Category: Large Embroidery Projects
While I was stitching round and round in circles, I was also thinking about the rest of the design, and about what else it might be showing.
I had a thought that it might be nice to make a reference to the Cretan art that was so influential for the art of the Amarna period. One of the conventions of the art of ancient Crete was that women were depicted as light-skinned, while the men were shown as tanned, so I thought I would give that a little twist, and work the three daughters as light-skinned, and Akhenaten and Nefertiti as tanned, thus “bookending” the scene.
So I blended a lighter colour and got started on Daughter Number 1.
Only to decide I really didn’t like it, order some more flat silk, and try again. This is the lighter shade of Akhenaten’s skin colour, and as you can see, it is too light. It barely shows against the gold, and at that, the photo shows it better than it showed in real life – I had real trouble seeing it to stitch.
So that wouldn’t do, would it?
The next thing I tried was a blend of the light and dark skintones, and as you can see, there isn’t even a photo of that!
The videos are of course somewhat beyond this point – Episode 16 – “On the satisfaction of pattern building and the avoidance of confusion” is now up on Vimeo. Do have a look!
In the end, I unpicked both of the previous attempts, and used a mass of French knots, worked again in hand twisted silk, this time combining some of the very fine silk from a Frostings box with my Japanese Flat silk.
I think these work well, especially at the small scale of the piece.
I’d been rather dreading the large lotus flower, representing the shaped endpieces of a broad collar necklace, because I was remembering the struggle I’d had with the “Fragment of Tile That Started It All“.
Then I had an epiphany of my own, and used the difference in appearance and reflectance of twisted silk compared with flat silk to help distinguish the shapes of the petals and bring the foremost ones forwards. I’m very pleased with how that turned out!
And now, finally, it’s done!
This one is almost certainly going to be one of the “spots” around one of the big panels, because although I like it, and it represents what I want it to, I don’t think it has the visual strength to stand alone.
But then, if all the pieces could stand on their own, I wouldn’t be able to assemble the panels I want to, would I!
Finally, Episode 14 of SlowTV Stitchery is now up on Vimeo. Do drop in and see how I’m getting on!
The necklace description that Mary Chubb was asked to transcribe, after her epiphany in the cellar, includes a row of dates in a repeating colour pattern of two red, one green, two blue.
So here they are, in satin stitch in flat silk for the main fruit, and more satin stitch, but this time using hand-twisted threads, for the stem. I found a rich and vibrant green for the main green fruit and used a greyish-green for the stem. Again, I’m trying to balance echoing the faience with echoing the real fruits, leaves and flowers, which is making for some interesting puzzles!
I wanted to try blending the silk filaments for one of the elements, to help recall the slightly iridescent effect of some glazes, and spent a wonderfully painstaking (exasperating!) afternoon splitting my silk. And then recombining it, and using it to stitch the first of the lotus petals in long-and-short stitch.
Only to sit back and glare at it. It’s looking congested, chunky, and not at all what I was looking for. What’s more, it’s buckling the fabric in spite of the calico support.
Snip, snip, out it comes, and now I need to think again.
Meanwhile I have another element to think about as well. You can see the underlayer of satin stitch on the shapes which are supposed to be recollections of bunches of grapes, and then two attempts to give them a more defined appearance. I think I prefer the middle version, which was the second I did.
That, however, means I have to unpick my first attempt. Sigh.
I recall from both the Hittite Amulet and Christus Natus Est that Or Nué projects are rather difficult to write about. They’re a little like those novels in which Nothing Happens, because one edges slowly forward, with the piece growing imperceptibly – until all of a sudden, it gallops to a conclusion. I am nowhere near that point as yet, but for the benefit of those who prefer reading to watching, I will attempt to provide occasional updates…
Here is one of the progress shots.
There are a few details I will have to come back to, as you will see if you click through to the larger image. I may have to adjust Akhenaten’s arm, for a start, and the pale blue I used to mark the creases on his kilt isn’t dark enough to do the job, so I will have to do find another thread and add some stitches.
