpoises in the one shown below can hold it without need for a clasp. If you look at the two images below in full screen you can appreciate the fine craftsmanship of the Egyptians.

Senebtisi's collar, formed  of two golden falcon
heads. Approx. 1850-1775 B.C.
© The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New-York
The colors

The Brooklyn Museum experts say: "For the Egyptians the lighter shade of blue was almost interchangeable with green, the color of the sea, plants, vegetation, and thus health and life. The darker shade of blue was associated with the dark primordial waters out of which creation first appeared, as well as the night sky through which the sun-god traveled to be reborn every morning. Naturally, blue-green faience and blue glass were cheaper alternatives to turquoise and lapis-lazuli."

Obviously, bugle beads and dagger beads are not new beads :) Isn't this amazing?
Broad Collar, ca. 1336-1327 B.C.E., ca. 1327-1323 B.C.E., or ca.1323-1295 B.C.E.
Faience, 14 7/16 x 4 7/16 in. (36.6 x 11.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum,
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 40.522. Creative Commons-BY
(Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 40.522_SL1.jpg)
Visit the Brooklyn's Museum page to learn more about this piece.


The ancient Egyptians invented enameling. They were master goldsmiths. They were masters at bead making and bead weaving. They even made some sort of seed beads. The piece above includes incredibly tiny seed beads. Looking closer at it, I realized that my collar looks as if it is made with a method very similar to the one they used.

The Egyptians already used peyote stitch to weave seed beads. A pair of beaded sandals found back in King Tut's tomb attests of this technique and of the "seed" beads existing already back then (although probably not made like seed beads, but rather one by one, by hand...)

King Tutankhamon's sandals made with "peyote" stitch

Making of my challenge piece, Nefertum's wesekh

I found the idea of humans created by the tears of the morning sun or god a wonderful legend, so I planned on including teardrops in the collar as a main design feature. Even if faceted gemstones, or diamonds, are not present in ancient Egyptian jewellery, this was the story that I decided to translate.

To create the right curve, I worked on my dress-maker's doll.
In this image you can see two Egyptian cat charms which I
renounced to include in the design.

Except for the earring findings, I had everything in my stash. It's funny how one can collect bits and pieces and keep them for a special piece, and suddenly it all comes together: real gold plated superduos, seed beads and Tila beads from Miyuki, all kept for a special occasion. This was the special occasion. I had genuine carnelian cabochons, a stone valued by the Egyptians, and tiny Carnelian round beads, turquoise pinch beads (which are close in form to the oblong beads used in many antique collars), vintage German glass cabochon, and perfectly matching Czech seed and bugle beads, all in the Egyptian's favorite colors: turquoise, lapis and dark red.

Like all important deities, one of Nefertum's attributes is the Ankh symbol. I first thought of using it for the clasp, but my second carnelian cabochon had a white stripe across and was begging to be transformed into a scarab. I made a scarab clasp with it. At the end of this article, you will find more about the making of the clasp.

I didn't keep the Ankh symbol, but the bottom part became the lotus flower stem.

RAW and MRAW stitches were used for the bezels (also for the matching earrings) - the photo of the cab left shows the cabochon in a bezel I didn't keep.

The gold-plated Egyptian charms which I also had remained unused. I didn't want the collar to shout "Egypt" but rather suggest it
Sticky thumbpad
Techniques used: a mix of netting and DW for a dense weave. It was difficult to get the curve right, but the result is so delightful to wear. It perfectly adapts to my neck and movements and doesn't ruffle!

I made  a handy tool to work on the bust: a sticky thumb-pad! I rolled a post-it around my thumb for this. I need to buy a real sticky pad to transform it into a more practical   thumb-pad!

Decisions, decisions....
For the bottom row I tried several options before deciding on the final one.

For the clasp and the bead-embroidered lotus flower, I used very thick blue leather for backing. It was very hard to pierce with the needle and I had to use grip tape, but it allowed me to nicely finish the edges of the lotus flower with a herringbone edge.

Lotus flower - back

All parts of this collar were started over several times, but it is the lotus flower for which I hesitated the most. I love 3-dimensional bead weaving and of course tried to use it. I abandoned that idea after two different 3D versions for the flower, which didn't match the design style. I was stunned by how the Egyptian "feel" disappeared instantly.

To achieve the desired look, I opted for bead embroidery. In the October 2018 journal of the BWG, Priscilla Jones explained how she made her beaded swans (shown in a previous journal). I followed her advice to use gold seed beads to outline the petals of the flower, as an homage to the invention of enameling by the Egyptians. I mixed peyote stitch with the embroidery stitches for the leaves, and added tiny 2mm carnelian round beads to have the flower motif pop out.

To create the look of a sun rising above the lotus flower I first tried a transparent join, using crystal teardrop beads, but a "floating" lotus looked odd when worn. After several unsatisfying tests, I decided to attach the flower in the same way as the teardrops to the matching earrings (which I had finished already). The herringbone edge was perfect to make this join: it offers a 4 thread-join but is not too thick, and holds everything perfectly in place. And voilĂ , here is the result:

Although I made the clasp first, I kept its "making of" for the end of this article. It took some serious brainstorming to create. It appears to also offer a good counter-poise balancing the weight of the front pendant which would normally pull / deform the neckline.

Matching earrings
As for challenging myself: nearly everything in this collar was out of my comfort zone: unusual colors (for me), stitches I nearly never use, bead embroidery, and a difficult theme for my usual style: it is hard to keep proportions small or medium when it comes to this magnificent civilization.

My beading mat looked like a battle field.

The making of the clasp

A few explanations how I made the scarab-clasp - it took more time thinking than making.

First I made the scarab bezel for the cab and two
leather ovals with matching magnets.

I used one of the leather ovals to back the cabochon and
I backed the second oval
with a 3rd leather oval.

The clasp is approx. 13mm high (a half inch).

I bezeled the small glass cabochon, also backed it with leather.

Then I connected the small cabochon to the leather back part of the clasp.

I managed to include some 3D peyote: little legs (articulated) for the scarab. A left and a right part.

The left legs are attached to the back part of the clasp and the right legs are attached to the upper (cabochon) part of the clasp.

The bottom legs can hide in the open space between the two clasp parts, or not, because they are articulated.

Clasp - open

Clasp - closed
I couldn't be happier with this necklace. When I wear it, I feel amazing! 

Cherry on the cake: the hubby said that Cleopatra would have killed to have it!

One more photo of the earrings:
I love how they let the light shine through.

Thank you very much fore reading this long article!


incredibly happy winner of the first place in the "Expert" category of the BWG 2019 Challenge.

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