However, the metal thread on the front of Akhenaten’s headdress shows up rather better than I feared it might. Although, as I said on one of the videos, gold thread couched with gold thread is pretty much Peak Ancient Egypt. Even Louis XIV, never an advocate of moderation in design, would take a step back, crying, “Here, I say, steady on!”
To which I reply, I am steadying on – it’s staying in!
This is a close up from slightly more recently. You can see that I’ve reached the designated edge of the design, and that rather than cutting and plunging my threads, I’m doubling back on myself, so all the gold remains on the surface. My intention is that this will be edged with some sort of braid when it is complete, and attaching a braid through the gold as it stands will be quite hard enough, without attaching it through plunged ends as well!
I’m also leaving the royal blue blocks in a sort of half-tone, with some of the gold showing through. I may decide, when the whole thing is finished, that the border designs need to be full strength if they are to frame the scene properly, but I felt that this might work, and would be an interesting experiment.
But, occasional reservations aside, I think this is going to be a very successful piece!
More progress on SlowTVStitchery – Episode Eight is now up. Enjoy!
After washing the pashmina for the lining several times (it dyed the water bright turquoise the first three times at least, with no discernible fading in the fabric), ironing both of them, and pinning them together with safety pins, I settled down with my turquoise silk thread and ran simple running stitch quilting along all the gold lines of the design. This was easiest to do, I found, by cutting the thread to a little over the width of the pashmina and starting in the middle of both the thread and the shawl. Once the main lines were in place, I went back to the polychrome band and added the extra lines of stitching to delineate the frame.
It’s not easy to see, although I’ve done my best with this photo, but I’ve worked several rows of variegated golden lines across the pashmina on the otherwise undecorated end. I felt, when I finished the polychrome band that the whole thing looked a little unbalanced, and needed something to prevent the impression of something just fading out. I used Wavy Chain, Shell Chain, and Cable Chain, which are used on the other end, too.
And here is the polychrome band. You can see that the proportions aren’t quite perfect, but it is very much in the spirit of the StitchOff that the pashmina was originally bought for, in that it is intended to be worn and enjoyed, not stuck up on a wall. It wasn’t quick to do, but that is the fault of my own talent for over complication!
At long last, the Nefertiti Shawl is finished and lined, the lining has been controlled with lines of stitching, and the whole thing has been pressed. It should be seriously cosy – the lining is another cashmere pashmina, and it clings slightly as I wrap it around myself. It’s not an easy piece to photograph, hence the languorous drape over the sofa!
Well, at last!
As you can see, I didn’t perfectly centre my sketch of the design when I put it on the pashmina, but once it’s swept around my shoulders, I doubt very much whether anyone will notice!
I’ve also put a narrower set of gold lines on the other end. I didn’t want to work the whole thing again, but I felt that a little extra colour would nevertheless help to make the whole this look a bit more thought-out. Or at least, more completely evolved!
However, I did decide that in the interests of not spending all my time on maintenance, I was going to line it, and I found another turquoise blue pashmina with which to do so. It is slightly narrower (so I turned in the selvedges of the embroidered one to meet it), slightly longer, and doesn’t have a fringe. So I could line just the fabric length, and cut off the excess.
How to control the fabrics while I was doing so gave me a little trouble, until I remembered seeing quilters use safety pins to “tack” fabrics together. That worked beautifully!
I spent a couple of evenings working running lines beside each of the gold lines. Just straight running stitch – in the case of Wavy Chain, I simply offset the line a little, rather than trying to follow the zigzags.
There is another episode of SlowTV Stitchery up – Episode Three. I’ve also done two shorts, one introducing the Dreams of Amarna project as a whole, and one, for the Amarna Family Group in particular. Please ask me any questions you like, either here in the comments, or by email, and I will try to answer them in one of the later episodes. It might take a while, though, because people have been stacking up questions like cordwood!
Now, back to the Faience Necklace, which I’ve neglected… The first elements I decided to do were among the simplest – the three palm leaves.
First layer, as I said, is plain satin stitch in flat silk. Satin stitch makes me nervous, but flat silk spreads and blends together, which makes it about as easy as it can be for me.
The next stage was to hand-twist a two ply perlé -type thread to stitch the veins, using straight stitches. In this case, I used two of the strands of filaments for each ply, and I tried not to over-twist the final assembly.
That made for a lovely thread, with a bit of body and “lift”. A pleasure to use!
If I have correctly interpreted the description that Mary Chubb typed out on that first afternoon, when she came back from her epiphany in the cellar, this shape was described as a cornflower, so I went with my brightest blue, and the middle greyish-green shade for the calyx.
You will notice that the stitching on the two sections is at right angles one to the other. I realise that the stitching on the “petals” is not going in the obvious correct direction, but wait – there’s more…!
Quite a lot more, in fact.
First, trellis couching on the calyx, using a fine 2-ply thread twisted using a half-strand of flat silk for each ply, and twisted as tightly as I could manage without snarls or tangles.
Then, using the bright blue, I twisted another 2-ply thread, this time using three strands for each ply, and again, trying not to over-twist. Then I could use it to work some long bullion knots, creating the slightly fluffy effect of an opening flower.
I think this is going well so far!
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!
We left the design in a sort of semi-developed stage, and the next stage was to work out which border I was going to use…
So, the one on the right – no, the borders are too wide, and given the size I’m going to do it, they’ll take away too much of the design area from the family group. I do like that arrowhead design, though. I wonder where else I could put it?
I started playing around with the widths of the borders a bit more (computers are very useful for scaling fiddly things like this – more new tricks learned!), and ended up with something I think will work. You can see that there are some details I’ve not quite settled yet, and indeed, I think I’ve decided to reverse the colours in the vertical borders. The blocky colours come from having used the computer to produce a line drawing, and then coloured it in by computer as well.
The design is now transferred onto the calico, and coloured in with inktense blocks. Rather sloppily, I know, but none of this will be visible, and I will be tweaking the design as I go, in any case. This is just to give me a a better chance to keep track of which colour I’m intending to use where – that small section with Nefertiti and the two little girls on her lap was dismally confusing before I painted it!
I have begun to stitch, and just as I promised (threatened?), I’ve been recording my progress, and uploaded the first video to Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/402311907. It’s about twenty minutes long, spliced together from several files, because my camera kept switching off. I did say it would be a learning experience!
I hope it will be interesting, and maybe entertaining, for you all!
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I now have a Ko-fi account. I’ve been meaning to do that for a while, but the current situation has given me plenty of time in which to do so. At the moment, the hope is that any “coffees” will help with the costs of running this blog, but in the next couple of years, I hope they could also help with venue costs to hold an exhibition of “Dreams of Amarna” embroidery.
I’m going to try to learn a few new tricks while we all need to keep safe at home, trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and one of them relates to this project. It occurred to me that people may need something gentle to watch, so I’m going to try to work out how to do little videos of the stitching. So, health permitting, watch this space…!
I had thought that once I’d done the Faience Necklace, and finished the Hunting Cat Fresco, that would be all for Dreams of Amarna, but then it occurred to me that the informality and intimacy of the depictions of the Royal Family in Amarna-period art was one of the reasons it has caught and held our attention. Mary Chubb describes the scene depicted on this stele in her book (there are several broadly similar scenes), and it came to my mind in conjunction with the bejewelled golden chair in Tutankhamun’s tomb which shows him with his wife in a similarly informal pose.
So I’m going to work it in or nué. I’ve been playing with my paints and some prints of the stele, trying to find a satisfying arrangement of colours, and work out what I’m not going to include – for instance, the hieroglyphs, at least half the rays of the Aten sun disc, and the gold torques in Akhenaten’s lap. I’m struggling a little with colourings, because the grey background of the print rewards the use of yellow (/gold) whereas on the background of gold used for or nué that colour becomes insignificant.
Then I need to plan a border for it….